Whether they've been bad or good, nobody likes to wake up to find shoddy technology under the Christmas tree.
Sorting the worthwhile tech from the worthless may seem a daunting task. Avoid standing in return lines Dec. 26 with this buyer's guide.
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
WIRELESS MEDIA STREAMERS
Cable was so yesterday. Thanks to small, Internet-connected devices, users can stream online content via a wired or wireless connection from a range of media services, such as Netflix, Hulu and Pandora.
* What you want: Roku 2 XS.
* Why you want one: All Roku devices offer access to hundreds of channels of content, including Hulu, which Apple has yet to enable on the Apple TV. The XS model also supports streaming content at 1080p resolution and includes a motion-enabled remote for navigation and gaming.
* Price: $100.
* Website: www.roku.com/2xs.
* Other options: Apple TV ($100); Boxee Box ($230).
HANDHELD GAME SYSTEMS
Dedicated handheld gaming devices have offered increasingly sophisticated experiences on the go, including online play, 3-D graphics and multimedia capabilities that close the gap with consoles.
* What you want: Nintendo 3DS.
* Why you want one: When it launched earlier this year, Nintendo's glasses-less 3-D device lacked must-have titles, which resulted in a dramatic price drop in August. The library is bulking up lately, however, with recent and upcoming releases such as "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D," "Mario Kart 7" and "Super Mario 3D Land."
* Price: $170 (game not included).
* Website: www.nintendo.com/3ds.
* Other options: Nintendo DSi ($150); PlayStation Vita ($250 wi-fi/$300 3G, releases Feb. 22).
The functionality of tablet computers falls somewhere between desktop PCs and smart phones and generally employs touch-sensitive screens for navigation. The entry-level price of tablets used to be $500, but since the launch of Apple's iPad 2 in March the market has grown to include cheaper devices in the sub-$300 price range.
* What you want: Amazon Kindle Fire.
* Why you want one: Amazon's first foray into a touchscreen tablet features sturdy build quality and a hand-friendly 7-inch screen. Users can browse online, access their books, movies and games through Amazon's cloud storage servers or purchase new content through the integrated storefront.
* Price: $200.
* Website: www.amazon.com/kindlefire.
* Other options: Nook Tablet ($250); Archos 80 G9 ($300).
DIGITAL MUSIC PLAYING
In addition to offering playback of digital music files, many devices that fall within the "mp3 player" category now include a wider range of functions, including Web browsing, video playback and, in many cases, use of mobile apps.
* What you want: iPod Touch.
* Why you want one: The fourth-generation iPod Touch is razor thin, features a higher-resolution display and Apple's updated iOS 5.0 operating system, which adds hundreds of new features such as integrated cloud storage.
* Price: $200-$400 (depending on hard-drive size).
* Website: www.apple.com/ipodtouch.
* Other options: iPod Nano ($130); A Series Sony Walkman ($180).
MOBILE BLUETOOTH AUDIO
While their sound quality can sometimes suffer compared to corded headphones, Bluetooth-equipped headphones offer integrated microphones and freedom of movement when paired to compatible devices.
* What you want: GOgroove Airband.
* Why you want one: At 5 ounces, the Airband is one of the lightest Bluetooth stereo headsets available and is generally available at deep discounts. These cans are compatible with a wide range of devices and have a signal that reaches up to 30 feet.
* Price: $100.
* Website: www.accessorypower.com.
* Other options: Jabra HALO ($130); Plantronics BackBeat 903 ($100).
Smart phones can make calls, browse the Web, play "Angry Birds" and record video, but app developers still weren't satisfied. As a result, many have developed software that allows users with iPhones to control toy tanks, helicopter or other vehicles via a Wi-Fi signal.
* What you want: Parrot AR.Drone Quadricopter.
* Why you want one: Thanks to its four vertical rotors, the Quadricopter has surprising stability. Movement is directed using the phone's accelerometer and a video feed provided by an onboard, front-facing camera. Includes two protective shells for indoor and outdoor flight.
* Price: $300.
* Website: ardrone.parrot.com.
* Other options: Sphero ($130), iW500 iSpace Wall Climbing RC Car ($60).
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...