Welcome to TechSpot's 2013 Holiday Gift Guide! We are taking a more personal approach to this year's tech gift recommendations by asking each of our editors and staff members to provide their own picks on gifts they would like to receive or give. Shawn, who is one of TechSpot's reviewers and news editors is up today and will be followed by the rest of our staff in the coming days and weeks.
About Shawn: I have been interested in computers and technology in general for as long as I can remember. I received my first computer as a Christmas gift in 1998 and got into case modding, overclocking and product reviews shortly thereafter. Aside from writing reviews and working on news for TechSpot, I also operate my own tech site. While away from the computer, I enjoy college football (Hotty Toddy!), ice hockey, MMA and traveling. My motto - Do what you love and love what you do!
If you lead a busy life or simply hate doing chores like I do, a robotic vacuum like the recently released Roomba 880 should be on your shortlist this year. The latest from iRobot features an all-new roller technology that replaces the traditional brushes with a tangle-free set that won’t need servicing every few runs.
What’s more, the 880 is equipped with a higher-powered motor that provides 50 percent more suction and airflow accelerators designed to create a concentrated stream of air to target select areas for improved cleaning ability. You’ll still need to perform basic maintenance like emptying the dust bin but otherwise, you can kiss the hassle of vacuuming goodbye forever. That is, if you can stomach the $699 asking price.
Apple iPad Air $499
Apple’s fifth generation iPad topped my list of tablets for a number of reasons. The Air packs the same great display found on previous iPads as well as the Lightning connector from last year’s model but the reduction in size, thinness and overall weight as well as the addition of the A7 processor make it the best iPad yet.
At just one pound, the Air feels unnaturally light in the hand which is certainly a welcomed addition if you’ve used a heavier tablet for any extended period of time. I also appreciate the extra speaker for stereo audio although Apple missed the mark by not placing it on the opposite end of the slate. Other missing features include Touch ID and an improved rear camera but even still, the $499 Air is an excellent gift option – especially if you or someone you know is already heavily invested in the Apple app ecosystem.
Product Finder score: 91
I’ve been saying for years that a solid state drive is the single best investment you can make for your computer and I continue to stand by that statement. If you’ve never experienced the speed of an SSD, you really have no idea what you are missing out on. Your operating system will boot much faster and programs will load in a fraction of the time they take on a traditional spinning hard drive.
Flash storage is still much more expensive than traditional storage but pricing has come way down over the past couple of years. You can score a 256GB OCZ Vector SSD for around $160 which works out to about $0.63 per gigabyte before formatting and provisioning. That’s plenty of space to hold your operating system, installed programs and even some games.
Product Finder score: 91
If you’re the type that doesn’t like to watch TV in the bedroom, stop reading now. Otherwise, if you’re among the millions that have a television set in the most comfortable area of your home then you will likely be able to appreciate the simplicity and modern flare of Hidden Vision’s TV mounting systems.
The company offers multiple options but the Extended Flip Out starting at $899 is my favorite. When closed, it looks like nothing more than a framed piece of artwork but extend the frame out and you’ve got up to a 32-inch television at your disposal, perfect for watching TV while lying in bed.
I recently became compelled to look into LED light bulbs after reevaluating my budget and realized I could probably save some money over time by switching to energy efficient lighting. I ultimately went with Walmart’s new Great Value LED bulbs based primarily on price (starting at $8.88) and replaced 13 bulbs in my home.
It’s still too early to tell how the swap will impact my energy usage but I can say the bulbs look just as good as the 60 watt standard bulbs I replaced while sipping a fraction of the power (60 watts versus 11 watts each). What’s more, I shouldn’t have to replace the bulbs for years to come. Anytime I can save a bit of coin, especially over the long haul, I’m game.
While on the topic of saving money, I also selected the Nest Learning Thermostat for my holiday gift guide. I’m current in the process of reviewing this smart thermostat for TechSpot so I won’t spill all the details here but I can say it is an extremely convenient Internet of things device, at least for how I use it.
The thermostat is relatively easy to install and the company claims it can reduce your heating and cooling bills by up to 20 percent. It’s not terribly cheap at $250 but it is well made and looks better than any other device on the market today.
Nexus 5 smartphone $350
Google’s Nexus 5 makes my list not because it is or isn’t the best smartphone on the market but because of its price. At $350 without a contract, no other deal even comes close in terms of value for your money. And with the Nexus 5, you aren’t making a sacrifice in terms of performance as it’s one of the fastest handsets currently available today.
The Nexus 5 consists of a 4.95-inch full HD IPS display with Gorilla Glass 3, a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor running at 2.3GHz, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and 4G LTE connectivity. If I wasn’t already locked into a contract with another carrier, I’d consider scooping up the Nexus 5 and heading to a provider that offers a discount for not carrying a contract.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 with M.ZUIKO 75mm f/1.8 Lens $1,800+
I’ve been in love with micro 4/3 cameras ever since I parted ways with my bulky Nikon D80 DSLR a few years back. I’m currently on my second M4/3 camera, the Panasonic Lumix GX1, but have been eyeballing the $950 (body only) Olympus OM-D E-M5 for quite some time primarily because of the built-in image stabilization system and the tilting 3-inch OLED touchscreen display.
I’d ultimately like to mate it with the speedy M.ZUIKO 75mm f/1.8 lens priced at $850. Since going with the 4/3 platform, I’ve used prime lenses (fixed focal length) exclusively as they offer superb image quality compared to zoomable glass. A 75mm lens obviously isn’t for every situation but if you need to get closer to the action from far away, it’d be nice to have in your camera bag. Alternately, the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens (around $420) is a great everyday lens that you can leave attached to your camera for most any occasion.
Product Finder score: 85
TechSpot's Holiday Gift Guide 2013 is sponsored by Best Buy.