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A holiday gift guide for tech product lovers

By Troy Wolverton
San Jose Mercury News

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Here are some tech gift ideas:

FOR THE LIVING ROOM

If loved ones are looking for an easy way to watch Internet content on their big-screen TVs, Google’s Chromecast ($35) is an inexpensive choice. Owners use smartphones, tablets or computers as a remote control to tune in Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora and other online content.

For a much wider range of online content, check out Roku’s latest line of digital players ($50 to $100).

For iPhone and iPad owners, a better choice might be Apple TV ($100). While the box itself remains the same as last year, it has added PBS and some other new channels and connects with Apple’s new iTunes Radio service.

For gamers, make this holiday season happy by picking up one of the new game consoles.

Microsoft’s Xbox One ($500) includes a new version of the motion-sensing Kinect, can serve as a set-top box for pay-TV services, and offers a strong assortment of new games. Sony’s PlayStation 4 ($400) offers comparable power and an optional camera system that’s similar to Kinect.

SMARTPHONES, SMARTWATCHES AND TABLETS

Apple’s latest iPhone, the 5S (starting at $200 with a two-year contract), is my favorite smartphone. It’s got a superfast processor and a snazzy new operating system. But you can find a far greater range of choices if you go for an Android device. Among the tops are Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (starting at $100 with a two-year contract), HTC’s elegantly designed One ($50 with a two-year T-Mobile payment plan) and Motorola’s Moto X ($0 with a two-year Sprint contract). If you don’t want to saddle your loved one with a two-year contract, take a look at Google’s Nexus 5, which costs $350 without any kind of service agreement.

You could also help outfit someone’s smartphone with accessories and media. Go with a set of add-on camera lenses for smartphones, such as the four-in-one system ($70) from Olloclip that includes both macro and wide-angle lenses. Another way is to purchase gift cards from Amazon, Apple’s iTunes, or the Google Play store to help your loved ones stock up on apps, music and movies for their devices.

Among the newer gadgets on the mobile scene are smartwatches. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear ($300) is among the most capable of the devices, with a built-in camera and the ability to run smartphone apps, but it only works with a handful of Samsung phones.

In tablets, Apple has scored again with its iPad Air (starting at $500), which is significantly thinner and lighter than its previous tablets. If you’re an Amazon fan, check out the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (starts at $379), which is even thinner and lighter than the Air, but is closely tied to the e-commerce giant’s digital services. If you’re looking for something less expensive or smaller, Google’s Nexus 7 (starting at $230) is an excellent choice, with a beautiful high-resolution display and an unadulterated version of Android.

BOTS AND DRONES

Lego has a long history of offering robot-building kits for tinkerers and kids. Its latest, the Mindstorms EV3 ($350), offers a big leap forward in capabilities, including allowing users to pilot their creations with their smartphones or tablets.

If you’re looking for a robot that’s already put together, take a look at the new Sphero 2.0 ($130), a robotic ball that can be used to play augmented reality games via a smartphone or tablet.

Another option is Romo ($150), a robot that looks like an iPhone dock with tank treads. After docking an iPhone into Romo, you can use the device to take pictures or video of its surroundings, play games or remotely interact with your kids.

The pacesetter for consumer-grade unmanned flying vehicles has been Parrot’s AR.Drone. The 2.0 Power Edition ($300) stays in the air for 36 minutes.


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