We tech nerds have admittedly expensive tastes. We also research our toys obsessively. It’s generally not a good idea to spend hundreds of dollars on something if you don’t know what it is, but if you insist…
• Game System: Most serious gamers have long since staked out their territory in this holy war, but if yours is still open-minded, give the three major players a look. All go beyond traditional gaming with features like Netflix streaming and online multiplayer.
Sony’s PlayStation 3 is the priciest of the bunch at $299, but it also happens to be a Blu-ray player. Its new Move controller gives you motion control and adds another Benjamin to the price.
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 starts at $199. Bundles with its motion controller, Kinect, likewise add $100, but you don’t have to hold Kinect; it tracks the movements of your body sitting by the TV.
Meanwhile, Nintendo’s $199 Wii continues to be ludicrously popular despite its less dazzling graphics and its competitors’ finally getting into the motion control game. To woo you this holiday season, they’ve broken out the nostalgia with a red console bundling the New Super Mario Bros. Wii game. They’ve also just put out Super Mario All-Stars for the console, which is four classic Mario games, a soundtrack CD and history booklet for $30 OMG WANT.
• Portable Music Player: Simple, there’s the iPod and everything else. The cheapest is the iPod Shuffle, $49 for 2GB and no screen. The Nano, in a new smaller form this year, is $149 for 8GB and $179 for 16GB, both versions with a 1.54-inch touchscreen. The Touch, which also supports web browsing and thousands of apps, is $229 for 8GB, $299 for 32GB and $399 for 64GB. Then there’s always the Classic, $249 for 160GB — rather than shockproof flash memory, it uses a miniature hard drive, so while it’s a lot of space for the money, it’s not ideal for use while jogging or exercising. If you hit the right store at the right time, you might score a gift card along with your purchase.
The alternatives are too numerous to list, but Creative Zen and Sandisk Sansa players are generally considered the best as far as sound quality and reliability go. The Sansa Clip+ is similar to the iPod Shuffle or Nano in size, but is only $40 for 2GB, $50 for 4GB or $70 for 8GB. There are a number of Zen models, with the Mosaic EZ100 giving you the most storage for the buck at $50 for 8GB.
• E-Reader: Your two hot products here are the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble nook, with the Sony Reader a distant third. I’ve covered the idiosyncrasies of off-brand readers before.
“Kindle” has become nearly synonymous with “E-Reader,” so it’s hard to go wrong here. $139 gets you the Wi-Fi version with a 6-inch screen, while $189 adds 3G wireless so it can download books anywhere there’s cell phone coverage. The DX model for $379 ups the screen size to 9.7 inches but loses the Wi-Fi.
The nook comes in three varieties. At $149 is the Wi-Fi version with a color touch navigation screen along the bottom and a grayscale E Ink display for reading. For $199, 3G wireless is added. For $249, there’s the new nook color, which ditches the 3G but keeps the Wi-Fi and replaces the dual screens with a single 7-inch color touchscreen. It’s really a lot closer to a tablet than its cheaper siblings, because it includes software for viewing Microsoft Office files and browsing the web. Unlike other Android tablets, it doesn’t let you install your own apps without some serious hacking — which, for the right geek, might be the perfect present after all.