It's better to give than to receive -- and if you get one of these tech gizmos, you'll know why.
Complaints about electronic gadgets are legion. There are plenty of duds introduced every year, from dedicated Twitter readers to giggling, animatronic dolls. More insidious, however, are devices that at first blush look useful, but within a few weeks of the holidays end up languishing on the shelf collecting dust or -- worse -- are obviated in January by newer, improved versions.
To help shoppers and recipients avoid post-traumatic gadget disorder, here are the top 5 tech and electronic gadgets that you should avoiding giving. And if you receive one, thank the giver vociferously -- and then secretly return the item for store credit as fast as you can.
1. Nintendo Wii, $200
It's hard to keep the kids on the Nintendo Wii after they've seen what Kinect for the Microsoft Xbox 360 can do.
Now I love the Wii, and it gets credit for pushing the gaming industry forward, away from thumb-twitching games and toward more creative motion controllers. It even inspired better cell phones, motion-sensitive models like the iPhone. But Kinect is, well, a game changer.
The $150 add-on recognizes body movements so that players can wave their arms, punch, jump, and dance in games. The early games are simply great, and ones I've tried in private that are coming out next year are even more entertaining: One puts you into famous movie scenes where you can act alongside Bogart -- call it cinematic karaoke.
Kinect also brings together a raft of technologies -- face recognition, voice recognition, and gesture recognition -- that will revolutionize not only gaming but the way we use entertainment systems and computers overall. Nintendo doubtless has something new under its digital sleeve, as well. So save your money for some new Kinect games, or the next-generation Wii. And return this gift ASAP.
2. Apple iPhone 4, $200
Yes, the iPhone 4 is wildly popular, and, yes, its fans are irrationally exuberant. (Some of my friends will spend the whole evening extolling to me how much they love -- I mean really love -- their iPhones.)
But this version came out of the gate with problems, including the "antenna-gate." Cell phone calling reception is so bad on the latest iPhone that the company had to hand out rubber bumpers to solve the problem, turning an elegantly designed piece of electronics into a cheap looking kids toy. And Apple CEO Steve Jobs tried to clear up the problem, by telling owners they were holding the phones incorrectly. You can talk on a phone wrong?
But there are more important reasons for avoiding the iPhone 4. First, it's not a 4G phone, which means that it can't move video and all those fabulous apps over the network as fast as it needs to. And next year, you'll need to. There are several excellent 4G alternatives available, including the $130 HTC Evo from Sprint and the more advanced MyTouch from T-Mobile, which can be found for as little as $50 on Amazon. Within a few weeks, there should be many more 4G phones available, too.
The second reason is that a new iPhone is coming, most likely from AT&T rival Verizon (which is also looking to push its new 4G network). That introduction could come as early as next month ... but of course, we've been saying that for months.
3. Flip Slide HD, about $200
In the "very interesting, but stupid" design category comes the Flip Slide HD.
Flip made a name for itself by delivering a simple, easy to use, compact camcorder that made it dead easy to shoot and share video. The Slide HD changed all that. It's fat, has confusing touch-screen and touch-strip controls, and lacks options like a memory expansion slot. It also doesn't include an HDMI cable.
Most smart phones have easier to use camcorder functions. And there are better point-and-shoot video options on the market, such as the waterproof Kodak PlaySport that can be had for just $129. The moral: Do your research before plunking down your dollars.
4. Palm Pre, free
That old saw, you get what you pay for, has never been more true when it comes to the Palm Pre. Sure, it's free -- with a contract -- but it won't make you happy.
Pushed by a single manufacturer, HP, Palm software was simply too late to the smartphone party (I know, it was the original smart handheld device, but the iPhone changed everything). The result is a platform with little software support, so it lacks all those attractive apps that really make Android and iPhone handsets sing -- and makes them fun to use.
The Palm Pre is also unlikely to gain any further support, since most developers are tied to the Apple iPhone or running in droves to the Android market. The Pre is a great little phone, sure, but it's all on its own.
5. Any 3D TV whatsoever
There are some top-notch HDTVs now in stores and some real deals can definitely be had. But not on 3D-capable sets.
They cost a fair bit more, for starters. The reason for the higher prices -- 3D is generally several hundred dollars more than comparable models -- is that in order to display 3D Blu-ray movies and sports broadcasts, an HDTV needs more advanced video processing. But there's very little to watch in terms of 3D movies or television shows at present.
Even if there were shows on TV, I'm not sure many of us would bother to wear the bulky and expensive (around $150 each!!) 3D goggles required to watch the shows. Add to that the troubling issue of missing 3D industry standards: Different sets use different systems, so that means different goggles for each television. (Sure, there are two types of goggles on the market that claim to work with all the TVs, but the results are mixed and there are color fidelity issues.)
On the other hand, if someone likes you enough to get you a fancy 3D-capable HDTV, it's going to be a really amazing set to watch standard HD movies on shows on -- so maybe you should just shut up and keep it. After all, 'tis the season, isn't it?