Josh's Holiday Gift Guide
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Shopping for tech during the holiday can be hard. So here’s hoping that you’ll do better this year than you did in years past.

Cell Phones

            There are three big players in the phone game right now: iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Notice that Blackberry isn’t up there anymore? Yeah. Don’t get one – there’s no excuse why anyone would still want to use one so I won’t cover them. If you do have a hardcore BlackBerry fan on the list, get them an iPhone or Android and give them a few weeks with it. Once they come around, I guarantee you won’t be able to get it away from them.
            With iPhone, you now have your choice of 3 national carriers – AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. You also have your choice of model – 3G (AT&T only), 4, and 4S at prices anywhere from free (3GS, AT&T only), $99 (4), and $199-$399 (4S). The 3GS looks really attractive with its free price tag but keep in mind that it’s a two-year-old phone that shouldn’t even be around anymore. If you’re an iPhone buyer on a budget, do yourself a favor and spend an extra hundred on the 4. While the 4 is also an older model, doesn’t have Siri, an 8 megapixel camera, or the dual-core A5 processor, it is still very capable and should please anyone with an iPhone on their wish-list. However, of course, if you are willing to spend $200, the 4S should still be the default for anyone buying an iPhone this holiday season.
            On the Android front, well, this holiday season is all about you. You have hundreds of phones, phones starting at free, and every carrier in the country to choose from. Yeah, you’ve pretty much got it all. That said, the Android game can be incredibly confusing, especially when you line up all the options and compare them all. It gets crazy after a while.
            With iPhone and iOS it’s all about simplicity and ease. With Android it’s all about complexity, power, and choice.
            The Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR are the two top Android phones this holiday season and I’d highly recommend anyone shopping for an Android phone to choose one of these. Both are on Verizon (the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t yet have an official release date) and both will run on the carrier’s 4G LTE network. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, which carriers are promising means over the “long term” the network will be in constant evolution to bring you faster and faster speeds. AT&T and Sprint will both be rolling out their LTE networks in the coming months but neither can match Verizon’s LTE coverage at this point. Although maybe you don’t want to commit to a contract on Verizon.
AT&T has the Samsung Galaxy S II in both HSPA+ (Samsung Galaxy S II) and LTE (Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket) versions. Both claim to be 4G, but in reality, only the LTE variant is a true 4G phone. Sprint also carries the Galaxy S II, named the “Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch”. No, I don’t know why they chose to give it such a long name. T-Mobile carries the Samsung Galaxy S II too, albeit only on HSPA+ bands, so although they claim that it’s a 4G phone, you’re smarter than that.
Android on pre-paid has exploded over the last year. Almost every pre-paid carrier has some sort of pre-paid offering, although no one comes anywhere close to meeting or beating Virgin Mobile’s Android offerings and the plans that they offer with them. For $45, you get 1200 minutes plus unlimited text and data per month. That’s way less than you’d pay on a contract plan with any of the major carriers. To add to that, Virgin’s phone selection isn’t too shabby. Virgin offers the LG Optimus V for $129 and the Motorola Triumph for $299.
            On the Windows Phone front, there aren’t nearly as many options as Android. For anyone looking for a new Windows phone, AT&T is going to be your carrier, after which you’ll only have to decide between the Samsung Focus S and HTC Titan. Both are HSPA+ phones, so no true 4G speeds with all the bells and whistles you’d want on a higher end phone. If you are looking to buy a Windows Phone, however, I’d strongly urge you to go into a store and test drive it first. Windows Phone is a (relatively) new platform and therefore still has a few kinks that Microsoft has yet to work out. Then again, all operating systems do.

In-ear Earphones

            Earphones are another area where most people seek advice when it comes to buying for themselves or others. The number one rule when it comes to those little plastic things you stick in your ears is to avoid brands that only give you flash for your cash. Skullcandy and the “Beats by Dr. Dre” line of earphones are some of the most popular among young kids (Skullycandy earphones are generally under $100 while Beats generally run in the $110 to $150 range). But those are, as previously mentioned, for kids just looking to get noticed.
            For the serious listeners, there are only two brands that you need to know – and ironically enough, these are two that will sound totally foreign to most buyers. The first of these is Klipsch. Klipsch is the manufacturer of the famed S4 and S4i earphones, the best sounding earphones you’ll find on the market for under $100. Feeling skeptical about the brand being unknown? Don’t. Not only have these compact earphones won the praise of Apple, but also of the editors of CNET, Engadget, and Gizmodo, three of the largest tech review sites on the internet. Still skeptical? Well, they have a full two-year warranty, so should they ever break or sustain damage, simply write to Klipsch. You’re still skeptical, aren’t you? Well here’s one last testimonial. I use them. They’re my go-to pair for everything from hitting the gym (due to their amazingly secure and comfortable fit) to casual listening while out and about (for their stellar sound quality). The S4’s usually run about $79 while the S4i’s run $119. The only difference between the S4 and S4i is the S4i’s in-line remote (volume up and down, play/pause, answer/end call, and a microphone for calls) for use with only Apple products. Is that worth an extra $40? Well, that’s going to be up to you. For use at the gym and in active lifestyles, I highly recommend paying the extra $40 and getting the in-line remote. If you have an iPhone 4S, you can control Siri with it just as you would with the home button on your iPhone.
            The second brand is Ultimate Ears. That sounds kind of corny, no? I think so. And usually companies with tacky names (hello, Skullcandy) produce cheap, tacky products. But that’s not the case with Ultimate Ears. Ultimate Ears isn’t actually a company. Ultimate Ears, or “UE” as they badge all of their products, is the audio-division of Logitech (that should at least sound familiar to you). Ultimate Ears makes two pairs of earphones that you should seriously consider. The first are the Ultimate Ears 700’s.
            The second pair that you’ll want to let your eyes rest upon are the beautiful (well, not really) king of in-ear earphones, the Tripple.fi 10’s. Unless you’re a musician who works in the studio with pro-audio equipment, these will be the best earphones you have and maybe will ever use. At $399 retail, they don’t come cheap, but don’t be scared off by their price tag. You can oftentimes find them cheaper on sites like Amazon. If you’re willing to pay $399 for these guys, feel free to navigate to Logitech’s site now.
TV Accessories
            With Netflix and Hulu becoming two of the most popular video-streaming companies, it’s no surprise that people are now wanting to use these services on their televisions in addition to their computers. And that’s completely reasonable. Why would you want to watch movies and TV shows on your computer screen when you have that shiny new HDTV in the den?
            Well, a few companies have stepped up to that question, their answer some newfangled gadgets called “Media Streaming Boxes”.
            Media streaming boxes open up a world of entertainment for anyone willing to give them the light of day. Netflix, sports, weather, apps, games, TV shows, movies – it’s all on there. And because most media streaming boxes stream all content from the internet, there’s never a need to worry about storage space!
            There are two names you should know in this category and those are Roku and Apple. Roku produces some of the best media streaming boxes in the industry, their latest, the Roku LT which is priced at an astonishingly low $49. At $49, you get most of what a beginner would want out of such a device. Netflix, sports, weather, TV shows, movies, etc. However, for an extra $30, the Roku XD is going to be the hit for most folks. You already have the HDTV that can play 1080p HD video, why not have a media streaming box that push out a full high definition picture to it?
            
            If you live in a household that’s full of Apple products, however, you can ignore Roku and their boxes and simply drop $99 on the Apple TV. The Apple TV is one of the gadgets that Apple says, “just works”. When connected over Wi-Fi to any Apple device (Mac, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad), you can instantly stream music, movies, and photos to the Apple TV via Air Play, which then shoots them right up onto your HDTV. Have an iPad 2? Air Play can also mirror your iPad display right on your HDTV without the constraint of having to connect an HDMI cable the way you used to have to.
For The Graphic Designer,
            The first thing every graphic designer needs is the Adobe Creative Suite.

            Now, if he or she already has this loaded on his or her Mac, the next thing to think about is a drawing tablet. What’s that? It’s a surface on which you can draw, the strokes appearing onscreen in whatever application the designer is using. Many cartoonists, including myself, use tablets to create the strips we draw.
            The Wacom Bamboo series of tablets is a great choice for the novice user, offering simple operation with complex possibility. The Bamboo line starts with the “Connect” on the low end, priced at a very reasonable $79, the “Capture” at $99, and the high-end “Create” at $199.
            
            More demanding amateurs and pros alike will appreciate the Intuos 4 series of tablets. While offering the same basic functionality of the Bamboo line, the Intuos series adds a few shortcut keys, a more advanced “pen” and more advanced software for use on computers. The Intuos 4 line picks up where the Bamboo line left off, starting with the “Small” at $299, the “Medium” at $349, “Wireless” at $399, “Large” at $469, and Extra Large at $789. Intuos has also
All Bamboo and Intuos tablets will work with both Macs and PCs and make software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver infinitely more useful.
Less Complicated
            
            Maybe you’re not really looking for a complicated piece of tech. It’s always nice to keep things simple. A few easy ideas this season are, of course, things like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPod and iPads are always popular.
Wrap Up
            If you’ve already done the bulk of your holiday shopping, then cheers to you, mate. You can rest easy these next few weeks. And to everyone, remember that the holidays aren’t always about shopping for shiny new toys. Be sure to spend time with friends and family this holiday season too. I know I will be.

A Quick Recap
Smartphones
Apple iPhone 4S, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon $199-$399
Apple iPhone 4, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon $99
Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Verizon (Price & Release Date TBA)
Droid RAZR, Verizon $299
Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket, AT&T $249
Samsung Galaxy S II, AT&T $199
Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, Sprint $199
Samsung Galaxy S II, T-Mobile $199
T-Mobile G2X by LG, T-Mobile $99
LG Optimus V, Virgin Mobile, $129*
Motorola Triumph, $299*
*No contract required
In-Ear Earphones
Altec Lansing Muzx Classic Earphones $30
Klipsch S4/S4i $79/$99
Ultimate Ears 700 $149
Ultimate Ears Tripple.fi 10 $200-$400
TV Accessories
Roku LT $49
Roku 2 XD $79
Apple TV $99
Wacom Tablets
Bamboo series $79-$199
Intuos series $299-$789
Other Popular Gift Ideas
Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch e-reader $99
B&N Nook Color $199
B&N Nook Tablet $249
Amazon Kindle e-reader $79
Amazon Kindle Fire tablet $199
Apple iPod Nano $129-$149
Apple iPod Touch $199-$399
Apple iPad 2 $499-$829
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