Gift cards have a bad rap. Sure, they're not the most creative presents, but I'm a fan. They're more practical than buying a knick-knack or sweater that your recipient will never use or wear, and they let a person buy exactly what he or she wants. Your challenge, though, is buying a gift card from a retailer that your recipient will like.
So if you find gift cards under tree, you may be wondering exactly what to buy. Of course, CNET would say that anything tech makes a great choice. And if you agree, here are some great gadget suggestions for your card cash. I've broken the options down to into $25, $50, and $100 increments, and I even threw in a few more expensive products at the end. Because if your gift card can't cover your entire purchase, at least it can take care of part of it.
I'm always wary of buying expensive headphones, even if they deliver the most stellar music quality on the planet. Instead, I just want an uncomplicated pair that I can use at the gym and that won't take up too much room in my bag. And if I happen to lose them (which I can be prone to do), I won't be out too much cash. That's why I like the cheap, comfortable, and high-quality JVC Gumys. Heck, at this price, you can buy a few.
Haven't you heard? Docks are dead. It's time to go wireless, and the Belkin Bluetooth Music Receiver is the easiest way to do it. Connect this $25 dongle to any stereo (or anything with a "line in" or "aux input" port), and you can wirelessly stream music from any Bluetooth-enabled device. That includes all iPads, nearly any smartphone, most iPod Touch models, and most new tablets.
OK, it comes in at just above $25, but you can pay the rest of your bill with what it takes to buy a Gingerbread Latte at Starbucks. And, no, a router isn't sexy, but neither is slow, spotty Wi-Fi. With the D-Link DIR-605L N300 Cloud Router, your can upgrade your network to the fast 802.11n wireless standard.
It doesn't play nice with iTunes -- you'll need to drag and drop your music files -- but for many of us, not having to boot up iTunes is actually a feature, not a drawback. The SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip is pretty much the closest you'll get to the iPod Shuffle with the added advantage of a screen, 4GB of storage, an FM radio, and voice recorder. Not too shabby for under $50, and perfect for joggers who want to leave the smartphone at home.
Finally, we got an Android handset that deserves the Nexus name. The Nexus 5 is fast, gorgeous, and stocked with features (including LTE), and it is the device for showing the true power of the Google universe and the Android operating system. Sure, you'll need to sign a contract, but the excellent Nexus 5 can be yours for just $50 with some carriers.
It could use a bit more bass, but the Jam Plus delivers great sound quality for its price and it has an attractive, unique design. What's more, if you buy two of the Bluetooth speakers, you can combine them to function as a pair of left/right wireless stereo speakers.
Hovering around $50, give or take a few bucks, the Fitbit Zip is one of the most affordable wearable tech products you can buy. Its low price means it lacks some features found in pricier products -- it can't track sleep, and Android compatibility is limited, for example -- but it counts steps and calories, it syncs over Bluetooth with PCs and iPhones, and it's water resistant.
The Roku 3 is the best overall choice for online streaming, with Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Amazon Instant, Vudu, and -- finally! -- YouTube, plus literally hundreds of others. (Pretty much the only thing missing is iTunes; you'll need an Apple TV for that -- see the following slide.) The Wi-Fi remote -- which doesn't require "line of sight" to the player -- seals the deal. I have one and love it.
Yes, tablets and smartphones can double as e-readers. But the $69 Amazon Kindle has a long-lasting battery and a paperlike screen that avid readers will appreciate. And unlike more versatile devices, there won't be any calls, e-mails, or texts to distract the reader, either. Amazon is keeping this 2012 model in the line, and it remains the most affordable Kindle you can get without stepping up to the self-illuminated, touch-screen 2013 Paperwhite version for $119.
Yes, I'm seriously suggesting that you should get a fancy electrical outlet with your gift card. But I have good reasons for doing so. Belkin's WeMo line of programmable plugs give you a simple, flexible, and affordable way to experiment with home automation. How so? The plug-motion detector combo lets you play with both basic on/off capability and motion triggers for any device you connect to it, from coffee makers to TVs.
Though its MSRP is $120, the Samsung BD-F5900 is fetching less than $100 at some retailers. And that's a good thing, for this Blu-ray player comes with a wealth of features, incredibly speedy performance (in fact, this is the fastest player CNET has seen so far), a great suite of apps, and an easy-to-use interface. Add in excellent picture quality and you have a great buy.
It's small enough to fit in a pocket, but the WX300 has a 20x zoom, built-in Wi-Fi, fantastic battery life, and a large variety of auto shooting options. It's a great choice if you crave a compact, easy-to-use shooter that does more than a smartphone camera.
I've always been a bit torn about single-serve coffee makers, since going through so many capsules seems incredibly wasteful. I admit, though, that they're perfect when you just want a quick and easy cup of coffee. The Bunn My Cafe MCU brings exactly that, and the coffee tastes great. Its design is distinctively industrial, but in terms of sturdiness and usability, it does an admirable job.
I have a ton of photos that I need to offload from my home computer for safekeeping. And though I haven't used this exact model, I've had good luck with Seagate devices before. As our review found, the compact Wireless Plus combines 1TB of storage space, 10-hour-and-then-some battery life, and a built-in Wi-Fi network that supports up to eight concurrent clients.