Not sure what to buy someone? It's hard to go wrong with technology.
Gadgets are a perennial topper on holiday wish lists. The Consumer Electronics Association, in fact, estimates 74 percent of holiday shoppers will purchase some form of consumer electronics as a present. But determining what's worth your money can be tricky if you haven't kept pace with the industry for the past year. Here are a few can't miss suggestions for your tech-loving friends or loved ones.
—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC
Posted 18 Nov. 2013
Every year Apple puts out a new iPhone—and every year, people scramble to get one. It's not always worth the bother, but this year, it just might be.
The 64-bit processor chip speeds up everything from load times to the quality of graphics. The fingerprint scanner is handier than you might imagine (and encourages people to secure their phones). And the camera really sings with crisp pictures, a handy burst mode and an addictive slow motion feature for video.
Like the iPhone 5s, Apple's new tablet boasts the A7 processor, which dramatically speeds up operations—something that might be even more important on a tablet than a phone. It's also lighter and thinner, with a smaller bezel that gives the appearance of a slightly larger screen.
There are cheaper, older iPads available and smaller models in the iPad Mini, but if you're thinking about future-proofing your tablet purchase, the iPad Air is the best choice.
Getting a next-generation video-game console for someone this holiday season will be a coup.
Microsoft's Xbox One comes with the motion-detection Kinect sensor, a very impressive lineup of games between now and March and partnerships with the National Football League, most major cable companies and Steven Spielberg, who will be making a live-action Halo series available to Xbox Live subscribers in the future. It may have gotten some negative feedback at first, but Microsoft has made numerous policy changes to please gamers. It also has exclusivity deals in place with several publishers, ensuring a steady supply of titles.
Sony's console focuses heavily on independent game makers—theorizing that the next really giant franchise will come out of nowhere. Of course, it also has third-party blockbusters—and its own extensive catalog of successful franchises backing it up. In addition, Sony is pushing a social option, highlighting the ability to share game footage with friends. Also, the PS4 will suggest games you might enjoy. Perhaps most importantly, though, it enjoys a $100 price advantage over Microsoft's XBox One.
If you're shopping for someone who insists on being on the bleeding edge—and you've got a big (really big) budget, has just the thing. UHD—or ultra high-definition—TVs are being touted as the next big thing in the television industry. With four times the visual clarity of today's high-definition sets, it's no surprise the UNF9000 has a great picture. There's a caveat, though. There's virtually no 4K content available right now and it may be a while before there is. UHD sets are great for people who want the best in their home theaters, but for the rest of us, there are lower-priced options for terrific 1080p sets.
If the iPad is the tablet for business people, the Kindle Fire is the tablet for entertainment junkies. With a breathtakingly beautiful display, a phenomenal battery life and a powerful quad-core processor driving things, it goes toe-to-toe with other tablets, but it shines most brightly on how it handles content.
Video can be "flung" to Samsung TVs and the PlayStation easily—and songs are given a Karakoe component with lyrics showing on screen. And if you get confused, there's a one-touch panic button, which immediately puts you in video conference with a company rep, who walks you through problems.
Best of all: The Kindle Fire HDX comes with a fairly low price.
Google's plug-in streaming video device came out of nowhere this year, but it's a wonderful stocking stuffer for techies. Just plug the USB-sized gadget into a high-definition TV to stream YouTube, and other online content services, and you'll be able to control channels and other options with a smartphone (both Android and iPhone). It's a low-priced alternative to Apple TV and the popular Roku box, which also are great streaming devices to consider.
Price: Varies on subscription package
Hopper might seem an odd fit here, but consider that the system won Best of Show at the Consumer Electronics Show this year and it becomes a bit clearer. The ability to skip commercials on selected programming is nice, and the added ability to let customers watch live programming on any channel they subscribe to on their phone or tablet is especially useful for people on the go. The interface is well done, it's easy to use and you can even watch DVR'd shows offline. Networks may hate it, but consumers have been raving.
People may put things like TVs and game systems on their wish lists, but they're more likely to get headphones or earbuds, according to the CEA. And Bose, as you might expect, makes some pretty darn good ones. The SIE2i's have incredible sound quality and keep outside noises to a minimum, but not to the point where it's hazardous if you're out for a run. They also come with a Reebok armband for the exercise-inclined.
Home appliances may not be seen as sexy, but Nest has been changing that perception for the past year.
The company's thermostat (now in its second generation) keeps track of your temperature habits and can learn how you like things. It remembers if you turn the heat down at night or when you're out of the house—and it can turn the heat or air conditioning down automatically if no one is home, thanks to an onboard motion sensor.
It also might be worth keeping an eye on its Nest Protect, the company's upcoming take on the smoke alarm.