Our Favorite Things: Last-Minute Gift Ideas (Day Three)

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The Techland crew presses on with our favorite gadgets and holiday gift ideas of 2011. On Tuesday, Graeme likened this feature series to a procession of reindeer, but as the group’s token Jewish guy, I’m considering it a set of candles in the Hanukkah menorah, of which my list is the third. The presence of eight favorite gift ideas on this list is totally coincidental.

I digress. Onward!

Samsung Galaxy S II ($200)

After two years of iPhone ownership, and months of waiting for the right Android phone to come along (I’m on AT&T), Samsung’s Galaxy S II is the smartphone I chose. Its 4.3-inch screen is gorgeous, and it’s really thin and light–albeit a bit plasticky. But best of all, the Galaxy S II is smoother than any other Android phone I’ve used, gliding at high frame rates through home screens, menus and third-party apps. And yes, I do kind of feel like the smug Samsung users in those “Next Big Thing” commercials when I show the phone off to iPhone-owning friends. It’s available on AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile for $200 on contract.

(MORE: Android Ice Cream Sandwich Explained)

Kinect for Xbox 360 ($150)

Thanks to a big software update a year after launch, Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 is finally the voice-activated remote control it was always meant to be. Spoken commands work throughout the Xbox software, and a new search feature allows users to find movies and music without ever touching a game controller. Even if you have no interest in games like Kinect Sports or Dance Central, Kinect might be worth it just for a taste of the future, in which clunky remotes are no longer necessary.

Minecraft ($27)

Minecraft became a phenomenon in 2010, but this year, it became a finished product. The full game adds a bit of structure through achievements and a final boss, but the main goal hasn’t changed: Coming into the world with nothing, players may craft clothes, weapons and armor; find and cook food; build homes, castles, monuments and vehicles; or just explore a beautiful, randomly generated world. It’s a great game for kids, or a way for adults to feel like kids again. You can buy Minecraft for $27, or give it as a gift.

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