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Tablets, Cases Top No-Contract Tech Gifts

Sun, 12/12/2010 - 2:39pm
Maisie Ramsay

Cell phones seem like a great idea for the gadget lovers on your holiday gift list, until you stop to ponder the fine print: What sort of gift locks you into a two-year contract that forces you to fork out upwards of $60 each month?

Barnes & Noble Nook ColorOf course, you can probably buy an unsubsidized model if you're willing to pay double (or even triple) the on-contract price, but even then there's the reoccurring cost of service. You want to give gifts that keep on giving, not gifts that give ongoing expenses.

Fortunately, there are a plethora of gadget gifts out there that don't require a contract, from eReaders to handmade iPad cases. Here's a rundown of some top recommendations for the eBook reader, iPhone lover and Android devotee on your gift list this year.

The iOS Fanboy
Apple lovers are in luck when it comes to their Christmas stocking. The popularity of the platform has led to a proliferation of iOS-compatible accessories ranging from cases that extend the iPhone 4's battery life to handcrafted iPad cases.

iRetrophoneMophie recently updated its iPhone 4 battery case with the Juice Pack Plus, an ideal accessory for heavy iPhone users who quickly deplete the device's battery. The Juice Pack Plus is just one millimeter thick and has a battery capacity of 2,000 mAh, enough to power up to seven additional hours of Internet use over a 3G connection or 11 hours of Web browsing over Wi-Fi. The case costs about $100 on Mophie's website and will be available soon at AT&T's retail stores.

Another item for iOS users is Apple TV, a small black box which connects to high-definition televisions with an HDMI cable and acts as a conduit between iOS 4 devices and a television. The $99 gadget is well-suited to iPhone and iPad users who have a lot of mobile video loaded onto their device. It uses the AirPlay app to stream music, photos and video from the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch to Apple TV, which then transmits the content to the user's television. 

iPhone 4App addicts also stand to benefit from iOS, which allows users to send apps as gifts. Wireless Week Senior Editor Andrew Berg recommends Navigon, a native app that is good enough to replace stand-alone GPS units and costs a lot less than the average Garmin device. If you want to give apps as gifts for other platforms, independent app store Handango offers gift certificates up to $100. Handango offers applications for Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Palm and Windows Mobile.

For iOS fans who are more concerned about aesthetics than apps, there are a variety of handcrafted iPhone and iPad accoutrements available through Vers and various artisans on Etsy's website.

 Vers got its start in 2007 with a handcrafted wood iPod sound system and has since expanded its environmentally friendly products to include cases for the iPad and iPhone. The company's cases are made from cherry, walnut or bamboo; are reinforced with steel with a soft, scratch-resistant lining; and have openings for the charging port and headphone jacks or speakers, depending on whether the case is for and iPad or an iPhone. Vers' iPad case also comes with a metal foot so the device can be propped on its side. The cases cost between $40 and $80.

Amazon KindleAside from the cases' ornamental quality, they also have an environmental component that may be appealing to the eco-conscious people on your gift list. Vers plants 100 trees for every tree it uses in the production of its cases under a long-standing partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation.

Etsy.com, a website where crafters and collectors sell vintage and handcrafted goods, is a veritable mecca for creative and offbeat iOS accessories. To name a few, there are steampunk iPhone docks and rotary phones;  iPad cases done in rich leather, and felt iPhone cozies that wouldn't be out of place on Sesame Street.

The Gadget Guru
Devices like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nookcolor are obvious choices for folks who've been salivating over eReaders but haven't gotten around to buying one yet. The devices have come down in price considerably over the past year thanks to increased competition, and Amazon is selling its hallmark e-ink device for as low as $139. The first generation of the Barnes & Noble Nook costs $149, and the color version comes in at $249.

Vers Hand-Crafted iPad CaseThe deafening level of hype around the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy S has put the tablets at the top of the wish list for many a high-end gadget connoisseur. Android fans will probably prefer the Froyo-based Galaxy S, which has the benefit of being a bit cheaper than its iOS colleague at $599 (except when it's purchased through AT&T, which charges $649 for the Tab).

 The iPad came to market before the Tab and remains the hallmark tablet in the minds of many consumers. You can only get the 3G version through Apple or AT&T, but Verizon is selling a Wi-Fi-only version of the device which it is bundling it with a personal hot spot so customers can get connectivity while they're on the go. Verizon's bundle starts at $629 for the iPad and the MiFi personal hot spot, but there's a catch: It comes with a monthly contract.

For people who want to attach their gadgets to other gadgets, there's i-Got-Control's remote control. The $70 device can turn the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad into a universal remote control and is simple to use, but buyers beware: Wireless Week gave the accessory a mixed review in an article last spring.

Battery life is a constant problem and people with a variety of different devices to charge might appreciate a wireless charging mat from Energizer or Powermat. Energizer's $80 Inductive Charger mat currently only works with three devices: the BlackBerry Curve 8900, the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS.

Energizer's mat could have more cachet if the Wireless Power Consortium's Qi standard takes off and more devices come embedded with the technology, but in the meantime, Powermat offers a better selection. The Powermat starts at $40 and sells compatible wireless charging cases for a variety of devices, including the Droid X, iPhone 4, the Nintendo DSi and a variety of BlackBerry devices. The company also sells a universal charger, the $30 Powercube, which can charge a range of devices not covered under the cases available for the Powermat.

Samsung Galaxy SThe Distracted Driver
The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that eight states ban all handheld cell phone use, and 30 states ban text messaging for all drivers. Even without the bans, using a hands-free device while driving is a good idea: Nearly 6,000 people died in car crashes involving distracted driving in 2008.

 There are a range of hands-free devices available to help the frequent drivers on your gift list stay connected safely. Car-kit.com provides a handy program to help determine which hands-free outfits work with your phone and vehicle, but there's a good likelihood most car kits will work with Bluetooth-capable smartphones. Parrot sells a variety of Bluetooth-based car kits that are also compatible with iOS devices, and BlueAnt's S4 car kit is completely hands-free.

On the headset side, Jawbone makes a variety of Bluetooth headsets in every shade of the rainbow and Jabra makes headsets compatible with a wide range of devices. Novero makes ultra-luxurious headset jewelry that runs up to $1,000 if you're looking to splurge.

Parrot Car KitsBack to Phones
So maybe crossing cell phones completely off your list of possible gifts was a bit rash. After all, smartphones are some of the season's hottest tech items and there are sure to be people on your list who would be content to pony up for a two-year contract if it means getting a free high-end phone.

If a smartphone is the only gift that will satisfy, there are certainly a lot of options. Like it or not, the iPhone 4 remains king of the hill among smartphones, though Android-based devices like the Motorola Droid X with Verizon Wireless and Sprint's Samsung Epic are giving iOS a run for its money. Samsung's Android-based Galaxy S phones are available through both national and regional carriers, making it a good choice for people who want to stick with service through U.S. Cellular or Cellular South.

Novero Necklace BluetoothBlackBerry devotees will appreciate the BlackBerry Torch, and Windows Mobile fans might like the Samsung Focus, the HTC Surround or the LG Quantum, all of which are available through AT&T.

Mobile broadband service could be a good gift for the data hogs in your life. Verizon just launched its LTE network with two USB modems and Sprint carries two WiMAX-capable smartphones. The next-generation services aren't nationwide yet, so it's probably a good idea to make sure the intended recipient lives in a solid coverage area before deciding on WiMAX or LTE service.

Smartphones and other devices using wireless technology have proliferated over the past year. The eReader market is no longer dominated by the Kindle, the iPhone has plenty of competition and even the iPad is seeing some rivals. This holiday season, gadget lovers have plenty to stuff their stockings with.

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