Christmas buying guide

We've trawled the site to bring you our best buys across a range of popular products.
 
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01 .Introduction

gadgets_lead

Don't be caught out this festive season buying second-rate products or simply paying too much because you didn't shop around. In this round-up, we bring you a selection of our recommended buys across a range of products. 

Happy shopping!

 
 

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Mobile phones

Smartphones  HTCDesire

HTC Desire ($500)  Touted as the ïPhone killer", the Desire sports a capacitive touch screen similar to the iPhone's but uses the latest Android 2.1 operating system. It delivers a good web browsing experience with easy email setup and is one of the best performers for call sound quality. The recommended retail price is about $779 but if you use our Price and Buy function, you can lock one in for just $500, which makes it a very good buy. One thing to remember when buying the phone (applies to all phones) is to ask them whether it supports Next G (850MHz) or Optus Yes G (900MHz) network. There is a different model code depending on the choice you make and this difference is not readily apparent at the shop. See our video to learn more about the difference between the HTC Desire and iPhone 4. Read the full report on Next G mobile phones.

Basic phones Nokia 3720

Nokia 3720 Classic ($269)  This is a good basic phone option and readily available between $140 and $170. The 3720 GSM only phone (works on the national GSM network which means it is not ideal for web surfing or downloads) has an IP54 rating, meaning it’s designed to be shock-, dust- and water-resistant, with panels to keep out water and dust. An LED flashlight, together with a long talk and standby time, makes it a good choice for tradesmen or as a first phone for kids. It also has the lowest SAR (specific absorption rate, a measure of radiation energy absorbed into the body) figure of the phones on test. Read the full report on basic mobile phones.

Compact digital cameras

 Nikon_Coolpix_L110Both the Nikon Coolpix L110 ($399) and S8000 ($499) are recommended as our best buys, so deciding on which one depends on what you want to use it for.  

Nikon_Coolpix-_S8000

The Nikon Coolpix L110 (the red one) This SLR-styled camera has a long zoom (15x) and is good for taking in landscapes. The Coolpix S8000 has a shorter zoom (10x zoom) is about 185grams – slim and fits easily in your pocket – is good for sports photography. The good news is you don’t have to break the bank to buy any of the two. Click on our Price and Buy function at our compact digital cameras compare and review page where you’ll find the L110 offered for sale at $218 and the S8000 at $230. So, if you've set aside a budget of $500, you can buy both! Read the full report on compact digital cameras.

 

Car GPS

 Go Cruise GPS4300-A ($129) Go-cruise-gps-4300We've added 15 GPS units to our latest test and the cheapest of our Best Buys is this one from Aldi. The Go Cruise  offers what you need at only $129 from Aldi supermarkets.

The navigational device comes pre-loaded with maps of Australia and New Zealand and scored full marks for locating points of interests such as airports, hospital and shopping centres. It scored well for navigating in the city and regional areas, as well as verbal instructions. Read the full report on GPS.

eBook readers

Sony-PRS600-copy Sony PRS-65-/rc Touch Edition ($299)While the rest of the world clamours for the Apple iPad, electronic brands such as Sony wasted no time in developing their own and selling their ebook readers at a fraction of the cost of an iPad. Sony's e-tablet has an interactive touchscreen that is easy to navigate using either your finger or the stylus. You can also write and save notes in it. It was the clear favourite in our test for outdoor lighting and indoor lighting. Its bedroom lighting performance is only OK, but for $59 you can purchase a protective cover (which we recommend for all eBook readers) that incorporates a light with adjustable brightness. 

01-amazonKindal-D00901

Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi ($189)  This Kindle ranked well for indoor and outdoor lighting, and for $60 you can purchase a cover with integrated light to use in dim conditions. However, the interface can be confusing if you haven’t had any previous experience with Kindles. No software is required, so transferring content is simple; however, EPUBs are still not supported on the device, without the use of conversion software. Once Wi-Fi is turned on, users can browse and purchase dedicated content for the Kindle from the Amazon store (but not all content on Amazon is available for Australian users). Read the full report on ebook readers and also our video review of the original Kindle.
 

Games consoles

 WII_BIG For all-round family fun the Wii games console is hard to beat. Nintendo's little white box brought casual video gaming to the lounge room with a simple wave-and-point motion controller that can be used by anybody within minutes. The PlayStation and Xbox 360 now have motion control too, but as yet lack the Wii's maturity in this market, not to mention a massive back catalogue of family-friendly games.

 

See our full report on games consoles.

 

Noise cancelling headphones

Bose-Quietcomfort-15

Bose QuietComfort 15 ($499)   Audiophiles may be hard pressed to choose between the Sennheiser (German) and Bose (American), but we’ve decided the Bose QuietComfort 15 reigns supreme for both performance and price. Unfortunately – we’ve checked several local sites – we could not find them cheaper than $500. It’s selling at US$300 per pair in the US. With the Aussie dollar on par with $US, you will save money if you know someone who's travelling there and will be back by Christmas. No point buying online as sites such as Amazon charge at least US$70 for shipping. Read the full report on noise cancelling headphones.

 

Pocket camcorders

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Flip Ultra HD ($240) This pocket camcorder delivers top results on visual and audio quality – where a camcorder should – without breaking the bank. Flip Ultra HD’s maximum recording time is 135 hours, double the Sanyo’s ($499) 69 hours, and costs only $240. The Flip Ultra HD is not the smallest model we tested, but will still slip into most pockets and is ready for action in just 2.5 seconds. A ‘play’ and ‘delete’ button on either side of a large red recording button is basically all you need to operate the camera. It has a stereo microphone and the ability to store more than two hours of video on 8GB of internal storage with a HDMI connection - the easiest way to display the video and audio on a modern flat-panel TV. See our review of pocket camcorders.

 

 

Portable media players

Apple Touch

Apple iPod Touch ($378)  Two years ago, the Apple iPod Touch ranked fifth even though its video and sound score was on par or better than the Sony Walkmans tested. This year, we removed the battery score as we've found there are now only marginal differences between battery claims and actual performance. The result: the Apple iPod Touch took first place in this year's test for video and audio quality, as well as ease of use. The model tested has a storage capacity of 32GB and cost $549 two years ago. You can now buy a 32GB model for about $380.

 

 

 

Sony NWZS744


Sony Walkman NWZ-S744 ($299)  The Sony Walkman has very good video quality and is easy to use, but does not feature external speakers. Its compatible third-party music and video library software is the Windows Media Player, so sound and content transfer is easy. Read the full report on portable media players.

Espresso machine

Sunbeam Cafe Espresso Stainless EM3800 ($199) $nameThis was the best buy among 19 manual and semi-automatic machines tested. It's one of the most inexpensive machines we tested, is easy to use and delivered on taste. Though it scored lower than the EM5600, we decided the EM3800 was the better buy. It's cheaper and simpler - a great Christmas gift for someone who's just starting out to make their own espresso at home - and it did not seem to have as many durability issues as the EM5600. Read the full report on espresso machines.


 

Breadmakers

breadmaker Sunbeam Bakehouse BM3500S ($159) Two good reasons to make your own bread: it's a healthier option at half the price. If you're thinking of buying a breadmaker as a gift for someone who hasn't used it before, we found that the Sunbeam bakehouse BM3500S is very good for making multigrain bread from scratch and delivers a good result when using a pre-mix. It'easy to use and includes extra settings for wholemeal rapid, jam, dough for pasta, damper and cake. Read the full report on breadmakers.

 

 









Juicers

 juicer




Why fork out $6 for a cup at Boost juice when you can make your own? Okay, scrubbing the pulp off the press can be quite a chore, but juicing your own fruit and vegetables concoctions is infinitely more cost-effective and satisfying - just make a lot at one go.

There are centrifugal juicers - which are popular and affordable - and non-centrifugal ones. Centrifugal juicers use a rotating blade to cut fruit and vegetables, which is then pushed against a strainer at very high speeds, while non-centrifugal juicers can be either a masticating (chewing) or cold-press style.  

Centrifugal juicer:$name

Breville BJE200 Juice Fountain ($170) Generally, the biggest downside to juicers is that they can be hard to clean because they are too large to fit into a domestic sink. But the problem is easily solved if you buy a juicer that allows key parts such as the blade/sieve and pulp container to be removed. We recommend the Breville BJE200 Juice Fountain because it's simple (one-speed only), is cheap and does the job well. The good news is we found a place where you cangrab one for just $99. Read the full report on centrifugal jucers.

 

Non-centrifugal juicer:$name

Healthstart Compact Multipurpose Juicer and Mincer ($299)This was the most inexpensive non-centrifugal juicer we tested and picked up the highest performance score (quality of juice makes up 50% of performance). We evaluated each juicer's abilities across a range of textures and consistencies by looking for juice that was smooth rather than pulpy, grainy or frothy. Most manufacturers of non-centrifugal juicers claim that juice made by the cold-press-style machines is more nutritious and will stay fresh and tasty for up to 48 hours. We tested that too. The Healthstart passed the test. Read the full report on non-centrifugal juicers.

 

Food processors

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Breville iKon Kitchen Wizz BFP650 ($340) For price and performance, the Breville's ikon Kitchen Wizz shone in our test. Its blades are excellent for slicing carrots, celery and kneading shortcrust pastry. The machine is also very stable when in use - a useful and important factor if you don't want food bits all over your kitchen counter. The processor also comes with a storage box for the disc blades, a lid for the processing bowl and a double-ended cleaning brush. It also has a double feed chute and reversible blades. You can grab the Kitchen Wizz at $260 online. Read the full report on food processors.

 

 

Pizza ovens

Though we recommend a pizza stone as an inexpensive option for the aspiring pizza-makers, there's something to be said about having just the device for the job. Several CHOICE members have commented on how much they love these ovens. They heat up to a high temperature in just five minutes (a pizza stone in a conventional oven would take much longer). Also, it's a nifty device for a quick home-mpeter-evans-pizzaade pizza instead of getting one delivered. One CHOICE member also said it's great for having a pizza party where your guests can build their own pizzas with select ingredients. We reviewed three that members raved about. Read the full report on pizza ovens.
the-pizza-maker-
Breville Pete Evans Pizza Maker BPZ500PE ($140) (right) The pizza bakes on a ceramic stone base with even heating from above and below and bakes a thin-crust pizza in 10 minutes. You can make pizzas up to 12-inches. The device is also versatile - turkish bread, scones, focaccia, naan and pastries anyone?
just-pizza
The Pizza Maker LD-901EF ($159) (left) The Pizza Maker takes only five minutes to bake a fresh thin-crust pizza but browning darker on one side.

Red Just Pizza Maker/Oven LD-902 ($130) (right) The Red Just Pizza Maker/Oven is slightly harder to clean because the pizza stone is fixed to the unit.

christmas_LEAD

Stocking up for the Christmas season can put a big strain on the family budget, so use our reviews to buy wisely. Here are some recent round-ups worth scanning through:

 

Chocolate

chocolateWe've just put organic and Fairtrade choclates to the taste test and have some clear winners. 

Dark Chocolate

Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa ($3.99/100g)  Green & Black's first began in London in 1991 when Craig Sams, founder of Whole Earth – the pioneering organic food company, was sent a sample of dark 70% chocolate made from organic cocoa beans. Soon after, they launched the world's first organic chocolate. It's often on special at supermarkets, so stock up if you spy a good deal.

Alter Eco Dark Chocolate Velvet Touch of Organic Milk ($3.20/100g) This chocolate tied with the Green & Black's for top spot. Though it's called dark chocolate, its high cocoa butter content and hint of milk suggest a taste more like milk chocolate. Milk chocolate lovers are likely to like this as it's sweeter and softer than a regular dark choc.

organic

Milk chocolate

Just Organic (Aldi) Fairtrade Organic Milk Chocolate ($1.99/100g) BestBuy_35_new3 This milk chocolate was the top scorer for taste compared with the other more expensive milk chocolates. It also covers all organic and Fairtrade certification bases. Our experts' verdict: it’s excellent quality for $1.99 and is the best value-for-money chocolate among those tested.

Read the full report on Fairtrade and organic chocolate. You might also want to look at our 2008 dark chocolates taste test for more options. 

 

Nuts

nuts

Lucky Smart Snax Omega-3 Four Nut Mix ($4.99/250g) You can eat it on its own or chop them into bits as part of your Christmas turkey stuffing. Nuts are great party snacks so if you're thinking of putting together a Christmas hamper, a good pack of nuts tops the order. We recommend Lucky Smart Snax'x Omerga 3 Four Nut Mix because it contains the type of nuts - almond, walnuts and brazil nuts - that's packed with omega-3 ALA (alpha linolenic acid), among a slew of nutrients including vitamin E, magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium (an antiocxident) and potassium. 

Read the full report on mixed nuts

 

 

Olive oil

Coles Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($5.89/500ml). BestBuy_35_new3 Australian, Greek, Italian or Spanish? While it's true that certain foods are better imported, this is not the case for extracoles virgin olive oil. Freshness is essential to the quality of extra virgin olive oils, so local oils have the edge over imported as they’re able to reach you in a shorter time. It's no surprise then that nine of the top 10 brands in our extra virgin olive oil taste test are Australian.

Coles' offering has proven food-snobs wrong: private labels can be as good). Its simple aroma, light fruit flavour and good transfer of nose to palate won our experts over. Verdict: Good and cheap. A must-have. Read the full report on extra virgin olive oil.

 

 

Wines

Our experts taste-tested 90 wines, including shiraz, cabernet merlot and sauvignon, as well as merlots. You'll often find the wines below at less than RRP, and buying by the dozen provides a further discount. Your best bet is to keep an eye on specials in your area. Read the full report on wines.

Semillon sauvignon blancpenfolds_koonunga_hillwine_goungry_unwoodedwine_secret_stone

Penfolds Koonunga Hill 2009 ($11) The Koonunga Hill semillon sauvignon blanc scored top in our taste test, beating wines almost three times the price. The 2010 has recently appeared in bottleshops so be sure it's the 2009 you reach for when you're stocking up. 

Sauvignon blanc

Secret Stone 2009 ($20) Stacked against medal-winners and crowd-pleasers from Marlborough, New Zealand, such as the Oyster Bay and Montana, the Secret Stone 2009 is unpretentious in delivering the core of a good sauvignon blanc: complex aromas reminiscent of cut-grass and fruit, a fruity, refreshing palate and crisp but long finish.

 

Chardonnay

Goundrey Homestead Unwooded 2009 ($17) The Goundrey, from Mount Barker in Western Australia, performed outstandingly in a class that included wines around the $50 mark. 

Barbecues

05-EVERDURE-neo-buddy Everdure Buddy Patio NBUDLPC-09 ($299) One of the best things about a summer Christmas are the beer-and-barbie parties. The only downside is the setting up and clean up afterwards. The Everdure scored very well for roasting a chicken, cooking sausages, marinated chicken wing and steaks. It has a small cooking area - well-suited for balcony and the occasional picnic - but is the most fuel efficient BBQ of the 15 we recently tested. Its non-stick cooking surface is a big plus - you'll have none of those burnt meat bits, less of the BBQ smoke in your face and cleaning is a breeze. WIth a slanted hotplate and griddle plate that drains away the oil, it's a BBQ without the mess and unnecessary fat.

10-webber-Q300

 

Weber Family Q300 ($799)  If you're considering something a bit more robust (but more than double the price) the Weber Family Q300 delivers on value. Although it has a slightly smaller cooking area than the other large BBQs, it’s excellent evenness means the whole cooking surface is effective. Of the larger barbecues, it has the smallest carbon footprint and no barbecue smoke is directed into your face while cooking. It's excellent for roasting a chicken, grilling chicken wings, sausages and steaks. Though it's a larger-sized barbecue, its side tables fold away when not needed and it's easy to manoevre around. See our full report on barbecues and read about barbecue safety.

Coolers

Coleman 47L Wheeled Cooler Coleman 47L Wheeled Cooler ($120) Most people assume coolers are leak-proof; at the very least, the hard ones. We discovered it's not true, so you should make sure this is a key feature to consider when buying a cooler. The Coleman is leak-proof and has a drain hole that saves you the effort of having to tip melted ice to clean the cooler. It also has pull handles and wheels - similar to those on your hard travel suitcase - which makes it easy to drag around. Of the 11 soft and hard eskies we tested, the Coleman is one of the coolest; it clocked up the most time (29 minutes) for the temperature to rise from five to eight degrees. Read the full report on coolers.

 

Goggles

XmasG_Goglles

Torpedo Omega ($7/only at Kmart) While the herd's going with the big brands, we discovered this stand-out cheapie (pictured right), which set the gold standard for watertightness in our goggles user trial. The other surprise find is the Tyr Stealth 2 ($13),  which has silicone eyecups and straps and scored second-highest for watertightness.

Read the full report on goggles.

 

Bike lights

Ride On, the Bicycle Victoria magazine, tested 18 front lights, 12 rear lights and five combination sets to find the best and brightest. $name

Basta Polaris 5 BA3C (front lights, $40) The front light features five super bright white Japanese LED bulbs with flashing and steady modes, with over 800 metres visibility and chalks up to 120 hours of run time. It's water-resistant and easy to mount for handlebars between 25.4mm and 31.8mm.

 

 

Cateye TL-LD610-R (rear lights, $60) The new TL-LD610 is slimmer and brighter than its predecessor, with five LEDs and three modes that maximise yourbike_back_light visibility. The FlexTight bracket fits all bikes and mounts horizontally or vertically to maximise adaptability.

 

 

Cateye EL135 / LD130R (combination set, $75) $nameThe combination sets include a front and rear light. The lights from the combination sets were assessed individually, and their scores added together to see which were best. Overall the combination sets performed well and generally offer good value for money compared with buying front and rear lights separately. We found a similar combination set at just $44 at an online store.

 

Bike lock

Kryptonite-Evolution4

Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 ($100) This D-lock scored full marks for the tough steel it's made of - 14mm hardened steel shackle and a double deadbolt mechanism that resists cutting. Experts from Bicycle Victoria tested five D-locks (including the Kryptonite) and five armoured cable locks to see how theft-resistant they were. They used a jemmy bar, hammer, hacksaw, 24-inch bolt cutters and an angle grinder to try and break each lock and found that D-locks are better than armoured cable locks.

See our full report on bike accessories.


 

Kids' bikes

 09-magna-summer-blast

Magna Summer Blast 16” ($119) This bike is as good as its name suggests - it passed all our safety tests and has paddings on its handlebars. The bike makes an impression with its bright pink frame, which is also very solid. The quick release catch on the seat pillar allows for easy adjustment of the seat. Most children's bikes come in 16in or 20in (the measurement referes to the diameter of the bike's wheels). The 16in comes with traning wheels. Find out how you can determine a right fit here

Magna Stranded 20” ($129) 10-magna-stranded-20The boy version of the Summer Blast also passed all our safety tests and comes with a pouch on its handlebar and kickstand included. It also comes with a front pouch that's useful for storing a water bottle. Read the full report on kids' bikes.




Mineral foundations

Nude by Nature Natural Mineral Cover ($39.95/15g)   nudeFor a mineral foundation without a long list of ingredients and preservatives, Nude by Nature stands out. Its coverage score and ease of application, among other things, ranked among the best in our user trial, up against Elizabeth Arden, MAC, and Revlon. It retails in most Target stores at $39.95 for a 15g jar and $14.95 for its brush. Jump to Nude by Nature website - you might be able to score a free trial if you're thinking of buying this for yourself. Read the full report on mineral foundations.


 

Men's moisturisers

Nivea for Men Cooling Gel ($7.99 for 75ml)  $nameTrialists who used this product in our 2008 user trial rated it above the more pricey Biotherm and Clinique. Our male trialists said it had a thin texture and that their skin felt smooth or soft after three days of use. The X-factor the Nivea has is its high absorption rate, as reported by our male trialists. It was the second-cheapest product on trial. It's widely available at supermarkets and pharmacies, so it's one cheap, fast and good gift you can grab last minute. Read the full report on men's moisturisers.

 

 

Men's shavers

Philips Coolskin HS8020 ($200)  $nameThe Coolskin was rated highest for rotary shavers overall and scored well for ease of use. Our trialists reported looking ‘clean-shaven’ after using this shaver on one-day growth.  It's perfect for frequent flyers as it's very light compared to the other rotary shavers on trial. However, it had no trimmer and requires eight hours to charge for 30 minutes of use. The upside: its price has dropped since we conducted this user trial in 2008. You can now get it at $129
 

 

 

Body fat scales

 visage_4527Visage Body Analyzing 4527 ($20) The scales measures water, bone and muscle compositions. This is definitely one of the best Christmas gifts you can give or receive after all that festive feasting. It's only $20 with a practical black (sleek looking as well) slate. It has the same overall score as the more pricey Soehnle Body Balance Shape ($170) but is ahead with what's important: price, body fat and weight accuracy. The catch: you can only find it at Aldi. Read the full report on body fat scales.

 

  

Hair dryers

Wahl Supa Dry ($80) Don't diss this dryer for its pink look (you can get it in purple too). Among the14 hair dryers we trialled in a user test, the Wahl wowed the trialists with its easy to read and use functions. It ranked third in the user test but is our best buy because it has all the functions you need (ionic, ceramic, volumiser) to primp  your tresses for a big night out. Read the full report on hair dryers.

    

 

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