PC Magazine has a great article on things you really don’t need to waste your money on this holiday season.
Don’t Buy: Expensive Blu-ray Player
Sorry folks, but I still think $250 is way too much to pay for a DVD player. I’ll reconsider my position only if manufacturers come to their senses over the next two months and start selling Blu-ray players for $149 or less.
Maybe Buy: Toshiba XDE DVD Player
I know standard DVDs are yesterday’s technology. But if you have a vast library of DVDs and your current player is seizing up, this upscaling, image-crisping DVD player can be had for a lot less than competing Blu-ray devices. And it’ll make your current and vast libraries of DVDs look pretty darn good on your new HDTV.
Do Buy: Roku Netflix Player
This $99 set-top box will open up your living room to a whole library of video content and is way cheaper than a new Blu-ray player. The current Netflix on-demand selections are, admittedly, limited, but there are many great movies, with a decent number of newish ones in the mix. Plus, I expect that Netflix will eventually open up first-run films to this service.
Caveat: If you already own an Xbox 360, you’ll be able to access the very same library of Netflix movies on demand. (One can only hope Sony will get around to adding Netflix functionality to the PS3.) In that case, maybe you just give yourself the gift of a Netflix account.
Don’t Buy: HD Camcorders
I’ve come to the difficult realization that most people are not videographers, and HD camcorders, with all their bells and whistles (and $500-plus price tags), are overkill for average consumers.
Maybe Buy: Digital Camera with HD Video-Capture Abilities
My wife never shot video until she got a digital camera with built-in video-capture abilities. Obviously, the transition to shooting in HD, when it’s simply part of the camera you already own, is perfectly natural. The Samsung NV24HD, for example, is a decent 10-megapixel camera with built-in HD capabilities. Sure, it’s only 720p, but for most people, that’s probably high-def enough.
Do Buy: A YouTube Camcorder (aka Pocket Camcorder)
Digital cameras that shoot video are great, but to get that video off the camera, you’ll likely have to remove the card and put it in your PC. Then you have to know what to do next. Or you can buy a Creative Vado, Flip Mino, or Kodak Zi6. For anywhere from $99 to $179, you can get an all-in-one device that lets you capture standard and high-def video and pretty much everything in between, depending on the model. Plus, you can effortlessly transfer the video from the device to a PC and then online to share with friends. I, for one, carry Creative’s Vado. It’s thinner and smaller than an iPod classic and, like most of these pocket video cams, comes equipped with a built-in USB dongle and software that can automatically upload your video to YouTube. No muss, no fuss, and you’re capturing moments and sharing them with friends, family, and, if you choose, the world.
Don’t Buy: Palm Centro
Look, I loved my Palm Treo 700p when I got it in 2007, and I know Palm has sold a million Centros (basically, a stripped-down, value-priced Treo), but we have no idea where the Palm platform is going. Will there be an open-source version next year? Maybe, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Do you really want to be married to what could very well be a dying platform?
Maybe Buy: T-Mobile G1
If you’re desperate to own the very first Google Android phone, then by all means buy the T-Mobile G1. However, the reality is that the phone is missing features like enterprise e-mail, a regular headset jack, and multimedia capabilities. Plus, it’s a version one phone on a version one platform. Personally, I’d wait for version two.
Do Buy: Apple iPhone 3G or RIM BlackBerry Bold
For people without my virtual typing handicap, the Apple iPhone 3G is the ultimate, do-anything pocket device. On the other hand, if you have to have a keyboard, go with the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9000.
Don’t Buy: Do-Nothing Gadgets
I hate desktop tchotchkes that look pretty or funny but have no discernible utility. This includes the WowWee Chatterbots—desktop toys that comment on your computer-based actions—and all Hasbro I-Dogs, I-Penguins, I-Ducks (wait, they haven’t released a duck version—yet), which add piddling speakers to your MP3 players and dance. Useless.
Maybe Buy: Ugobe Pleo
I have a Pleo in my office, and it is an engaging entertainment robot that’s nice to hold and fun to play with. On the other hand, it’s still too slow-moving to really keep my interest. And recent corporate shuffles at Ugobe—including an office move from California to Idaho (the new hub of technology!)—have me wondering about the long-term viability of the business. That said, if the company could lower the price by about $150, I might consider making it a “Do Buy.”
Maybe Buy: A WowWee Robot
I’ve spent time with most of them, including the surprisingly powerful and somewhat difficult-to-use Rovio Telepresence robot. If I had to pick, though, I might go for the adorable Femisapien—at least it kisses you. These bots can move to the “Do Buy” column if they get a little more powerful, without turning into hobbyist toys.
Do Buy: An E-Book Reader
I’m encouraged that the new Sony Reader Digital Book supports gestures, but they forgot to add wireless content download. Meanwhile, the Amazon Kindle’s update, if leaked photos are to be believed, looks as if it’s moving in the wrong direction. Even so, I love the technology, and if you’re a serious reader, then there is no better solution for travel.
Don’t Buy: A UMPC
With their tiny keyboards and unwieldy designs, these odd-duckling systems, like the Wibrain B1H and Samsung Q1 Ultra, will satisfy no one. It’s a category that, with the exception of vertical markets, is already in its death throes.
Maybe Buy: A Netbook
I know, you’re saying to yourself, “Aren’t UMPCs and netbooks the same thing?” Yes and no. There are some UMPC refugees in the new and rapidly growing netbook market, but unlike the Wibrain B1H, innovative products like the ASUS EeePC 4G and the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 look and work like traditional laptops. The big difference is cost. Understand, though, that netbooks have their limits. A $350 laptop is not going to do the same kind of technical calisthenics as one that costs $1,500 or $3,500.
Do Buy: A Laptop
I can tell you that the next PC I add to my home will be a laptop. They’re small, light, portable, less power-hungry, and, thanks to myriad innovations, just as powerful as most mid-range and workstation desktops.
Don’t Buy: A Big Old Box
Large, old-school desktop PCs are a blight in almost any room of the house. The Jurassic-age BTX-size case designs are relics of the 20th century that need to die. If you do want a somewhat traditional system, take a look at some of the mini boxes offered by HP (its Slimline series) and at the Apple Mac mini.
Maybe Buy: A PC with an Unusual Case Design
Dell Studio Hybrid is not only pretty to look at, but it’s the rare GreenTech Approved (read: eco-friendly) desktop PC on the market. Sure, the power is borderline (just 2GB of RAM and only a 250GB hard drive), but it’s enough for most people, and these systems slip neatly into any room in the home.
Do Buy: An All-in-One PC
If you’d rather ignore my advice about choosing a laptop as your next home desktop PC, then by all means consider an all-in-one PC. Sony has some gorgeous ones, like the Sony VAIO VGC-RT150Y, which can double as wall-mounted HDTVs. HP’s second TouchSmart, in particular, is a wonder of design, elegance, and innovation. It seems like the perfect kitchen PC.
Don’t Buy: Expensive Software
The age of shrink-wrapped $200 software is over. So much of what you want to do with your PC can be accomplished with downloadable and sometimes free software. Take a look at our Best Free Software story if you don’t believe me.
Maybe Buy: Expensive Software
Yeah, I just contradicted myself. So what? The fact is, some people will always need the raw horsepower found only in expensive, client-based apps. I count Adobe CS4 (which includes Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere, and much more) among these.
Do Buy: Security Software
Get it for yourself. Give it to your friends. Viruses may be dead, but malware threats are alive, well, and proliferating as you read this. It’s a $59 to $80 investment that you’ll never regret.
Don’t Buy: Grand Theft Auto IV Knockoffs
I’m not a big fan of GTA4. The violence and misogyny are just too much for me. But if you’re going to go for that kind of game, get the original and keep walking past blatant rip-offs like Saints Row 2.
Maybe Buy: Brain Age 2
Once you’re done melting your brain with all that violence and mayhem, you might consider taking a mental break with Brain Age 2. The Nintendo DS game costs just around $20 and really does help improve mental acuity. I played the original for a month straight and became much smarter—I swear. Then I stopped and reverted to my dopey old self.
Do Buy: Spore
Enough, already with the moaning about DRM. Spore is a game for your entire family, and it’s so vast that you’ll all be playing for hours and hours and hours. Plus, it runs nicely on pretty much any new PC—no killer graphics capabilities required (though, they can improve the graphics quite a bit if you have them).