Pro: Kinks tend to be ironed out
Con: Not the hottest gifts around
Best for: First-time smartphone buyers
Retail price: $99 for the iPhone 4S
If someone you love has been dying for a smartphone but you can’t quite justify the cost of the latest model, consider picking up an older smartphone. That may seem like a crummy thing to do, but actually there are plenty of reasons why getting the slightly less-hot item is better than opting for one straight from the factory.
These advantages extend beyond price, though that’s a major selling point for older phones. For one, the pros and cons of a year-old phone are well-established, meaning that shoppers should be able to avoid the pitfalls faced by early adopters. Secondly, despite what electronics manufacturers may want you to think, many year-old phones still function as well as their hotter, younger siblings.
The iPhone 4S is the clearest example of this. Released in 2011, the 4S is slightly heavier and thicker than the newly released iPhone 5 but has many of its most appealing features, such as the voice-assistant program Siri. It even runs the same software as the new phone, so functions like the panoramic camera are available on iPhone 4S models as long as their software is up to date.
There are exceptions to this rule. Windows Phones released last year, for example, aren’t able to run the latest version of the Windows Phone operating system, which limits the chances that they’ll have full access to new features from developers. And even the iPhone 4 isn’t privy to some features on the latest software from Apple, so keep in mind that you may miss out on a brand-new feature or two before the time comes to upgrade. Finally, don’t forget that while a smartphone itself may cost less than $100, the data plan that comes with it will be a running expense.
Pro: More personal than cash
Con: Not gift-wrap friendly
Best for: Folks who have everything
Retail price: About $8 a month; $96 for a year
Digital subscriptions are a great way to extend your holiday spirit throughout the year and find a gift for people who seem to have everything. Subscriptions to services such as Netflix or GameFly, for example, get gift-buyers around the sticky situation of figuring out which movies or games their friends already own. (Or for parents to figure out what kind of games their kids like.)
Netflix subscribers pay $7.99 per month for either DVD or streaming video access, so you should figure out how folks like their movie nights before you pull the trigger on a subscription. Streaming generally will be more useful for those nights when you feel like a movie (or TV show) but don’t really have an idea of what you want to watch. Physical disks definitely are for people who have a single movie in mind and are willing to wait a day or two to get their hands on it.
GameFly is particularly good for gamers of all ages, given that they have titles that span a variety of consoles going as far back as the early 2000s. You also can play PC games for free with a GameFly subscription while you wait for things to ship. Subscriptions start at $7.98 a month.
The major downside to these gifts is that they have nothing to box up. You’ll have to be creative when it comes to gift-wrapping, particularly if you’re one of those people who hates just giving a card.