Features - 2005 Holiday Gadget Gift Guides

Jeff Beard is the author of Law Tech Guru Blog, and Legal IT Manager at Caterpillar Inc.'s Legal Services Division.

'Tis the season for all good gadget lovers to find something cool online, at some of the lowest prices of the year. I've made a list and checked it twice, so here's some great online technology gift guides, other resources, and tips to help you or that special someone get that ultra cool gadget that's been wanted all year:

Online Techno Gift Guides

  • PC Magazine has their 2005 Holiday Gift Guide, which includes daily gift ideas, a high tech wish list, product guides, shopping advice, and more. Perhaps one of the more useful columns is What Not to Buy in 2005. It tells you which items or technologies are on the way out, and which ones you should get instead.
  • Computer Shopper has their Present Tech product roundups. It's nicely categorized into The Audiophile, The Frequent Flier, The Newbie, The Fun Lover, The Trendsetter, and Thrifty Gifts. Something for nearly everyone.
  • CNet has their Editors' Choice Awards, listing products and services that have won their editors' nod for "best buys" in many categories, from PCs to home entertainment systems, peripherals, mobile tech, and more.
  • Wired News offers The Ultimate Geek Gift Guide, by Home, Mobile, and Everything Else (which goes far beyond the mundane PC stuff, including a $1,000 Taser gun, for that hard-to-buy person).
  • PC World checks in with Gadget Freak: Holiday Tech Grab Bag--Gadgets to Love or to Lose, an eclectic review of some of the good, bad, and the uglier side of holiday tech gift offerings.
  • A bit closer to home, Reid Trautz offers his 2005 Holiday Gift Guide for Lawyers, a combination of the useful and whimsical stress relief.

Online Product Reviews

Once you found something you like, how do you know how good it is? Is it a quality item, or just as likely to break right after the short warranty expires? Here are my preferred methods for finding this information online:

  • Search for online reviews: I often search Google and other leading search engines by including the product name or part number, followed by the word "review". That usually brings up a number of useful reviews by professionals and consumers alike.
  • Check out the customer feedback on Amazon.com, even if you don't buy from them. You'll likely find out in a hurry what's good or bad about it, similar products or complementary products, and perhaps even some great tips and tricks for using them.

Deal Finder Sites

These are the unsung heros in online shopping. They quietly scour the web for all kinds of price cuts, rebates, coupons, specials, and other online and offline deals to save us a bunch of money. I've been able to pick up all kinds of tech gadgets at half prices by tuning into these sites. Some even offer RSS feeds, which are extremely useful if you have the right RSS reader.

I use FeedDemon, wherein I have a special group for these deal sites along with "Watches". Easily created in mere seconds, Watches automatically search the feeds as they arrive. They collect the matching results for anything I'd like to get at a phenomenally good price, such as flash memory cards, USB hard drives, etc. Think of it as news clipping for online deals. That way, I don't have to manually visit each site. I just look in a particular Watch bin to see which new deals match the desired product. All of this is especially important since these kinds of deals are very short-lived -- low-priced stock sells out in hyper-time, and the coupons/rebates expire almost as quickly. But if you jump on them within a day or two, you may have a pretty good chance.

Some of my favorites, complete with RSS feeds:

Price Comparison Sites

If you're shopping online, it'll often save you time and money to compare prices. PC Magazine has a review roundup of 6 price comparison sites, complete with ratings and good discussions on what's good and what's lacking.

My personal favorite and all around standby is Pricegrabber, but I've known to use Shopper, Shopzilla, Froogle, and Cairo on occasion.

Don't Forget the Customer Support

Last, but certainly not least, it's important to be able to contact your online seller by telephone when you have a problem or question. Some online sellers make their customer support numbers accessible, while others would rather that you just leave them alone, as evidenced by a complete lack of contact information other than the dreaded e-mail support. That's a good sign in itself to steer clear regardless of the price. But if you just can't find it anywhere else or feel so compelled, DVDTalk.com offers this valuable consumer resource:

Also, don't forget to read their return/exchange policies before ordering. Many online sellers charge a hefty restocking fee or don't allow returns of non-defective merchandise. I've often paid just a little more (say $5-$10) to get the same item from a respectable online seller like Amazon for this reason alone. It just wasn't worth my time, trouble, or risk dealing with some of these other outfits just to get the absolute lowest price. Good customer service is definitely worth something in my book, and who needs more stress during the holidays?

Like everyone else, I still buy a lot in stores. However, being a busy professional, sometimes it's just nicer to stay home and let my fingers do the shopping. I often find desired items I can't find in local stores, and at better prices. Have a Happy Holiday, and hopefully this will make your holiday shopping a bit more enjoyable and save you a few billable hours in the process.