Look up the word gadget in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and you’ll see a definition that’s not very flattering: “a device with a practical use but often thought of as a novelty.”
A novelty? Is that how we look at consumer technology?
Well, yes. And maybe with good cause. When a new iPad makes the one released eight months earlier look old and tired, consumers have reason to frown at how rapidly their prized gadget becomes second best – or worse, redundant. But take heart, Christmas shoppers, there are consumer electronics devices you can buy this holiday season that last for longer than a year or two. Here is a look at eight devices you can feel perfectly comfortable spending money on because they’ll last for years and won’t go out of vogue any time soon.
Apple iPod Shuffle
There’s nothing in the way of music players that’s more straightforward than iPod Shuffle. Now in its fifth generation, the Shuffle is Apple’s least expensive and simplest music player. Originally released in 2005, the Shuffle is wafer thin and light, clips to clothing and is designed for one thing – listening to tunes on the go. There’s no LCD display, it can’t access the Internet and has no WiFi, Bluetooth or FM radio. And it has not changed much in form or functionality in its seven-year lifespan. Available in seven colours, the 2-gigabyte Shuffle has a capacity of about 200 songs, which are loaded onto the device via iTunes on a computer. That’s plenty of music for a jog, bike ride or workout – activities well-suited to the Shuffle. At $50, it’s very affordable – maybe not stocking-stuffer affordable but certainly casual-gift affordable – and can last for years. The price means anyone already with a music-playing mobile device won’t feel like they’re squandering their money by picking one up as a backup.
Digital SLR cameras
The single-lens reflex (SLR) camera was a near-perfect consumer electronic device. You could buy one in 1972 and use it happily for two decades. You could buy a new lens, and it would fit; film cartridges never changed size and shape, compelling you to buy a new camera, and you never felt like advancements such as the introduction of auto focus could produce vastly better images. The arrival of digital SLRs changed the shelf life of the device primarily because, at least early on, each new model year would pack new features or upgrades as to make the previous generations’ obsolete. Most recently, the biggest change in DSLRs has been the ability to shoot high-definition video. We’re getting to a point in the DSLR development curve where a purchase of an entry-level camera today won’t be trumped by next year’s model. Two good examples are the Canon EOS Rebel T4i and Nikon D3200, both of which start at around $750. (Last year’s models – the Canon T3i and Nikon D3100 – are still in stores and start around $500). The T4i and 3200 standard kits come with an 18- to 55-millimetre lens; additional lenses, mounted flashes and other accessories are extra.
Bose Acoustic Wave systems
One piece of consumer electronics we generally buy and use for years is a stereo. And we’re not including iPod docks in here – already you need a range of adapters to make sure newer iPods and iPads fit onto docks released barely two years ago. One home stereo system that boasts lasting quality and excellent acoustics is the Bose Wave System series of tabletop stereos. There’s nothing better for kitchens, cottages or living rooms. The line was launched in 1984 and has expanded to include a series of elegant stereos that are easy to use, sound fantastic and last for years. There are three models of Bose Wave systems, two of which are geared for smaller rooms and one that’s got big enough sound to fill the living room or haul outside for a backyard barbecue. Depending on the system, they play a mix of CDs, Internet radio and AM/FM radio, but all can connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth to stream custom MP3 playlists. The three models range in price from $280 to $1,400, and there is a host of Wave accessories that consumers can use to add features, including multi-CD changers, iPod/iPhone docks or extra remote controls.
Portable hard drives
Portable hard drives are one of those extra devices you scan as you’re walking through Best Buy but never pull the trigger and buy. But even in today’s world of cloud this and cloud that, when it comes to backing up your data, expanding storage or transporting large volumes of files from point A to point B, there’s nothing better. Computers suffer from system crashes, viruses or loss and theft, and when these things happen, you risk losing things you care about. If you don’t back up your computer, you’re playing with fire. But if peace of mind isn’t enough to persuade you into buying a portable drive, there are other reasons. For one thing, you can never have too much space. If your desktop is long in the tooth you might find yourself knocking your head on the hard disc’s ceiling, and while you can buy internal hard drives to expand storage, it’s never enough to house the gradually expanding volume of digital media. And, they’re versatile. Many set-top boxed such as WDTV Live Hub or Boxee Box can use portable drives as add-on storage. And, many drives are small enough to fit into your back pocket, so if there’s a need to transfer 500 gigabytes of data between home and work or over to a friend’s, use the supersized thumb drive. You can find a range of portable drives by manufacturer such as Western Digital, Seagate and Clickfree at electronics stores ranging from $100 to $200, depending on the storage capacity, which generally ranges from 320 GB to two terabytes.
Consumers can have a love-hate relationship with their printers. On one hand, some households see it as an indispensable tool that’s used frequently. But it’s hard to swallow the price you pay for refilling or buying new ink cartridges. Still, if you buy a good-quality printer today from pretty much any major manufacturer (HP, Canon, Brother and Lexmark, to name a few), it should still be more than adequate five years from now. Printers are in a nice spot. Image quality has increased over the past 10 years while purchasing costs have fallen. You can buy an all-in-one printer such as the HP Officejet 6700 that includes a scanner, touchscreen controller and wireless connectivity for less than $200. Don’t knock the scanner. Most of us still have a treasure trove of pictures from childhood or school that, with a little time and effort, can make great talking points on your Facebook timeline. If you are in the market, make sure you look into a wireless printer. They join your home network rather than connect to a computer or laptop via a USB cord, and you can send documents or images to the printer wirelessly from laptops, mobile phones and tablets.
While most of us can get by with just about any keyboard, a specialized keyboard looks and feels great. And there’s a lot of variety. You can get a chic keyboard that’s light and thin or something specially made for the type of user you are. There’s wired and wireless, gaming keyboards with extra programming keys, and media keyboards that have toggles and switches for volume, play and pause. There are also office keyboards with quick keys to frequently used programs if you need to, you know, work. Pick the one you like and any worthwhile keyboard will last until you get bored of it. Logitech and Microsoft have a wide selection, including keyboards for tablets. You can go out of the mainstream, too, and build and order custom keyboards from companies such as WASD Keyboards or, if you’re really extreme, Datamancer, whose custom creations can cost as much as $1,500.
A good set of headphones can make the difference between dominating and getting pwned in online multiplayer games. Anyone who spends any time in front of a console or PC playing video games can’t lose by investing in a good set of cans. Not only do headphones give you an edge by letting you pinpoint your opponent’s movements and actions, but they also allow you to communicate with teammates, which can be invaluable during team play. Turtle Beach, Razer and Logitech make quality headsets for console and PC gaming – some that come with nifty tricks. Turtle Beach’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II Ear Force Tango Limited Edition Headset boasts Dolby digital surround sound, Bluetooth connections to mobile devices (yes, if your phone rings you can answer it and use your headset to chat). Some headsets, such as the Ear Force Tango, also come with voice morphing, which changes your voice, and are preprogrammed with voice prompts recorded by the actors in certain games, who announce when your headset is powering on or when the battery is low.
XBox 360 and PS3
Okay, so the PS3 is six years old and the xBox 360 is seven and (rumours have it) both are due to be replaced a year from now when Microsoft and Sony unveil their new game consoles, but who knew in 2007 how versatile game consoles would become? Defying just about every principle there is when it comes to consumer electronics, the old game console has become stronger with age. They’re much more than game machines. Connected to your home network, game consoles can stream video, music and pictures from your computers or connect you to a deep and growing music and video library on Microsoft and Sony’s respective online media markets. With the introduction of video apps such as Netflix and MLB.com, consumers are spending hours on their consoles consuming media. However, don’t go out and buy one unless you really have to. This time next year, Microsoft and Sony will likely be releasing their new consoles, which promise to do as much and more.