Taking it up a notch (Less than $500)
High end videocard
Top performance, mainstream price
Price target: $200-300
You are not alone here, we also wanted to upgrade to a GeForce 9800 this holiday season and blast our way with ‘Very High’ settings turned on in Crysis, but unfortunately Nvidia has not delivered just yet.
The good news however is that top performance can be achieved using mainstream products that cost less than $300. Namely, the GeForce 8800GT and Radeon HD 3800 videocards are the only way to go this holiday season for both value and performance. Those of you owning a GeForce 8800GTX already, consider yourselves lucky, the investment has paid off because your year-old card remains at the top of the food chain. But for those wanting to upgrade or willing to spend more than what the 8800GT or new Radeons cost, SLI and Crossfire should be the order of the day.
Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Noise Cancelling Headphones
A true companion for the serious traveler
Price target: $299 (also see alternative)
If you travel or commute a lot you owe this to yourself. The Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones could be well considered the quality standard for full-sized noise-cancelling headphones. There are at least half a dozen brands of similar headphones that may appeal to you given the lower price tag, but there seems to be a consensus that these are the best money can get.
That said, if you are in for a cheaper alternative, I must recommend these Philips headphones that perhaps are not as luxurious and don’t come with a carrying case but for $50 they’re a great deal and I have found them to be better performing that much more expensive Sony or Logitech noise-cancelling headphones.
Archos 605 WiFi player
There's more than the iPod you know
Price target: $300
With the myriad of media players out there, it becomes harder to track what is unique about each of them and if it’s worth bothering at all when Apple dominates the market both in appeal and innovation. In the past we have admired efforts from Creative, iRiver and also Archos. In fact we believe the Archos 605 WiFi player is a strong contender in the niche of portable video players. Offering hard drives that range from 30GB to up to 160GB, the 605 WiFi is an impressive little gadget that could prove very useful beyond any of the other better known products like the iPod Touch or Zune player. To round off its features list you get a 4.3” touchscreen capable of displaying 800x480 resolutions, support for audio, video, photos and even PDF documents. A $30 add-on gets you the Opera browser to unleash the full potential of its Wi-Fi capabilities.
Solid state drive
The future of storage technology
Price target: $300+
This will be a hard one to justify for the moment, but the fact is SSDs are the future. If you were willing to spend a ton of cash in four speedy drives to build a decent RAID setup, you may as well add a 64 or 32 gigabyte solid state drive and enjoy faster boots and program launches among other things. Because of its price, this one is reserved for the hardcore hardware enthusiast only.
Solid smartphone functionality
Price target: $350, free with new service plan
Let’s get it out of the way from the very beginning. The Curve is not meant to be a direct iPhone competitor, nor is it a feature-driven product, but still comes very strong depending on what your expectations are from a cell phone or smartphone. Personally, I love the BlackBerry platform and the high quality of RIM devices, so if you are looking for a solid product that comes with a full QWERTY keyboard, the new Curves with Wi-Fi are easily one of the best on its category.
Apple iPhone / iPod touch
The portable device to own, especially when unlocked
Price target: $400
You don't need to be an Apple fanboy or even like the Cupertino-based company to admit the iPhone is way sexy. There are other devices out there that can provide near the same functionality as the iPhone, but Apple does take it away when it comes to ease of use and elegance. It's not all roses though, the iPhone is not available everywhere yet and in the US you are stuck with AT&T, unless you hack the device.
The iPod touch is a similar looking device, just a bit slimmer and meant to function primarily as a media player. The latest iPod does inherit the iPhone’s wi-fi capabilities though, so if you are willing to hack it you can get yourself a bold looking, capable PDA.
One for the literate freak
Price target: $400
Despite of Sony pushing its e-book reader for a longer time, Amazon saw an opportunity on promoting their own device that could sell e-books from its store, and they scored. If Amazon statement is to be believed, the Kindle is more of a sellout than they had anticipated.
The Kindle is basically a lightweight device sporting a 6” e-ink screen, easy navigation and free wireless connectivity. This last one adds a ton of flexibility as Amazon partnered with Sprint for using its EVDO data network, so you can download (buy) and read content on the go without a PC. The device was out of stock after only six hours of becoming available but it should be a matter of time until Amazon orders more units and meets demand.