tech holiday shopping guide

Tech Holiday Shopping Guide 2016

December is upon us, and in just a few short weeks it will Christmas. Whether you celebrate Christmas or another holiday, or no holiday at all, the end of the year is a great time to give gifts to your loved ones… or to get yourself something really nice, Clark! It can be tough to pick out a good tech gift, especially if you’re not the techie type, so I put together this tech holiday shopping guide to give you some ideas. The prices range from several thousand dollars to just a few bucks, but I’ve listed items that are good value, and a good investment. If your significant other needs a new laptop, I’ve got you covered here. But if you’re just looking for some stocking stuffer ideas, I’ve got that also.
 

The Surface Family

Starting at the high end of the list, if you’re looking to get that special someone a special gift, you can’t go wrong with a high-end computer! Once upon a time, personally owning a computer at your house was a nice luxury, hard to justify for the general population. IBM’s 1510 Personal Computer, paired with Microsoft’s operating system, changed all that, the same way Henry Ford’s Model T made the automobile affordable to the common man. Today’s PCs are an order of magnitude faster, lighter and smaller than those early IBM PCs, and comparably more affordable. And sitting at the top end of the PC market are Microsoft’s Surface line of devices.

The entry level Surface Pro is a tablet that is amazingly light and portable, but doesn’t sacrifice speed or horsepower. The Surface Pro 4 is the latest generation, and is a fantastic computer. I have the previous generation, a Surface Pro 3, and it’s my daily workhorse, capable of handling anything I throw at it, including video editing! The nice thing about tablets, too, is that TSA doesn’t require you to remove them from your carry-on luggage during the mandatory remove-your-shoes-and-belt rigmarole.
A little higher up the spectrum is the Surface Book, a unique laptop-style device with a detachable touch screen display. When the tablet portion is connected to the base, you get lots of extra battery life and discrete graphics card for more oomph. However, you can easily detach the tablet with the touch of a button for either a lightweight touch screen device, or even just to flip it around in a tent mode for hooking it up to an external keyboard, monitor, and mouse. A Surface Book is the pinnacle of portable Windows devices available, today.

Finally, the Surface Studio is Microsoft’s brand new addition to the Surface family. It’s a giant, touchscreen desktop PC, with ridiculously high 5K resolution, designed for creative professionals. Paired with the new magnetic Surface Dial, it’s an amazingly new innovative input method, allowing you to use both hands at once on the screen. The possibilities for this set up are amazing. The “zero gravity” hinge system allows you to set the screen vertically, like a traditional monitor set up or to lower it down to a low 20º angle, like a drafting table—graphic designers, 3D artists, and video editors are going to love this PC. I will say, though, that is priced a little high out of the range of most people for a family PC. If you’re looking to buy a new PC this holiday season, definitely reference my previous blog post, which covers the tech specs, and what they mean.
 

Xbox One

This one’s a little bit of a niche device, but I added it to my Christmas Shopping List recommendations, because I have one and I love it! The Xbox One S is the latest version of Microsoft’s gaming console. But don’t be fooled by the “gaming” part of the product description. Yes, it’s primarily designed for “gamers”, but it’s actually a small, powerful computer (running a custom version of Windows 10!) designed to connect to your living room TV. I have a Kinect connected to mine, which gives the Xbox eyes and ears, giving me access to Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana. So at any time I can ask “Hey Cortana, what’s the weather today?” or “Hey Cortana, what’s on my schedule for this afternoon?” and she’s right there in my living room! Also, if you’re looking for a gift for someone with a new 4K TV, the Xbox One S is the cheapest 4K Blu-Ray player available on the market right now, and makes a great media center.
 

Keyboard and Mouse

Okay, so a keyboard and mouse probably aren’t high on anyone’s list for Santa, but if you’re using the cheap keyboard and mouse that came with your PC every day at work, your wrists and fingers will thank you for spending a few dollars to upgrade. From personal experience, I can highly recommend the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and the Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Mouse. They split-style keyboard may take a little getting used to if you’re not a touch-typist, but the keys are great and reduce strain, and the keyboard is angled up at the front to promote a proper typing posture that takes away the worry of carpal tunnel. The Comfort Sculpt mouse is Bluetooth, which means you don’t need more dongles taking up USB ports, and it has quite a few customizable buttons. I can’t live without mine!
 

External Hard Drives

Hard drives aren’t the most festive present, either, but you can never have too much storage! External hard drives are good for storing movies, photos, music, etc., but probably more importantly, they’re good for backing up your PC in the event of a catastrophe. There are two kinds of external hard drives; desktop class are usually cheaper for the amount of storage you get, but require a separate power cord. Portable external hard drives are much smaller and lighter, and are powered by the same USB cable that transfers the data. I recommend getting at least two terabytes worth of storage, and I also recommend getting a Western Digital brand, because they’ve always been reliable for me. A side note: Even though you can save a few dollars buying a USB 2.0 drive, you should definitely get the USB 3.0 model, because it transfers data over ten times faster.
 

Speakers and Headphones

Hi, my name is Sam, and I’m a recovering headphones addict. Actually, I’m not recovering at all… it may be getting worse. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and music, so a decent pair of headphones are a must for me. There are so many choices in this arena, and a lot of it comes down to personal brand preference. There are “radio station” style over-the-ear cans, smaller on-the-ear headphones, and in-the-ear ear buds. You can also get wired headphones that plug into your phone or computer, or you can get Bluetooth headphones that require periodic recharging but give you the freedom of not needing a cord tethering you to a device. Beats Headphones are probably high on most young people’s wish lists. My son got a pair last year for Christmas, and they’ve lasted, and sound great, although I’m not sure Santa should have spent quite that much money! For ear buds, I highly recommend Bose SoundSport, which also aren’t the cheapest option available, but they have a great reputation, and I’m currently on my second pair in about eight years, which is not bad considering my everyday usage. I also highly recommend Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth speaker. My wife bought me one of these as a gift, and it is loud, and the battery lasts a long time between charges, and we keep multiple devices connected to it.
 

Wearables

These days it seems like everyone has a fitness tracker of some kind. I wrote a blog post about the state of wearables; it broadly breaks down into two categories: Smart Watches and Fitness Trackers. Smart Watches are much more capable devices but need to be charged more often. Fitness trackers typically only track your daily steps, your sleep habits, and some have light connectivity to show you if you’re getting a text or a call on your phone. If the person you’re buying or has an iPhone, the smart watch choice is simple: Apple Watch. Although they’re not cheap, they are a nice looking timepiece, and have a geek-chic allure. Samsung owners would likely much prefer a Samsung Gear smartwatch, which will be a decent choice for any Android owner. Fitbit owns the activity tracker space, and you can expect to drop around $100 for one of their wristbands, give or take $30 depending on features. I will say… I love my Xiaomi Mi Band fitness tracker; the battery lasts a whole month on a single charge, and it only cost me $17 shipped; it’s so cheap it should probably belong in the next category…
 

Stocking Stuffers

Not all tech gifts have to be expensive. In this last section, let me give you some easy ideas for last-minute gifts that don’t break the bank! First up, a portable battery pack. If you’ve ever been out and about all day, only to find you’re phone’s at 9% and you still have errands to run, you’ll appreciate a portable battery pack. They typically have a USB port or two, for charging all your portable electronics. The smaller ones are usually good for about one full charge of your phone, while larger heavier ones can handle 4 or 5 complete charges. Typically, they are about the size of a deck of cards. Take a look at Amazon reviews for feedback, but I keep this Monoprice battery pack in my backpack at all times. Another handy item to keep in a laptop bag is a decent thumb drive or on the go storage, and for moving files from one computer to another. I just picked up some of these Sandisk 256 GB USB 3.0 thumb drives for a song in a Black Friday sale. Finally, I recently discovered this Elkon Fingerprint Scanner, and it’s awesome. It’s compatible with Windows 10’s Hello feature, which means you can securely log into your PC with just a swipe of your fingerprint, much like the latest smartphones. Of course, you can always get gift cards, and usually, iTunes, Amazon, Best Buy and Microsoft Store gift cards are a safe bet.

None of the links above are affiliate links, and I’m not getting any kind of kickback for these recommendations, I just wanted to provide some ideas as a service to my fantastic Managed IT Services clients!

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Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT

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