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The five things you always forget to buy for the holidays [Gift Guide 2012]

When we think tech. holiday shopping, we usually think of the big-ticket items—TVs, tablets, and smartphones—but come the big day itself the holiday may not be that festive it if we don't get the small-ticket items they need to work as well.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
What not to forget before this holiday's technology season. Image courtesy of ThinkGeek.

T'was the night before Christmas, when all through the house; not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. … except for you desperately searching for that all-important part you must  have to make little Joey's gadget work properly.

Every year it's the same old story. You remember to get the big-ticket item for your loved ones, say an iPad for Matthew or a Blu-Ray DVD player for Mary, but you forget those little things they need to work properly. So, for this holiday season let's make sure we stock up with those tiny essentials before the day arrives.

I've talked with my friends and here's our list of tech odds and ends you're most likely to need to make this holiday season a jolly one.


They may not be that high-tech, but when presents get unwrapped if there's one thing you can be sure of it's that there will be some toy or remote that requires batteries... that you don't have. As my friend and colleague Rick Cook said, "And don't plan on picking up any batteries on Christmas Day. A lot of quick marts and other stores that are open will sell out of batteries by noon or so."

He's right. They do. Been there, shopped that, came home disappointed.

While you're at it, make sure you get the right batteries. If all you have in the house is AA batteries and the new gadget needs two AAA you're just as hosed as if you had no batteries at all. And, if you think there's any chance you're going to need a specialized battery, get it Now.

HDMI Cables

Whether you're gifting a new HDTV, a Roku, or an Apple TV, you must, must, make sure you buy an HDMI cable to go with it. You don't have to spend money on it though. Get the cheapest HDMI cable possible and you'll be good. There is no reason to ever spend more than ten-bucks on a short-run HDMI cable

That's because, with the technology behind HDMI, Transition Minimized Differential Signaling (TMDS), either the entire signal gets through, and you get perfect video, or the cable is bad and your video comes out as garbage. There are exceptional cases where that's not true, but for all practical purposes, never waste money on a pricey HDMI cable.

Tablet/Smartphone Cases

You just gave grandma an iPad. Yes! She just dropped it on the kitchen floor and it's in pieces. No!

We love our tablets and smartphones, but let's face facts, they can break with one bad drop. Every tablet and smartphone I own has its a protective cover.

Sure, I know people can be very picky about their device's covers, but if you're giving someone a present, and you've reason to believe they may be clumsy, go ahead and buy them a basic cover and put it on for them.

Screen-Cleaning Cloths

We don't tend to think of these very often, but as another writer buddy of mine, Lynn Greiner wisely observed, "Anything with touch gets disgusting fast." She's right. So, if you want to throw in a stocking stuffer with your tablet, smartphone, or camera, a screen-cleaning cloth is a nice addition.

Memory Cards

Did you know that not all digital cameras come with at least a small memory card? I didn't... until I bought one the other day as a present and, wow, sure enough, it didn't have one. If I hadn't double-checked I would soon have one really puzzled mother-in-law.

Of course, if you're going to include a memory card with someone's device, you must make absolutely sure it's the right kind of card. The best way to do this is to look at the packaging and see what the vendor recommends. Of you've already wrapped the present, check out the vendor's Web site or Best Buy's, in partnership with CNet, handy little site, Memory Finder.

Finally, if you're a teche like me, you really need to buy the "No, I won't fix your computer." t-shirt from ThinkGeek. OK, so you know you're going to end up fixing PC and setting up hardware anyway over the holidays, but at least you can make this much of a protest.

Happy holidays!

With a tip of the hat to Esther Schindler and Sharon Fisher for their help with this tale.

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