Cool stuff: Your 2010 holiday tech gift guide

Check out the best tablets, smartphones, HDTVs and other tech gifts to give and get this year

The December gift-giving season is in full swing, and if you're like many people, you might be starting to panic. Will you be able to find -- and purchase -- gifts for all the people left on your list? Of course you will -- with the help of Computerworld's annual holiday gift guide.

As we did last year, we polled our readers to find out what types of tech gear they wanted to receive for the holidays. While most responses were the same as last year's -- HDTVs, e-readers, laptops and smartphones still top the list -- there was one significant (but not surprising) change: netbooks were pushed aside by tablets. We've also included our "More great gifts" category again, with several interesting, useful or just plain fun gift ideas for tech enthusiasts.

Each category includes two or more products that we feel would make great holiday gifts. Along with descriptions of each item, entries include links to product pages, places to shop, specification info (so you'll know exactly what you're buying) and, of course, prices.

We tried to find a good range of street prices for products that are available at multiple vendors, but keep in mind that prices fluctuate, especially at this time of year. One good tactic for saving money is to wait until mid-January to buy -- but only if your gift recipients don't mind getting an I.O.U. for now.

As always, be aware that there are a lot of false deals out there. If something seems to be too much of a bargain, make sure that the vendor's legit and that you're getting the latest model of the product you're shopping for. (On the other hand, if don't need all of the latest features, buying an earlier model of, say, a laptop or a TV set can save you a respectable amount of money.)

Finally, if you have a suggestion for a holiday gift that you don't see here, feel free to add it in our Comments section. And have a wonderful (and technology-filled) holiday!

Tablets take center stage

Since the Apple iPad burst onto the scene last April, tablets have been a highly visible presence in the consumer technology marketplace. But although we've heard hints of a wider selection -- mostly Android-based -- for months, so far only one major iPad competitor has emerged: Samsung's Galaxy Tab.

Other tablets are on their way, including the Archos 101 and the ViewSonic ViewPad 7. Acer also says it will launch three tablets sometime next March, while Asus is promising its own tablet in the first quarter of 2011.

But why wait? Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab are both excellent choices if you want to surprise somebody with a gift of a tablet this holiday season.

Apple iPad

The Apple iPad has only been available since April, but it's already become an iconic tablet. Although rival vendors keep promising their own tablets, the iPad is at the top of most holiday gadget wish lists. It's stylish, powerful, easy to use, infinitely flexible (given the number of apps in Apple's App Store) and reasonably priced.

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

With a sharp, bright 9.7-in. screen showing 1024 by 768 pixels, the iPad is a joy to use whether you're surfing the Web, looking at digital photos, watching streaming videos or playing games.

It weighs only 1.5 pounds, but even that gets a little heavy when you hold it in one hand, so plan on propping it in your lap if you're going to use it for long. Once you start swiping, tapping and dragging your way across the multitouch screen, you'll find it hard to put down. Oh, and you can use it for up to 10 hours without plugging it in for a recharge.

In fact, according to Computerworld's Michael deAgonia, the iPad may be the perfect gift for everyone:

Apple has long had a knack for designing complete products that appeal to both geeks and everyday people without making either group feel dumb. Now it's even gone beyond that, crafting something that a young kid or an older grandparent can take to with ease. (Read the full review.)

The iPad comes in six models, the differences being the built-in storage and connectivity options. The three Wi-Fi-only versions are the 16GB model, which sells for $499, the 32GB unit for $599 and the 64GB option for $699. (Choose wisely -- there's no way to add more storage after you buy.) If you want 3G access when you're away from a Wi-Fi network, you'll have to tack on an extra $130 to each of those prices -- in addition to paying monthly fees for AT&T data service.

Our choice? The 64GB Wi-Fi-only model. Eschewing 3G connectivity makes for a much less complicated gift-giving process, and besides, Wi-Fi access is virtually everywhere these days. Why 64GB? You'd be surprised how easy it is to fill up an iPad with music, 30 Rock episodes and digital vacation videos -- your giftee will be happy to have that extra storage available.

-- Ken Mingis

iPad from Apple Inc.

Price: $499 to $699 (Wi-Fi) or $629 to $829 (Wi-Fi plus 3G)

Tech Specs  |  Store Locator  |  Phone: (800) MY APPLE

Summary: Apple's iPad is a revolutionary mobile device that would be a welcome gift for almost any recipient.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

If you prefer Android to iOS, or if you're just looking for a more portable tablet than the iPad, then you'll want to get the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It measures a sleek 7.5 by 4.7 by 0.5 inches, sports a beautiful 7-in. multitouch screen, and runs the latest version of Android. At just 13.58 oz., it's more than half a pound lighter than the iPad.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab

With the same size display as the Kindle e-reader, you'll find it large enough to do anything you want, including reading books, checking e-mail, running apps, watching videos or playing games. Load Angry Birds on this beauty, and you'll never want to stop playing.

It's got some features that the iPad lacks, notably a camera -- actually, two of them -- and can run apps and videos written in Adobe's Flash. Samsung didn't settle for shipping the tablet with standard apps written for Android, such as e-mail and calendaring tools. Instead, those apps were rewritten to take advantage of the Tab's larger screen. The results are useful, compelling apps that combine the simplicity of Android with features you'd expect in a PC.

PC World's Melissa J. Perenson thinks it's a contender:

Judging from my extended use of the Tab, it's clear that Samsung has succeed in delivering the smoothest implementation of Android on a tablet to date -- and it has done so on a smoothly designed piece of hardware that's a far cry from the generic slabs that have cropped up from Asia. (Read the full review.)

Unlike the iPad, which is wed to AT&T, the Galaxy Tab can run on the 3G networks of a variety of service providers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon. Prices are fairly uniform: $400 with a two-year contract or $600 without a contract (except at AT&T, which charges $650). The hardware is basically the same, except that the Sprint and Verizon units don't come with a SIM-card slot.

Keep in mind that this is a first-generation Android tablet, so it isn't perfect: While you have full access to the Android Market, some apps written for Android smartphones don't fit on the 7-in. screen properly. Aside from that, though, you'll find this tablet a great holiday treat.

-- Preston Gralla

Galaxy Tab from Samsung

Price: $400 (with two-year contract) or $600 (without a contract)

Tech Specs  |  Store Locator

Summary: If you're more interested in Android than iOS, or if you just want a smaller, lighter tablet, Samsung's Galaxy Tab is a great way to go.

Next: Smartphones sizzle

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