Hot tech gifts
No matter what our age, it seems we never outgrow the joy of having a “new toy” for Christmas. The holidays aren’t just an excuse to treat ourselves and our loved ones — it’s also the time to hunt for great deals on the hottest items.
If you’re dreaming about the latest in electronics this year, you’re in good company. According to Deloitte Canada’s 2011 Holiday Outlook Survey, one third of Canadians plan to buy spend on electronics this season — up from 28 per cent from last year. In the U.S., 65 per cent of respondents in a Consumer Reports survey said they plan to give electronics this year.
And don’t think retailers and manufacturers aren’t wise to the trend! This year, there’s a lot of competition as companies vie for market share in key areas like smart phones and tablets, say industry watchers. That means lower prices and more perks for consumers — not to mention steep discounts and flash sales.
Here is what tech gifts top lists this year.
Flat screen TVs
Sure, they’ve been around a few years now, but flat screen TVs in all their large and glorious forms are top of the list for Canadians this year, according to Deloitte. If you’ve wandered into the TV section of your favourite retailer lately, you know there’s even more selection and prices have come down in recent years. Flat screen TVs don’t have to be big: there are models to suit every sized room — even the kitchen.
However, it pays to do your research before you snap up a sale. LED, LCD and plasma TVs all have their advantages depending on where you plan to put them and what you plan to watch or play. It helps to know the differences. Also, expect to pay more for features like 3D and built-in internet access that lets you stream video from websites and services like Netflix.
Talk, text, video, pictures, applications, games, email… These devices “do it all”, and every year they get more impressive. This year, Apple’s iPhone 4s upped the ante with it’s new operating system, iOS 5, which includes new features like iCloud and Siri (a voice activated ” virtual personal assistant”).
Of course, Apple isn’t the only major player in the market. RIM’s Blackberry line continues to grab attention — though perhaps not as much as in the past — and phones based on Google’s Android operating system take the lead in terms of market share, According to a new report from Gartner, manufacturers Nokia and Samsung continue to lead in sales across the globe.
Be sure to compare operating systems and available applications, not just features. Monthly data plans can take a bite out of the monthly budget, and multi-year contracts are often required.
Some experts predicted a quick death for e-readers when tablets came on the market, but this handy gadget has found its niche — especially among baby boomers. Once again, there are more options, more features and lower prices than past years.
For instance, the “classic” Kobo eReader is now just $99 — down from its debut of $149. The touch screen model retails for $139, and the new Kobo Vox offers features like email, Android apps, video, a colour screen and music player for $199. Amazon’s Kindle line ranges from $109 USD for a basic touch screen model to $199 USD for the fully-equipped Kindle Fire. (If you’re willing to put up with ads, you can pay even less.)
E-readers are one item you really should try in the store to see if you like the look and feel. They’re cheaper than tablets, but often don’t have the processing power and features.
Apple’s iPad line has too much of the market share for too long — and competitors are ready to take a bite by undercutting Apple’s prices. While the iPad 2 ranges from $519 to $849 (depending on size and 3G connectivity), other options include RIM’s Playbook ($500 to $700) and Android-based tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tablet ($499). There are many more players this year — and some tablets range as low as $200.
Retailers know tablets will be a big draw this year, say industry watchers. That means steep discounts and deals to help bring people in the door. (We’ve already seen some markdowns of $200-$300, for example.) As with smart phones and e-readers, you’ll want to get a sense of how the device handles and performs before you buy.
It seems like every device has a built in camera these days, but many people want to go beyond lower quality candids. Fully automatic digital cameras continue to get faster and cheaper, and come with more options like increased zoom, video and wide angle lenses. Digital SLRs combine the best of both worlds: automatic when you need it and “manual” settings to help you craft the perfect shot.
Pre-Christmas and Boxing Day sales are a good time not just to find deals on cameras, but also on accessories. Look for packages that include additional battery packs, memory cards, a carrying bag and, in the case of SLRs, additional lenses. A decent point-and-click with a few features can still range as low as $200 or less, and digital SLRs can go as high as a couple of thousand dollars.
However, most users don’t need professional quality — think about what features you need and stick to a budget.
How low can you go? Digital music players continue to be a hit and prices continue to drop. Apple’s iPod Shuffle is down to $49, the Nano goes for $129-$149 and the iPod Touch — packed with many of the same features as an iPhone — starts at $199.
While one of the most notable names in music, Apple doesn’t have a monopoly. Microsoft’s Zune may have disappeared, but Sony, Archos and Sandisk are a few of the players in this industry. For a basic player, expect to pay $30-$70. Go a little higher (let’s say $50 to $150) and you can get features like touch screens and video. If you’re willing to spend $150 and up, you can get the whole multimedia experience — music, video, games, internet access, apps and more.
It isn’t just kids who are driving the market for game systems like the Sony PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Wii. These systems are popular among adults too — and not just for the men. Game systems aren’t just about the games: they’re about how we experience the games. For instance, the Wii and Kinect (with the Xbox 360) encourage whole body interaction with the game system, not just using your thumbs.
How much can you expect to pay? Systems often range $200-$400, depending on what accessories and games along with the package. For example, the Xbox 360 with Kinect retails for about $400, but you won’t need to worry about special controllers or boards as with the Wii (starting at $149).
Other hot items this year: all the games and accessories that go along with the systems. Dance, sports and music games appeal to a wide range of audiences.
They’ve become this year’s hottest accessory as more people are trading in their standard-issue ear-buds for more sophisticated headphones. Comfort isn’t the only concern — consumers are seeking about better sound quality and headphones than help block out outside noise. Truthfully, appearances matter as well — headphones come in an increasing array of designs and colours.
Hold on to your wallets — you can pay anywhere from $5 to $350 to listen to your favourite tunes and podcasts. Why the extra cost? Marketing buzz says you can’t “hear all the music” with “normal” headphones so improved sound quality and noise cancelling features are coming in to play. Some headphones have features like breathable cushioning, larger ear cups and buttons to let you take a call on your smart phone.
If possible, try a demo before you buy — especially to see if those pricy headsets deliver on their promises.
Tech toys not in the budget this year? We know this list makes for some pretty expensive gifts. When in doubt, gift cards and accessories are welcome too. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or someone else, be sure to weigh the price and features — and have some fun in the process!
Sources: Consumer Reports, Deloitte Canada
For more festive ideas and inspiration, visit our Holiday section.