Holiday Gadgets: Expert tips on finding the right devices

For the technophile in your life, these items are must-haves.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 4:45 PM

As the holiday season comes to a fever pitch the search for the hottest gadget heats up. Luckily our own Rob Pegoraro has some of the most difficult holiday gadget choices broken down:

The humble desktop or laptop computer hasn't yet sunk to the status of commodity product, but it's getting close. On one hand, processing power, memory and storage keep getting cheaper and more plentiful; on the other, competing manufacturers have been settling on the same set of features.

They do, however, remain resolutely divided on one issue: Mac or PC? So are many of you.

I think Apple's Mac OS X is safer and simpler than Microsoft's Windows 7. It requires less setup work and ongoing maintenance, and most PCs lack the smart, stylish design of Macs. Apple's stores can be horribly crowded, but their Genius Bars (with an appointment) offer first-person tech support that's unparalleled among most PC vendors.

Post Tech also breaks down buying mp3 players, from the iconic iPod to the resurgent Zune:

The iPod is no longer the quasi-automatic choice it has been in prior seasons. The newest version of the iPod shuffle and iPod nano disappointed me, especially the Nano. The iPod touch is a lot better but also more expensive. On a Mac, where you presumably already have all your music in Apple's iTunes, an iPod will offer the simplest setup.

That's not necessarily so with Windows, and in that case you should also consider Microsoft's Zune HD, with its sleek software interface and HD Radio tuner (that gets you access to some interesting extra, HD-only stations, such as WAMU's bluegrass channel). But it could use a redesign, having gone more than a year without one.

Or you could do what I've done: switch to using my phone as my MP3 player of choice. Given the odds of smartphones continuing to displace MP3 players, it would certainly be a mistake to spend too much money in this category.

In the tablet market the iPad has reigned supreme, but that may not last forever reported Rob Pegoraro:

Apple's $499-and-up touch-screen device continues to define this category more than half a year after its arrival in stores. If you've ever used an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you know how to use this thing. If not, the odds are good that a friend can teach you in a few minutes. The iPad also benefits from an enormous and growing selection of applications written for its 9.7-inch screen.

But Apple's tablet misses some marks of its own. Without a camera, it's shut out of FaceTime video calls with iPhone, iPod Touch and Mac users. Its need to be connected to a computer for setup and software updates makes it unusable as somebody's only means of accessing the Web. And, more than six months after its launch, it can't be too long before a new version arrives. And even $499 can be a lot of money.

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