What’s new in the technology world this year? Don’t know what to buy for that special someone or teen who’s into gadgets? This is my list of top ideas for tech-related gifts this holiday season. These really aren't in any specific order as I just couldn't come up with a ranking that I liked. Hopefully you can get some ideas, and be sure to post a message if you'd like any specific recommendations!
USB Flash Drive
Flash drives have become very inexpensive, but they're extremely handy! Just think, 20 years ago we would carry around our important files on 3.5" floppy disks, holding just 1.44MB of information. Now we can get a flash drive that holds 16GB (over 11 million times more information... seriously!) of our pictures, music, and files for less than $20. With that much storage, you could even back up your entire computer and carry it in your pocket!
Know of anyone still using an inkjet printer? They were really the only thing available for consumer use 10 years ago, but laser printers are the thing of today. No more waiting 30 seconds and listening to that annoying "chug chug" sound as your inkjet slowly prints each page. Laser printers can turn out pages in about 2 seconds. They're actually cheaper in the long run as you can get thousands of printers from a toner cartridge yet only a few hundred from ink cartridges. If you primarily print only text documents, a black and white laser printer can be a nice, yet inexpensive upgrade. A lot of laser printers can even connect right to your home network so you can print from any computer or laptop in the house. The Brother HL-2270DW is an awesome value at $149, and includes duplex printing, a 250-sheet paper tray, and wired or wireless network connection.
Wouldn't it be cool if your keyboard glowed? Do you ever type in dim light (or wish you could?) How about a backlit keyboard! You can even get keyboards that you can personalize the color of the keys. I like the Microsoft Sidewinder X4 keyboard, with programmable "macro" keys plus audio controls like volume and next/last track, priced at a reasonable $60. More expensive keyboards get you more buttons or fancy volume control wheels, but I wouldn't recommend spending over $100 as anything above that price is usually gimmicky or has features that you might find you never use.
Think Geek (www.thinkgeek.com)
The ultimate "kid in a candy shop" for that person with a penchant for gadgets, whacky and cool toys, or witty t-shirts. Any geek would be overjoyed with pretty much anything from Think Geek. My favorite thing to browse is definitely the wacky office supplies like neat stuff to spruce up your desk or weapons for "cube warfare". Who wouldn't love a USB Rocket Launcher? Take a few minutes to browse and you'll be sure to find something any geek would love!
Video Game System
The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 have been around for a while, but are still great options if you don't already have a console game system. Personally, I love the Playstation 3 because it plays Blu-Ray movies, plus connects to the internet and can stream Netflix videos right to your TV. The Xbox 360 is popular in many circles, primarily for the certain game titles that are specific only to the Xbox (e.g., Halo 4), but the Xbox 360 cannot play Blu-Ray movies. New for 2012 is the Wii U and the Playstation Vita. The Wii U is similar to the original Wii, but adds the new dimension of an special controller with built-in touchscreen. The Playstation Vita is Sony's new, portable game system with amazing graphics for a portable device and plenty of features like 3G internet and GPS.
If your gift recipients already own an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, consider some of the new motion-control accessories that came out in 2011, the Xbox Kinect and the Playstation Move, to breathe new life into your game system.
Downloadable Video Games
If the gamer on your list is into PC games instead of console games, then they absolutely have to know about Steam. Steam is one of the coolest changes to PC gaming in the recent years. Instead of driving to the store and buying games in boxes, putting disc after disc into the drive to install the game, then storing the boxes on a shelf, Steam lets you buy and maintain a complete digital library of PC games. While it may seem daunting at first, handing over money and receiving nothing more than a "download", I can assure you it's completely safe and has so many great benefits. Personally, I haven't bought a boxed PC game in many years.
With Steam, all your games are kept in one program. The games are automatically kept up-to-date with all patches and new content. Games are released all the time and can be purchased instantly from the Steam store. Games are downloaded and installed automatically for you. No clicking through prompts or answering questions. Just click install and wait. Want to play a game? Just find it in your list and double-click. Want to uninstall? Just right click the game and choose Delete.
My absolutely favorite reason for promoting Steam is the sales! Because games don't have to be printed to discs and boxed up, shipped to a store, and put on shelves, they have greater profit margins with which to offer amazing discounts. Steam offers daily deals at 50-75% off retail as well as seasonal and holiday sales. During these holiday sales you'll find hundreds of games at amazing discounts of 50 - 90% off. Games that cost $60 at a retail store (and rarely if ever go on sale) can be purchased for $30 or less during these Steam sales.
If you have a PC gamer on your list, be sure to browse the Steam Store website and pick out a downloadable game for them. Gifting the game is easy! Simply type in their email address and Steam does the rest!
If you're in the market for a new laptop computer, you've got to check out our Laptop Buying Guide from a few months ago. Not a lot has changed with laptops in 2012, but some things to look for are: built-in webcam, 10-key number pad, built-in 3G/4G internet, and a solid processor such as anything in the Core i-series (Core i3, i5, i7). Windows 8 is the new kid on the block this season, but I really only recommend Windows 8 if you're buying a fully-touchscreen devices such as a tablet or an all-in-one PC.
Tablets have been around for many years and in many forms. Originally, a tablet PC would have been very similar to a laptop—only the screen would flip around and lay face up and you had to use a stylus. In 2012, the tablet market has really taken off. Tablets are now sleek and portable, and can be fully operated with just your fingers. While I wouldn't recommend a tablet for a primary PC, they're great for casual entertainment: streaming movies, playing touch-based games, reading news and e-books, or updating your Facebook status. If you're considering getting a tablet, I would suggest going for one with the new Windows 8—a new operating system designed just for touchscreen devices—such as the Microsoft Surface. Expect to pay around $400-$600 for a quality tablet, with the price varying based off the amount of included storage (8GB, 16GB, or more)