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Halloween is over and it’s time to think about the holiday season already. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I get it. I’m not ready for the music or the tree decorating and I certainly haven’t contemplated all the gifts I need to buy for people yet.
However, one thing I really enjoy is gift shopping. From a young age, I’ve also really been into computers and tech, which means this blog is one of my favorite assignments of the year, so buckle up!
The gifts are in various categories and at a few different price points. This guide should give you some ideas – regardless if you’re a lifelong techie or just shopping for someone who is. Before we jump in, let’s go over a few tips in terms of the best time to buy.
It’s important not to go out tomorrow and buy all the things. Odds are high that many retailers will offer some of the better deals around Black Friday and continuing through Cyber Monday.
Online retailers like Amazon are doing more to try to take away some of that mindshare from brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday in recent years. Meanwhile, retailers like Target and Walmart are trying to get in on that Cyber Monday excitement, too.
With that in mind, feel free to wait it out a while and see if you can get the best deal possible. The best time to buy certain items may indeed be after Black Friday . Retailers may discount items to get rid of excess stock. If the item is popular enough, it’s important to note that this strategy could backfire.
And with that, let’s get into the gizmos and gadgets.
Home theater is a big category for home tech. There are TVs, speaker systems and streaming media players to take a look at.
Best TV for the Money
You can get a nice 1080p TV crazy cheap nowadays. The techie on your list is going to want the latest and greatest, though, but you don’t have to break the bank.
VIZIO does very high quality electronics at an affordable price. This won’t be the last time you see them in this roundup. You can get a 50” 4K TV with high dynamic range (HDR) for under $600.
For context, 4K bumps up picture clarity because it’s double the resolution of a standard 1080p HDTV. HDR increases the spectrum of the color gamut that can be shown by your television so you get the deepest black and the whitest white.
You’ll lose a little bit of the pop, but you can also get a 4K display without HDR for about $100 less.
When it comes to home theater, you don’t want to use the TV speakers. They just don’t kick out a deep enough sound to really get you into the experience. With that in mind, one thing to take a look at is sound bars and speaker systems.
In this area, VIZIO sells a great sound bar and subwoofer package for $150. For another $80, speakers can be added behind the viewer as well for a more three-dimensional sound experience.
When it comes to streaming media players, there are four big competitors in the market.
The current option I would recommend is the Apple TV 4K . It’s a little more expensive than the other options I’m going to talk about, but the nice thing here is that if you have any existing HD content from iTunes or a previous Apple TV, you automatically get the content’s 4K version when it becomes available without an upcharge. That’s not the case for many other services.
It starts at $179, with $20 more for a version with more storage capacity. This one also has extensive gaming capability and can function as a hub for your smart home devices as well.
Roku , Google Chromecast , and Amazon Fire all have 4K streaming dongles for around $70. For an extra $5, Amazon is currently bundling an HD antenna, so you can get your local channels in high definition if you’re a cord cutter.
We don’t have a lot of the technology referenced in Iron Man , but one area in which we might be in a mighty close is with his voice assistant J.A.R.V.I.S. There are at least two major platforms competing for the ability to control your entertainment, schedule and smart home devices using only your voice.
The Amazon Echo is one that I have personal experience with, so I’ll start there. I use voice commands to turn lights on and off through connected smart outlets. In this area, they’ve also released updated versions that can serve as their own hub for supported devices, so you don’t have to have a separate connector. It lets me control streaming radio and music with just my voice. I’m able to control my Fire TV Stick. I can ask the Echo all sorts of questions including the weather and sports scores. Most recently, I’ve connected two of these devices in an intercom system so I can call between rooms.
This isn’t to say that the Echo is the only game in town. The Google Home offers a very similar feature set. Apple is also jumping into this arena sometime in December with its HomePod.
The HomePod might be one to keep an eye on. It uses its directional microphones to figure out the audio environment in the room it’s in to give you the best possible audio experience. This is also the only speaker/voice assistant option that supports Apple Music. With that said, the audio calibration features mean there’s a price jump. At $349, the starting price comes in at $200 more than its closest competitor.
When it comes to video games, I’m going to touch on virtual reality actually becoming a reality for consumers, as well as on the newest home console hardware.
The absolute latest and greatest in video games right now is virtual reality. It provides the most immersive experience by putting you right in the game. With that said, it’s important to note that the latest and greatest sometimes comes at a heavy premium.
One of the cheaper entry points into this arena may be a PlayStation VR . However, you’re looking at $350 minimum for the required virtual-reality accessories and $250 for a PlayStation 4.
HTC’s Vive VR cost $599, but it currently requires a PC powerful enough to handle some of the processing load, and those don’t come cheap. The Oculus Rift is only $399, but you do need a compatible PC as well. Finally, the Samsung Gear VR comes in at $130, but it requires a compatible Samsung smartphone.
Gamers tend to organize themselves into tribes. You’re either a Nintendo, PlayStation or Xbox gamer and that’s just the way it is. I would advise anyone looking to buy a console or games for their friends or loved ones to be very conscious of which side of the triangle that particular person falls on. That said, my analysis of each of these companies’ offerings is going to be purely from a technical and usability perspective.
In addition to beloved characters like Zelda and Mario, Nintendo has a very compelling console offering in the Switch . The console offers multiple controller styles and can either be docked at home or taken on the road. With enough controllers, up to eight people can play together in the same room in addition to online multiplayer options. It also has some of the motion control options made popular by its Wii predecessors. The Switch retails for $399.
For the same price, Sony offers its top-of-the-line PlayStation 4 Pro . The console features 4K playback with HDR for Blu-rays and media content as well as the same features for games if the developers choose to build them in.
From a purely technical standpoint, the Xbox One X has the competition beat in terms of power, but from a practical standpoint it offers the same 4K HDR features as the PS4 Pro . It really comes down to what the person you’re buying for prefers to game on.
Tablets and Phones
A lot of these get purchased around the holidays, so I feel like I have to say something about them in here, but it’s important to note that these very much come down to personal preference and, increasingly, the size of your budget.
For people who have iPhones, there are two new options this holiday season. The iPhone 8 features a really nice front-facing camera that can do interesting things like on-the-fly filters. There’s also wireless charging. Then there’s the iPhone X . It has all the features of the 8, plus Face ID and the ability to use an array of cameras to do some really cool things like animated emojis. (This is something better seen than described .) There are also some cool applications with augmented reality. This is the first iPhone with an OLED screen, enabling more true-to-life color. However, the iPhone X will cost you $1,000 at the least.
On the Android side, there are a lot of great options for phones at every price point. However, two phone options that are really pushing the boundaries of what can be done with Google’s smartphone platform are Samsung’s Galaxy line and the Pixel phones backed by Google. You may be able to pay for the phone on a monthly basis through your carrier.
The tablets in many cases are just like their phone counterparts with bigger screens and no calling capability. In many cases, you may be able to actually get these cheaper than a phone.
If you do mostly reading on tablet devices, you may want to take a look at the new Kindle devices . The e-ink displays mean no glare, even in bright sunlight, and they’re also easier on the eyes.
It’s not strictly tech, but many people who are interested in technology are also fans of comic books, sci-fi and all kinds of other cool stuff. If you’re just looking to get someone who’s proud to think of themselves as a pop-culture geek something they’ll really enjoy, check out services like Lootcrate and My Geek Box .
You can get these at a number of price points from $15 to around $50. You can choose to get random cool items or items based around the theme you pick. It could be anything from Harry Potter to Marvel to Star Wars and even WWE. You can choose to get one or send a monthly subscription.
We’ve gone through a lot of different gift options, but we’ve included a list of our favorites below:
VIZIO 50” class 2160p 4K smart TV with HDR
Wireless speaker systems
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