3 gifts not to buy this holiday

According to the National Retail Federation, 32% of us want consumer electronics this year, and 40% yearn for digital entertainment like DVDs and video games. If you’re looking for a high-end stocking stuffer, gadgets may seem like the way to go.

Be careful. People usually have very specific preferences that you couldn't guess, no matter how well you know them. Just because a new technology is sleek and popular doesn’t mean everyone wants it. To help you avoid an un-merry moment, here are three gifts Santa should avoid this holiday season.

Cheap tablets

At first, a tablet looks like the perfect gift. It’s small and fits into an ambiguous box, so recipients will have a hard time guessing what it is. The product’s marketing speak touts cameras, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, processors and storage that surely won’t disappoint.

Tablets also come dirt-cheap. It’s not that unusual to find a tablet under $50 that appears to be exactly what your recipient needs and wants. Here’s what you need to know.

People tend to be particular about their tablets. Windows users typically want a pricey Surface. Apple fans are willing to pay for an iPad. Anyone who owns a high-end Android phone will frown upon anything other than a high-end Android tablet.

Then, Amazon has their Fire that’s a great option for Prime Members. And bookworms gravitate toward the Barnes and Noble Nook that just launched a $50-model that is $30 cheaper than the Amazon Kindle.

Most of these cheap tablets have a major flaw. Many tablets use a version of the Android operating system that cannot be upgraded. As Google releases newer and better Android features, that cheap tablet is stuck in the past. This is particularly true of tablets running Lollipop or earlier.

If you’d like to know how tablets stack up against each other, click here to check out my handy comparison feature charts.

Cheap TVs

When you visit any big box store, you’ll find a cornucopia of televisions. You will see flat screens, wide screens, LEDs, LCDs, UHD, curved, 3D, smart TVs, and everything in between. At first glance, the deals will blow your mind. Only $249.99 for a 4K television? Sign me up!

If you’re giving a television as a gift, there are many considerations. For starters, you need to know how far your gift recipient will sit from the TV. Once you know that, divide the distance (in inches) by 1.6 to get the perfect screen size in inches. (For example, someone who sits 10 feet (120 inches) from the TV would enjoy a screen about 75 inches long on the diagonal.) After a certain point, of course, you'll reach a practical limit on how big of a TV you really want to buy.

Unfortunately, many holiday TV deals are on smaller sets that have other issues. Low-end televisions usually come with only one or two HDMI ports, which are becoming increasingly important for add-on technology. You want three HDMI ports.

Cheaper televisions also have a low refresh rate of 60 hertz, or 60 refreshes a second. Basically, with 120Hz the TV creates new frames to go between the usual 60 frames. Those in-between frames help reduce blur when there's movement on the screen. Some people don't like it for TV and movies because it tends to give things a "soap opera" look. Sports fans need sets that have a 240Hz refresh.

Your uncle may appreciate the sentiment, but a cheap TV will make your gift a real boob tube. Click here for my television buying guide that makes it easy to make the right choice.

Bargain laptops

If your young student is looking for a starter computer to type reports and play educational games, pretty much any laptop will do. But if she's planning to edit digital video or import hundreds of gigs of footage, she'll want a laptop with powerful RAM, tons of storage, fast processor, and a high-end display. The sad truth is that most decent Windows-based laptops start at $600.

You'll find functional laptops for a song during the holidays, but you can't expect much longevity and features. The lower priced models under $300 are a decent choice for a young student. Know that these laptops usually have smaller screens (11 inches or lower), only one USB port, and minimum amounts of RAM, hard drive space, and processing power. Stay away from any laptop that runs Windows 8.1. Windows 10 is the latest version.

Then there's Google's Chromebook. These run an upgraded version of Google's Chrome browser, use apps, and web services in place of programs, and store their information online.

Chromebooks have two huge selling points. One, they're quite inexpensive; most cost less than $200. Two, if you groan each time your PC or Mac takes forever to open up, Google Chromebooks start super fast.

On the other hand, Chromebooks don't run standard computer programs. And, heads up, Chromebooks don't work well without a fast Internet connection.

Your best bet is to buy a good laptop in August when students are returning to school. If you are in the market for a new PC or Mac desktop or laptop, click here to read my buying guide that includes features and specifications.

So what should you invest in this holiday season? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com or send her an email. 

Special for USA TODAY


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