Holiday Buyer’s Guide: Part 3–Cool Gadgets and Electronics

I love the Holidays. I love spending time with family, eating, watching professional football a couple times a week, and most of all, the sense of fun and anticipation in the air when my kids see Santa in the stores. Watching them, I can't help but turn into a kid again myself.  I do get into the Holiday spirit as much as I can.  I also get a little on the giddy side when it comes to looking at the Holiday sales fliers and usually drool over all of the cool tech offers. We've spent a little time looking at tech gifts for your loved ones this Holiday Season.  We've looked at both Computer Hardware and Computer Software.  Now its time to take a quick look at Cool Gadgets and Electronics! There are a lot of cool things available this year – smartphones, tablets, and computing accessories that can add to and round out your Holiday computing experience. Let's take a look at some of the stuff out there right now.

2010-12-13 09.26.28 pm

Tablet Accessories
Tablets, like the the Apple iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the Archos 7, are supposed to be the HOTTEST gift of the 2010 Holiday Season. If you’re getting a tablet this Holiday Season, then you’re going to need a couple of things, especially if you’re going to try to use it in the office.  While some of these accessories also work well and are a good idea for home use, in the office, they are going to be a necessity. In some cases, they could make your break your work life value add.  In no particular order, you will likely want and need the following:

  • Case
    After spending $200 to $500 on your tablet of choice, if you don’t get a case for it, you’re playing with fire.  The device needs a case; and hopefully a case that raises the device to a decent viewing angle so you can read and type at the same time on your lap or while sitting at a desk. 

    Having purchased an Apple iPad for myself this Christmas, I was upset to learn that its difficult to find a decent case under $50 bucks USD.  I don’t like hard candy shell cases, as I want something that covers the screen (I also think the colors cheapen the look of the device, but that’s just me…).

    The BEST cases available ANYWHERE are from Vaja Cases; but they are the crème of the crop, and the iPad case I want costs at a bare minimum, $200, nearly half the price of the base model iPad.  I just CAN’T see giving that much for a case.  I’ve also noticed that the better cases (costing less than $200) aren’t even real leather; or are an inferior grade of cut of leather. I also can’t make myself spend the money on those either, when I know they are just going to break or wear quickly, moving me to buy something else.

    In the end, I bought the stock iPad case from Apple.  It was $40 bucks, but I simply can’t leave the device naked in my backpack.

    2010-12-13 11.48.17 am
    The Apple branded iPad case…


  • Invisible Shield
    Invisible Shield is the mother and father of all screen protectors.  Usually requiring professional installation for the best fit (i.e. no bubbles), the $20 charge and (usually) $20 application fee, are well worth the cost. After application, you can basically pour a bucket of nails, screws and broken glass on your device from a couple of feet above it or try to scar it up with a set of car or house keys and not leave a mark on it. EVER. You can purchase and have Invisible Shield for your device (in my case my iPad) at your local Best Buy. 

    2010-12-13 11.53.26 am
    Invisible Shield for iPad – a must have…

  • Stylus
    Most newer smartphones and tablets (the iPhone, iPad and Nexus One, included) have capacitive screens.  Capacitive screens allow for greater accuracy and control of touch, multi-touch and gestures on those screens than passive touch screens. If you want to try using your device for handwritten notes, then you’re going to need a capacitive stylus.  I haven’t seen too many out there that didn’t look like one of those big, oversized crayons you use to use when you were in the first grade; and honestly, I’m not going to carry something like that or use it anywhere, no matter how well its supposed to work. 

    As such, I was very pleased to see a review of the Hard Candy Cases iPad Stylus over at Gear Diary. Dan is a good friend, and did a great job with the review. It was what prompted me to order mine.

    hard candy stylus
    The Hard Candy iPad Stylus


  • Docking Station
    If you’re getting a Samsung Galaxy Tab for the Holidays, then you’re going to really want to consider one of the docks featured in a recent Engadget article. Samsung went all out and released a keyboard dock, multimedia dock (with HDMI) and a Car Dock.  Depending on what you want to do with your Galaxy Tab, one or two of these might definitely be in order.  However, at $99, the keyboard dock is a bit on the pricey side. However, it does add a new dimension of usability to the device, that you should consider. 

    GalaxyTab keyboard dock
    Stylish and business-like, the Galaxy Tab keyboard dock is a real winner

    I opted for the regular iPad dock (non-keyboard variety), available almost everywhere the iPad is sold, for about $30 bucks.

  • Wireless Keyboard
    Most tablets come with Bluetooth, and both the Galaxy Tab and the iPad are no exception.  I already have an Apple Wireless Keyboard at the house, so buying the iPad Keyboard Dock seemed silly to me.  Instead, I’m going to use the Apple keyboard, which I know works with Apple’s tablet. 

    Anyway you look at it, though, having a keyboard around for work at a desk seems like a good idea.  I’m going to try to use it as a full blown netbook during the day. In order to make that work, I’m going to need a keyboard.

    2010-12-13 11.27.58 am
    Apple’s Wireless Keyboard is a must have for iPad and other Apple PC users…


Next to tablets, smartphones are going to be high on everyone’s giving and getting lists this year. However, giving a smartphone isn’t always the easiest thing to do here in the US, given the way wireless carriers here in the States subsidize device purchases.  In order to give a smartphone as a gift this year, you either have to open up a new line of service or know that your loved one has an upgrade available or coming up and then somehow purchase the upgrade or new line without them knowing.  Porting numbers to new lines of service can be difficult and confusing, especially if you want to keep the gift a surprise. While I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from giving this kind of gift, I want you to understand that a bit of coordination between you, the wireless carrier in question and perhaps a spouse or significant other might be required in order to get it done.

In previous years, I’ve given purchasing recommendations for each wireless carrier.  This year, since the market (and the vendors) have changed some, I’m not going to go that route. Instead, I’m going to recommend device, or more appropriately, OS vendors.

  • Android Phones
    Pick a carrier…any carrier… and you’re going to find a decent, if not great, Android phone available there. Unless you’re on AT&T (they tend to cripple and bloat their phones, including the iPhone), you’re likely going to LOVE the experience.  Android is a great mobile OS (the Galaxy Tab and the Archos run it); and its very easy to use. 

    You can find Android on phones by HTC, LG, Samsung, and Motorola to name a few.  With Android and iOS going out of their way to one up each other, and with Verizon’s LTE network coming on line in select markets in 2011, and with the release of Gingerbread thought to be pending, the next 6 to 12 months are really going to be interesting for Android handset makers and users.

  • Apple iPhone
    As one of the two seriously growing mobile OS’ on the market today (noticeable declines have been reported for RIM and Symbian OS’. WMP7 may look promising, but I don’t know yet how much traction it truly is going to have; and as such, I can’t recommend it to anyone right now), Apple has established itself as a serious player in the mobile space. The iPhone, to say the least, is in high demand in both consumer and business spaces. 

    While rumors of a Verizon based iPhone are still swarming all over the internet, I don’t seriously see this happening until their LTE network is online in a couple major markets at least. AT&T may have some serious service quality issues to overcome, likely due to the fact that they built their digital network on top of their analog infrastructure. (Why else do you think it sucks as bad as it does??) I actually think that if Verizon gets an iPhone, you will also see the device over at T-Mobile on their GSM network, though I don’t know if it would make use of their increased HSPA speeds or not.

In the end, picking a mobile device that runs on either the Android or iOS platforms is going to provide your loved ones with a great deal of enjoyment, regardless of the network that its on. These are the most viable choices available as of this writing, and I highly recommend either device, though if you go the iPhone route, you might want to wait if you have issues with AT&T.

Handheld Gaming Systems
While many smartphones can also double as mobile gaming systems, there are still a couple other devices that can handle the task, and do it quite well. If you’re in the market for a device that plays games, then you’re likely going to consider some of these. I can actually recommend all of these.  The only caveat I have is that you need to be aware of the platform that you buy into and be willing to live within the confines and limitations of that device.

  • Nintendo DS/DSi/DSi XL
    Along with the Sony PSP 3000/PSP Go, the
    Nintendo DS line of mobile consoles is probably one of the best consoles out there. Unless, size is a huge issue, based on price, availability and functionality, I’d probably point anyone interested towards the Nintendo DSi XL, specifically the 25th anniversary special edition model. It comes with 3 games built in and with a Mario Kart cartridge.  

    2010-12-13 02.18.15 pm
    The Nintendo 25th Anniversary DSi XL
  • Sony PSP 3000/PSP Go
    The days of the glory that could have been the Sony PSP, with its build in DVD-like drive, are long gone. Movie titles are no longer distributed in that format, and won’t be again. Its days of being your portable, multi-media-gaming system of choice, are over.  However, that doesn’t mean that the PSP is a dead gaming platform.
    If you’re looking for PSP based games, then you should really take a look at this article.  The PSP is a mainstream platform and some of the bigger development houses have released games for it.  In fact, Amazon has a really nice list of games and a store dedicated to the devices. Amazon tends to have some good prices, and of course, they have decent shipping terms, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

    2010-12-13 09.09.33 pm
    The Sony PSP Go…


  • Apple iPod Touch
    Despite what you might think, the Apple iPod is becoming one heck of a gaming platform. Its small, pocketable, easily updatable via either Wi-Fi or a USB cable near you, and is easy for everyone to use. The fact that it also doubles as an MP3 and movie player is just gravy.  If you’re looking for a decent gaming platform, the built in accelerometer and gyroscope (on the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch 4G) make it an ideal gaming client. 

    The problem is that you’re not going to find your standard game fare available for it, as you would with other portable gaming systems, like the ones noted above.  I think it is a matter of time before you see similar games, but I’m not certain that regular developers of mainstream gaming titles like EA Sports, Nintendo, etc., will ever submit titles to the App Store. I could be wrong, but right now, I just don’t see it.

    In the mean time, the titles you do find, offer a great deal of fun and entertainment.  You just have to realize, you’re going to see Mario Party <Picket an Iteration> available for the iPhone or iPad. It just isn’t going to happen.

    2010-12-13 09.13.20 pm
    Apple iPod Touch 4G…

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