Gadgets as gifts: 7 things to know before buying

By Tom Musbach

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If you have an iPad, videogame console, Kindle, or smartphone on your holiday shopping list, you may find yourself with more questions than answers about making the right purchase.

To help with the many details that go into these buying decisions, Michael Hannigan, a consumer electronics specialist on JustAnswer, offered these tips:

Research is top priority. Online research is great, as you can easily compare models side-by-side (using part and/or model numbers) and take your time. Also, many local stores will usually price match -- except for "online only" deals.

Be wary of salespeople for advice. They are usually incented to push certain products. Look more for a "hobbyist" who is actually passionate about the technology -- this may be more common in a small specialty store.

Pay strict attention to shipping. Sometimes you can get gouged here (e.g., eBay or third-party sellers, as on Amazon). Consider taking advantage of Free Shipping Day on December 17! (Check for details.)

Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 deals. Since the next generation for both consoles is due in 2013, you are likely to find better deals (and more available titles) than the brand-new Wii U. Avoid buying videogame consoles that have been previously used; they are more likely to fail.

As tablets go, iPads are most reliable, but Android tablets are the next best contenders. Hannigan suggests avoiding the new Surface (Microsoft) until a later generation.

For an eReader, the best option is the new Kindle Paperwhite -- if you are only going to use the device for reading books. Its lighting and design helps make for a better reading experience. However, the Kindle Fire HD is a great idea for children because of the added features and content.

Know the basic iPad details. The current version is 4th generation, which is best to buy now. You'll also need to select storage options wisely (16gb, 32gb, or 64gb), because you cannot upgrade your unit to larger storage later.

For more tips and Hannigan's personal recommendations on the best gadgets, check out his recorded webinar (free registration is required) for an audience from JustAnswer. Or you can review his presentation slides at SlideShare.