For gadget nerds, it truly is about to be the most magical time of the year. It is the unofficial technology buying and gifting season. There are more new products on shelves than at any time of the year, and the good deals are just waiting to be had.
But getting to that point can be an overwhelming experience. Out of the hundreds of tablets, which is the best? And what about all those phone accessories? Why are there five fitness bracelets this year that all look and sound the same?
After sifting through hundreds of gadgets all year, I've come up with my top picks for this holiday season.
iPad Air, iPad Mini, Nexus 7
The tablet aisle at Best Buy might actually be designed to mess with your head. There are slightly different looking rectangular slabs with slightly different specs and prices that bounce up and down. Yes, there are tons of new tablets from Microsoft to Amazon to Samsung, but my top choice? Still the tablet pioneer: the iPad.
The iPad, as I said in my iPad Air review, still leads the pack with a better selection of apps and superior hardware design. Picking an iPad this year is harder than in years' past: There is the $499 iPad Air, the $399 iPad Mini with Retina and the $299 iPad Mini. The choice comes down to what you want to spend, and what size you want.
But what about the best tablet for kids? I still say go with the iPad and get a kid-proof case. Kids will grow into the tablet, unlike any of the kiddie tablets out there. I also really like the Nexus 7 for kids. Google's $230 tablet is well made and supports multiple user accounts. That means your child can have his or her own account, while your email and other apps are secure in another account.
The game is on between the Xbox and the Playstation 4 this holiday season. Both systems are great choices, but my recommendation this holiday season is for the Xbox One, especially for families.
True gamers may prefer the PS4; it is $100 cheaper than the Xbox and focused primarily on gaming. The $500 Xbox One, however, has a great blend of entertainment and gaming features. It works with your cable box so you can tell the system to change the channel with just a voice command. The new Kinect lets you wave your hands around in games, and there are tons of built-in services, including Skype, YouTube Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus.
You will also want to check out our PS4 vs. Xbox One article where we compare the systems.
Fitbit Force, Fitbit Aria
One of the hottest sections in tech right now? Fitness or wearable gadgets. Over the past few months a number of fitness bands have been released, all aiming to track your steps and activity.
Of all the new options, I recommend the $130 Fitbit Force. Like the others, it tracks your steps, your sleep and your distance traveled. However, it also has a built-in screen so you can see your progress throughout the day, and it also pairs with your phone via Bluetooth so you can see all the information in the app. You can also get the FitBit Aria scale and have your weight wirelessly sent to the app as well. It is a great all-in-one health tracking system for the health or fitness conscious person in your life.
But if you don't want to buy a full gaming system or a new TV this holiday season, a good way to get those streaming services is with a Roku box. Plug the Roku into your TV, connect it to the Internet and you've got access to tons of streaming services, like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and much more. It's a really easy way to turn your TV into a Smart TV. The Roku 3 costs just $99.
Nest Protect, Thermostat
Buying a thermostat or a smoke detector for someone doesn't seem sexy, but that changes when you look at Nest's connected devices. Both the Nest Protect and the Nest thermostat are strikingly designed products and were made to work with your phone. With the thermostat, you can set the temperature using an app, and it will learn your behaviors and start to make recommendations on the optimal temperature.
With the Protect, the smoke detector will speak to you when it senses smoke or any other issues. It will also work with an app to alert you of what's happening in your home. The thermostat costs $250 and the smoke detector $129.
I'm not sold on buying smartphones for people for the holidays. Contracts can be complicated, and it's a very personal decision. But I do think mobile accessories make great stocking stuffers.
The Mophie is a great option for the iPhone or Galaxy S4 owner. The cases have a built-in battery and will provide a full extra charge. The Mophie cases start at $50 and come in a selection of colors.
Jawbone Mini Jambox
Another good mobile accessory choice is the Jawbone Jambox Mini. It might look like a tiny speaker, but it packs a lot of sound. The aluminum provides greater amplification aiding the speaker's two drivers and passive bass. While Beat's Pill can also get incredibly loud for its size, the Jambox excels in the quality and fullness of sound. The $180 speaker comes in a selection of colors.