Gadgets to add to your holiday shopping list
Monday, November 15, 2010; 9:29 AM
The Washington Post's consumer technology expert tells you nine things to add to your wishlist - and one that's a waste of money.
* Apple iPad: After years of failed experiments in tablet computing, Apple's $499-and-up line of touchscreen devices put this category on consumer wish-lists. The iPhone's big brother has since spawned its own growing selection of iPad apps that take advantage of its roomy, 9.7-in. screen. The only catch: It's probably due for an update, which a lot of people expect will add a webcam for FaceTime videoconferencing.
* iPhone 4: Apple's other big product launch this year brought a much sharper screen and FaceTime videoconferencing to Apple's iconic smartphone line. It also had a few weeks in the headlines for an antenna-reception issue that many users never saw. But its biggest flaw isn't "antennagate" but AT&T's continued monopoly on the device in the United States. Maybe the new year will bring other choices.
* A good Android phone. Google's Android software now appears on phones from every carrier and in almost every smartphone size imaginable. Verizon's Motorola Droid 2 is among the best current examples of what Android can do, with its slide-out keyboard and fast processor; Sprint's Samsung Epic offers the same hardware formula with the addition of faster 4G WiMax data service.
* Roku HD: Apple's relaunched Apple TV has been in the headlines more, but this Web-media receiver is even cheaper, at just $59.99, and connects to far more Web video, audio and photo sources. It's not good at playing media from your own computers and can't play Apple's iTunes rentals, but Roku's frequent additions to its Channel Store help make up for those omissions.
* Xbox Kinect: Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console seems new again with this $149.99 add-on, which lets you control the action in games by just waving your arms and legs around and making simple gestures in the air. Just make sure your living room has enough space for it.
* Amazon Kindle: If you're going to buy an e-book reader - something I've yet to do myself - Amazon's now-just-$139 Kindle has the advantage of a wide and growing variety of Kindle apps for computers and phones that allow you to keep reading even if the Kindle device itself goes out of style. I'd rather see Amazon dump the "digital rights management" restrictions that require you to read Kindle titles on its own software, though.
* The two-tuner HDTV. Forget 3D TV hype, the HD set you want is one that includes a digital tuner for over-the-air reception and "connected TV" software to play audio and video from such Internet sites as Amazon, Netflix and Pandora. Both just might help you ride out the next interruption of cable or satellite service by a carriage dispute.
* Prepaid mobile-broadband receiver. If you or someone you know need only occasional wireless-data service for a computer, there's no need to sign a contract with a monthly fee. Prepaid services from Sprint's Virgin Mobile, Clear (sold as "Rover"), T-Mobile and others now let you pay only for the data or the time you need, then let the receiver collect dust until the next contingency.
* SD Card: One of the electronics industry's most pointless, least helpful format wars quietly ended in January when the last manufacturers to support competitors to this storage-card standard gave up. Nowadays, if you buy something that takes flash-memory cards, you can bet on it accepting either SD or its microSD smartphone version, making a high-capacity card in either size a cheap and safe gift.
And here's one not to get:
* An evil Android phone. The same wireless carriers that have rushed to ship different Android phones haven't been able to resist the temptation to put their own spin on these devices, even when they don't know that they're doing. Exhibit A: Verizon's Samsung Fascinate, which ships with Microsoft's Bing search engine standard - as well as a boatload of unnecessary, unhelpful apps that you can't uninstall without non-trivial tinkering.