By Scott Kirwin
It’s that time of year when the parking lots of shopping malls fill up and little brown trucks zip through neighborhoods dispensing brown boxes full of treats. What, you haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet? You realize it’s already a week before Thanksgiving, and that tic-tic you hear in the background isn’t your biological clock it is the American Imperative to SHOP UNTIL YOU DROP. What is wrong with you? You’d better get going slacker!
To help you out let me take a moment to pass along some info from a techie who builds his own PCs, installs his own car stereos and in general tries to keep up with changing technology.
Cell phones – Your loved one must be on Santa’s nice list if you are considering one of these since a decent phone will set you back $400 or more. Currently there are really 3 choices depending on your carrier: Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy 7, and One Plus 3. Match the phone to your loved one’s current gear. If s/he’s packing an iPhone, consider the iPhone 6s or 7. If s/he is running Android, the Galaxy 7 is pretty much the leader of the full-feature Android phones. Having recently switched from Android to iPhone (or vice versa) let me tell you it’s usually not done and for a very good reason: you’ll spend several months cursing at your new phone because it does things differently than your old. If your sweetheart is running Android and is open minded about tech (and isn’t on Verizon), consider the One Plus 3. It’s the dark horse challenger to Samsung and Apple and costs a third less.
Televisions – My wife’s late grandmother when presented with two choices always recommended to “buy the big one.” Grandma passed long before flat screens but her advice is true today as it ever was. I’ve heard that 70″ TVs can be too big, but that’s like someone having a large plate of food set before them and exclaiming “That’s so much food!”
So get the biggest size you can afford but… Wait, there’s another decision: LCD or OLED?
Currently OLEDs are only available from LG, and they are about 5x more expensive than comparable LCDs. Are they worth it? It depends. If you watch more movies than broadcast TV episodes then I would seriously consider OLED even if it means going with a smaller set (sorry grandma!) The picture quality of OLED is simply amazing, particularly when darkness is rendered on the screen.
What about 4k? I purchased my 56″ plasma HD 1080p TV for $2,600 in 2009. Tonight at Walmart I walked by an LCD unit (plasma isn’t manufactured anymore) of the same size for under $400. But I’ve enjoyed that TV for 7 years and it still looks great. At the time I bought my TV in 2009 there was something called 720P – a half-step between traditional TV and HD that disappeared by 2010. Also in 2009 there wasn’t that much HD content available. Still the market spoke and within 2 years nearly everything I watched was in HD. By purchasing a 4k (otherwise known as 2160p or UltraHD/UHD) TV now you are pretty much future-proofing your purchase for several years to come. Don’t be tempted to buy the 1080p sets that are much cheaper unless they are not meant to be your main TV.
Other acronyms to be mindful of: HDR – it remains to be seen if this catches on so but I hope it does. It’s very cinematic. 3D – to put it bluntly, don’t waste your money because it’s failed again. And curved screen? Creates a distorted picture for everyone but the lucky person sitting in the sweet spot.
Just don’t forget what my wife’s grandma said: Buy the big one.
Cars – Contrary to what Lexus and BMW show in ads no one gives these as gifts to anyone but themselves.
Computers – I roll my own except for laptops, so let’s talk laptops. Many of the people I trust most in IT have switched to Macbooks. It was difficult for me to accept this since I purchased my first computer 4 years after the release of the Macintosh, and it was an IBM clone. Ever since I’ve viewed Apple as elitist snobs and I still do, but I have to admit the Macintosh line up is sexy albeit expensive. In their holiday issue Consumer Reports noted that 80% of users are happy with Apple tech support versus HP and Lenovo, so if your someone special is a technophobe (like my wife) well, there you go.
The wife’s grandma’s wisdom applies here as well: Whatever you buy get the biggest screen, the fastest processor and the biggest hard drive that fits your budget. If your loved one is a gamer substitute graphics card for processor although it doesn’t hurt to go big on both. Sure you can find laptops for under $300 but unless you are only interested in surfing the web (and why would you need a laptop with that when you have your phone?) you will need to spend about double that to get a decent Windows rig or $1,000 for a Mac.
Streaming Devices – If you have broadband and haven’t gotten into streaming TV, well now’s the time. I am a big fan of the Roku and they’ve just released a 4k Ultra-HD version of their device. A year and a half ago I bought a Roku, said “goodbye” to my DirecTV $120/month bill, signed up for Netflix, Hulu and Acorn (I love British TV) and started watching TV over the Internet. In the process I found that while I watch much less of it, what I do watch is higher quality. Game of Thrones and True Blood on HBO Now. Doc Martin and Time Team on Acorn. And now The Crown on Netflix – hand’s down the best British drama I’ve seen since the middle seasons of Downton Abbey. All told I spend about $30 a month for streaming services, plus a few extra dollars now and then on rentals. Overall I have no regrets, and a lot of that is thanks to Roku. Roku makes watching streaming TV shows easy by making it invisible. You don’t even know you are actually using the Internet.
You can pick up a Roku 3 for under $40 and I’ve seen similar deals on Chromecast and other streaming devices. If that special someone has broadband and doesn’t stream this might be an inexpensive gift that could surprise them.
Well that’s all for now. Sometime soon perhaps I’ll do a guide called “gifts for gun owners” but until then Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and I’m sorry but Kwanzaa is a fake holiday.