Gift ideas for everyone: 'Harry Potter,' Adele, 'Law & Order,' and 'Super Mario 3D'
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GEAR Amazon Kindle Fire ($199)
Let's get one thing out of the way: The Amazon Kindle Fire is not an iPad competitor. The new color tablet and e-reader doesn't have the specs to keep up with most of Apple's tricks. But who cares? It's $199. That gets you a svelte 7-inch tablet ready to tap into Amazon's massive catalog of digital books, songs, games, and videos. The bright, colorful touch screen isn't great for marathon reading sessions, but it makes magazines, children's books, and TV shows really pop. Kindle's online store sells items à la carte and offers access to several all-you-can-eat services such as Netflix movies, Pandora music, and a free month of Amazon Prime's video library. The Prime subscription ($79 a year) also unlocks Kindle's new lending library, which allows you to borrow one e-book each month from a selection of more than 5,000 titles, including 100 New York Times bestsellers. Sure, it can't take on Apple's heavyweight champion, but with a price that's 60 percent less than the cheapest iPad, this featherweight fighter dominates its division.
Roku LT streaming TV box ($49.99)
A curious phrase entered American culture a few years ago, "Have you caught up on last season yet?" The old model of appointment viewing meant that "yet" was never an option. Miss the original broadcast and you were left crossing your fingers, hoping for reruns or syndication deals years later. But along came DVDs, then Netflix, and now, the Roku LT. This hockey-puck-sized set-top box connects your TV to thousands of on-demand TV episodes and movies. Many of these online channels stream free of charge, although some of the better Roku options, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO Go, require subscriptions. The souped-up Roku 2 XS ($99) packs in additional features, such as the ability to load digital photos off a USB drive and a more sophisticated remote that allows you to play the cellphone-gaming phenomenon Angry Birds on your TV. Canceling your cable bill has never felt so feasible.
Agloves Touch Screen Gloves ($17.99 – $23.99)
Touch screens don't work very well in the winter. It's not the cold. It's the winter gloves. The Kindle Fire, Apple iPhone, and most touch-sensitive gadgets use capacitive technology, which reacts to the bioelectricity in your fingers to register clicks and swipes. Yet when people bundle up for winter, they cover the skin that allows this reaction to work. Agloves solves this problem by weaving silver-coated nylon into its gloves. Silver, the most conductive metal, creates the same kind of connections, tricking capacitive screens into reading finger swipes. These comfy Agloves come in three varieties: black winter gloves, a sports version designed to keep sweat away from screens, and a white pair made from silver-nylon and sustainable bamboo fibers. Another winter option: Pogo's line of capacitive styluses ($15).
HDMI cables (under $15)
This is less of a pick than a public-service announcement. Never spend more than $15 on an HDMI cable. These wires play an essential role in most high-definition television setups. They connect big-screen TVs to Blu-ray players, video-game consoles, sound systems, Roku boxes, and camcorders. Since they're vital for high-end items, many stores gouge HDMI prices, charging $50 to $100 for cables that are functionally identical to the $5 versions. For a fair price, check out Amazon.com, Newegg.com, or Monoprice.com.
• Staff reviews by Gloria Goodale, Whitney Eulich, Mark Sappenfield, John Kehe, Jenna Fisher, Joanne Ciccarello, Gregory M. Lamb, and Chris Gaylord.
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