Metro Weekly

Digital Love: Tech Gift Guide 2014

It can seem oddly impersonal giving technology as a Christmas gift. After all, they’re cold, hard objects, devoid of warmth or emotion. Or, at least, they were. Nowadays, technology is so ubiquitous, so necessary, so vital to our daily routines, that gifting something that makes a person’s day brighter, easier or more enjoyable can be one of the most personal gifts imaginable.

Whether it’s a tablet, smartphone, television or something else entirely, gifting technology is now a perfectly acceptable way to spoil someone this festive season. As such, we’ve gathered what we think are ten of the best tech gifts available for the 2014 holiday season.

Smartphones

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Apple iPhone 6 PlusIt would be obtuse to include anything other than the iPhone in this category. With the iPhone 6, Apple finally brought its smartphone up to standard, boosting the size and improving the screens to better rival the best of the Android pack. We’re opting for the iPhone 6 Plus model — and not just because “bigger is better” is an accepted fact at the Metro Weekly office. Apple’s largest ever iPhone brings better specs than its smaller sibling, swapping the 6’s barely-HD screen for a Full HD panel, which makes viewing content and playing games a thoroughly engrossing experience. The Plus also boasts a better camera than the 6, adding optical image stabilization into the mix to help smooth out the camera shake that can ruin low-light images and macro shots, as well as making the iPhone’s impressive video capture even smoother. It’s certainly not a cheap way to spoil someone this Christmas, but chances are if you know someone who’s looking for a new smartphone, the iPhone will be somewhere near the top of their list. The 6 Plus is available in silver, gold and space grey, and starts at $299 on contract or $749 unlocked for the 16GB model.

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Google Nexus 6It’s testament to Google’s confidence in Android that they’ve eschewed the trend of low-cost, high-power Nexus devices of the past few years to instead make a bona fide Android flagship. The Nexus 6, made in conjunction with Motorola and using the latter manufacturer’s gorgeous industrial design established with its Moto X device, is quite simply the epitomé of the various Android flagships available today. With a large, dense, gorgeous Quad HD AMOLED screen, the most powerful processor available, a 13MP optically stabilized camera and Google’s smooth, beautiful Android 5.0 Lollipop OS, the Nexus 6 is designed to showcase Android at its best — and it’s no wonder that new stock sells out as soon as it hits store shelves. Of course, this much premium tech commands a premium price, but even then the 6 undercuts several rivals. Don’t let its size put you off, either — it commands a similar footprint to the iPhone 6 Plus, despite offering half an inch more of screen real estate. The Nexus 6 is available in midnight blue or cloud white, starting at $649.99 for 32GB of storage.

Tablets

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Apple iPad mini 2Yes, it may seem obvious to recommend an Apple tablet, but look closely. This year’s version of the mini is the mini 3 — yet we’re recommending last year’s model. Now, in tech terms, that’s equitable to a mortal sin, as technology is ferociously forward-looking and anything beyond six months is outdated, right? Well, not if you’re Apple. The Cupertino company famously recycled its iPhone 5, shoved it into a cheaper plastic body and called it the iPhone 5C, and users bought into it, but with the mini, the company’s need for new models has harmed it more than anything. The mini 3 offers just three main upgrades over last year’s model: Touch ID, which will let you unlock it with your finger, Apple Pay, which can’t be used in stores as the mini doesn’t have NFC, and the option of 128GB of storage. Oh, and it also comes in gold, now. The screen, internals and battery life are all the same as last year’s mini 2, except last year’s model remains on sale for $100 less. Yes, you can snap up an iPad mini 2 for just $299, compared with the mini 3’s $399. If someone you know wants an iPad mini, get them last year’s model. Until Cupertino can be bothered to make an effort and properly upgrade it for the mini 4, the outdated model is now your best choice. The iPad mini 2 is available in silver or space grey for $299 with 16GB of storage.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S — Samsung is somewhat slipping, it would seem, with its Galaxy S5 smartphone failing to reach sales expectations and its smartwatches something of a laughingstock in the tech world. However, with its Tab S tablets, the South Korean company proves that it’s still capable of producing incredible devices. Available in 10.5 or 8.4-inch sizes, Samsung has fitted both with 2560×1600 Super AMOLED displays — and in layman terms, it means that both Tab S’s have the best screens currently available on any tablet, including those from Apple. Bold, vibrant, colorful, and perfect for reading and watching content on, they make using the tablets a constant joy — and it helps that underneath they’re both powerful and long-lasting, too. Samsung’s build quality still can’t match Apple’s aluminum construction, but what it lacks in metal it makes up for with wafer-thin profiles, soft-touch plastics and negligible weight. This writer used an 8.4-inch Tab S to read a book and watch several films on an international flight recently, and it was the perfect travel companion. Kudos, Samsung, for reminding us why you’re the largest Android manufacturer. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is available in titanium bronze or dazzling white, and starts at $399 for the 8.4-inch version with 16GB of storage, or $499 for the 10.5-inch version with 16GB of storage.

Smartwatches

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Motorola Moto 360 — Motorola had lofty ambitions with its Android Wear-powered Moto 360 smartwatch: craft a wearable device that you’d actually want to wear. Silly a concept as that may seem, most other smartwatches are very clearly tech items first and fashion items second. Not so the Moto 360, which marries a gorgeous, premium stainless steel casing and soft leather or stainless steel straps with a round, glass display — somewhat unique when most other competitors prefer square displays. The Moto 360 succeeds because it looks like a watch, and an expensive one at that. The fact that it also displays your notifications, lets you respond to messages and emails, offers Google search suggestions, tracks your heart rate and steps and can — unsurprisingly — also tell the time is merely icing on a beautifully made cake. The Moto 360 is available in black, silver and champagne gold stainless steel, and starts at $249 for a black or silver casing with leather strap.

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Pebble SteelPebble has quietly watched as Google tries to take over the smartwatch market with Android Wear — to varying degrees of success. For many who have bought into Pebble’s ecosystem, the problems with Wear devices, such as limited battery life and their restriction to Android devices, are the least of concerns for Pebble owners. Instead, their smartwatches, with their E-Ink displays, can last for up to seven days and work with iOS and Android devices and offer everything you’d want from a smartwatch, including glanceable notifications, readability in daylight, fitness tracking, and the ability to control basic functions on your phone such as music playback. It’s even waterproof down to 50 metres (164 feet). The Steel version, with its stainless steel casing, is much better than Pebble’s bulky, cheap-looking normal watches, and won’t break the bank, either — though the original Pebble is still available with the same functionality for the bargain price of $99. Pebble Steel is available for $199 in brushed silver or matte black stainless steel with a leather band.

Televisions

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LG 65” 4K Curved OLED — Look, we all know that this is out of reach for the vast majority of us, but if you’re spending big this Christmas to spoil your other half (and, as a result, yourself) with a new TV, there’s only one place you need look. LG’s 65EC9700 simply ticks every box imaginable. Let’s list the buzzwords: 4K Ultra HD, the highest resolution available? Check. OLED, the display type which lights individual pixels and offers the richest colors and deepest contrast levels of any screen? Check. A curved screen, to offer IMAX-levels of immersion in your home? Check. A generous screen size, with 65-inches of display on offer? Check. Cinema-style 3D, which doesn’t rely on battery-powered glasses but the lightweight plastic sort you use at the cinema? Check. It’s a tech-lover’s dream, and offers a stunning, almost bezel-less design as well. The price for all of this incredible picture quality? Very much a case of “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” LG’s 65EC9700 is available for $11,999 (yeah, we know), though Best Buy and other retailers have it for a slightly less extravagant $9,999.

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Sony Bravia 55″ 4K TV — If you don’t have $10k to drop on a new TV — and, really, that’s most of us — then consider upgrading to Sony’s much cheaper 4k Ultra HD set, the Bravia X850B. It still offers that all-important high resolution image stretched across a generous 54.6-inches of screen, while Sony’s Triluminos image processing technology is on-hand to make sure that whatever content you’re watching looks crisp, vibrant and beautiful on your new display. What’s more, Sony’s unique “One-Flick” remote offers one-touch access to your favorite content, be it specific channels or streaming services. Gamers will enjoy this particular set, as well — pair a PlayStation 3 controller to the TV and you can stream full PS3 games from Sony’s PlayStation Now service, without requiring a separate console to be plugged in. If you hate clutter around your TV, that alone could be enough to sell it to you. The Bravia X850B is available for $2,999, though its price is currently reduced at several retailers to just $1,499.

Gaming

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Sony PlayStation 4 — It’s been over a year since we entered this generation of consoles, and Sony’s PS4 continues to move from strength to strength. Its sleek, edgy design looks great in any home theater setup, while the PS4’s extra power over its Xbox rival means that most games look and play better on Sony’s console. There are also several tempting exclusive titles for gamers, including big releases and addictive indie games. If picture quality and the best gaming experience possible are your priorities, then the PS4 makes the most sense — that the DualShock 4 is now arguably better than the Xbox One’s controller only sweetens the gaming deal. What’s more, with YouTube finally making its way to the console and Sony’s SharePlay function and game-streaming services, buying one as a gift for someone now is the perfect way for them to enjoy the console’s already stellar catalogue of games ahead of several excellent releases in 2015. The PlayStation 4 is available now in white or black for $399, with the black model available in a special bundle for $399 with a choice of Destiny, Far Cry 4, LittleBigPlanet 3 or NBA 2K15 for free.

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Xbox One — Yes, it seem something of a cop-out to recommend this in addition to the PS4, but both consoles are very closely tied at the moment. While the PS4’s power and controller make it the better gaming machine, Microsoft’s console is something of an entertainment powerhouse. It has the widest selection of entertainment and streaming services, while it’s DVR-like functionality and ability to hook-up to your cable box means that it can become your one-stop hub for every source of entertainment through your television. Microsoft’s OS still needs some refining, though its snapable apps are certainly useful, and the console lacks the power of Sony’s offering, but Microsoft has a stellar assortment of exclusive titles, including Sunset Overdrive, Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Forza Horizon 2, and Xbox Live continues to offer the better multiplayer experience over Sony’s PSN. Kinect is still something of an afterthought from a gaming perspective, but at least being able to turn your console on with your voice remains a fun gimmick. What’s more, Microsoft has slashed prices as they try to catch up with Sony’s huge sales lead, so the One is even more of a bargain this Holiday season. The Xbox One now starts at just $349, and can be had with free copies of Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassins Creed Black Flag. The Xbox One with Kinect starts at $449, and can also be had with both games for free.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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