Let's face it. There's always going to be that one person on your holiday gift list who asks for bleeding edge tech gadgetry or the latest fashions. Giving in to the demands of these holiday budget hijackers can disrupt your entire present-buying mojo, or at the very least, make a value-driven shopper cringe. But don't send those donations to the Human Fund just yet; we've rounded up 11 awesome alternatives to in-demand items that provide a much better value for your dollar and your giftee.
They Want a 4K TV? Give Them a 3D TV Instead
Sure, you can easily pick up Seiki's 50" 4K HDTV for a rock-bottom price (we saw the Seiki SE50UY04 for just $700 earlier this month). But you shouldn't; early adopters craving the true 4K experience will likely be disappointed by this bargain set. "Is the Seiki's extra resolution worth the extra money compared with other 50" TVs?" CNET's reviewer asks. "For most people the answer is a resounding, 'No!' perhaps preceded by an expletive." The barebones set boasts a 4K resolution ... and that's about it, aside from a 120Hz refresh rate. And while you could opt for a more expensive, brand-name 4K model, but we haven't seen a single deal for one yet.
If the tech hound on your holiday list wants something novel within the world of visual electronics, then instead consider a 3D HDTV. 3D HDTV prices are dropping to match those of their non-3D kin, especially in the larger classes. For example, instead of spending $700 on the barebones Seiki set above, earlier this month you could have picked up a feature-packed LG 50" 3D 120Hz 1080p WiFi LED-backlit HDTV with two pairs of 3D glasses for $699. You'll pay a little more for larger sets, but all 3D HDTV prices will be far better than those brand-name 4K sets. Best of all, you can spring for brand-name TVs as December is the best time to buy one.
They Want an iPhone 5S? Give Them an iPhone 5C Instead
If Google searches are to be believed, both the Apple iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C are among the most desired presents of the year. Although we've seen the 5S's price drop as low as $100 with select carriers, the iPhone 5C has consistently been priced lower — usually by $100 — even becoming free in some cases. Although the exact savings will depend on your carrier, the iPhone 5C is certainly the cheaper option. But is it the better one?
Side-by-side comparisons of the two devices often give the edge to the 5S due to its upgraded processing power and much better camera. That said, TechCrunch notes that the 5C isn't "missing too many tricks ... compared to the 5S." Practically speaking, the 5S's new CPU may be a delightful bit of future-proofing, "but like the quad-core phones of today, there's not a lot of point in a 64-bit chip right now," notes TechRadar. Plus, Engadget prefers the 5C's colorful housing, saying that "given the phone's steel-reinforced, polycarbonate construction, it could be a more suitable choice if you're prone to accidents." All told, for all but a select few users, the colorful 5C will be all the iPhone they currently need.
They Want an iPad mini? Give Them a Kindle Fire HDX & Prime Instead
Unless the tablet recipient on your gift list is a really hardcore Apple fan, buying them a Kindle Fire HDX 7" tablet instead of an iPad mini with Retina display is the best choice by far. First of all, from a price perspective, the HDX is the clear winner. We haven't seen a single discount on the current generation iPad mini; it's still stuck at the list price of $399. Meanwhile, we've seen several discounts on the HDX: even ignoring the exceptional sales we saw on this tablet during Black Friday, this current-generation Kindle Fire fell to just $199 earlier this month. Even if you pay the HDX's $229 list price at Amazon and purchase a 1-year Prime membership for $79, you'd still save $91 over the iPad mini's price.
Furthermore, the Kindle Fire HDX offers a better value for the money, at least when it comes to display quality. The budget-friendly tablet beat Apple's much-lauded Retina display in a recent test conducted by screen tester DisplayMate. Adding Prime to the comparison makes this Kindle Fire an almost compulsory choice as the HDX's "deep integration of Prime features like streaming video, video downloads, and the ability to borrow books make the HDX feel like a required Prime member companion device," said CNET. We say, give the Kindle Fire HDX with Prime to your tablet-desiring giftee and pocket the $91 difference.
They Want a Next-Gen Console? Give Them an Ouya Instead
There's no doubt that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are highly desirable gifts this year, and even though they carry high price tags, there isn't really a one-for-one alternative here. That said, good luck getting your hands on one of these next-gen consoles without refreshing your browser constantly in search or stock, or ponying up extra cash to buy a higher-cost bundle of some sort.
Save the next-gen console for your gamer's next birthday (it'll surely be more readily available in the coming year, and it might even cost less), and find another way to quench their desire to have something shiny and new to play with. While it can't hold a candle to the aforementioned consoles, the Android-based OUYA can offer some cheap thrills in the meantime. It runs about $100 and boasts a huge library of games and apps that are all free to try. Its execution isn't perfect; IGN notes that the adapted Android environment means "you may have to buy a game you already own for your smartphone or tablet again, even if the only difference between them is its support for OUYA's controller and UI." Still, a new gaming toy under the tree is better than none at all.
They Want Beats by Dre Headphones? Give Them a Monoprice Pair Instead
Should the music lover on your holiday list request a pair of Beats by Dre headphones, know that the pricey cans are nowhere near all they're cracked up to be. Beats by Dre headphones "are a triumph of marketing, not audio quality," say the guys at HD Nation, who also suggest that you instead purchase the Monoprice Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style Over-the-Ear Pro headphones (often referred to by their model number, 8323) for about $20.
You read that number correctly; a new pair of Monoprice's 8323 headphones are $95 less than the best price we've ever seen for a similar pair of refurbished Beats by Dre headphones. Despite their plastic construction, the Monoprice headphones deliver "shockingly good highs and mids," according to HD Nation. Other reviewers have also stepped up to talk about Monoprice's cans, with CNET's Audiophiliac blog calling them "hands-down, the best full-size, over-the-ear headphones you can buy on the cheap." As HD Nation put it, "avoid the Beats, go buy the [Monoprice 8323]."
They Want New Clothes? Give Them a Gift Card to Their Favorite Clothier
Whether for your fashion-forward significant other or your super-picky teen, buying clothes for another person can be more complicated than navigating a field full of land mines. For one thing, you've got to decipher the recipient's personal style and how it interacts with the current trends. And then there's the biggest land mine of them all: trying to guess the correct size. For our part, we recommend you just skip all the awkwardness entirely and give your loved one a gift card instead. You can even save money on the purchase by shopping for gift cards at a discount site like Raise.com.
Because gift cards can seem impersonal, we suggest you find out their favorite clothing store and opt for a gift card from that specific retailer. Not only will this allow your giftee to buy the apparel they want in the size they need, but it spares your loved one from the annoying ritual of exchanging or returning an unwanted gift. Better yet, purchasing gift cards during this time of year can bag all kinds of freebies for you!
They Want an iTunes Gift Card? Give Them an Amazon Gift Card Instead
For a friend or family member who puts an iTunes gift card on their holiday wish list, you should get them an Amazon gift card instead. Ignoring the obvious fact that an Amazon gift card can be used for a whole lot more than just media, let's focus on the value of the gift cards for music alone. First of all, iTunes rarely offers significant discounts on its music selection. Of all the deals we've seen on MP3s in the past two years, less than 2% came from iTunes, as opposed to 60% from Amazon.
What's more, an Amazon gift card is likely to yield more music than an iTunes gift card of the same value. According to our research, Amazon offers a better album price than iTunes about 78% of the time. Furthermore, even non-music purchases at Amazon often come with credits for use in its MP3 store; that Amazon gift card stocking stuffer could end up being worth even more than its purchase amount!
They Want a Nike FuelBand SE? Give Them a Fitbit Force Instead
Health-conscious folks are going gaga over the latest exercise accessory: fitness bands. More than a watch, these gadgets monitor daily activity to help chart progress towards fitness goals. Nike's recognizable brand name has made the sportswear retailer's FuelBand SE a popular entry on many holiday wish lists. But rather than dropping a ton of money on the brand-name accessory, we recommend that you pick up the Fitbit Force for your healthy holiday gift recipient.
Firstly, the Fitbit is the cheaper alternative. We've seen the Fitbit Force for as little as $97, though it generally goes for around $130. Nike's FuelBand SE, on the other hand, will cost you at least $149. Secondly, Android users that receive a FuelBand SE will definitely be disappointed: This fitness band can only pair with iOS mobile devices. Finally, we're not alone in recommending the Fitbit Force over the FuelBand SE: "The FitBit Force is much more accurate and specific" reads Gizmodo's FuelBand SE review. "It has a screen that shows you time, distance, steps, [and] floors. It also syncs with apps like RunKeeper and Endomondo. The FuelBand doesn't do most of those things."
They Want a DSLR Camera? Give Them a Phone Camera Lens Adapter or the Nokia Lumia 1020 Instead
A brand-new digital SLR camera and lens bundle will set you back hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Buying a DSLR for someone is a hefty purchase, especially if the would-be photographer has no previous experience with the art. Unless your gift recipient is a professional photographer or already a devoted hobbyist, we don't recommend purchasing a DSLR camera as a gift. That said, there are lots of ways to encourage a budding photographer without dropping a ton of cash.
For the more casual shutterbug, you can grab a camera lens adapter for their smartphone. The Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens for iPhone, for example, features four lenses (wide-angle, fisheye, 10x macro, and 15x macro) and costs $70. MacWorld found it to be pretty nifty, saying the device "goes a long way in making you think of your iPhone as a real camera instead of just a phone that takes pictures."
If your photo-happy gift recipient demands a fuller photographic experience, we'd recommend the Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows 8 smartphone. While no smartphone camera can deliver 100% DSLR-like pictures, the Nokia 1020 makes a valiant effort and blows many point-and-shoot cameras out of the water. This Windows phone boasts an impressive 41-megapixel sensor, prompting The Verge to say the Nokia 1020 "is by leaps and bounds the best camera phone ever made." You can give the photog on your list the Nokia 1020 for as little as $100.
They Want a Roku? Give Them a Chromecast or Blu-ray Player Instead
With so many people choosing to cut the cable cord, it's no wonder that many holiday wish lists have a Roku penciled in at the top. Although it doesn't compete with Roku's thousands of apps, the Chromecast is still king when it comes to price. Even if all your giftee hopes to do is stream internet content, they may be surprised by what all a Chromecast can do. According to ZDNet, one can use the nifty little dongle to watch UK shows in the US, conduct video conferencing, and even watch their own movies, if they've been converted correctly. Costing less than half the price of a Roku 2, the Chromecast is a great gift for someone who's not interested in a lot of fancy apps.
If your Roku-craving gift recipient longs for a little more than a Chromecast can deliver, then consider giving them a WiFi-enabled Blu-ray player instead. Whereas the Roku provides only streaming, a WiFi-enabled Blu-ray player can also, you know, play Blu-ray movies. Your giftee will then be able to take advantage of another type of deal: the ever-growing discounts on Blu-ray titles, which have slipped to $5 (or less) per movie. While we've seen WiFi Blu-ray players for as little as $20, a name-brand new unit will likely cost you around $55.
They Want a Pair of UGGs? Give Them a Pair of Bearpaws Instead
UGG Australia started a boot trend that just will not die. Love 'em or hate 'em, UGG boots are among this season's most searched items on Google, and are therefore a likely entry on many ladies' wish lists. However, the sheepskin boots carry a hefty price tag to match their popularity. The "Classic Tall" boots cost $195 on UGG's site, with the "Classic Short" styled boot coming in at $155. While we've seen several deals on UGG's brand of shoes, the classic styles are rarely discounted, and quick to go out of stock when they do go on sale.
Should your lovely giftee express a desire for UGGs, you do have a cheaper option: Bearpaws. These UGG lookalikes also feature sheepskin, but at a fraction of the price. The Bearpaw Classic Collection in particular captures the UGG look for a mere $70 to $80. We've occasionally seen big discounts on this boot brand from 6pm, so setting up an email alert could yield even bigger savings. Gift buyer beware, though: If the lady you're buying boots for is already an UGG devotee, she will not want another brand, deal or no deal.
Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief, would-be Santas. By replacing some of the most expensive items on your holiday gift list with these alternatives, you'll save money and still have happy gift recipients. The big man in the red suit would be proud. Merry bargains to all, and to all a good buy!
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