My 2010 Xmas Gift Guide

A long time ago, I used to write tech reviews and recommendations in a tabloid. Hopefully, people read my stuff, but it’s ok if you didn’t. I’m not crying.

Today, I will relive some nostalgia by telling you, from my totally biased point of view, what’s worth buying today and you won’t regret it 6 months down the road.

Yes, you don’t have to trawl through the net for reviews or opinions – just believe what I tell you ok?

First off, to get the personal bias bits out of the way, yes, you should get an Xbox 360 + Kinect bundle (if you can find it in stock, controller-free gaming is that hot), and some Microsoft Hardware, especially our nice BlueTrack mice that tracks on nearly every surface.

BlueTrack has proven to be better performing on many surfaces versus optical and laser, and it’s actually cheaper than many laser products. If you can wait till next Jan, check out the Arc Touch Mouse, which brings together the best of the Arc design ethos and Bluetrack technology.

Now once you’ve gotten the above Microsoft goodies, what else is good? (No, I will not talk about tablets and smartphones Open-mouthed smile)

Solid State Drives

Prices have dropped for these amazing replacements for hard disks, and I can’t stop raving or recommending them to other people. An SSD upgrade will show more significant performance gains (at least perceptually) to most people when doing their daily computing work, when compared to changing a CPU or graphics card. I was at Sim Lim today and a 120GB SSD is now under S$400.

LED or LCD HDTVs

Some people still ask me if they should get plasma TVs instead of LCD/LED TVs. Seriously? Plasmas are heavy, hot and the image is always not as bright as I’d like them to be. Pioneer used to make really good Kuro plasmas but they’ve since exited the business as plasmas fell out of favor. And this year, LCD/LEDs are dropping steeply in pricing – the image quality is so good and smooth now, it’s hard to tell one set apart from the other.

And if you can afford it, get at least 40-inches. Anything else is too small or not worth the money.

BUT don’t bother with 3D HDTVs – it’s just another fad in the history of 3D visuals and so far, I see nothing compelling or cheap about 3D at home. You will enjoy flat 2D visuals anytime more than fuzzy-at-the-edges 3D movies. I will put my bottom dollar than in Xmas 2011, nobody’s pushing 3D TV very hard anymore (unless they come up with functional glasses-free 3D)

Blu-Ray Players

If you have a HDTV, you need a Blu-Ray player. Nuff said. And prices have come down aggressively – you might be able to find a good player (from Samsung or Sony) for about S$200. The newer models load Blu-Ray discs much more quickly than a PS3, and offer streaming of Internet content like Youtube or Epicurious.

And if you find Blu-Ray movies too expensive, just order from Amazon where they can be had for under USD$10 and up. Even with Borderlinx or vPost shipping, they’re still much cheaper than when bought locally in SG.

I just bought The Sound Of Music and Sleeping Beauty on Blu-Ray – the visuals are breathtaking when compared to my DVDs, and the whole audio-visual experience is truly elevated to another level of enjoyment. DVDs are so dead and blurry VCDs are the spawn of hell.

A Kindle 3

Technically, a Kindle is not a tablet, so I’ll carry on. The Kindle 3 far surpasses the reading experience of its forebears and everyone I know who uses on raves about it. Kindles are kind of odd in that they are so futuristic, yet it’s designed to really drag you into the book and making you focus on the prose, not the font size. I just completed Stephen King’s magnum opus – The Dark Tower series over 7 books – and while I was quite disappointed by the ending, it cheered me up to no end I don’t have to stuff 7 heavy books in the my tiny book cupboard.

At USD$139 and up, it’s a really good and affordable investment for a long time. It’s just a bit of a hassle to ship it over and ensure that Amazon doesn’t lock you out of your account. eBooks may seem weird to read at first, but you won’t miss the musty smell of yellowing pages after a few of them.

A pair of good earphones

Any bundled earphones that comes with your music player or handphone is crap. Throw it away now. Get a decent Sony or Sennheiser earphone for under S$100 and you will realize that you do have golden ears, you just never listened to good audio before. Of course, please ensure you ripped your CDs in above 256kbps mode, or bought your online songs in similar high-quality resolutions. Poorly ripped digital music sounds like crap through any speaker or earphone!

A mobile broadband account

You could either use your smartphone’s data plan for Internet tethering, or get a dedicated mobile broadband stick/Mifi transmitter with a mobile account from one of the local telcos. I prefer the latter as incoming calls won’t break your Internet signal.

Working professionals usually have an account, and these days, mobile broadband is bundled with many home broadband packages, and there’s nothing more liberating than being able to do work online or check FB while on the go.

What’s not so good to get

– The plethora of tablets coming out today from different vendors. Most of them will not succeed because the market cannot take the fragmentation of devices and platforms. You know what I mean lah.

– A cheapo feature phone that can’t run any apps. And like it or not, QWERTY smartphones are on their way out.

–  Cheap laptops – there’s little pleasure in carrying a cheap, but awfully heavy laptop to work or school. Ultralights are the way to go. If you want powerful computing power, invest in a Core i7 desktop at home for less than S$2000.

– Near-obsolete stuff like DVD players, MP3-only players, Digital Photo Frames (they’re still way too expensive for what they actually do), and printed books.

– Inkjet printers : Again, I have no idea why people will buy a printer, hardly print any photos and then replace the expensive ink cartridges a few years later. Color lasers are better in terms of dollars and output, but are suited more for documents. If you want to print out your photographs, you’re probably better off visiting a photo lab where they can adjust your colors professionally on the fly.

2 Replies to “My 2010 Xmas Gift Guide”

  1. Your friend still has it right when it comes to CD’s. Don’t you think that writing an article about hi-fi and audiophile equipment and then recommending that your friend compress all his CD audio into MP3 format is a bit contradictory?

    I have all my CD’s stored on my computer, yet I know that MP3’s aren’t the answer if I want audio that is as good as the source. I’ve actually started replacing a lot of my CD’s with Vinyl records, so at least I have the option of listening to a high-quality version of my favorite albums. I have the MP3’s and sometimes CD’s (when I forget my USB memory stick) for the car, and records at home.

    1. It sounds contradictory, but you might have noticed that I’m not interested in high-end hi-fi which is out of reach for many people like myself. I believe there’s a limit to how much quality one can discern from music recording, and you need good, not necessarily the best audio equipment to enjoy them. The issue is most people don’t know that they’re listening to poor sources of music. I still compress my music to 320kbps MP3 because of one practical reason – I don’t have unlimited hard drive space 😀

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