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The Ultimate Holiday Wish List

It’s not always easy finding the right gift for family and friends during the holiday season. Too often we lose touch with the holiday spirit as we fight crowds in search of the “perfect” present. You’re left wondering, will my husband really wear this sweater? Does my daughter really wear pink? Does my nephew really want another board game? Sometimes it’s better to invest in something you know they really could use — and enjoy.

According to a study released by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), consumer electronics are some of the most requested gifts this season and are expected to account for nearly one-third of all gift spending this year. In fact, three out of four holiday gift-givers plan on buying an electronic product this year.

Consumer electronics, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, games and readers are said to top the ultimate holiday wish list for 2012.

Apple’s iPhone 5 Leads Company to Top Sales Spot

Apple’s launch of the iPhone 5 in September has allowed the company to remain the leader in U.S. smartphone sales. At nearly 50 percent, Apple corners the market.

The Apple iPhone 5 is the first of its kind with a larger, 4-inch retina display. Not only has it become thinner with a longer body, it is powered by an innovative A6 chip that is twice as powerful as the iPhone 4S. It is also the first to use 4G LTE that is not limited to American frequencies, working with LTE networks across the globe. Prices for the latest version vary from $199 to more than $1,000, depending on your contracted plan.

This week, Apple began selling an unlocked version of the iPhone 5, which allows customers to avoid the standard two-year contract. The 16GB unlocked iPhone 5 is available for $649, the 32GB costs $749, and the 64GB version is $849 on Apple’s website. It has not been announced when unlocked versions will be available in Apple stores, but phones are available to ship in one week, with a limit of two per customer.

The Apple website notes that while you may not be tied to a carrier for two years, the unlocked iPhone 5 currently only works with GSM networks in the United States, which includes AT&T and T-Mobile, but not Verizon or Sprint.

iPad Mini Promises to Impress

In an effort to corner the holiday market, Apple also launched the new iPad Mini in October. The fifth generation of the iPad line, the product is smaller and lighter than its predecessors and can fit in your palm. For $329, the Apple iPad Mini features a 7.9-inch vibrant screen and includes a powerful A5 chip, FaceTime and iSight cameras as well as thousands of available apps. While the iPad Mini is 23 percent thinner and 53 percent lighter, weighing in at 1.44 pounds, it can do everything the original iPad can do.

The iPad Mini features the thinnest battery made by Apple, a single-cell battery that lasts as long without requiring as much space. In spite of its size, the iSight camera takes 5‑megapixel photos and shoots full 1080p HD video.

Apple forecasts around $52 billion in iPad Mini sales, which is 12 percent higher than the holiday quarter in 2011.

MacBook Pro’s 13-inch Retina Display is a Stunner

They say once you see the new screen, you’ll never want to go back to a standard laptop. Mac lovers will be thrilled with the latest MacBook Pro laptop model, the new, super-sharp 2,560 x 1,600 resolution, 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro. Introduced in October by Apple, the new MacBook closely follows the much-celebrated 15-inch retina display version introduced last summer. Both laptop models feature the world’s highest-resolution notebook display.

The 13-inch model has a resolution boost more than four times over earlier 13-inch laptop models. In fact, there are more pixels in this slim laptop than an HD television. Model improvements also include a 29 percent higher contrast ratio, 300 nits (a small unit of brightness) and 75 percent reduced reflection.

The laptop starts up quickly, in a mere 15 seconds, and resumes from the sleep mode almost instantly. While the drive is fast, however, the 128GB of space is limited.

One of the most exciting features for people on the go is that the powerful laptop is only 0.75 inches thick and weighs in at just 3.5 pounds.

In order to attain thinner and lighter dimensions, the Ethernet, FireWire and an optical drive have been eliminated from the new 13-inch model. The laptop features a MagSafe port, Thunderbolt port, USB 3 connectivity, a headphone jack and dual mics. A $29.99 Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter can be purchased for emergency use.

Ivy Bridge chips and the lack of a dedicated graphics card allow the laptop to run up to 7 hours of wireless web and 30 days on standby.

Apple’s 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro retails for $1,699 with a 2.5 gigahertz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of RAM, 128 gigabytes of flash storage, and Intel HD 4000 graphics. The higher-end model features double the capacity, with identical RAM and CPU for $1,999.

Wii U Hits the Market

New to the electronics market from Nintendo, the makers of the Mario Brothers, is the handheld Wii U Gamepad, which features a 6.2-inch touchscreen. Bordered by thumb sticks, a camera, gyroscope, accelerometer, the latest console allows the user to take it anywhere, eliminating the need for a television screen. Weighing in at 1.1 pounds, it is convenient for gamers of any age.

The basic Wii U, which was introduced in November, includes the GamePad and 8GB of storage and is available for $299.99. For $349.99, the “Deluxe” edition includes the GamePad, 32GB of storage, a copy of Nintendo Land and accessories for the console and controller. One of the most positive aspects of this electronic beyond its portability, gamers say, is that it can be used in conjunction with the traditional Wii which allows an additional player can participate.

Amazon’s Kindle Family Expands

In September, Amazon unveiled its latest in reader technology: the Kindle Fire HD and the Kindle Paperwhite.

The Kindle Fire HD features a 7-inch and 8.9-inch display model, with 1,920 x 1,200 resolution and 254 pixels-per-inch. The product has dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus speakers and two antennas for better connection, a camera and Wi-Fi connectivity. It also has Bluetooth connectivity and an HDMI port. With 25 percent less glare than the Kindle Fire, the HD version promises to be easier on the eyes.

The Kindle Fire HD also has new gaming tools, including an app that allows parents to limit the amount of time kids spend playing games.

The 16 gigabyte, 7-inch Kindle Fire HD retails on for $199, while the 8.9-inch model costs $299.  A 32 gigabyte, 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE connectivity is also available. This tablet includes a $50-per-year plan that provides 250 megabytes of data per month. The top Kindle Fire HD model is available for $499.

Amazon also introduced an innovative feature called Whispersync with Voice, which allows readers to sync audiobooks with e-books.

The Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, slightly thinner than the Kindle Touch, features 62 percent more pixels. It has a touchscreen that is lit with a fiber-optic lighting system, making it easier on the eyes even when reading in daylight.  You can keep track of how long it takes you to read a chapter or a book using the innovative new tool called Time to Read.

The Wi-Fi-only version Kindle Paperwhite is available for $119, and the 3G version costs $179.

The original style Kindle without the touchscreen will still be available during the holidays, with its price dropping to $69 for the ad-supported version.

Max Fay has been writing about personal finance for for the past five years. His expertise is in student loans, credit cards and mortgages. Max inherited a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. He was published in every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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