Christmas gift guide 2011

We've trawled our test results to bring you a range of great gift ideas.
 
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01 .Introduction

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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've suggested a range of gift ideas that cater to every budget. Products have been broken down into price categories:

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Under $100

17-Sunbeam-KE7500SKettles

Tea-drinkers will appreciate a kettle that's easy to use, and stylish. In our latest review, we tested 19 kettles and discovered that some of the best performers were well below the $100 mark. A good kettle should be energy efficient and shouldn't make too much noise - when consumers contact us about kettles, noise is one of their main complaints. Even though most kettles boil in just a few minutes, the noise can still be a nuisance, especially in an open plan kitchen/living room. Take a look at the Kettles review for more information. 

06-Logitech-C510Webcams

A webcam could be a great gift for someone who wants to stay in touch with friends and family living far away - after all the Christmas is all about reconnecting with your loved ones. We tested a range of high definition webcams for performance and ease of use, and discovered that some of the cheaper options on the market, beat their expensive counterparts. For more information, take a look at our HD webcams review.

Panasonic-KX-TG512Cordless phones

Another way to encourage your loved ones to keep in touch in the New Year is by giving them a good phone. You can buy a quality cordless landline phone without an answering machine for less than $100. All of the high-scorers in our latest tests had good range (handy when you’re chatting and need to walk around the house), a long battery lives, and a second handset. For more information, take a look at our Cordless phones without answering machine review.

Sandwich presses

02-breville-BSG520For those who aren't satisfied with a standard sandwich, and would prefer a delicious café style lunch, then a sandwich press is the answer. Unlike traditional sandwich makers, which sealed the edges of the sandwich and cut them half, the latest models are much more versatile. Many have bonus features that allow you to lock and adjust the height of the top plate allowing you to grill open snacks or toast thicker pieces of bread. For more information, take a look at our Sandwich presses review.

 
 

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Men's Shavers

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One of the top picks in CHOICE's user trial of shavers was priced below $200 - well below its more expensive counterparts. The best shavers are easy to use, and score highly for performance, evenness, and comfort. Many models also come battery level indicator, cleanng attachments. Take a look at the Men's shavers review for more information.

Juicers

Why fork out $6 for a fresh juice at a cafe when you can make your own? Juicing your own fruit and vegetables concoctions is infinitely more cost-effective and satisfying - just make a lot at one go. Look for a model which has dishwasher-safe parts, and comes with comprehensive instructions. For more information, have a look at our Juicers review.

Car GPS

14-Uniden-iGO43A dedicated GPS for your car is a great Christmas present for those who do a lot of road-travel, and like to know exactly where they're going. While GPS-capable smartphones such as the iPhone are making some inroads in the GPS market, it seems most drivers still prefer the full functionality of a dedicated car GPS unit. Features such as  lane guidance , announcement of  school zones  and  text to speech   are standard in most models. Some even come with preloaded maps of Australia. Have a look at our latest Car GPS review for more information.

USB TV Tuners

usbtvtunerThese thumb-size devices can effectively turn your laptop or PC into a TV and digital video recorder (DVR), almost anywhere you go. They're meant to deliver crystal clear digital TV picture and sound, more stations – both standard and high-definition – and advanced recording functions such as time shifting. CHOICE took 12 of the latest models out across Sydney and the greater west for a road test to see how well they work in real-world conditions, both with a normal household antenna and with a portable antenna, where provided. For more information, take a look at the CHOICE review of USB TV Tuners.

Slow cookers

Breville BSC560If someone you know is short on time, a slow cooker could be the answer to their problems. Cooking a meal is as easy as preparing the ingredients in the morning, adding the required liquid, setting the temperature and forgetting about it. At the end of the day dinner is ready. The appliance cooks the meal at a relatively low temperature while you're busy elsewhere. It’s also designed to cook safely while unattended. We tested 15 slow cookers for cooking performance and ease of use. Take a look at the Slow cookers review for more information.

Tents

WTBOutdoorConnWeekenderA family outing using a tent can be a wonderful event. The surrounds, the expected great weather and the prospect of some family time are aspects most look forward to. A good tent can make or break this experience, so CHOICE tested 14 tents to find out which ones could withstand bad weather, and which were the easiest to use and assemble. Most of the top-scorers are spacious, and are quick to set-up and pull down. They also remained dry inside after wet weather. Take a look at the CHOICE Tents review for more information.

Sunbeam EM5600Home espresso coffee machines

You don't need to spend $1000 on a good quality espresso machine for your house. One of the top scorers on test was less than $350. In fact, three of the four models priced above $1000 are at the bottom of our results table. The best machines can froth milk well, and are easy to use. They should also have a cup warming feature, programmable coffee delivery, and a large-capacity water tank that's easy to fill. For more information, take a look at our Home espresso coffee machine review.

Ryobi Cordless RLM36Mulcher lawnmowers

In Australia, the festive season is usually spent outdoors - so keeping the lawn looking its best if often a top priority. Using a mulching lawnmower can reduce your lawn's need for water and fertiliser, providing not only an environmental advantage but a cost saving one as well. They produce more of a compost than a mulch, chopping grass finely and forcing the clippings back down between the blades of grass and back into the lawn. The best mowers on test were easy to manouevre, maintain and clean. For more information, have a look at our Mulcher lawmowers review.

Laptops

Dell_hardwareReview_LeadIf you're feeling extra generous this Christmas, a laptop is a gift that most people would be happy with. The latest family all-rounder laptops have a lot going for them. They have enough screen size, processing power and storage space to cope with everything from web browsing to movie making, and they’re easy enough to take with you almost anywhere without compromising on power or features. We tested 12 models for performance, ease of use, battery life and energy efficiency. Take a look at the CHOICE All-rounder laptops review for more information.

$nameBenchtop mixers

A benchtop mixer is a great present for someone who loves to bake. This handy appliance makes baking cakes, cookies, bread and pizza bases a breeze. Though they can be expensive to purchase, the long-term savings can outweigh the initial cost. The high-scorers in our test came with bowls and attachments that were dishwasher-safe, and performed a range of tasks (e.g kneading dough, whisking egg whites, mixing cake etc.) extremely well. For more information, take a look at our Benchtop mixers review.

Barbecues

$nameBarbecues let you take advantage of the longer days and balmy evenings during the summer months. Choosing carefully is the key to a good barbecuing experience and getting maximum value for your money, so CHOICE tested 16 barbecues to find out which ones have the best cooking performance and are the easiest to use. For more information, take a look at our Barbecues review.

Digital SLRs

Olympus-E-5-14-54-topDSLRs may be much larger than their compact counterparts but once you've enjoyed their benefits, it's hard to settle for anything less. There are several makes to choose from, with camera and lens kits for well under $1000. You might also want to read our article on digital SLR zoom lenses. See also our brand reliability survey 2010 to see how our members rate the reliability of the key brands over time. Take a look at our DSLRs review for more information.

ONLINE_Lead_GiftCard_NEW

If you’re stuck for a gift idea or time simply runs out, a gift card is an easy solution. However, over the years, these cards and vouchers have been the subject of numerous complaints to CHOICE. The retailers are onto a winner here – they get the cash straight away, but know a substantial percentage won’t be redeemed. Members told us about some issues they encountered.

  • Retailers set a time limit on the validity of cards, such as six months to two years.
  • Gift cards often will not be honoured for transactions less than a specified amount.
  • Risks for the consumer – if a card is lost or stolen, it can be used by someone else (just like cash).
  • Restrictions about which shops will accept the card, particularly shopping centre cards.
  • In some cases, retailers won’t provide change.
  • Vouchers not honoured after a business changes hands and no record of the sale remains – or so the retailer claims. 
  • Cards or vouchers not honoured by companies that go out of business, and no refund provided.
  • Fees, including for card activation, replacement and phone support.

The last word on gift vouchers goes to CHOICE member Graham Brown. “The only gift voucher I will accept is one issued by the Australian government,” Graham says. “These gift vouchers have so many benefits – no fees, no restrictions on where or when you can use them, and you can even use part of them and get change. The vouchers come in many useful denominations and combinations: $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. The best feature is that they can be used anywhere in any way. Now when I am given an Australian government gift voucher, it goes with my own collection of vouchers in my wallet and can be quite useful at any time I choose.”

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