Thinking of a laptop or tablet for that special someone this holiday season?
There are loads of great options out there, with 2011 introducing plenty of tablets, laptops, and accessories to feast eyes and fingers on.
Here’s our computing choices for a very connected holiday season.
Dreaming of a white Christmas
In the land of tablet computers, a white Christmas is – by virtue of its blanco border – an iPad Christmas (although black frames are available too).
Now in its second generation and featuring a 9.7 inch screen, 720p front and rear camera, and 8.8mm thin body, the iPad is supported by an ecosystem of apps and accessories unmatched by any other tablet. It is the original, and still the best, plus there are a few options to suit different needs and budgets.
The iPad and iPad 2 are offered in two networking flavours – WiFi and WiFi with 3G. The latter is more expensive to purchase, but potentially more costly to run too, requiring you to sign up to a 3G data plan. And because telcos don’t yet allow you to share your smartphone’s 3G plan with other devices, this often represents totally separate and additional monthly data costs.
An alternative is to use a smartphone as a mobile hotspot. In this setup, any 3G phone that supports “wireless tethering” can be connected to an iPad to provide access to the web. If your phone supports this, you’ll be making use of your phone’s 3G data plan, and connecting only when you need to.
Of course, if you don’t foresee a need for mobile internet, the WiFi-only option will save you some cashola. And if you’re looking to save even more on an iPad, check out the “Refurbished iPad” section of Apple’s online store, where first and current generation iPad models at cheaper-than-new prices.
Note that the first generation iPads found here lack cameras and are a tad thicker and slower than iPad 2 models, but are otherwise identical. If this doesn’t bother you, then the classic iPad is good value option at Christmas.
Price: from $579
These are the Droids you’re looking for
While Apple dominates the tablet market, Google’s Android OS is a gathering force that, interpreted by the biggest names in world computing, provides welcome variety to the the ubiquitous iPad. Here are our picks from the tablets released this year.
Asus Transformer TF101
One of our favourite tablets this year, the Transformer stands out for its netbook-style body that comes apart at the push of a button. We especially like how it docks with the keyboard to almost double battery life, its USB ports and an SD card slot.
One of the more intriguing tablets of this year, the ThinkPad is Lenovo’s business-grade attempt at a portable touchscreen computer. Lenovo has included a 3G SIM slot, support for SD cards, USB, and even its own pen stylus, allowing you to take notes directly on the tablet.
Price: starting from $399
Motorola’s Xoom was one of the first iPad competitors out of the gate, and with a new model expected soon, the price is now down to a level that makes it highly competitive. It comes with 16GB of storage, a 10.1 inch screen and built-in WiFi.
Toshiba’s debut tablet is stacked with unique features that stand it apart from the competition. While it runs on the same Google Android Honeycomb OS as other tablets listed here, it also features colourful replaceable backs, a full-sized USB port, and a welcome outboard battery option.
Sony Tablet S
Price: starting from $579
Sony always goes its own way, and its debut tablet is true to form. The Tablet S offers the company’s own 9.4 inch touchscreen, a customised version of Android Honeycomb, the ability to “throw” content to other DLNA devices, support for PlayStation games over Android Market, and touchscreen universal remote control support.
Touchy feely accessories
The right accessories will enhance the utility and/or looks of whichever tablet you choose, and with bags, cases, capacitive pens, speakers, and headphones aplenty, you’re spoilt for choice. Here are some of our favourites, all of which should work with the tablets listed in this guide.
Pogo Sketch Pro
A capacitive pen with a design familiar to many creative artists, this gadget will allow you to scrawl and draw like a professional. Built from aluminium and featuring a rubber grip for comfort, it’s the pen designers would use.
Belkin Kitchen Cabinet Mount
Shortlisted in the 2012 CES Innovations Awards, Belkin’s accessory allows you to mount any tablet sized between 7 and 10 inches to a cabinet in your home. It’s is available locally now.
Plantronics BackBeat 903+
We’ve used tablets for a year or two now, and experience confirms the blessing that is a pair of Bluetooth headphones. While others locate their tablet, plug in their buds then switch tracks and change volume on the touchscreen, we control all our listening via convenient buttons on our earpiece – and without having to lay a hand on the tablet. And did we mention that we listen in stereo too?
Kensington KeyFolio Pro Performance Keyboard Case
Kensington’s Bluetooth keyboard in a case is now available for the iPad 2 and 10 inch Android tablets. It’s one of the best keyboard options around – so good, in fact, that all the 2012 Holiday Gift Guides on gadgetguy.com.au were written on one.
Jawbone Jambox Wireless Speaker
Available in multiple colours and packing into a small carry case, Jawbone’s wireless Bluetooth Jambox speaker is an audio box with attitude. With a rated output 85 decibels and the ability to connect to an audio source using a conventional 3.5mm jack or via Bluetooth, the Jambox plays loud and offers good flexibility.
The best things are thin and light
Intel’s new “ultrabook” technology allows notebook computers to be built thin, and light, fast and powerful. Moreover, these are delivered without compromise to battery life, with operations extending to several hours of continuous use and days of standby.
Cutting edge computer magic comes at a cost, and the first ultrabooks are selling for between $1000-2000. But like the biggest diamond ring in Tiffany’s, this doesn’t actually make them less desirable.
Apple MacBook Air
Price: starting from $1049
One of the notebooks that started the thin and light movement, the MacBook Air isn’t just the “skinny” computer from Apple, it’s also the replacement for the inexpensive white polycarbonate MacBook. Crafted from an aluminium chassis and featuring second-generation Intel Core processors, a backlit keyboard, and Apple’s Mac OS X operating system, the MacBook Air is one of the best computers around.
Acer Aspire S3
Price: starting from $999
With soft edges and a brushed magnesium casing, Acer’s S3 is reaching for the same level of designer cache attached to the MacBook Air. Available with either a 320GB hard drive or 240GB solid state drive – an option that could save you some cash – it’s a nice-looking ultrabook that shares much of the Air’s technology.
Asus ZenBook UX31
Price: starting from $1,399
When looking at the ZenBook, it’s hard not to draw see the MacBook Air influence. While the design is very similar to the Big Fruit, the Asus brings with it some very nice features, including a USB 3.0 port, mini VGA port, and a 1600 x 900 high resolution screen with a very bright 450 nits.
Toshiba Satellite Z830
Price: starting from $1,399
One of the most satisfying notebooks we’ve encountered this year, the Satellite Z830 is the world’s thinnest and lightest 13.3 inch ultrabook, weighing only 1.12kg and measuring 16mm thick when closed. Toshiba has packed this beastie with thoughtful features too, including a high-speed USB 3.0 port, 128GB SSD, and a spill-resistant keyboard.