This isn't your typical tech gift guide. The iPhone 5 gets enough publicity as it is. The same could be said for the iPad, the Kindle, the Nook, the Kinect for XBox and every other tech item that's selling like hot cakes this holiday season. Forget them.
HDTVs, personal computers and DSLR cameras are often too similar to stand out. Plus, those pricey items depend so much on a user's preferences (i.e. wall space, memory required) that it wouldn't be much help to write about them here.
Forget them, too.
Consider this a guide to the most overlooked, underrated and intriguing tech items on the shelves as Christmas creeps around the corner. From tablets and phones to headphones and other gadgets, we've got you covered.
Samsung Galaxy S III ($200 with contract)
For half the price of the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S III gives you the 4G network, an 8-megapixel camera, and a superb HD display for large-screen lovers. Plus, it can act as a mobile hotspot for up to 10 mobile devices.
The S III also boasts S Voice technology -- Samsung's equivalent of Apple's Siri -- which enables users to wake up their phone with a simple voice command. And Samsung's voice recognition goes further. Saying, "Hi Galaxy ... picture," for example, opens the phone's camera app, and saying "cheese" takes a picture. Face-recognition software then identifies Facebook friends within images, and prompts the user to share them.
"The S III has the face recognition that the iPhone 5 doesn't, and a lot of people say that S voice is way more accurate than Siri is," says Nicole Wilkinson, sales associate for Best Buy Mobile in St. Joseph.
Nokia Lumia 920 ($100 with contract)
Candy-colored cases meet the eye-catching Windows 8 operating system in Nokia's premier smart phone with a generously sized 4.3-inch screen. In addition to running the latest version of Microsoft's mobile OS, it comes loaded with Nokia apps including Nokia Maps, turn-by-turn sat-nav Nokia Drive and the subscription-free music service Mix Radio.
"It's the first phone to use Windows 8, so that's exciting," Ms. Wilkinson says. "And its sleek design is amazing."
Google Nexus 7 ($250)
At a lower price point than most other quality tablets its size, the Google Nexus 7 is light and fast with an excellent display. The Nexus 7 offers both a voice-typing feature and access to all of Google's apps.
Microsoft Surface ($500 to $700)
While it remains to be seen whether the colorful Surface will catch on as widely as Microsoft hopes, this product is definitely bringing Windows into the tablet and touch-screen competition. With its keyboard attachment, large screen and ability to run Microsoft Office, this tablet easily can be flipped and used as your primary computer. Who knows? You might actually get some real work done on a tablet for once.
Samsung Touch All-in-One ($1,100)
Designed for fast and easy use with Windows 8, the Samsung Touch All-in-One PC boasts a 23-inch-high definition touch screen merged with a stunningly thin design, a powerful Intel processor and a 1TB hard drive. The full flat design of this tablet/PC Frankenstein allows you to lay the PC all the way down, making it a full horizontal touch interface. Basically, the Samsung Touch All-in-One bends to your needs, not the other way around.
Jawbone Jambox Wireless Speaker ($180 to $300)
It's simply the smallest, greatest-sounding wireless speaker and speakerphone on the planet. The Jambox delivers stunning hi-fi audio in a portable wireless speaker so compact you probably won't believe it when you hear it. Unlike other portable speakers, the Jambox is powered by a pair of proprietary, highly sophisticated acoustic drivers, unmatched in their ability to produce extreme high and low frequencies from a single, ultra-small dome speaker.
While it can't match the sonic awesomeness of a Bose home stereo system, you'll be hard pressed to find a better portable speaker.
"It packs a surprising amount of punch for such a tiny device, and while it doesn't sound perfect, it's surprisingly good," says Will Greenwald, the consumer electronics analyst who reviewed the Jambox for PCMag.com.
Beats Mixr headphones ($225)
Everyone knows that Beats headphones are the hottest sellers in the world right now, but many are splurging on the wrong model. Most shoppers are opting for either the less expensive Beats Solo or the ultra-pricey Beats Pro. However, the Beats Mixr headphones (co-created by DJ David Guetta) are getting better reviews than both of them. Beats Mixr headphones deliver super-deep bass at extraordinarily high volumes as well as impeccable lows, highs and mid-range sounds. And the ultra-flexible lightweight headband allows for easy folding when on the go.
iHome iDM8 ($60)
At the office, in a bedroom, in the park, on a picnic or even at a campsite, it's nice to have a few tunes playing. But if you want a small, portable and rechargeable option that emits good audio quality and lets you take music from your and your friends' mobile devices, the iDM8 fits the bill. It supports Bluetooth audio streaming, as well as standard line-in cables, for playback from iOS, Android, and other mobile devices. You can even charge it from your computer via its MicroUSB cable.
Lytro Camera ($400)
This little tower-shaped gadget might look like just another novelty camera, but Lytro does what most people want in a point-and-shoot camera nowadays: the ability to just point and shoot and worry about focusing and brightness later. The Lytro is the world's first light field camera.
"The camera has only two buttons -- one for power and one for the shutter," explains Christina Bonnington, who reviewed the Lytro for Wired magazine. "All the processing is done with software, which enables the camera to assume a super simple, petite shape."
You can read more about the groundbreaking technology the Lytro uses at lytro.com, but essentially, it allows both the photographer and the viewer to focus pictures after they're snapped, shift their perspective of the scene and even switch seamlessly between 2-D and 3-D views.
Contour +2 POV Camera ($400)
This camera is for the thrill-seekers among us who want something a little more stylish than the GoPro cameras used at the X-Games. You can strap this camera to your helmet, your bike, your skis, your car, or anything else you'd like and record. This camera has a 170-degree field of vision and an easy slider to turn it on and off with ease while you're in the middle of the action.
Kodak Playfull HD Video Camera ($150)
Here's a pocket cam for a very small pocket. An addition to pocket cams of the likes of Soy Bloggie Touch and Flip UltraHD, this little video camera can go anywhere with you (including under water) and record decent video. Kodak has a very easy three-step sharing technology that makes uploading to social media a snap, and you can grab stills from your videos as well.
Nest Learning Thermostat ($250)
Who would have thought that a thermostat could be cool? Tony Fadell (one of the iPod's inventors), that's who. His start-up company has created the beautifully simple and simply beautiful Nest Learning Thermostat, which monitors your comings and goings and temperature preferences to both automate your heating and cooling and to reduce energy consumption. As you'd expect, you can manage and monitor it from your iPhone or other iOS device or from an Android device via Wi-Fi, as well as directly by turning its casing.
Garmin GPS NUVI 2455LT ($160)
While many people are ditching their GPS systems for Google Maps on their Android phones, the Garmin GPS NUVI 2455LT could lure many customers back. For only $160, you get a lifetime of map updates, hands-free voice command, and the Lifetime Traffic system that offers real-time traffic reports.
Kanex MySpot ($60)
When you're on the go, you likely carry multiple devices. But many hotels charge separate Wi-Fi access fees per device, and some still have just wired Ethernet ports in the rooms rather than Wi-Fi service (a common issue in conference rooms and conference stages as well). The Kanex MySpot is an ultraportable Wi-Fi router powered via USB, and it makes a wired Ethernet connection available to all your Wi-Fi-capable mobile devices. You can even password-protect your wireless connection.
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