Nothing says “Happy holidays” to the gadget lover than a new toy tied up in a bow. Tech expert Marc Saltzman has hand-selected the top items and accessories of the year, from $15 to $500, for everyone on your must-buy list. And don’t worry: We won’t tell if you stick one under the tree just for yourself.
Tablets and e-book readers
Touchscreen tablets and e-books remain the hottest products of the year: These super-thin, lightweight computers turn on instantly, are a cinch to use and last all day on a single charge.
Apple’s fourth-generation iPad (from $499) is still best in class for its stunning 9.7-inch touchscreen, powerful processor, dual cameras, 10-hour battery and availability of more than 700,000 downloadable apps to customize your tablet. The new iPad mini ($329) is smaller (7.9-inch), thinner, lighter and less powerful, but with many of the same features.
Microsoft’s Surface tablet ($499.99) runs the new Windows RT platform. This versatile 10.6-inch tablet is ideal for consuming media and creating content, too – and supports an optional case that doubles as a keyboard and stand (not included). Surface boasts large and colorful tiles that show info at a glance, such as new Facebook pictures, calendar appointments and weather.
For Android fans, Google’s Nexus 7 (from $199) is a smaller and more affordable tablet. The 7-inch device includes access to many Google services, plus along with preloaded music, movie and e-book, you also get a $25 credit to buy goodies at the Google Play store.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD ($199) color tablet features an anti-glare screen, superfast Wi-Fi and access to more than 22 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, ebooks, audiobooks, apps and games. A feature called Lending Library lets Kindle owners borrow nearly 200,000 books for free. For those who prefer a dedicated e-book reader, try the Kindle Paperwhite ($119).
Hours of fun for one — or the whole family.
Instead of buying a Smart TV — the buzzword that refers to Internet-connected televisions — turn your regular HDTV into a smarter one with a small Wi-Fi-enabled media player like the Apple TV or the Roku 2 XS (each for $100).
If a quirky gift is more your speed, the Swann MP3 DJ Doorbell ($39.99) is the first product to let you customize the sound of your doorbell with clips from your music collection. Surprise visitors with the chorus of Ring My Bell or Who Can It Be Now?
Nintendo’s Wii U (from $299.99) new video game console is the first to ship with a wireless 6.2-inch touchscreen controller. Gamers can control content with the Wii U GamePad’s screen or buttons (or by tilting it), and also see complementary information on the second screen — like a handy map — that tells you where to go on your big-screen adventure. And good news for parents: the Wii U will play older Nintendo Wii games, too.
For just $20, pick up a gift for the entire family, and one that fuses old-school board games with modern tablet technology. Hasbro’s zAPPEd editions of The Game of Life, Monopoly and Battleship use an iPad in the middle of the board for added functionality and interactivity.
If you’re shopping for a couch potato and have a generous budget, Logitech’s latest in its award-winning universal remotes is available just in time for the holidays. The Logitech Harmony Touch ($249.99) is an advanced remote with an intuitive color touchscreen that lets you swipe and tap to access all your activities, such as watching a DVD or playing content from your digital video recorder (DVR). Along with controlling up to 15 different home theater devices, you can also personalize the remote by selecting up to 50 favorite channels from your TV provider.
Smartphone, tablet accessories
What to buy a smartphone or tablet owner? Accessories, of course.
Gelaskins ($14.95) are high-quality decorative skins that stick to a smartphone’s backside. Download free matching wallpaper to display on your phone's home or lock screen, or, upload your own design to create a custom skin, such as a family portrait, pet, company logo or favorite sports team. Gelaskins are also sold for tablets, e-book readers and laptops (prices top $29.95).
Despite its teeny size (2.8 x 2.8 x 2.5-inches), HMDX's Jam Wireless Portable Speaker ($49.99) delivers impressively loud, but clear, audio when wirelessly paired with a nearby smartphone or tablet. Available in multiple colors, this small speaker works up to 30 feet away from the Bluetooth-enabled source.
For trendy, premium over-the-ear headphones, look to Monster Inspiration ($249.99). This attractive and comfortable pair deliver powerful and well-balanced sound from your music and movies — including deep bass, full mids and clear highs — and are customizable with interchangeable bands (sold separately).
For the fitness-minded, Striiv ($99) is a smart pedometer that not only counts steps, stairs and calories burned, but earns the user virtual gold to use in an embedded game. Complete missions (such as walk 1 mile) and track progress by synchronizing the Striiv with a personal computer (USB cable included). A new Striiv app is also available for iPhone.
Snag a high-tech camera to capture memories for the holidays and beyond.
Canon’s PowerShot ELPH 320 HS camera ($199.99) is a compact point-and-shoot camera with Wi-Fi connectivity – so you can snap photos, shoot video and immediately upload them to your personal computer or favorite social network. No Wi-Fi available? Photos can be uploaded when you get home to your wireless network instead of connecting the camera to a computer via USB cable.
The just-unveiled GoPro HERO3 Camera ($199.99 to $399.99) is for adventurous types who want to capture all the action from a first-person perspective. Mount this Wi-Fi enabled waterproof camera to your helmet, chest or bike with the bundled straps and it’ll record everything in breathtaking clarity.
The most buzzed about camera is the Lytro which uses new “light field” technology to focus a picture after it’s been taken. It even shoots pics in 3D. The unique-looking Lytro runs $399 for the 8-gigabyte model (in blue or graphite) or $499 for the 16GB Lytro camera (in red).
Saltzman is a tech writer and regular contributor to USA TODAY.