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Between $200 and $400
Although non-subsidized prices go from $450 and up, few people ever pay this much for their phones. If signing up for a 2-year contract is not an issue there are plenty of devices available at the $200 price point. We'll recommend one for each of our three preferred platforms. For the Apple faithful the iPhone 5 is a no-brainer. Android fans are spoilt for choice but we'd go for the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC Droid NDA over the new Nexus 4 (on-contract) due to LTE support. On the Windows front, it's a close call between the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X – Nokia has a slight edge in specs but we like HTC's design.
Like last year, tablets are expected to be a hot item this holiday season, but now there are more and much better options at lower price points. At $200, the Nexus 7 offers a good blend of performance, utility and a price that won't upset your wallet. Its screen is bright and crisp, it has a beefy quad-core Tegra 3 processor, and should receive timely OS updates. That's our top choice for Android tablets – not just affordable ones – but you might also want to look into the Kindle Fire HD ($199) and Nexus 10 ($399). On the other side of the fence, the iPad now starts at $330 – the 7.9-inch mini variant, that is. The build quality is top notch, and while it lacks Apple's Retina display, the overall user experience and app selection is the same.
There are few parts as essential to gaming as a decent graphics card. You can get by with an old hard drive, a dated processor and a modest amount of memory, but you'll need a reasonably high-end GPU to play modern PC games on max quality with 60 frames per second or more. That isn't to say you need to spend a fortune, however, as both Nvidia and AMD offer mid-range cards that'll manhandle most of today's titles. Assuming the gamer in your life hasn't upgrade their GPU recently, the GeForce GTX 660 Ti or Radeon HD 7870 ought to be a safe buy.
Any globetrotters on your list? The LG-made Nexus 4 is a true world phone that's sold without the nuisance of a contract at a price that won't break the bank. It's only $300 or $350 for the 8GB or 16GB model, as opposed to $600 or more for today's high-end phones if you can find them off contract, and since it comes unlocked you'll be able to get a cheaper or pre-paid plan rather than locking yourself into two years of overpriced voice and data. Specs are about on par with today's top performing phones except for the lack of LTE and microSD expansion. On the upside, it runs a clean build of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and as Google's flagship phone it will get software updates before any other Android device.
The Parrot AR Drone 2.0 is hands down the coolest remote controlled toy you can buy this holiday season. It's a smartphone or tablet controlled quadrocopter with a 720p camera for aerial video and photography (aka spying on your neighbors) that can take its fair share of bumps, knocks and crashes thanks to its lightweight foam and carbon construction. It can fly up to 165 feet away, maintain a still position in the air, and offers both basic and advanced piloting options. Unfortunately, the battery only lasts between 15-20 minutes per charge, though you can buy spare ones for $40. Check out a selection of AR Drone flight videos from real users to get a better sense of what this powerful toy can do.
This pico projector is small enough to fit in your hand but can still beam images to a wall or projection screen up to 120-inches across. What's more, it's bundled with a Roku Streaming Stick so you can stream online content from services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Pandora and more while enjoying a big-screen cinema experience anywhere you have a Wi-Fi signal. The 3M Streaming Projector offers a brightness of 60 lumens and 800 x 480 WVGA resolution. It won't challenge a full fledged HD projector by any means but the convenience factor for presentations and movies on the go can't be denied.
Although the superior colors and viewing angles of IPS panels used to be prohibitively expensive, South Korean outfits have flooded eBay with many attractive options that cost half as much as equivalents from Dell, HP and Apple. Depending on the vendor and features, 27-inch 2560x1440 IPS displays can be had for as little as $300 shipped. Granted, overseas eBay merchants aren't exactly renowned for their quality goods or reliable service, but many folks including our own DivideByZero have vouched for displays from Achieva and Yamakasi.