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Gadget guide: Which electronics are 'in season' and which to avoid

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Now that most families have already upgraded to high-definition TVs, Mr. Koenig says that manufacturers have seen a dramatic slump in sales over the past few years. In an effort to boost their bottom lines, companies are packing in more features and cutting prices.

"For the same price as last year's mid-tier model, you're getting something that's better than last year's flagship," says Lam. "These engineers are doing their job."

Laptops: Out of season. In the next few months, both Macs and PCs will receive major upgrades.

This summer, Intel will release its next generation of processors, code-named Ivy Bridge.

Processors "make up the heart and soul of the computer, and Ivy Bridge will be an efficiency leap," says Lam. "A little bit faster. Better battery life. And a little cooler [for the same price as Intel's current chips]. Really, there are no drawbacks."

The new processors will likely go inside many Apple and Windows computers.

This year also brings new operating systems for both PCs and Macs. Windows 8, due this fall, represents a major overhaul. Microsoft says that it designed the new software to run well on both desktops and touch-screen tablets. For example, it stripped out the Start button, a Windows staple for more than 17 years. In its place stands a new full-screen grid of large, colorful icons that display Facebook updates, report the weather, and provide quick access to applications.

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