The holidays are coming up quick, meaning that if you haven’t picked up the perfect present for everyone on your list, now’s a good time to start thinking about what gadgets, gear and gift options to grab. Between two new video game systems, high-powered and eye-catching smartphones, and numerous new ways to work and play, the good news is that plenty of viable options exist. Better still, the beauty of technology as a gift-giving choice is that it appeals to everyone, is bound to be used day in and out, and (thanks to downloadable add-ons, upgrades and streaming media choices) will sustain friends’ and loved ones’ interest longer than ever before. So if you’re on the fence about what to buy for everyone, consider browsing through an ever-growing range of consumer electronics: There’s no shortage of awe-inspiring choices to pick from.
Not a high-tech enthusiast? Have no fear. In addition to growing power and performance, one of the most exciting trends we’re seeing today amongst gadgets and mobile devices is growing accessibility, and ever more approachable user interfaces. Whether you’re looking to beam down high-definition (HD) songs, movies and TV shows to your living room, access a variety of useful apps, or check out the latest books, magazines or breaking news reports on-demand, everything’s now literally a click or call away. Which, of course, will prove a boon to both families and working professionals: For less than ever before, in more ways than ever before, you can access a growing range of practical and cost-affordable entertainment and productivity options. So if you’ve been on the fence about whether or not to pick up a new tablet PCs, grab a new sound bar for your home theater, or make the jump from paper to electronic books (eBooks), the holidays present a perfect excuse to give your life a 21st century upgrade.
Seriously – after 25 years in this business, even we are floored by the sheer scope and capabilities of the technology solutions on offer today. From portable media players to 3D gaming handhelds, wireless all-in-one printers to Swiss Army knife-life two-in-one hybrid PCs/tablets, we’re enjoying a golden age of gizmos unlike any experienced to date. Best of all, with Black Friday coming up, you won’t find a better time to browse the virtual aisles, as the week promises some of the best deals of the year to date. Skim through some of the recent collections of attention-getting accessories, gadgets and gear we’ve posted online at eBay, for example, and you’ll find just a few of hundreds of great options available in every category.
Which, of course, brings up another good point: If you’re no fan of long lines, or fighting tooth and nail for parking at the mall, online shopping provides a handy alternative this holiday season. Among its biggest pluses is the ability to browse far larger aisles than you’d find at local retailers, and have presents shipped right to friends’ and family members’ homes in just a matter of days. Note that there’s still plenty of time to grab gadgets and gear, get them to recipients’ front steps in time for the holidays, and do so without breaking the bank thanks to growingly fast and affordable shipping options as well. However, whichever route you choose to go when buying selections from the latest high-tech toys to hottest new family gaming picks, be smart about where you spend. Only buy the features you plan to use regularly, and those that promise to be most practical for your situation – there’s no need to spend extra just to feel as if you’re keeping up with the Joneses.
Wherever possible, we always recommend going hands-on with devices to see how you like their feel and design, and shopping around for deals from different vendors to see who offers the best mix of value as well. Some welcome options can be found in our recent collections of high-tech picks, which we’ll continue to post and update over at eBay, and here at TechSavvyMag.com as the coming weeks unfold. But don’t be fooled: A little searching around on sites such as these will also reveal dozens of additional deals in virtually every consumer electronics category. In fact, you might even want to consider getting loved ones and acquaintances gift cards and certificates as a present. Sometimes, the chance to browse through buying listings and top gift-giving picks can be every bit as fun as receiving a ribbon-wrapped present.
No matter if you’re looking for ways to entertain yourself on road trips and cross-country flights, or looking to swap out an old PC or laptop, it’s our pleasure to keep you up to date on the latest and greatest new high-tech options. Naturally, we welcome any and all suggestions from you and your family as well: By all means, please reach out and contact us, or post your own collections online, if you have added suggestions. In the meantime, we wish you and yours the best this holiday season – and the best of luck choosing from all those shiny new HDTVs, Bluetooth speakers, and mobile devices. If this year’s crop of connected gadgets is an indicator of what’s to come, 2014 looks to be an equally bright and promising year for fans of everything electronic.
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Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
While gaming has certainly matured over the past few decades and more adults are playing them now than at any time since arcade machines were the rage, video games are hardly for the 18 and up set alone. Some of the best titles around are made not specifically for kids, but with more of an all-ages focus in mind, seeking to provide something enjoyable for children, adults, or even the entire family who wants to team up to conquer new challenges. Here are some of this year’s releases which fit that bill.
Rayman Legends – Despite a high-profile demo garnering attention on the Wii U last year, this follow-up to Rayman Origins was delayed to an August release so that it could also be released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The left-to-right gameplay is slightly similar in some ways to games such as New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, specifically the ability for up to four to play at once on one screen. On the Wii U, a fifth player can join in with the GamePad controller and manipulate the environment to help others along.
Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix – Square Enix has finally announced the eagerly-anticipated third installment in the series that dared to answer the question of what would happen if characters from their stable of role-playing games met those from the wonderful world of Disney. But as that isn’t due for a while yet, they’re biding their time by re-releasing the original game and its side-story follow-up, Re:Chain of Memories, in high definition. This collector’s package also includes a motion picture retelling of the events of another installment, 358/2 Days, as a nearly three-hour cinematic compilation.
Skylanders Swap Force – The title that managed to fuse toys and video games like no other before it is back for a third round. As the name alludes to, the Swap Force is a group of 16 new Skylanders characters who are able to swap out their top and bottom halves to gain new powers and abilities throughout 256 possible combinations. A solid 17 new levels await, and as before, you can continue using characters from previous Skylanders games, complete with all their levels and abilities still intact.
Disney Infinity – Disney knows a good thing when it sees it, and when it saw Activision’s Skylanders, it wanted a piece of that action. The result is Disney Infinity, which allows you to not only purchase figures of different Disney characters from hit series ranging from The Incredibles to Monsters University and Pirates of the Caribbean to Phineas and Ferb, but also different world and power discs, which dictate where you play and what added abilities you have, respectively. The star attraction, however, is the Toy Box mode, where you can mix characters and items from different Disney worlds to create your own fun.
Pikmin 3 – Ever wonder what it’s like to be the size of an ant? The latest title from the creator of Mario puts you in control of a crew of three tiny spacemen who have crash-landed on a mysterious planet where everything around them is enormous. Everything, that is, accept the friendly plant-people known as the Pikmin, who do their humble best to help our intrepid explorers to take on fierce predators and solve puzzles to claim the large pieces of fruit needed to provide sustenance to their hungering homeworld. A new Bingo Battle multiplayer mode also allows you compete with a friend as you each race to collect the four fruits needed to form a row on your card.
The Wonderful 101 – What do you get when you cross Power Rangers with Pikmin, and multiply them by 20? You get the Wonderful 100 (the other one is “you”), a team of superheroes who travel en masse and use the power of Unite Morphing to create large Green Lantern-esque constructs, from the Unite Fist and the Unite Sword to the Unite Gun and Unite Bomb. The more heroes you have in your team, the more powerful your attacks. And you’ll need that power if you’re to stop the giant forces of the invading alien terrorists known as the GEATHJERK. Additionally, up to four other players can join in for cooperative gameplay by using Wii U Pro Controllers.
DuckTales Remastered – Those who grew up with DuckTales in The Disney Afternoon are now old enough to have their own children, but the everlasting appeal of Disney’s characters and stories provides a unique opportunity for them to share this adventure with a new generation. Capcom, WayForward, and Disney have come together to remake the classic ’80s Nintendo Entertainment System title with high definition graphics, new features, and a reunion of all the surviving cast members from the show– including the 93-year old Alan Young as Uncle Scrooge and the 96-year old June Foray as Magica De Spell! This version of the game was originally released as a download-only title, but is also being released at retail for $19.99.
WWE 2K14 – A perennial favorite, World Wrestling Entertainment’s latest outing comes under the flag of a new publisher in 2K Sports. Boasting numerous new improvements to improve the feel and dramatic tension of the action, WWE 2K14 is also celebrating 30 years of WrestleMania with a single-player campaign of the same name. A whopping 45 matches look back on and allow players to recreate landmark moments throughout WWE’s history, from the rise of Hulkamania in the 80’s to the rise of New Generation stars such as Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart in the early 90’s, and beyond. Pre-orders get to use the Ultimate Warrior as a playable character, and a special “Phenom Edition” of the game will also be available, containing extras based on the Undertaker, such as his “American Bad***” biker persona.
Rocksmith 2014 – Whereas Guitar Hero and Rock Band allowed music fans to pretend they were playing a guitar, Rocksmith 2014 actually teaches you how to do so by plugging in an actual electric guitar or bass. Designed as a replacement to the previous 2011 release, rather than a sequel, this version features 85 lessons and other features, including different modes to help players learn, improve, and further challenge themselves. Meanwhile, those who purchased the original will find value in the newly-added songs and modes now included.
Need for Speed: Rivals – Whether you’re on your fifth vehicle or aren’t even old enough to touch the pedals without receiving a severe scolding, who doesn’t love the thrill of fast cars? Need for Speed: Rivals follows on from the series’ prior Hot Pursuit installment with players taking on the role of either a speeding racer or the police officer tasked with stopping them. Cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes are included, with the new “AllDrive” system allowing you to switch between them seamlessly. And for the hardcore car enthusiasts, there are numerous customization options for the numerous brands of cars featured in the game, including Ferrari, who hasn’t been a regular part of the series since 2002.
Though video games and other high-tech toys are more popular than ever, classic tabletop board games are experiencing a renaissance as well. A longtime favorite on family game nights, the best of the bunch continue to grow in popularity and production values as well. Looking for the top new board game picks available today? Here are several of the choicest selections of both new and classic experiences worth adding to your collection:
Monopoly by Hasbro – No list of board games would not be complete without Monopoly, so what better game to kick things off? Though there is a good chance you’ve played Monopoly before, there is an ever-growing list of variations to discover, and we don’t just mean themed versions based on a variety of pop culture staples such as Nintendo, Marvel Comics, The Lord of the Rings, and Dr. Who. Monopoly Empire, for example, introduces a tower to fill with billboards featuring such brands as McDonald’s, eBay, and Xbox, while Monopoly Millionaire challenges you to reach one million dollars first. Other variations include the app-enhanced Monopoly Zapped and the streamlined gameplay of Monopoly Electronic Banking.
Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games – Rather than placing you in the role of hero, this role playing game allows you to take on a darker and more sinister persona, from reavers to cutpurses, heathen slayers, or even those creepy warlocks who guard secrets long since forgotten. Dungeon Crawl Classics promises fast, old-school style gameplay with modern rules which govern your use of sword and sorcery as you seek to claim the treasure that is so rightfully yours to take.
Pass the Popcorn by Mattel – How well do you know your movies? That is the question posed as you’re challenged to beat your friends to the punch as you race to guess the names of various films based on such clues as actors, characters, story snippets, or even memorable quotes. A 50-card booster pack adds numerous films from the ’80s and ’90s, and the first player to complete their category tiles is declared the Best Actor… er, winner.
Family Business by Mayfair Games – If you have under an hour you need to kill, this resource management card game will make sure your boredom sleeps with the fishes. Up to six mobsters compete to become the last family standing as you put out hits on other players and use a little bit of the ol’ “family influence” to save your own, all in the name of survival. After all, pushing up daisies isn’t good for business, capiche?
Descent: Journeys in The Dark Second Edition Board Game by Fantasy Flight Games – This revision of the popular dungeon-delving board game brings more of what you love with rules that have been streamlined, new heroes and monsters, class-based gameplay, and more. One player takes on the role of the evil overlord, while up to four others must stand together to overcome his/her treachery.
Words With Friends by Hasbro – First, there was the crossword board game Scrabble from Hasbro. Then came the online and mobile game Words With Friends by Zynga. Rather than fight, the two instead came together to produce the Words With Friends board game. Use your seven-letter tiles to form new words across the board vertically and horizontally until there are no more tiles left to determine a winner. The first person to run out gets to add the points of the tiles from the remaining players to their own score. For those familiar with Scrabble‘s board layout, Words With Friends features a different setup, providing some variety.
Age of Cthulhu: Death in Luxor by Goodman Games – The year is 1924, and your team of archaeologists has arrived in Egypt to investigate the legends of a great and evil terror which Ramesses III sacrificed his very empire to seal away beneath the sands of Luxor for all time. With death now roaming the city’s streets once again, it is up to you to succeed where even the mighty Pharaoh himself once failed in this globe-spanning adventure for horror role-playing game favorite Call of Cthulhu.
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition by Fantasy Flight Games – Based on the fantasy novels of George R. R. Martin and the hit HBO television series which it inspired, this game calls for three to six people to rise up from one of the six Great Houses to converge and form armies to march across the Westeros map as you attempt to forge new alliances with your opponents, all in the name of taking control of this ever-changing political struggle. All the while, detailed artwork ensures you’ll be able to enjoy the series’ most memorable elements as you strive to shift the balance of power in your favor.
Blokus by Mattel – A strategic board game which has won the Mensa award for promoting healthy brain activity, the goal of Blokus is to fit all of your Tetris-like game pieces onto the game board. Of course, it’s not as simple as setting your pieces down and calling it a day; certain rules must be adhered to, such as the requirement of a new piece touching a played piece of the same color, but only at the corners. Other players may attempt to thwart your progress by laying pieces that can block your moves, just as you can do to them, leading to a game which is easy to understand, yet pits your wits against those of your family and friends.
Cards Against Humanity – Self-described as “a party game for horrible people,” this smash-hit game for adults may bring out a surprising side of your friends and family. As you go around the group, each player draws a card from the deck featuring a question or a sentence with one or more words left blank. The remaining players must then choose from the cards in their hand a word they think provides the funniest answer, and you’ll be amazed by how abstract-yet-fitting or surprisingly on-target some of the answers can be. Just be sure to perform due diligence and research the game further before purchasing it, as it may not be right for everyone or every situation.