Don’t be conned by misleading marketing; they just want your money. Instead, follow our advice and know what to look for with your gift-buying this season.
1 Some gear can get wet (sorta). The terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are used very conservatively by product manufacturers, mostly for legal reasons. (“Waterproof” implies a guarantee.) As a result, true waterproofing is rare. Water resistance, however, is usually fine for most electronics and gear applications, and it usually comes with a depth rating. “Splash-resistant” implies basic water protection, but not total submersion.
2 With laptops, thin isn’t in. Being light is generally more important than being thin when it comes to laptop computers. You’ll be grateful at the end of a day of toting around a light laptop, but a few extra millimeters of thickness won’t really matter. Also, battery life ratings are misleading and increasingly suspect. Does anyone really need 10+ hours? Seven or eight is usually plenty, given that we’re usually in range of power outlets, even on airplanes.
3You may get conned in a big-box. Many companies — electronics manufacturers in particular — make products tweaked specifically for big-box-retailer holiday sales. So, that “steeply discounted” television may not be as great a deal as you think, but just a product whose quality and features have been adjusted to match that price. Use reputable reviews to find a good television, and work to find that model on sale someplace other than Wal-Mart.
4 VR needs major hardware. Virtual reality is all the rage this year, but when considering Oculus Rift or HTC Vive goggles for someone, just remember that the goggles require powerful gaming computers to run. The average laptop or desktop won’t work. But Alienware, Asus, Dell and MSR all make VR-ready hardware, and Sony’s Playstation VR runs off the Playstation 4 console, which helps smooth the process. Too rich for your blood? Go entry-level with VR goggles designed for smartphones, from Samsung, Google, Zeiss, and many others. They’re fun, but they rely on the phone’s graphics capability and the quality of a $2 app. So your VR experience will be limited, compared to a full-blooded setup like Oculus, HTC and Sony. Also, most headsets are phone-specific, so check first.
5 Drone quality trumps capability. When choosing a drone, be skeptical of touted capabilities like multi-mile range. Given that you’re not legally allowed to fly a drone beyond your line of sight, these are far less important than things like battery life and safety features. At a minimum, look for object-avoidance sensors, GPS and return-to-home capability for when your signal is lost. (Bonus tip: Drones require registration, which fortunately is easy and a process we heartily endorse. But don’t use a “drone registry service” scam that charges $30 or more to do something you can do for just $5 in five minutes at registermyuas.faa.gov.)
6 Find the real killer camera app: wi-fi. Camera sensors are important. So are lenses. But they’re also pretty much excellent across the board. So if you’re gifting someone a camera, or dropping hints yourself, the one feature you also most want to make sure is present is on-board wi-fi. Given how much we all upload photos to social media, or how much we want them on our phones for whatever reason, this feature is vital. It’s simple: take photo, turn on wi-fi, transfer image(s) to camera. Just make a note of what size the file is. Some cameras transfer severely compressed images, others full-sized JPGs. Your needs and editing/sharing habits will determine if you care one way or the other.
7 With headphones, sound isolation is better than noise cancellation. There are two strategies headphone manufacturers use to skin the ambient-noise cat: Electronic cancellation and passive isolation. Noise-cancelling headphones tend to draw the most attention and praise, and for good reason: They can make sitting in a Boeing 737 at 500 mph feel like a nap in the innermost tomb of the biggest pyramid in Giza. But beyond air travel, noise-cancelling headphones have drawbacks. Yes, they’re compact and efficient, but they also introduce their own digital artifacts into the sound, including a persistent humming that you can detect in more normal environments. Passive isolation, however, uses superior fit and high-quality sound-deadening materials to block outside noise. They’re bulkier, but if you’re truly after acoustic excellence, they’re a first-class ticket.
Next Up: 17 Great Gift Ideas in Tech
The best gift ideas for the techie, selected by Gear Patrol experts, to make the 2016 shopping season a breeze. Read the Story