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Help! Santa can't afford the iPad. Will the Kindle Fire do?

In this edition of Ask Maggie I offer advice to a mom who is considering getting a Kindle Fire for her son who really wants an iPad. I also advise a first-time game console buyer.

It's Black Friday, the busiest day of the shopping year, and Ask Maggie is here to help you with questions about holiday shopping.

In this edition, I offer some advice to one mother considering substituting an Amazon Kindle Fire for an iPad as gift for her son. And I suggest a game console for a gaming newbie, who wants to get the whole family up and moving this Christmas.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

Substituting the Kindle Fire for the iPad

Dear Maggie,
My 10-year-old son really wants an iPad 2 for Christmas. I am considering getting it for him, but $500 just seems like too much to spend. He really likes playing games on my iPhone. Do you think he'll be happy with the Kindle Fire? Will it have enough games and other apps for him to play with that are comparable to the iPad 2? Is there a better, less expensive alternative?

Desperate Mom

Amazon Kindle Fire
Sarah Tew/CNET

Dear Desperate Mom,
This is a tough question because when it comes to holiday gifts for kids, they know what they want. Sadly, trying to substitute a different tablet for the iPad probably won't fly. In my day, you couldn't pass off a pair of Wrangler jeans for Jordache jeans. (Yes, I am really that old.) And today, you aren't going to get away with putting an Amazon Kindle Fire under the tree in place of an Apple iPad.

That said, I completely agree that $500 is a lot of money to spend on a Christmas gift for a 10-year-old boy. I also recognize that times are tough, and not everyone has that kind of money to spend. So my recommendation is that you don't buy the iPad or the Kindle Fire.

I know what you're thinking. "She's such a Scrooge!" But I'm not. I just don't want you to waste your money on a product that your son won't likely use because what he really wants is an iPad. And I personally think that something as expensive as the iPad is not appropriate for a child.

While the Kindle Fire is a great and inexpensive tablet at $200, it's really meant for a slightly different audience than your son. The Kindle Fire is great for people who want to consume Amazon content, whether that's music, movies or books. It does offer games, but it simply doesn't have the breadth of games offered that Apple offers for iOS devices. The same goes for apps in general. Apple is still the king here and likely will be for a long time.

Another thing to keep in mind if you're considering getting the Kindle Fire for any child is the fact that there are no parental controls on these devices. By contrast, Apple does a great job making parental controls very easy to use for all iOS devices as well as its Mac computers.


So here's what I recommend. How about buying your son an iPod Touch instead of the iPad? Just like the Kindle Fire, the 8GB version of the iPod Touch is also $199. Now, I realize the iPod Touch is not a tablet and the screen size is much smaller than the iPad's screen. But your son will be able to play all the games he likes to play on your iPhone on this device. Also, because it's an iOS device, you will be able to use those parental controls to make sure he isn't racking up lots of charges on your credit card. And you can also restrict what types of games and what types of Web sites he has access to from his device. (For more on this, check out this previous Ask Maggie.)

There's a good chance your son may still be a bit disappointed that he didn't get exactly what he wanted for Christmas. And I know that's heartbreaking for a parent.

We all want to give our kids everything their hearts desire, especially for the holidays. And in the gadget bonanza that we live in today, kids want the latest and greatest in technology as much as many adults. But it's also important to teach children the value of things we buy.

Personally, I think that a $500 iPad is an expensive toy for such a young boy. I know others would disagree with me. Perhaps, you can encourage your son to save his allowance to buy himself an iPad, and you can contribute some cash in lieu of a birthday present.

If you do decide to go with the iPod Touch over the Kindle Fire or iPad, you're likely to find some really good deals this weekend. Apple is offering some Black Friday deals online. And there are other sites and retailers also offering good deals on iPod Touches.

Amazon is offering the 8GB iPod Touch for $189. For more information on Black Friday deals, check out this CNET story that offers suggestions for the best sites to bookmark for deal. Also don't forget to check out CNET Marketplace for some good deals on gadgets through the holidays.

If you decide to go ahead and get your son the iPad, keep in mind that Apple offers refurbished iPads for $50 off the the retail price of new ones. This deal includes a full one year warranty. And since Apple offers this everyday, you don't need to worry about fighting the Black Friday crowds.

I hope this advice was helpful. Happy Holidays! And good luck!

Family game night: Xbox 360 with Kinect or Wii?

Dear Maggie,
I think it would be fun to get a gaming console for my family for Christmas. I want something with motion-sensing technology so that even grandma can get in on the action. The only problem is that I am not sure which one to get. I am considering the XBox 360 with Kinect or the Nintendo Wii. Which one do you recommend?


Dear Jo,
I'm going to be honest with you and tell you that I am not a gaming expert. I've only played with the Xbox 360 with Kinect at tradeshows, but I have played with the Wii quite a bit with my sister's family. And I can tell you that it's great for families. But since I am not an expert in this area, I went to someone who is: CNET Reviews Senior Editor Dan Ackerman.

And here is what Dan had to say:

"I'd say Xbox/Kinect right now is the way to go. The Wii is closer to the end of its life and there won't be too many new high-quality games for it. Both the console and Kinect should be on sale this weekend at different stores -- $99 for Kinect (down from $150), and $199 for the higher-end 360 bundled with games."

Indeed, when I did a bit more research I found that Nintendo is planning its next generation game console for next year called Wii U. This newer console will trump the older Wii in terms of games and development going forward. So as Dan points out, it's probably not a good idea to go with a console so late in its life cycle when we know a fresher and newer one is right around the corner. And since these games are so fun to play when the whole family is assembled for the holidays, I'm sure you don't want to wait.

If you are interested in getting the Xbox with Kinect, you should definitely check out the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals being offered.

Best Buy began offering an Xbox 360 bundle with Kinect even before Black Friday. The deal includes the Xbox 360 4GB console with Kinect for $299. And it includes a $100 gift card that you can use at Best Buy. This drops the price down to $199. This is a great deal. And since you'll need some games to go along with your new gaming console, the BestBuy gift card could come in handy.

And as Dan mentioned, there are plenty of other Black Friday deals out there. You can also check CNET Marketplace for good deals. Good luck! And I hope your family enjoys the new game console!