Holiday gift buying guide for gadgets: Dark side or light side of the force?

Forget the upcoming movie for now. The important question is which gadget will you buy for the holidays from two very viable options.

ipad pro first look screen 1
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

You don’t know the power...of buying a gadget this holiday season. It can make or break your relationships, with friends at work, with family, or with Aunt Judy from Toledo. Often, it comes down to a decision between two powerful forces (er, devices). I’ve offered some guidance below to help you make the right decision and maybe even earn some extra points with loved ones.

1. Smartphone

Apple iPhone 6s vs. HTC One A9

It’s not exactly Darth Vader-like evil, but the iPhone 6s is the easiest, more alluring option. It’s the phone everyone wants; it rules the galaxy. Yet, the HTC One A9 actually has a slightly better camera (13 megapixels versus 12 for the iPhone 6s), longer battery life (12 hours versus 10 hours), and Dolby Audio for sound, which is something you can actually hear in a side-by-side comparison. It also happens to cost about $250 less than the iPhone 6s if you don’t get a contract. That's extra money to buy a nice case and some gadget insurance. Or maybe tickets to Star Wars.

2. Tablet

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 vs. Apple iPad Pro

Thin and (ahem) light versus gargantuan and fast. That’s your choice this holiday season when it comes to tablets. I really like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 because it is so thin (at just .3-inches) and portable, plus it costs only $399 for the 32GB version. What makes it a bit tyrannical is that the S2 lasts only eight hours on a charge. The Apple iPad Pro pushes ten hours or more but has an impressive 12.9-inch screen. It costs $799, but movies look and sound much better than any tablet I have ever tested.

3. Laptop

Alienware 15 vs. Microsoft Surface Book

This decision is all about choosing raw power for games and movies (the Alienware 15 R2) versus pure business functionality (the Surface Book). Tough choice, right? The Alienware 15 costs $1,200 but has high-end NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M graphics and 8GB of memory. It looks like you’re a gamer. Yet, the Microsoft Surface Book also has discrete graphics (in the keyboard base). You can remove the tablet and sketch out ideas with the stylus, which snaps onto the side using magnets (aka, tractor beam).

4. Wireless Speaker

Naim Audio Mu-So vs. Sonos Play:5

Everyone should experience the Naim Audio Mu-So at least once, and with a goth artist like Chelsea Wolfe that will cause the paint in your room to peel back. It supports Spotify Connect streaming and the high-end version of Bluetooth called AptX, but costs $1,499. On the lighter side, the new Sonos Play:5 for $499 doesn’t have the power but does sound pristine. I like how easy it is to configure with just the app and by pressing one button on the back.

5. Headphones

Torque Audio vs. Torque Audio

In our modern work culture, your headphones send a statement to everyone around you. There are really only two choices. You either look like Princess Leia with a large ear-covering set or go with earbuds that are more subtle (and force you to give up tonal quality). Fortunately, for this one product, there is one company that offers both. Torque Audio sells both high-quality earbuds with pristine quality (the T096Z set) and larger headphones (the T402V). In my tests, both sounded perfect.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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