2011 was a fantastic year for technology, there were so many items released that I’d be a very poor man (and most likely single) if I went after everyone of them. If you have a technophile on your shopping list this season, hopefully the items that made me drool that are on on my gift wish list this year will help you out!
Best Camera Phone for the Photographer: iPhone 4S
The results are in – the iPhone 4S wins for the best camera within a phone for 2011! But don’t take my word for it, Ars Technica and Lisa Bettany from Taken with a Camera+ for iPhone have in-depth comparisons between the iPhone 4S, point and shoot cameras, Canon S95 , and the Canon 5DMKII. Apple’s latest holds up to the best compact camera, but doesn’t quite beat the professional DSLR, however if your photographer friend walks around with a phone, the iPhone makes a good backup in a pinch. What I love about Lisa Bettany’s article is not only does she compare the phone with cameras, but she compares the photo quality against every iPhone ever released!
Best Camera for the Wannabe Professional Photographer: Sony NEX-5N
If you have someone in your life that love photography but may not be the best at determining the best F-Stop and setting the proper aperture (like myself), the Sony NEX-5N should be one of the cameras on your short-list. It’s a Micro 4/3rd style meaning its easy to carry around due to it being a mirrorless system, but it is easy to operate with its touch screen controls. It’s a 16.1 Megapixel with a huge sensor (23.4 x 15.6 mm Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor) for taking quality photos; plenty of shooting modes are available and you can adjust focus, blur and other fancy shooting effects by sliding your fingers across it’s strings. With this camera you may never want to deal with F-Stops again! Consider the NEX-C3 if you’re on a tighter budget.
Best Tablet for Everyone: Apple iPad2
For someone who is looking for a tablet that has everything, you can’t beat the Apple iPad2. It’s build quality, to the strength of its AppStore it’s difficult to suggest a tablet that can be everything to everyone. This person on your gift list needs to know that the latest cool app or game is released that they’ll be able to use it. It’s light as air and feels like jewelry which means it’s like going to Tiffany’s – it’s expensive. You must really love this person if you give them the iPad2.
Best Tablet for Technophile: ASUS Transformer / Transformer Prime
For the ones who like to tinker with their gadgets, there’s no better choice than an Android based tablet. The best one in my opinion is the original ASUS Transformer if you’re budget conscious or the Transformer Prime if the gadget lover talks about Gigahertz, speed of RAM and other geeky terms you’ve probably never heard of. The Transformer should be getting marked down around December to under $300 when it’s quad core predecessor hits the market. What’s great about ASUS tablets is that they include the SD/Micro SD Card slots and USB ports is that you can also purchase the optional keyboard which adds even more ports and a built-in battery which gives you an additional 6 hours of life for a total of 16 hours of continuous use. When connected to the keyboard, it’s always charging the tablet side of things to give you as much power when you need to detach and transform into the ultimate road warrior.
Runner up: Blackberry Playbook
Yes, I know that it doesn’t have a native e-mail or calendar app yet, and it’s AppWorld store doesn’t have the same breadth and depth as the Apple AppStore, but for those who live and die with their Blackberry devices the tight integration between your beloved phone the Playbook is supreme. The capability to view/edit MS Office documents and presenting PowerPoint presentations is all built-in. It has a very capable web-browser that has an implementation of Adobe Flash that works with complicated websites (not just for playing games); as a business user, the need to access the almost any website may trump all of the fancy bells and whistles that the iPad or Android tablet provides. With the next version of the BBX OS, you’ll be getting the native calendar and e-mail apps, but you don’t need one with your faithful BB on your hip. Another advantage is that the built-in tethering may actually be a free add-on if you have Blackberry – but check your carrier to make sure. What seals the deal is if you can get the 16GB version for $199, you’re saving yourself $300 and no device on the market at that price point can match its build quality.
Best Cut the Cord Media Box: The Boxee Box
If you’re looking at cutting the cable cord or getting rid of that satellite dish, look no further than the Boxee Box to watch almost anything over the Internet and play almost every type of media file imaginable. It’s cubic design with a side lopped off adds a nice modern flourish in a field with bland black boxes. You can browse the myriad of TV shows it can stream over the Internet as well getting fabulous Internet networks like Revision3 and TwiT.tv; for movies you can connect with the likes of YouTube, Netflix and Vudu which stream like butter. Not only are there a plethora of options for video/TV access to music services like Pandora and GrooveShark are available as well.
… I almost forgot that Boxee just announced an over-the-air TV tuner, so not only can you stream, you can catch all of the over-the-air HD Content that is flying all around you. It’s hard to beat the completeness of this box.
Best Thingy For the Tinkerer: Subscription to Make Magazine
I’ve always wanted to create “stuff” but didn’t know where to begin. Attaching wires to batteries, capacitors and circuit boards at random didn’t sound like a good idea to me; however getting guidance and interesting projects to do on the weekend is where Make Magazine comes in. From making an iPhone Camera Mount using an Ikea Desk Lamp to playing around with Wireless Power Transfer, your significant other can become Ben Heck with relative safety. Each project comes lists a set of components that you’ll need to acquire, but if you’re lucky there’s a kit available at your local Radio Shack. With a subscription to Make Magazine, your house may be safe from unexpected surprises!
For parents with older kids, this magazine has plenty of projects that can be done together making this a very family oriented gift.
Best e-Reader: Kindle Touch, Nook Touch or Kobo Touch
For just e-reading, you really can’t go wrong with Amazon’s Kindle Touch, Barnes & Noble Nook Touch, or the Kobo Touch. Amazon wins hands down if you’re adopting their entire ecosystem of music, game and movies (although you’ll need the Kindle Fire to watch movies), however the offerings from Barnes and Noble and Kobo support more eBook formats and you can sideload them in with their SD Card (so you don’t have to buy from their stores). If you’re in Canada Kobo is probably the one you want to go with as not all eBooks are available from the US Stores. Stay away from any other eBook reader that isn’t tied directly to a store though – they’re overly expensive and have poorly performing hardware making page turns as enjoyable as watching paint dry.
What about these eReading Tablets?
Unfortunately I don’t live in the US, so I can’t really comment on the Amazon’s Kindle Fire or Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet. If I had to choose one to give as a gift, I’d be tempted to select the Kindle Fire; Amazon has a huge ecosystem where accessing/purchasing movies, music, apps are tightly integrated with their cloud storage – the ease of getting content on the device can’t be beat. The Nook Tablet I’d consider if I have books from a wide number of sources and that I would need access to a brick and mortar store for assistance (i.e. shipping stuff back to Amazon and using the phone for support is a pain). If the person you have in mind is also interested in a bit of tinkering, putting a full version of Android (i.e. Ice Cream Sandwich) is probably coming courtesy of the CynaogenMod team.
In Canada your only option is the Kobo Vox as the other two are not available for sale in Canada. Sure you can bring them across the border but you may not be able to purchase anything as Amazon and Barnes and Noble try to detect the country your purchasing from. I have mixed feelings about the Vox; for the same price as a Kindle Fire, you’re getting less hardware, less performance, and lesser battery life (around 4 hours); the screen isn’t as good as it’s competitors… for an eReader you really don’t want to skimp out on that critical piece. It also hasn’t been getting the greatest reviews in the world, so I’d probably stay away from it unless you have someone in mind that you don’t mind aggravating.