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$200 (16 GB); $250 (32 GB)
Sure, the iPad mini is getting all the headlines, but gift-givers everywhere should at least consider the Nexus 7 from Google. If you're thinking about an iPad mini, the battle really boils down, as usual, to iOS vs. Android. But I'm going to contend that (a) there's not really much difference between the two anymore (the Nexus 7 ships with Jelly Bean, which is the best Android ever), and (b), at $200 (16 GB model; 32 costs a little more), the Nexus 7 is $130 cheaper.
Beyond those features, the Nexus 7 is slim, light, and fast. The 1280 x 800 screen is gorgeous. It comes with a complete array of personal productivity software, and there's of course lot more in the Google Play store. I use mine mostly as a take-everywhere browser, with a lot more screen context than a handset and very intuitive operation - indeed, even iOS-o-philes should be able to pick this up with little trouble. It's a great portable video player. Yes, there's a gyroscope and accelerometer for gaming.
Anyone who balks at one of these in place of an iPad truly hasn't spent enough time with it - I'm convinced that most people will be absolutely thrilled after, oh, I don't know, about three minutes or so. Besides, one can never have too many tablets, especially one as good as the Nexus 7 is. Highly recommended as a gift - and get one for yourself!
- Craig Mathias
Given the raw power of today's Windows-based PCs, it makes sense to share one across multiple users. I don't mean logging out and letting someone else log in, but rather putting another user - keyboard, monitor, audio and mouse - on the PC you already have.
That's exactly the point of the nComputing L300 - this tiny box has connection for the aforementioned peripherals, plus USB, and it connects to the host PC via Ethernet (you can even connect via wireless bridge - it works great!).
The effect is what you'd think - another simultaneous user without needing to buy and manage yet another PC.
Graphics performance was excellent, although it might not be enough for hardcore gamers. But running a Web browser, office software and similar applications was essentially as good an experience as on the native PC itself. I've used many nComputing thin clients over the years - this is the best one yet. And yes, it makes for a great gift for any Windows-using techie on your gift list.
- Craig Mathias
Starts at $1,000
The idea behind the IdeaPad Yoga 13 is that an ultrabook needs to be flexible, hence the yoga terminology/brand. This very thin and light device can be a Windows 8 notebook, a tablet and viewing screen, all depending on which way you bend back the screen. The notebook's screen has a unique hinge that lets you flip around the entire notebook so it falls back on itself, making this a quite large tablet. Or you can create an upside-down V shape and use it like a screen to watch movies (it brings the display closer to the viewer), such as from the Netflix app. The final mode, Stand mode, basically flips the display away from the user, which would be great for presentations in a board room.
The notebook does have Windows 8 on it, so the screen is touch-enabled. This lets you use your finger to navigate through the Metro interface on Windows 8, which didn't feel as uncomfortable as I thought it would (I still have my doubts about using touch on a desktop system or very large monitor). I preferred connecting a mouse to the notebook, but it does have a trackpad if you prefer those, or don't want to carry any extra accessories.
The technical specifications are quite impressive - Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor, 4GB or 8GB of DDR3 memory, Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics, 1 megapixel HD integrated webcam (720p), a 13.3-inch display (16:9 widescreen, 1,600 x 900 resolution), two USB ports (one USB 2.0, the other USB 3.0), HDMI output, memory card reader (SD and MMC), and integrated 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless.
I'm still not a big fan yet of Windows 8 (there is a learning curve / comfort level that needs to be met), but if your gift recipient (or your company) requires a Windows 8 notebook, you might as well give them something that's cool to operate and nice to look at. The flexibility of the Yoga 13 gives you features and experiences that a normal notebook doesn't.
- Keith Shaw
Starts at $1,250
I'm not sure we'll be seeing a lot of these under the tree or in holiday gift bags this season, but not because it's not a great product. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a very nice business notebook within the Ultrabook class of thin and light notebooks. But it's more likely to make the IT team's gift list at the procurement holiday party rather than one of your kids' or friends' or family's list.
Still, it's worth noting that for an ultrabook aimed at the business user, the X1 Carbon is very, very nice. Features include a solid carbon fiber top cover, Lenovo's RapidCharge (if you charge the battery for 35 minutes you get 5 hours of battery life), Dolby Home Theater v4, a coated glass multi-gesture touchpad and remote manageability via Lenovo's vPro.
Technical specifications include an Intel Core i5 processor, integrated Intel HD graphics, up to 8GB of DDR3 memory, a 14-inch anti-glare display (1,600 x 900 resolution), choice of either 128GB or 256GB Solid State Drive, 720p HD webcam, two USB ports (one 2.0 and one USB 3.0), a 4-in-1 SD card reader, Ethernet port (only via USB dongle), Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi.
The X1 Carbon can also be connected to Lenovo's USB 3.0 Dock, which lets you connect up to two external monitors, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, headphones/speakers, USB devices (printer, scanner, keyboard, mouse) and provides faster access to attached external storage drives (with the idea that you'd transfer via USB 3.0 instead of USB 2.0). I don't see a road warrior using this, but the Dock would be a nice addition to have in their cubicle or office when they're not traveling.
The unit we tested had Windows 7 on it, but Windows 8 is also available for this system (but without the touchscreen-enabled features).
- Keith Shaw