5 Last-Minute Holiday Tech Tips You Need to Get Through This Season

As the proud owner of a house full of toys and electronics, I know a thing or two about how to keep the cruft to a minimum and the cool stuff in top shape. Here are a few tips before you finish your holiday shopping.

1. Do a quick web search before you buy. It's probably obvious, but visit Amazon before you pick something up in the store -- not for the price but for the reviews. Take the toilet/iPad stand above, for example. I can imagine a number of confused aunts and uncles delivering these to our domiciles thinking that they're a good idea. In fact, they're the worst toy of the year and if you read the Amazon reviews you'd discover why.


Writes one reviewer: "I bought this for myself because, let's face it, I'm a busy lady on the 'go' (pun intended!) and I don't always have time to properly do my business when there is so much internetting to be done. Fortunately, I was blessed with a pretty minuscule frame and some freakish flexibility, so I am able to mount this sucker like a barely-oversized toddler."

2. Get the Apple Care.  I learned this the hard way. I gave my iPad to my son and he shattered it, resulting in a potential $249 bill from the Apple store. I fixed it myself (something I cannot recommend), but if I had Apple Care I could have gotten it fixed for $49. To be clear, Apple allows for only two acts of accidental damage, so you'd best be ready to cough up a few hundred if you have a particularly klutzy family.
3. Buy your cables and batteries now. As in right now. Don't wait until the coffee is brewed and the presents are unwrapped to find out you don't have an HDMI cable or 15 AAA batteries. I've found Amazon to be the best source for cheap cables if you need them fast but I can also recommend Monoprice, a super cheap cable provider that sells long cables for pennies a foot.
4. You don't need a Smart TV. If you're shopping for a TV and find one that's slightly cheaper yet doesn't have as many bells and whistles as another, more expensive model, go for the dumb TV. Smart TVs are a marketing gimmick and, once you attach Wii Us, PS4s, and Xboxes to your system you'll never use the streaming features most smart TVs offer. Amazingly, my Panasonic TV actually ran ads along the bottom of the screen until I shut them off.
5. The best toys don't light up. Around our house we keep the screens off for most of the week, forcing our poor kids to play with Lego and Goldieblox and model trains. They love it. Some of the best times we've had have been around a board game or wooden model, and I know I'll cherish the moments when they're playing guitar or drawing funny pictures more than I will cherish them with their noses in an iPad. Technology is great, but not all the time.
What holiday tech tips would you add to the list?
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