If you’re like most Americans, your holiday shopping bonanza officially starts Friday, Nov. 25. Or as it’s more commonly known: Black Friday.
The precursor to the gift-giving season that is this hallowed Friday seems to be now inexorably tied to the industry I cover: consumer technology and gadgets. Perhaps 30 years ago, the shopping masses were more concerned with gifts of ties, mixers and Mattel toys — but now they seem to only have eyes for the battery-powered, pluggable and 3G-connected.
An authoritative voice on technology and consumer electronics, Joshua Topolsky is the founding editor-in-chief of The Verge, a technology news and information Web site, and the former editor-in-chief of Engadget. He is the resident tech expert for NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and has appeared on CNN, Fox News, Bloomberg TV and G4’s “Attack of the Show.” A lifelong gadget enthusiast, Joshua used his first computer at age 6 (a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A), and has been breaking apart and reassembling gadgets since phones had rotary dialers.
When I thought of my column this week, I wondered how I might provide some service to those brave souls who will risk being trampled — literally — in pursuit of a great deal. How could I aid those in need ... of savings?
I’ve decided to write a primer — a crash course of sorts — on what I might buy (and what I’ll definitely avoid) when you’re in the trenches this weekend. You don’t have to take my suggestions, of course. But they could save your life.
The year 2011 probably will go down as “the year of the tablet,” so why not jump on the bandwagon? The truth is, you don’t have to sort through a lot of confusing options to figure out which tablet you’re taking home to the family (or friends, or whatever). For Black Friday, Apple has cut the price of its iPad 2 from $499 to $458, but that still pales in comparison to Amazon’s Kindle Fire price tag of $199. You’ll be able to do more with the iPad, but for that cost, you could get two Fires and still have money left over for a nice lunch. Either of these will delight, though the iPad 2 will probably be slightly more delightful.
Verizon is offering the Motorola Xoom for the very low price of $199.99, but be forewarned — that’s with a two-year contract.
Whatever you do, don’t go for the bargain basement Android tablets. If you think you’re getting a deal on a $99 tablet, think again. They’ll only break your heart.
Top 10 tablets
Everyone is moving toward the portable, the luggable, the untethered. Only specialists are really antsy for a big desktop system. If you’ve got kids headed off to school, youngsters who need a homework companion or a busy spouse — you want some kind of laptop.
If you’ve got some cash to spend, you can’t go wrong with Apple’s latest MacBook Airs. The starting price has been cut for Black Friday, and you can pick one up starting at $898, which is dirt cheap by Apple standards. The super-thin laptop has enough horsepower and battery life to keep things going even on a busy day, and if you absolutely must run Windows, the Air can do double duty. If you want a pure Windows experience, you can get a massive HP Pavilion 17.3-inch laptop with a Blu-ray drive for $499 at Sam’s Club. It’s a bit large for my taste, but I’m guessing someone you know would love it.
If you’re looking for something absurdly affordable (and tiny), Target will sell you an Acer Aspire One 10.1-inch netbook for $175. That’s probably a doorbuster, so please be safe.
A word of warning. You may be tempted to buy someone in your life the $74.99 Sylvania Android netbook being sold at Toys R Us. Do not do it, unless destroying someone’s holiday dream is your idea of fun.
Top 10 laptops
Believe it or not, people still need regular old cameras, and there are lots of deals to be had out there.
If you want a simple point-and-shoot, Amazon is offering the excellent Panasonic DMC-ZS9 (which has a Leica lens) for $179, or you can grab the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W570 from Wal-Mart for $99. If you’re looking for mega-zoom power, you can pick up the beefy Nikon L105 (which has 15x zoom) for $99 as well. Want to get a decent DSLR for someone? Why not pick up the Canon EOS Rebel T3 (with a zoom lens) for $479.99.
In case you missed the memo, Flip video cameras and their ilk are mostly on the way out. Check to see if your potential giftee has a newer smartphone or a small point-and-shoot they like to carry, and remember that something like an iPod touch can do decent video shooting, and lots more.
The best of the rest
There are always great TV deals this time of year. Wal-Mart has a 40-inch Emerson for $248, though I would also consider the 42-inch Sharp LC42SV49U which is selling for an absurdly low $199 at Best Buy. Neither one of these is going to be the finest set you can buy, but they’re both ultra-cheap.
If you want something that’s a bit more high-end, the $599 50-inch, plasma Panasonic TC-P50S30 would be an excellent choice.
There are plenty of options, no question, but at the end of the day the best advice I can give is this: Often with consumer electronics, you actually do get what you pay for. Instead of digging purely for the cheapest deals, you should consider the capabilities and features of what you buy. In the long run, you’ll end up getting far more bang for your buck, even if you don’t fill every stocking with a bundle of gadgetry.