Holiday gift guide for the tech-savvy
By Kristina Diggins-Reisinger
Any vintage style devotee, shopaholic or foodie would feel right at home in Nolita. Boutiques, chic shops and eccentric bars and cafés line the streets. In the midst of this trendy neighborhood, I found CNET’s Hands-On Holiday Guide, a tech-centric pop-up shop for the gizmo whiz in your life.
Hosted through Sunday, Nov. 13, the four-dimensional guide found a temporary home at Openhouse Gallery. The place was packed with electronic gurus and customers drooling over walls lined with the latest toys accompanied by helpful explanatory note cards for technological amateurs like myself.
When I entered the shop, I was met with an array of featured cameras, including the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, the Nikon D3100 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V. The Canon Rebel was on the pricier side, starting at $659.99. This finely tuned piece of machinery boasts excellent video capabilities as well as high image quality. When shooting stills and video, however, the Rebel’s controls can be frustrating to operate, and it’s not terribly fast for spontaneous shooting. This wouldn’t be a good option for parents like myself looking to capture those first steps.
Conversely, the Nikon D3100 has a markedly smaller viewfinder but features excellent photo quality and well laid-out buttons and controls.
The one that nabbed CNET’s editor’s pick, however, was the Sony Cyber-shot. While considerably more affordable at $269.99, it boasts shooting features including face detection and image stabilization.
According to the experts, one key piece of advice this holiday season if you are buying a camera is to ditch any obsession with megapixels. Most cameras on the market today have more than enough megapixels to get the job done. Instead, opt for a cheaper body but a higher quality lens. Buying an expensive camera and putting a cheap lens on it is like buying a Lamborghini and putting a four-cylinder engine in it; better to buy a Honda Civic and add a souped-up V-8. The lens is what focuses light so your pictures are crystal clear.
For the in-home entertainment field there were three clear frontrunners: Apple TV, Microsoft Xbox 360 Slim and Sony PlayStation 3 Slim. Apple TV lets you stream all of the movies and TV shows available on iTunes to your HDTV on a pay-per-view basis. It offers Netflix, streams content from any iOS device or computer running iTunes and costs about $349. The Apple TV, however, won’t work with older, pre-HD TVs.
A mammoth product in terms of features, the Xbox Slim, at $299, includes a sleeker design, much quieter operation, a better cooling system, touch-sensitive power and disc tray, 250GB hard drive, built-in Wi-Fi and five USB ports. The new Xbox, however, doesn’t warrant a purchase if you already own a working older version.
The Sony PlayStation 3 Slim, also $299, won editor’s top pick and is sure to indulge your gaming needs with all the best features of the Xbox Slim plus a Blu-ray and DVD player.
If you are looking to splurge for your loved one this season with a fancy new computer, the first question to ask yourself is, how often do they travel? If they seem to be out and about quite often, a laptop with a screen that has added weight might slow them down. Pick one with more compact dimensions, around 13 inches in length, but skip the Netbook, since your smart phone isn’t significantly smaller and still offers all the same functions.
CNET editor-at-large Brian Cooley’s presentation encouraged consumers not to fear the death of the PC. Tablets and smart phones are an adjunct, but people are still using PCs as their home base.
CNET’s shop featured laptops including the Apple MacBook Pro 2011, Dell XPS 14z and HP Pavilion dm1z. At $1,700, the MacBook Pro offers incremental updates to its processor and, according to the CNET experts, has the best trackpad and gesture controls of any current laptop. The Dell XPS 14z is attractive with its unprecedentedly thin body and packs all the punch of a 14-inch laptop in a 13-inch body, with plenty of configuration options.
Winning the editor’s pick was the HP Pavilion dm1z, a far more affordable laptop at roughly $400 than its competitors that features a better touch pad and updated processor.
Okay, let’s talk smart phones. Android vs. iPhone: which is better? While the iPhone offers tons of music and a simple, intuitive interface, Android offers more control. When buying a smart phone as a gift, remember to think about the tech ecosystem the person is already submersed in. Chances are, if your sister owns an iPod, iPad and a MacBook, she is going to want to stick with the iPhone so she can easily transfer data between devices.
At her talk, CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt discussed the hottest smart phones and highlighted the Droid Razor, which was released on 11/11/11 and is, for a limited time, being sold for $111.11. The Razor is a 4G phone with HD display, 8 megapixel camera and splash resistant screen, in case someone spills the eggnog.
The iPhone 4S will run you about $299, but aside from its faster processor and upgraded camera, there isn’t much there that the iPhone 4 didn’t already have. The editor’s pick was the Galaxy Nexus, featuring a huge 4.65-inch HD display and a slightly curved face intended to hug your cheek when holding the phone to your ear, which offers impeccable speed.
LG advertised its latest TV with the phrase, “Seeing believes.” Their new LG Cinema 3D TV offers 2D and 3D conversion functions, smart TV and a magic motion remote. Like a mouse for a smart TV, the remote lets you drag, flick and select your preferences without the hassle of using multiple buttons and arrow keys.
Other featured televisions were the Samsung PN51D7000 and Sony Bravia KDL-46NX720. The Samsung, at $1,200, offers outstanding overall picture quality, with excellent black-level performance and extremely accurate color. Key features include built-in Wi-Fi, comprehensive picture controls and more apps and streaming services than competitors. At $1,099, the Sony Bravia produces deeper black levels than any LED-based TV tested and includes built-in Wi-Fi as well as an Internet suite that streams services and widgets.
Visit www.cnet.com for more information on these and other products. Happy shopping!
A CNET techie, one of many, helped shoppers in Nolita decipher the best gadgets for the holiday season at a pop-up shop at the Openhouse Gallery. Photo courtesy of CNET
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