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Tech gear to avoid this Christmas

1:32 PM, Nov 23, 2012   |    comments
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"You'll shoot your eye out kid!"

One of my favorite movies is A Christmas Story. There are so many truly funny scenes.

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What would Ralphie want to see under the Christmas tree in 2012 - a new smartphone loaded with a copy of Angry Birds Star Wars? Hard to say. There are so many great games and gadgets out there.

With all that gear, it's also easy to buy a tech dud. No one wants to waste money or give someone something they don't really want.

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You may recall the bulletin I put out last Christmas about tech gear you shouldn't buy. It included feature phones, GPS units, netbooks, portable media players and point-and-shoot cameras.

Those are still on the no-buy list, but this year I have a whole new list of things you'll want to avoid.

Budget Android gadgets

While I still prefer my iPhone and iPad, Android gadgets are now a good option for any tech buyer. Of course, not all Android gadgets are created equal.

Older and budget Android gadgets are best to be avoided. And when I say budget, I'm not talking about low-cost, 7-inch tablets like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire. I mean $100, off-brand tablets and low-powered, free smartphones.

For both phones and tablets, make sure they're running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher. A budget phone that runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), or a budget tablet that runs Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), will stagger when running the latest games and productivity apps.

A $0 to $50 Android phone that was a $200 to $300 dazzler on contract a year ago can be a good value. But a $0 to $50 Android with an outdated processor and last-generation Android version is no bargain.

Plus, manufacturers tend to abandon support for Android duds. Less expensive or older smartphones often don't get an operating system upgrade more than once, or even at all.

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17-inch laptops

Apple laid its 17-inch MacBook Pro to rest this year. Users just don't want to lug those behemoths around airports and corporate campuses anymore. For that matter, a 15-inch laptop makes sense only for gamers or a graphics and video pro.

Most road warriors can work or kill time splendidly on a 10- to 13-inch Ultrabook or MacBook Air. Their solid-state drives and Intel Ivy Bridge chips make them lightning-fast tools, and their thin, lightweight form makes them a joy to use - and carry around.

Bridge cameras

Designed to fill a niche between high-end DSLRs and budget point-and-shoots, bridge cameras don't make as much sense as they used to.

Compared to point-and-shoots, bridge cameras give photographers more control over shutter speed and aperture. But they don't offer much of an improvement in sensor size or quality. You're also stuck with a permanent zoom lens that usually isn't a world-beater.

Mirrorless hybrid cameras, on the other hand, are the fastest-growing digital category for good reason. They rival compact cameras in size and DSLRs in sensor and lens quality. They're systems you can grow with and keep for many years.

Prices range from practical - Nikon 1 V1 ($500, with 10-30mm lens) - to painful - Fujifilm X Pro 1 ($1,700, body only).

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Entry-level e-readers

E-readers have really hit their stride this year. Display technology has improved, and so has the library of new and exciting e-books.

Not all e-readers are cutting edge, however. Amazon's entry-level e-reader, the Kindle ($69), uses buttons for navigation and features a standard E-Ink Pearl display. It's not a bad unit, but for a bit more you could have something much, much better.

The just-introduced Kindle Paperwhite ($119) offers a touch screen with amazing resolution and contrast. Plus, it has an innovative built-in light that makes nighttime reading very comfortable.

The display on the Nook Simple Touch ($99) is touch-capable but otherwise a standard E-Ink Pearl display. Barnes & Noble's solution to reading in the dark is the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight ($139). The Nook Color ($149) features a nice multi-touch color LCD and runs a customized version of the Android operating system.

Budget LCD TVs

TV prices continue to drop, and there are bargains everywhere you look! Unfortunately, many of these deals are bargain basement.

Sure, you can buy an off-brand 50-inch LCD TV for less than $500. But you'll be getting outdated technology and a poor viewing experience.

Budget LCDs have a refresh rate of 60 hertz, which can blur motion when you're watching the big football game. Refresh rates of 120Hz and 240Hz are standard now. Many bargain-basement TVs also have a resolution of 720p, compared to the 1080p you want.

Bargain LCD TVs are still backlit by fluorescent lights. That looked great four years ago, but it pales in comparison to LCD TVs with an LED backlight.

LED TVs have gotten so good that they're catching up to plasma screens for blackness level, color and contrast. That could also be a reason why sales of plasma TVs have dwindled to about 13 percent of the market.

For larger TVs, however, plasmas have the edge over LEDs on price. You'll pay about $1,000 for Samsung's 60-inch plasma; about $1,500 for its 60-inch LED TV.

If you're going for a second TV, a bargain unit might be OK. But for your main home theater TV, you want something better.

USA Today

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