Gift Guide 2013: Phones, tablets and computers

Here's the big stuff - ideas for wicked good mobile devices and PCs to make their holiday awesome

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Dell has re-established itself as one of the most innovative and interesting PC suppliers. I must admit that I’m a long-term user of Dell products, so I may have a bit of a bias here. But I’m today also a regular Mac user and I want one of these! The convenience and quality of this Inspiron 23-inch Touch are obvious, and your giftee is going to be thrilled with this one.

Prices start at $1,000. The model we tested included a Core i7, 12GB of dual-channel DDR3 RAM, Radeon HD 8690A graphics with 2GB of DDR5 memory, and a 1TB, 7200 RPM hard drive augmented by a 32GB SSD cache, and sells for $1,400.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias

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Product: T100T Transformer BookCompany: Asus

Price: $400

Buy this for: The person who wants a tablet that converts into a laptop.

This device is called the Transformer Book because it’s a tablet with an attachable keyboard. The Surface, for example, has an attachable keyboard, but it’s still a tablet in the sense that it only has one position, or two, if you deploy the kickstand.

The Asus T100T has a legit, solid, non-bendable keyboard that clicks firmly into place, creating a device that sits up on its own and can rest on your lap or in any position that you want. The keyboard has a pretty nice feel, with raised keys. The trackpad isn’t the smoothest I’ve ever used, but it gets the job done. Plus, and this is big, the keyboard has a USB 3.0 port. Beyond that, we’re talking about your basic Windows 8.1 touchscreen device. It’s got the same horizontal shape as the Surface, although the Surface is maybe a half-inch wider. The $400 price gets you 64GB of storage, 2GB of RAM and an Intel Atom chip. And, of course, it comes with a Home/Student version of Office.

The big question is: Can you do real work on it? My answer is, I guess you can, but I wouldn’t be working on anything mission-critical. I find touchscreens can be a little flaky -- you brush up against it, or move your finger the wrong way and strange things happen. Also, when you’re working on 10-inch screen, you’re running up against the limits of how precise you can be with the human finger. Beyond that, however, if you’re looking for a Windows 8.1 tablet that converts into a laptop, the Transformer Book is a good option.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Neal Weinberg

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Product: Aspire V5 TouchCompany: Acer

Price: $400

Buy this for: Anyone who wants an inexpensive notebook for basic computing functions (email, Web browsing, etc.) and doesn’t mind a smaller display.

Somewhere between the thin-and-light ultrabook world (as well as tablets) and the large and powerful gaming notebooks sit regular notebooks like this model from Acer. The Aspire V5-122 offers a touch-screen notebook for Windows 8 apps, but in a thin and light system (it measures about 1-inch high and weighs just about 3 pounds).

The unit we had featured an AMD quad-core A6-1450 1.0-GHz processor, a 500GB hard drive, 4GB of DDR3L memory and an 11.6-inch widescreen display (LED backlit). While these specs didn’t blow us away (considering a bunch of the higher-end systems we saw this year), it’s still a pretty good offering for a basic notebook that you might want to buy for a first-time computer user, or perhaps a parent/grandparent who is looking for a good deal on a computer so they can email, web surf, etc.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw

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Product: Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPadCompany: Logitech

Price: $100

Buy this for: Any iPad user who really wants to ditch their laptop and fully utilize their tablet as a semi-computer.

Part of the knock against keyboard attachments for the iPad have been the additional weight it places on the tablet owner. Microsoft, in its ads for the Surface tablet, even mocks the lack of an iPad keyboard as a way to get people to think about its own keyboard.

If the additional weight is a concern for you, you’ll be happy to know that the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad (second, third and fourth-generation iPads - the iPad Air gets a separate model) from Logitech is very light. When you add it to your iPad, you won’t be burdened by that much more weight. The fact that the keyboard acts as a cover/protector for the tablet is a nice added bonus.

The Bluetooth-enabled keyboard connects quite easily to the iPad, and there’s enough battery life to keep you typing for a long time. Very handy magnetic clips keep the keyboard attached to the iPad during its cover phase, and a nice groove lets the tablet sit on the keyboard to create a nice notebook effect. If your goal is to “ditch the laptop” and only use apps on the iPad, this keyboard is a must-have. It would make a great gift for any iPad lover on your list.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw

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Product: G2 Android smartphoneCompany: LG (with Verizon Wireless service)

Price: $150 (with 2-year contract; $550 with month-to-month contract)

Buy this for: Anyone who enjoys the Android operating system on their phone and wants a large screen for viewing movies, reading emails or multi-tasking between apps.

The LG G2 smartphone is an Android device (4.2.2 Jelly Bean) with a ton of cool specs - it has a very nice 5.2-inch display (1,920 by 1,080 resolution), runs on a Snapdragon 2.26 GHz quad-core processor, 13-megapixel rear-facing digital camera (with 1080p video recording), 2 megapixel front-facing camera, and support for Google Play app store. The device runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, but also includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi support in 2.4GHz and 5GHz (for 802.11n networks).

An interesting feature on the G2 is its unique rear key placement - the power button and volume control buttons are placed on the back of the unit near the digital camera - there are no buttons on the side (it took me a while to figure out how to turn the phone on). LG says this is so users can operate the phone with both hands, rather than require a specific hand to use the buttons - but for me it just seemed weird and out of place.

The phone also includes a neat optical image stabilization feature - blurry cameraphone photos could be a thing of the past when you use this to take pictures. The device even includes a “Guest Mode”, where friends and other family members can borrow your device, limiting them to a specific list of apps (so they don’t accidentally access some photos you might not want them to see).

This is a solid phone running on a great wireless network - I can’t see anyone being unhappy when they unwrap this gift during the holidays.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw

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Product: Veloce gaming notebookCompany: Digital Storm Customized Systems

Price: $1,596 (as configured)

Buy this for: A gamer who wants a small, yet powerful gaming device.

The Veloce notebook from Digital Storm packs a ton of powerful features into its small 13.3-inch case - it includes NVIDIA's GTX 765M graphics card, 4th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, a 1,920 by 1,800 display and high-definition audio through its integrated Onkyo speakers.

The model we tried was configured with a Core i7 processor 4800MQ quad core with 6MB cache, 8GB of DDR3 1600MHz RAM, a 128GB mSATA solid-state drive, a 750GB secondary hard drive, Intel dual-band wireless-AC and 64-bit Windows 8 (we updated to 8.1 for fun).

This system certainly would power through any of your Windows apps and/or gaming needs - the games we played on it certainly didn't suffer for any performance during our time with the unit. I'm not a fan of smaller screen notebooks for gaming or entertainment purposes - I really prefer the 17-inch systems for playing games or watching movies. Using this as a work computer for email, office tasks and web browsing would seem like a waste of power.

If you don't mind the smaller size - if you really want to take this system with you for gaming and high-performance app usage, then this is a very nice system to try it out with. We had all of the proper ports on our system - four USB ports, an HDMI output (we connected it to a larger display), VGA (for connecting to older monitors and/or projectors), Ethernet jack and memory card slot. Interestingly, the unit shipped with two CDs/DVDs with drivers and such, but no internal drive to use them.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw

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