Windows 8, iPad Minis, & Nintendo, Oh My: What to Buy This Holiday Season

I took last Friday off to watch my son and hit the local Best Buy since we had some time to kill before picking up my daughter from school.

With the latest Windows 8 release I was hoping to check out a couple of the new touch screen devices. I don’t recall the exact models, but I looked at an Acer RT tablet, Lenovo Ultrabook/Tablet Convertible, and a Dell All-In-One desktop. I have to say after using Windows 8 on my Lenovo x220 for a month, I’m really missing not having a touch screen interface. After playing around with each of the devices, I found the Windows 8 UI to be fluid and responsive irrespective of device. Windows 8 gestures all worked as advertised. Application launched and closed in several seconds. I launched Excel on the Acer RT tablet and sure enough it dropped me to the desktop interface, where I saw the common matrix of empty cells. I even typed in a few numbers and ran the simple SUM function. The on-screen keyboard worked well enough for this task. Office on the desktop ruins the RT experience, they will probably eventually port it or a subset of it to a Windows 8 app, but the fact that it can run on an RT tablet should satisfy business users who depend on Office. Overall, I’m impressed with the few pieces of Windows 8 hardware I used.

I was also hoping to see the newer iPad Mini and thinner iMac for comparison, but neither were on display yet (even though I’m pretty sure they had some hiding in the back…). Never fear, I’d get my chance on Saturday.

My son and I moved on to the Nintendo console, the Wii U and took a crack at playing the demo of the new Rayman title. The graphics were fine, but trying to play using the new controller was a disaster. My 4-year-old son couldn’t hold the thing. When I was using it, I couldn’t decide if I should be looking at the controller screen or the TV screen. I have no idea what Nintendo was thinking. The controller is larger than a game gear and doesn’t bring any value to the game play. Nintendo products have traditionally been marketed to kids, but my son can’t even hold the new remote. Who is their target market with this new system? Why would I even consider buying this thing for my kids?

On Saturday I finally had my chance to check out Apple’s lineup. We made a pit stop at the local Apple store to replace a busted screen on my daughter’s earlier generation iPod Touch. Apple has a nice, convenient program where they will replace the out-of-warranty broken unit for $100 with the same model refurbished (though the Apple employee wouldn’t say refurb – he said “new parts”), which is about the same cost as having the screen replaced by one of those pop-up kiosks in the mall and probably safer. The replacement program is a smart move on Apple’s part to keep the customer from trying something different, which they may otherwise do when forced to spend $250 for a new iPod Touch. We checked out the iPad Mini and thinner iMac while we waited for our appointment. Well, the iPad Mini felt like a smaller iPad and the iMac was thinner. I wasn’t blow away by either. My kids really took to the larger iPad, conveniently located at a small table right in front of the Genius Bar, while I had the iPod swapped out. While they took to it quite nicely, I couldn’t swallow the price of an iPad for a kids plaything with the cheaper priced Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle lineup.

Anyone else try out other new gadgets lately?

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