All right then. We're knee-deep in the holiday shopping season, and it's time to start taking a hard look at what's out there for us to buy. What's the best value for our dollar? Is anything going to last long enough to be worth buying right now, or are we going to have to look at upgrading just a month or two away? The deals found during Black Friday or Cyber Monday may be over and done with, but that doesn't mean all the gift buying is done. So, let's go through some bullet points, and let me show you what I think you'd be pretty happy buying for yourself, or you know, for someone else, this holiday season.
First, let me just say that there's a lot to choose from right now. As it happens every year, the year is populated with plenty of high-end, noteworthy and even drool-worthy devices that plenty of people would be happy calling their own. As far as I'm concerned, this is probably the hardest category to choose from, simply because the options really are that great.
Second, I'm sure all of you know by now that I love HTC's One handset, and that hasn't changed. I still think it's one of the best devices on the market, and it's certainly one of the best Android-based devices ever. But, as you can see from the image right below the "High-End Smartphone" title, I didn't go with it as my device of choice. That's simply because HTC will be replacing it soon, probably quite early in 2014, and you should own your device longer than just a couple of months. (Unless you hate it, of course.)
That's why I went with Google's and LG's Nexus 5. Like my fellow editor Anna, the combination of specifications and price tag sans a contract is what made the choice actually quite easy, even within the populated market. With its 5-inch 1080p HD display, the 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM and options that come in a 16GB or 32GB profile, that alone makes it certainly worth the price tag. Include the 8MP camera on the back with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter, Android 4.4 KitKat under the hood, and LTE-connectivity, the Nexus 5 is a must-have device this holiday season. For the 16GB you're looking at slapping down $349, and the 32GB option will cost you $399.
This year's pretty easy, if you ask me. Just look at the fact that the first two devices on this list are more than obvious for the parts. Then again, I should make it clear that Motorola's Moto G isn't, technically, a low-end device. As far as specifications go, the Moto G fits pretty firmly in the mid-range. However, it's the price tag that makes sure the Moto G definitely gets the best low-end phone to buy this holiday season award.
With a 4.5-inch 720p HD display, and a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, the Moto G certainly stands out amongst its other low-end/mid-range devices. Add to that the 5-megapixel camera on the back, the 1.3MP camera on the front, 1GB of RAM, and Android 4.3 Jelly Bean under the hood right out of the box (with a guaranteed update to Android 4.4 KitKat on the way), the Moto G looks pretty good. You'll have two version to choose from: an 8GB and a 16GB variant, both of which are very cheap. The 8GB model will run you $179, while the 16GB will cost you only $199.
There are certainly no shortages of these out there, and 2014 saw the release of plenty of devices that fit in the tablet market that are worth a second look. When I look at a tablet, though, it's a look at the price, what you're getting in the hardware department with that price tag, but also the software that you're bringing along for the ride, too. Not to mention there has to be a lot of apps for you to use on your shiny new device when you get it taken out of that wrapped box. (Wrap your presents!)
That's why I went with Apple's new iPad Air for my tablet choice this year. It shares plenty of similarities between itself and its predecessors, but the changes are certainly worth noting. With a new, thinner frame, the iPad Air still holds that 9.7-inch display size, but it trimmed itself down to weigh only one pound. Inside the body you'll find a dual-core 1.3GHz A7 processor, with 1GB of RAM. There's a 5-megapixel camera on the back, and a 1.2MP camera on the front. It comes in a variety of options, including a 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and a 128GB model. There are a lot of tablets out there, some of them with far better specs under the hood, but it's the combination of hardware and software that makes me give the iPad Air the nod. That, and Apple simply has the most tablet-specific apps available in the App Store, and that means you'll have more fun using apps designed for your device, rather than simply optimized for it. I'm going to list only the Wi-Fi model-only options as far as pricing goes: for the 16GB version, you'll pay $499. For the 32GB model, you'll have to hand over $599. The 64GB option will run you $699, while the 128GB model will run you $799.
I had some trouble with this category, but I finally figured out what I wanted to list. While the Pebble watch would have been an easy option, I went with something a bit different. With so many folks wanting to live healthier lives after the holidays (and all that food), I wanted to go with something health-focused. That's why I chose Nike's FuelBand SE. The FuelBand SE comes in plenty of colors, and it has a LED-lit display that will show you the time, as well as your NikeFuel, which will tell you how active you are throughout the day, week, month and even longer. With the software you load up on your computer, you'll be able to keep track of your activities, and see what you need to do to beat your own goals to stay healthy. Plus, the FuelBand SE costs $149 (and only jumps up to $169 with the Rose Gold Edition), which is a nice price to pay to stay healthy.
Item over $1,000
I have to break the mobile trend here to come up with a device, a single device, I think you'd be happy buying for $1,000 or more. Simply put, that's a lot of dough to put down for anything, but it's pretty common to rack up a bill that high (or higher) when you're dealing with technology.
So, I went with the MacBook Air, 11.6-inch model. With as lightweight, compact and mobile the laptop is, I think it fit well with the idea that you can stay on-the-go with it tucked away in your bag of choice. Featuring a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, with a Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz, and Intel's HD Graphics 5000 and 4GB of memory, you'll have plenty of what you need to keep going throughout the day. The new processor, with slight tweaks to the battery, means you'll get up to 9 hours of battery life (sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on what you're doing and what you're connected to). There are two models: one with a 128GB SSD that starts at $999, or the 256GB SSD option with a price tag of $1,199.
I went with the MBA 11.6-inch simply because the keyboard and trackpad are second-to-none based on my time with several different devices throughout the year. Plus, it's so lightweight that it's just as easy as a tablet to take around with you more often than not.
Item Under $50
There were some great deals out there that could have netted you a pretty cool product or two for around $50, or even less, but since those flash-mob-inducing situations are over for a time being, let's just look at something that costs less than $50 normally. Not too long ago I asked you which type of headphones you use, and that's what I'm going with for the less than $50 category. Apple's EarPods, which will run you about $29.99. They've got a new, far more comfortable design, and they sound great, too. Which is a far cry from what they used to be. Because, they used to be . . . well, hey, they existed. So there's that.
Gifts for the Kid(s)
I finally got around to keeping a tablet for myself, but it really wasn't for myself. I finally figured out that kids really like tablets, so my old iPad Mini suddenly became my daughters' iPad Mini. But I wanted a tablet for myself again, so it's time to buy another one. This time around, I felt like going right towards something for them, rather than something they just make their own.
Amazon's Kindle Fire HD seems like the right tablet for kids. No, it's not built for kids, necessarily, but with a specific feature that Amazon boasts, it's pretty much idyllic. I'd get into specs, but this is for kids, so I don't think that's necessary. Instead, I want to focus on Amazon's FreeTime, and FreeTime Unlimited. With the former, you can set up pre-set times that your kid, or kids, get to play on the tablet. You can even set it up to work *after* they finish some educational reading or apps/games. Then, with FreeTime Unlimited, you can get access to thousands of apps, games, books, and other software for a small monthly fee. It starts at $2.99, and goes up to $9.99 a month for up to four kids. As for the Kindle Fire HD itself, you're looking at $139 for the 8GB or $169 for the 16GB version.
So, there it is. A quick list. A quick "guide" to what's out there in the world that you can buy that should make you, or someone you know, pretty happy this holiday season. I'm curious to know what you bought, when it comes to technology mind you, and if you were able to land any deals on any of the above devices.