Hackin’ The Net


As the song says, “it’s that most wonderful time of the year…” but if you are buying gifts for the techies in your life, it’s also one of the most trying times as you decide what to buy them, how much you want and need to spend and whether or not you can afford everything they want and if not, what to do about it. That said, here are a few of our suggestions, starting off with one we’d bet you will be shocked to read: Do not buy an iPhone or any phone for a gift.

Why not? As much as we adore Apple and proudly use our iPhone 5S, the issue with anything attached to a contract (most phones) is, well, that contract. If you buy say an iPhone for someone, you will need to know if they are AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or even have a contract existing. You also will need to sort out all the rest and you will commit them (or you if it’s a family member on your “family plan”) to at least two veal’s with that phone. If you simply MUST buy them an iPhone, instead may I suggest an Apple gift card with the suggestion they buy a phone with it or go shopping with you the day after Christmas?

That said, there are a lot of other possible tech gifts… For one, I’d love one of the new and much lighter — since I use mine to read newspapers — iPad Air’s. These shave about a third off the weight of the older iPads and they have faster processors, a lot better retina displays and more. They are, however, it needs to be said, pricy so don’t plan to put one under the tree of every friend you have (unless you have a lot of spare cash, in which case please come sit next to me!) iPad Air starts at $499 for the 16 gig version, but to be brutal, I’d ask Santa for at least a 32 gig ($599) because you will just not be able to fit all your movies, TV, books, newspapers (including this one) and more on that smaller version. Trust us, we know!

If you do not need the very latest and greatest, you can get the older iPad for $399 or the mini from $299 so there is hope for the big heart but small wallet techie givers out there.

Also (and this is heresy but hey I am realistic here) while I am an Apple devotee, there are pads, tablets and their ilk from under $99. Just beware if you do buy one of the less-known (ie: off) brands for someone as a gift that none of them come with AppleCare and that a lot of the warranties are pretty much worthless if you do not know who’s backing them up. Be sure that you have a back-up plan if you buy something that’s lesser-known. I suggest buying from a reputable store (Best Buy, Costco, etc.) which will stand behind their product if it fails. Not that the off-brands are any less fun than an iPad, but do be aware they have fewer available apps and less computing power than an iPad. You do get what you pay for to a certain extent.

So what if your budget doesn’t allow for a tablet? Well do not despair. Everything from jump drives (They can be had for under $10 these days.) to headphones (from $8 or $9 to up, up and up) are nice options. There are also hook-up cables, extra chargers and small devices which fit well into that Christmas stocking. Just be 100% sure that if you pick one of these smaller items your intended recipient has the ability to use it (ie: no pc gadgets if they are Mac or Mac items if they are pc) and that it’s something they want and will use. In short, as with all gifts, hang onto the sales or gift receipt and make sure you buy from somewhere established and know their return policy.

Other ideas?

Well an iTunes gift card (They start at $10.) can always find a use around our house as it seems everything from movies and books to tunes and TV is now available on their store, not to mention apps for the iPhone and iPad. There is also a high demand around here for these and you can even buy one at the CVS, Walgreens or elsewhere on Christmas Eve or Day as all of the stores (and most gas stations etc.) have them. A word of caution, however: Be 100% sure that you keep the receipt if you buy iTunes (or other) gift cards and that the cards get “activated” when you buy them. We had a sad incident a couple years ago when partner Ivan’s mom bought a card for him at a major (name left out) discount retailer and a week after the holiday when he went to use the card, he found it had not been activated. She failed to hang on to the receipt, so it was her word against the store as to whether she’d paid for it as she used cash …and guess who won? The store even “suggested” she’d “perhaps” taken the card from one of their racks and “planned to” pay for it but never got around to it.

Anyway, lesson learned. If you give a gift card, iTunes or other, be sure you get it activated, and then hang on to the receipt until you KNOW it actually “took” and the card works. Oh, and that store she was possibly accused of stealing from? We have not bought there since and don’t plan to this holiday season, either!

One other word about gift cards (and we have said this before here): caution. Remember that right after Christmas is a prime time for stores — large and small — to fold or close up shop. If you have a gift card from a firm or online retailer which has gone to the wall, belly up or whatever term you prefer, it is worthless. I found a Border’s card in a drawer I forgot to ever redeem. And one from Circuit City, too. Both are now great collector’s items, but have lost their $25 values. Buyer beware!

Still need more ideas? Well tech does not have to be computers (though a Mac or pc or laptop would be most welcome at our house), you know? There are a host of other possibilities. At our house a radio is always welcome. There are HD Radios which get the “hidden” signals we have written about in these pages before, available from just $39 if you can find one. We found ours last year at Best Buy (one of the few places which sell HD radios, even though we had to tell staff what one was, which is sad). And there are also things to save your, your friends or family’s life you could give. Think a smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector or a Weather Radio.

That latter device is inseparable from us. We have four of them, including a portable for trips. When there are no storms one can be used to tell the temperature (great when you wake up at home or in a hotel in a strange city) and you can also get the scoop on the forecast for the coming week and any special conditions. In times of storms or blizzards they are great life-savers. Weather Radios can be had at anywhere from Walgreen’s and Radio Shack or Lowes or Home Depot to fancy stores for $20 up. Just remember if you buy a bit more expensive one it can be set to come on any time the weather bureau issues a watch or warning. It might be a pain to be awakened at 2.45 a.m. by that buzzer, but would you rather take shelter with proper warning or die in your bed?

Still haven’t seen anything which appeals? There are e-readers (the Nook or Kindle to name two) from $59 if you can find a deal and there are e-books, too. You can give that novel or movie to a friend or family member via a gift card or order through the service which provides the reader they have. Again our caution: be sure what you give matches what they have as Nook books won’t work on Kindle Fire and the other way round, too, though there is a Kindle app for the iPad.

We also have not mentioned the ever-popular digital cameras because with the even- more-popular cell phone cameras getting better and better there are honestly fewer and fewer reasons to buy a digital cam. That said, they have come down in price and what used to be a $200 gift can now be had in fairly decent quality for $39 or $59. Do shop and compare the number of megapixels you are getting. The more pixels, the sharper the picture, so don’t fall for anything under 10 or 11 megapixels if you want a happy recipient.

Still need more ideas? There’s always a Sony PlayStation 4 or an XBox One…both due to hit the streets about the same time these words do. Just remember these gadgets are now mini-computers and can access the net, view TV, movies and more. They are also a few hundred bucks so you will have to splash out if you plan to give one as a gift. A cheaper alternative would be some games or an XBox Live membership. Remember that Microsoft and Sony do not tend to play well together so what works on one won’t on the other so be certain which your recipient has or plans to get.

And finally, a TV would make a great gift. Flat screens have plunged in price to just a bit over $100 for an entry-level small one. They have also grown in size and if you have a bunch of cash you can get sizes up to 85 or 90 inches these days. You can hook one up to most any device (think computer monitor or XBox or Apple TV) and they also can be used for (amazing) watching TV, too, by merely attaching an antenna or cable box. Do remember that if you buy a screen for someone it’s a good idea to see what they want to do with it as some models work better for gaming, while others make home theatre fans salivate. They all claim to do equally well for any/all uses, but from our experience it’s just not the case. There are also different types of screens — HD, 3D and backlit plus LCD, plasma and LED — so if you plan to gift a TV set (to use the obsolete term) it might be a good idea to offer a gift certificate or an “I’ll take you shopping after Christmas” letter so the person can get what he or she wants and finds best for their eyes. Some sets, for example, do richer colors, while others have blacker blacks. All important variables.

And for this year, that’s our Santa list, except to say we left Chanukah out this time because it was so early (back in November) that by the time you read these words the candles will all be burned down, the latkes on our waists and the Jewish holiday will be history until next year.

That just leaves us to say: Merry Christmas!

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