Holiday Technology Dreams and Potential Gift Nightmares

By Rob Enderle November 11, 2014

We are approaching the season of giving, and we often open our wallets a little farther and buy a bunch of stuff for ourselves at the same time.  The market is full of interesting products and some rather unique hazards this year so, as we approach Black Friday and Cyber Monday here are my thoughts on navigating this mess. 

Smartphones

This is a dangerous area for gift giving, largely because new phones can come with hefty monthly payments that the person receiving the gift doesn’t want to pay.  In addition, if you pick a carrier that doesn’t work well where they are there is a good chance you just bought someone a door stop.  So if you buy a Smartphone as a gift, find out both what carrier they are currently using and whether they were looking forward to switching or not. Then buy an unlocked phone without subsidy so you aren’t sticking them with an unplanned monthly fee they didn’t agree to pay.  If this is for someone that doesn’t currently have a cell phone, look at the MVNOs that have monthly no-contract plans like Go Phone and Straight Talk. Both use AT&T spec phones and both are relatively easy to set up with an unlocked phone.  If they want an iPhone, realize that a fully configured iPhone 6+ can cost nearly $900 unlocked—suggesting a gift certificate toward the phone might be a bit more affordable. 

For a Gift, I favor the Asus PadFone X Mini because it is really reasonably priced at $200. It is both a tablet and a Smartphone in one package, and it is tied to the AT&T no contract Go Phone Service.  Its performance isn’t exactly market leading, but its price and value are. The monthly plans range from $25 to $60, and this isn’t subsidized—Walmart and AT&T carry them.  If someone wants a $900 Smartphone they can buy it for themselves. 

Tablets

Here I hope the folks you are buying for like Kindles because they are very reasonably priced this year and a pretty good deal in the smaller classes. If you are talking a big tablet, chances are the one they already have is good enough, tablets really haven’t been changing that much and most folks have been sticking with their old tablet rather than buying a new one. There are a number of choices with regard to version, memory, and whether they have a direct connection to a cell phone network. Typically 64GB is more than adequate for most people and if you think you can save money by buying an older product or an off brand think again as the recipient, particularly if they are a child, may end up crying and not in happiness for your choice.  A cellular connection is generally a waste of money, as only about 10 percent of tablet users enable them—even if they paid extra to have them over the last several years. My personal favorites are the NVIDIA Shield Tablet (because it is tuned for games and it’s still pretty rare) in the small class, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD6 (because it is still a deal at under $100), and the Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet 3 because it takes the place of a notebook computer.   

4K TVs

Stores will have a ton of 4K TV deals toward the end of the year. Be aware that the really aggressively priced 4K TVs have down level HDMI ports, which means you’ll trade off resolution for frame rates and many of these sets display Standard Definition and High Definition poorly.  You can get really expensive and fully capable 4K sets but these will drop sharply next year and there isn’t much in the way of 4K content yet.   Hold off on a 4K TV until there is something you have access to that you really want to watch in 4K.  Things should get far better as we get toward the end of next year in both hardware and content.  We also have 8K coming and recall all of the folks that rushed out to buy 3D sets that are kicking themselves.  So hold off until at least next year as prices, content, and choices should become a bit clearer by the end of next year.  If you are going to buy one anyway use the LG Electronics 55UB9500 which is just under $2K for 55”, it has passive 3D (that you’ll rarely use but the glasses are cheap), and it should be relatively future proof near term.    

Drones

This is one of the hot areas this year, and everyone and their brother is buying and misusing these things.  Be aware that the laws surrounding where and when you can use these products are changing, and if you have a young boy with poor impulse control a drone will likely land them in a world of hurt as people are becoming increasingly intolerant of folks that are using drones to spy on others. The two features you are looking for are an inflight viewing capability (so folks can see where the Drone is going) and a gimbaled Go-Pro camera mount, which allows them to get high quality shots of what they are flying over—thus, the opportunity for misuse. That said the Drone to lust for is the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter. It isn’t cheap (around $1,555 fully loaded) but the videos it generates are amazing and you can get it with a camera designed for Drone use.  People are reporting they can still control this up to 2,100” and you can shoot straight down for some amazing shots.  

Accessories

Now there are some great accessories in the market.  A nice set of headphones, I like the Plantronics Backbeat Pro. It is a wonderful wireless headset with active noise cancellation and decent sound with a price of just under $250. An alternative for folks that like their music while exercising is the Backbeat Fit, which is about half the price, the headphones come in colors and fit nicely in the ear for when you work out. If you want something cheaper for sound that can be shared but is still decent, check out the SoundPad for Tablets. It is both a tablet stand and speakers for just under $30.  It’s no Boombox but is has an impressive amount of sound for the price.  

For someone that likes to read and wants to save the battery on their Smartphone or tablet, the Kindle Paperwhite remains a great deal at under $190 with lifetime free 3G connection to get new books pretty much worldwide.  For a reader, it is still one the best deals in the market (very similar to a book experience, very light, and always connected for free). 

Wrapping Up:  Shop Smart

You have a lot of tools to shop well this year from on-line price comparisons to actually asking people what they want via social media, email, or instant messaging.  In any case I’ll be posting updated ideas and links as we approach the Black Friday and Cyber Monday events looking increasingly at unusual gift ideas that could make this difference this holiday season.  Good hunting!




Edited by Maurice Nagle

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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