It’s about that time, folks. The Thanksgiving holiday arrives next Thursday. The day after that, Black Friday, is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. The mobs will show up at countless retailers looking for deals and discounts, and will look to get a jump on holiday gift buying for friends and family. We at BestTechie know that you’re bound to have a few gadget fans on your shopping list; that’s why we’ve taken the time to put together this comprehensive holiday gift guide.
This guide differs a bit from other guides you might find online. We’ve broken things up into a couple of different categories; Laptops, Tablets, Smartphones, Desktops, Audio, Gaming, and Miscellaneous. Rather than select one single product, we’ve opted instead to select several that we think are the cream of the crop; the best that particular category has to offer. You know your intended gift recipient the best, so we think you can decide from there.
So, without further delay: the BestTechie 2012 Holiday Gift Guide.
Retina MacBook Pro 13 / starts at $1699
If the computer user on your list lives and dies by the Mac, there’s arguably no better gift to give at this point than the MacBook Pro. The gorgeous-looking Retina display recently made its way to the 13-inch model, along with a slimmer chassis and pumped-up internals. This is also the lowest-cost option for a Retina MacBook Pro, coming in at $1699. Of course, if you’re looking for something with a larger screen…
Retina MacBook Pro 15 / starts at $2199
The 15-inch model of the new MacBook Pro is a bit more pricey at $2199, but you get significant internal upgrades, as well as a larger, higher-resolution Retina display. The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro is built for the utlimate Mac power user who still requires the portability of a laptop.
Lenovo IdeaPad / $679
For the person on your list who is decidedly anti-Mac, or simply wants a Windows-based PC that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, the Lenovo IdeaPad is an impressive machine. Starting at $679, the IdeaPad boasts impressive specs and a build that looks quite a bit like Apple’s MacBook line of products. It also comes with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system pre-installed.
Samsung Chromebook / $249
If all you need is access to a Web browser to get your work done, you won’t find a seamless, more cost-effective way to do it than on a Chromebook. Samsung’s latest Chromebook model costs just $250, and offers quick boot times, a light weight (2.4 lbs) and 6.5 hours of battery time. For those who can live without desktop-based software, this Chromebook is a more-than-capable device.
iPad with Retina / starts at $499
What can we say about the high-end iPad with Retina that hasn’t been said already? This tablet, in terms of build quality, app ecosystem, and third-party accessory support, is the best tablet out there. The Retina display is outstanding to look at. The 10-hour battery life is still near the top of the class. And the iPad still boasts a greater number of tablet-specific apps than all of its rivals.
iPad mini / starts at $329
Some people like smaller tablets. Apple finally gave in to this fact with the release of the iPad mini last month. The tagline is “Every Inch an iPad,” and Apple has gone to great lengths to ensure that, while the iPad mini is smaller and less expensive than the iPad with Retina, the experience isn’t hindered in any way. The iPad mini can run every app built for the larger iPad, and while it doesn’t have a Retina display, its light weight and more portable form factor make up for it.
Nexus 7 / starts at $199
Google’s Nexus 7 tablet is the first Android tablet that the world really took seriously. Packed into a $199 price tag are specs that you’d expect to pay a lot more for, and of course, easy integration with all of Google’s popular services. If someone on your list is a heavy user of Google Web apps, or if they prefer to tinker with their tablet a bit more than is possible on an iPad, the Nexus 7 would be a great gift.
Nexus 10 / starts at $399
This recently-released tablet is for Android tablet fans who aren’t a fan of the Nexus 7’s smaller size. The Nexus 10 is a bit less of a powerhouse internally than the Nexus 7, but wow, the screen. The display on the 10 actually outdoes Apple’s iPad with Retina, and that display is beautiful in its own right. At $399, the Nexus 10 also comes in $100 cheaper than Apple’s product. Of course, it all comes down to preference. iOS or Android? If it’s the latter, you can’t go wrong with the Nexus 10.
iPhone 5 / $199 with 2-year contract
The iPhone 4S was already an impressive device, but the launch of the iPhone 5 really blew the 4S out of the water. To start, Apple increased the iPhone’s screen size for the first time (to 4-inches, still Retina). They also made the phone thinner and lighter, while adding more power and keeping the same battery life as previous iPhones. The on-contract price is still the same, too, so picking up the newest iPhone means you’re paying the same price as you were last year.
Samsung Galaxy S III / $99 with 2-year contract
The iPhone’s main rival at this point seems to be the Samsung Galaxy S line of smartphones. This year’s edition, the Galaxy S III, is an impressive device for Android fans. A ridiculously large (4.8-inches) HD screen, and neat additions like NFC (near field communication) make the Galaxy S III the smartphone of choice for those who want a big phone and don’t necessarily want to be sandboxed into Apple’s ecosystem.
iMac / starts at $1299
If you’re going to spend money on a separate desktop computer this holiday season, you might as well jump the whole way in and pick up Apple’s latest iMac. This thing is simply magnificient to look at, and it’s pretty powerful, to boot. Starting at $1299, there simply isn’t a better designed, better looking computer to put on your desk. And if you’re not much of a Mac OS X fan and prefer Windows, simply use Boot Camp to install Windows onto the iMac. Yes, we’re recommending that you use this iMac as a Windows machine over any other Windows-based desktop out there. It’s that good.
Mac mini / starts at $599
For those who already have most of the hardware for a computer — monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. — the Mac mini is an inexpensive way to jump into the Mac world. Starting at $599, the Mac mini is an impossibly-small PC and the best-looking desktop that isn’t an all-in-one. And, just like the iMac above, you can install Windows using Boot Camp if you prefer not to use Apple’s operating system.
Apple EarPods / $29
Do you need the Apple-brand earbuds to match your iPhone or iPod touch? If so, you can’t go wrong with Apple’s EarPods. These are a much better-designed version of the previous earbuds Apple shipped with its mobile products. They fit better in your ear and sound better, too.
Koss PortaPro / $40
Do you like bass? If so, you’ll be happy picking up a pair of Koss’ PortaPro headphones. And in the unlikely case that you experience problems with your headphones, Koss offers a lifetime warranty on their headphones, so you can get them replaced for free.
Bowers and Wilkins P5s / $349
For the true audiophile, the Bowers and Wilkins P5s are a safe bet. Our own Jeff Weisbein is a big fan of these; in fact, you can check out his in-depth review of the P5s. Bowers and Wilkins also has a lower-cost option in the P3s, and a set of desktop computer speakers in the MM-1s, which we’ve taken a look at previously.
AudioEngine A2 / $199
A set of desktop speakers we’ve reviewed here here previously are the AudioEngine a2s. If you want top-of-the-line sound from your computer, these are definitely worth a look. Check out our review for more.
Xbox 360 / starts at $199
The current-generation king of the console market, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has become more than just a video game system in recent years. Microsoft has quietly transformed its game box into a home entertainment system that you can use to purchase music, movies, TV shows, and more. Of course, the 360 is still a game console at heart, and it boasts one of the best game libraries around.
PlayStation 3 / starts at $270
After being marred by a less-than-spectacular start to its life, the Playstation 3 has redeemed itself and is now a great value. Most console packages come with a top-tier game included, and Sony is constantly improving on its PlayStation Network and PlayStation Plus services. On top of that, the PlayStation 3 also doubles as a Blu-Ray player — the only current-generation console that can make that claim.
Wii U / starts at $299
We’d normally recommend the Wii in this instance, but we’re only two days away from the launch of Nintendo’s newest console, the Wii U. If you’re looking to pick up a game console for someone who is a big fan of Nintendo IP (think Mario, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Pokemon), then the Wii U is a wise pick. For someone who is also into both console and tablet gaming, the Wii U might be worth a look, as well; the new console’s controller is a hybrid between a traditional gamepad and a touch-screen tablet device.
Halo 4 / $60
Microsoft and Halo creator Bungie may have parted ways, but that doesn’t mean the Halo franchise is dead. Far from it, in fact, as proven by last week’s release of Halo 4. For the Halo fan who is looking to climb back in the saddle with Master Chief, this is a must-have for the Xbox 360.
Assassin’s Creed III / $50
In this blockbuster title, you take control of an assassin who aims to help the colonists defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. Not only does AS3 do a nice job of mixing stealth, action, and overall fun gameplay, it’s also quite educational. Going through the game’s single-player campaign will teach you a lot about the war America fought for its freedom. Another plus for this title is that it’s cross-platform and available for the PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II / $60
The highly-anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Call of Duty: Black Ops was just released this week, and whether you’re a PC gamer, or you have a console like the Xbox 360, PS3, or upcoming Wii U, everyone has access to Activision’s latest entry into the Call of Duty series.
USB Flash Drive / $7-$29
While it’s certainly easy to send files over the Web nowadays, there are still those instances where you need to copy files to a device that doesn’t have Internet connectivity. You may also need a flash drive to install a fresh operating system. Our picks in this case are the Victorinox Swiss Army-esque flash drive, the OCZ Rally2, and the Patriot Memory Supersonic Boost XT.
External Hard Drive / $98
An external hard drive is a nice option for ultrabooks like the MacBook Air that don’t have a great deal of internal storage. You can store your music and movie collections, as well as any other large files, on an external drive like the Buffalo DriveStation to keep your internal flash storage clear for apps and other data.
App Store Gift Cards / multiple denominations
Whether you’re buying for an iOS or Android user, both stores provide ways to purchase gift cards that can be redeemed for Apple App Store or Google Play store credit. Using this credit, the recipient can download apps from the hundreds of thousands available for each platform. There’s no better gift to pair with a smartphone or tablet.
Netflix / starts at $7.99
Want to give the gift of cheap entertainment? Consider a Netflix gift certificate for a friend or family member. Netflix has a huge library of movies and past TV seasons, and the service works with a variety of phones, tablets, set-top boxes and game consoles.
Spotify / starts at $10
For the music lover in your life, there are Spotify subscriptions. Spotify puts millions of songs at your fingertips, and the subscription version allows you to listen to as many songs as you want without commercials. Subscribing to the full service also provides access to Spotify through its mobile apps, which allow you to download playlists for offline listening. You can pick up Spotify gift cards at Target.
Amazon Prime / $79
Amazon packs quite a bit of value into its Amazon Prime subscription service. Not only do you unlock free two-day shipping for all products that Amazon carries, but you also gain access to free Amazon Prime video streaming, as well as the ability to borrow one book per month for your Kindle from the Kindle Lending Library. For someone who makes a lot of purchases through Amazon, watches a lot of online video, and reads a lot of books, Prime is, well, a prime choice.
Do you have any suggestions for products that didn’t make the cut here? We’d love to hear about them! Feel free to list a few of your favorites in the comments section.