Tech Friday Shopping

It’s Black Friday, which means it must be time to take our annual look at what your geekiest friends and family members might be asking for this year and how to avoid some pitfalls while shopping.  As in recent years, the trend this year seems to be toward tablets, mp3 players and SmartPhones.  Oh, and a new video game system just debuted in time to cause a mad rush to the mall.

Nintendo Wii U – Nintendo starts off the next round of video game console upgrades with the release of the Wii U, which came out last week.  The new console builds on the old Wii’s technology and still offers interactive play with motion controllers.  The U, which comes in a basic and deluxe version, has HD graphics, video chat, and a new GamePad controller.  The new controller includes a screen and can be used for close-up details or off-screen tools like maps and menus for single player games or as an alternative view for a one versus many party game.  For those of you who already have a Wii and may be thinking of making an upgrade, the good news is the old games play on the new Wii U.  That’s also good news if you can’t find a Wii U for those on your shopping list, you can be safe buying Wii games knowing they will still work when the U is easy to pick-up without having to mortgage the house to get one at auction.

Tablets – Like Nintendo, the big name in tablets, Apple, has released a new product in time for the holidays.  The latest iPad is the iPad mini, which is basically the iPad with an 8-inch display for those who want a smaller tablet.  The bigger iPad gets an upgrade along with the new mini, featuring a faster processor over the iPad 3.  The newest iPad is called iPad with Retina Display.  Another hot tablet this year is Google’s first attempt at creating their own hardware, the Nexus.  The tablet version of Nexus comes in a 7 or 10 inch screen and there is a 4 inch SmartPhone option as well.  The Nexus line runs the purest version of the Android operating system, so you get all the latest Android features and almost all Android apps will work on the devices.  For Windows users, the Windows 8 tablets are available but you should be aware that there are two versions of Windows 8 – the full version and RT.  The full version is the same version you would find on a laptop or PC, while the RT version is a scaled-down edition.  The main difference is in applications, RT is like other tablets that need to use apps while the full version lets you use the same programs you would install on a PC, for example you can use Office on the full version, but can only use the SkyDrive browser-based Office programs (with less features) on RT devices.

SmartPhones and mp3 players – These two product categories tend to go hand-in-hand with the tablet lines.  As such, the iPod line from Apple has gotten and upgrade, as has the iPhone (both now on version 5).  Likewise, Android users now have the Nexus line and Windows 8 phones are making their debut with most major cell phone carriers.

Laptops – In addition to the standard fare offered by PC manufacturers, the trend in 2012 has been toward the new Ultrabooks.  The Apple version, the MacBook Air, has been around for a while and the latest edition came out in 2012, sporting a Retina display and a light weight at 2.8 pounds.  Now Sony, HP, Dell, Toshiba and many other manufacturers are on the market with similar Ultrabooks, which can be distinguished from a typical laptop by their light weight and long battery life.  But, be aware that the advantages come from some key tech differences.  Specifically, they tend to not include a DVD or CD drive, have a lower memory level, smaller screen and smaller storage capacity than a regular laptop.  Think of the Ultrabook as a step between a tablet and a laptop – it can do all the cool entertainment things and be light like a tablet, but also run full programs you would use on a regular laptop, like Office or Photoshop, just not as fast.

AR Parrot Drone – Every year, we like to include one oddball item that is generating lots of buzz and this year it looks like this little SmartPhone controlled drone is that item.  Drone owners can use an app on their iOS or Android system as a remote control.  The key feature of the drones is the 720p HD camera that is included, which allows user to see what is in front of the craft while flying it and create videos while buzzing by the neighborhood.  So far, there has already been at least one drone film festival, with the entries sporting their own YouTube channel.

- Laura N.


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