For the bookworm
You might opt to give hardware up front. And there are so many more options this year.
While the $199 Kindle Fire is talk of tablet market, don’t discount the inexpensive, e-ink versions of Kindle (starting at $79, Wi-Fi with screensaver ads). The reading experience is superb on its matte screen. Besides eyestrain-free reading, its battery can keep up with avid readers if they find themselves lost in a book for the better part of a day or more.
Its biggest limitation is the monochrome display, which can suck the life out of books with color charts, illustrations and pictures. In that case, I’ve found it useful to fire up the Kindle app on the iPad and check out what I’ve been missing.
But Kindle’s true beauty lies in how fast and easy you can purchase and begin reading ebooks. (Yes, you can also lend books, but that part of the Kindle experience is super limited currently.) Your loved ones won’t have to brave a snowstorm to redeem a gift card from a book store. Instead, they get instant gratification from in front of the fireplace.
What if they already have a Kindle? Even better! Get them a Kindle store gift card (starting at $10) to help them put a dent in their reading lists.
For the PC gamer
Praise Valve for sparing PC gamers the trip to the game store or visit from the delivery guy. Though seemingly dominated by the first-person shooter du jour, Steam offers a broad range of games to suit any taste.
Everything from AAA studio releases — most available day-and-date like their retail counterparts — to charming and ambitious indy titles, Steam delivers. Plus, its vibrant, often helpful community breaks the multiplayer ice and guides newbies past technical roadblocks they may encounter.
There is a catch, however. You can’t gift people monetary amounts on Steam, only games. This puts somewhat of a burden on you as a gift-giver since it’s up to you to find out which game(s) the recipient really wants. But if you know someone that really wants Skyrim this year — and who doesn’t?! — Steam is the way to go.
And yes, Mac gamers are invited to this party too. But remember, the game library is not as extensive.
Avoiding headaches this dematerialized holiday season
Did you notice a missing category?
Yep, I originally planned to include a movie category, but gifting digitized films is a tangled web and involves too much legwork on the part of the gift-giver. Netflix seems the obvious choice, but its streaming catalog still has gaping holes, not to mention a noticeable lack of even not-so-new releases.
That, and other services like iTunes, Amazon, Microsoft and Sony require that you have the right hardware to enjoy films from the couch — I personally never warmed to watching full-length movies on a PC or portable. And don’t forget having to navigate their respective e-stores and e-gifting options.
Overwhelming, right? Don’t do that to yourself. Stick with services that balance broad device support with healthy libraries and ease of access.
Happy Holidays! And if I missed something, or you can recommend some alternatives, share it in the comments.