Consumer Tips

Nine Products on Deep Discount in December

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December is a great month for deals on a range of products, from electronics to appliances. Because this month is all about gift-giving, we’ve listed nine items that almost anyone would be happy to receive.

Our analysts monitor prices year-round to predict when a product can be expected to have the lowest price. 

For a more comprehensive list of products on sale in December—and throughout the year—check our deep discount calendar.

Smartphones

When shopping for a new smartphone, you have to do more than decide which is the best hardware available. You also need to consider which operating system you want, which carrier to use and which type of data plan to sign up for.

According to a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of about 90,000 members, roughly 40 percent of respondents who had recently switched cell-phone carriers said they were enjoying more reliable coverage, faster data service, and better customer service. They saved money, too. However, only 6 percent of all respondents had switched cell-phone carriers—perhaps more should consider shopping around.

When choosing the best hardware, Consumer Reports has you covered. Our ratings and recommendations can help you to navigate the vast number of choices you’ll have when making your purchase. 

The two main operating system choices are Android and Apple iOS; each has its pros and cons. Our helpful buying guide will walk you through both operating systems and the hardware they run on so that you can make an informed choice.

Televisions

According to a recent study by the Consumer Technology Association, TVs will once again be the most-wanted tech gift this holiday.

From screen size and type to price and features, rapidly improving television technology presents more options than ever.

When making a TV purchase, there are three main choices to make (as well as a bunch of less important options to choose from). First and foremost is screen size. If you’re sitting about 6 feet away from your TV when viewing, you probably need something in the 45- to 65-inch range. If you’re 9 feet or more away, you’ll want to look for something larger.

You’ll also need to decide between a high-definition set and an Ultra High Definition one. These terms have to do with the crispness of the picture. Ultra HD—also known as 4K—is more crisp than HD because the screen has more pixels to compose the image. 

You may have also heard of a new term: high dynamic range. HDR boosts a TV’s brightness, contrast, and color, making the picture on the screen look more like real life. There are a few varieties of HDR, but you don’t need to concern yourself too much with picking the “right” one just yet. Our advice: Buy the best TV you can regardless of the type of HDR it supports.

Our ratings and reviews will help you make the best choice, and our buying guide will give you more information to help you find the best TV you can afford.

Digital Cameras

Shopping for digital cameras can be challenging. There are many types of cameras available, from point-and-shoot varieties to professional-grade models with interchangeable lenses, and they’re available in a wide range of prices, from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

To simplify your choice, the first step is to figure out what type of photographer you are (or hope to become). Will you be simply pointing and shooting, or do you plan to become more involved in your image-making by fiddling with exposure settings or using different lenses? 

The next step is understanding the various camera categories available.

Basic cameras, or simple point-and-shoot models, are used pretty much the way you take photos with a smartphone. Simply set the camera on full auto mode or a scene mode, and click away. Price range: $90 to $270.

Advanced point-and-shoot cameras have fixed lenses, but they also have manual controls and other advanced features. They’re also more expensive than simple point-and-shoots. Price range: $250 to $3,300.

SLRs are interchangeable-lens cameras, and each brand offers a large number of compatible lenses. With the most features, these cameras are also the biggest and heaviest. Price range: $400 to $3,300.

Mirrorless models accept interchangeable lenses, like SLRs do, but they’re smaller and lighter. Downside: They don’t have a through-the-lens viewfinder like SLRs. Price range: $440 to $4,000.

For more information on digital cameras, check out our buying guide. Once you know which type of camera you want, go to our ratings to select the best model for your needs.

Headphones

Headphones are a perennial gift-giving favorite and are on deep discount during December. In this year’s gift guide there are a number of selections that offer great sound quality at relatively low prices.

Choosing the right headphones can be tricky. Do you prefer in-ear, over-ear, or on-ear? Do you want added features, such as noise-canceling technology? What will the headphones be used for in addition to listening to music in an armchair? Are they for your workout, your commute, home listening, or work? Are corded models better than cordless? 

Before heading out to the store, check our headphone buying guide. It will help you identify the right models for your lifestyle.

For headphones, we recommend trying out different styles before buying because a good fit can affect sound quality, the effectiveness of the noise cancellation, and comfort. If you’re ordering online, find a retailer with a good exchange or return policy.

Wireless Speakers

Another gift option for audiophiles is wireless speakers.

First decide whether the speaker will be for in-home or outdoor use. There are numerous options, and some are better than others at withstanding water and sand if you take them to the beach.

Also decide which type of connectivity you want. Wireless speakers can be connected to Bluetooth or WiFi, or sometimes both.

Each type of connectivity comes with pros and cons. WiFi speakers tend to offer a longer range than Bluetooth. They’re also good if you have a few speakers you want to connect. But if you’re sharing your WiFi with many other devices—such as laptops, phones, and tablets—sound quality may be reduced. 

Bluetooth speakers lack the range of WiFi speakers but are simple to connect and compatible with a wide variety of devices.

Check our wireless speaker buying guide and ratings, and see our holiday gift guide for more tips.

Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers come with a variety of options and prices. Our buying guide will help you to find the best option for you or your loved ones at a price that you can afford. Some great models are available for less than $200.

Some trackers are simpler than others, but they all use sensors to monitor your movements and often connect wirelessly to your computer or mobile device to store data about your daily activities.

Advanced trackers are more sophisticated. They can monitor heart rate, steps taken, and sleep time, and may also include sensors such as GPS, gyroscopes, and barometers for tracking more active lifestyles.

Before you buy, make sure the tracker you choose fits your needs. If you’re starting a fitness routine, you probably don’t need anything too fancy. But if you’re training for a race or participating in active sports, you’ll want to make sure your gadget can keep up with you.

Smartwatches

The differences between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker are becoming more difficult to distinguish. Many of today’s smartwatches include features commonly found on fitness trackers, though their capabilities tend to go above and beyond them.

In general, a smartwatch is a wrist-worn device that can notify you—via a wireless connection to your phone—of incoming calls, texts, instant messages, and social network updates.

But today’s options can be much more than an extension of your telephone. Some models can perform many advanced tasks without being paired to a nearby phone. For example, wireless technologies, such as near field communication, also let you use your watch to make mobile payments at stores.

Depending on the product you choose, prices can range from around $300 to $1,500.

Our smartwatch buying guide will help you make an informed decision before you decide to plunk down a chunk of change on your new device.

Before you buy, make sure your smartwatch choice is compatible with your existing smartphone or any other devices that you plan to pair with it.  

Take note of the battery life. It can range from a day to a week or longer depending on how you use the watch, how much power it requires, and the sophistication of the watch technology.

Cordless Drills

A cordless drill is often the most important power tool you’ll buy. But before you purchase one, be sure you’re getting the right tool for whatever job is at hand: heavy-duty, general-use, or light-duty.

You won’t find drills labeled this way for sale, so make sure you look at the chuck size to determine where it lands on the scale. The chuck is the three-pronged clamp that secures bits at the business end of any drill. The bigger the chuck, the more powerful the drill.

Also make sure that you take note of the battery power. Most cordless drills these days run on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. They deliver more power and longer run times. Because batteries have such a direct impact on performance, their capabilities figure heavily into CR’s cordless-drill testing program.

Check our buying guide for recommendations. 

Cordless drills are sold in three configurations:

  • As a stand-alone tool with one or two batteries and a dedicated charger.
  • As part of a collection of cordless tools from a single brand, called a kit.
  • As a bare tool, with no battery or charger.

Make sure you select the option that’s right for you. If you want only a drill and don’t own any other power tools with compatible batteries, go for a stand-alone tool. The bare tool is the least expensive but the worst value.

Tablets

This is a good time to buy a tablet, and it’s not just because they are often on deep discount in December. Tablet performance has improved a lot in recent years, especially among lower-priced products.

You can get a great 7- to 8-inch tablet starting at less than $200. Even normally high-priced Apple is offering a less expensive model, the iPad Mini, for $250. Tablets with larger display sizes cost more, of course. But very good 10-inch tablets are out there for about $350.

If you want to read comfortably, watch movies, type out documents with a separate keyboard, and use standard productivity apps, you might want to consider a larger tablet with at least 12 hours of battery life. Be prepared to spend at least $400. 

Also, don’t forget who will be using the device. If you have young kids, make sure the product can withstand the knocks, drops, and goo that it will surely encounter. 

Our tablet buying guide will help you find the right tablet for your needs.

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