It’s Black Friday! Well, kind of. The closest we’ll get to beating up strangers for doorbuster savings this year is a multitude of online sales across every retailer imaginable. Isn’t that fun? America! The best part of it all is that chances are, you won’t end up with one of them fancy new game consoles! That’s right, while stores are scrambling to restock their inventory with PS5’s, Xbox Series X’s, and whatever those wicked expensive graphics cards are called, the obscene amount of scalpers and broken queue systems will most likely ruin your holiday, if we’re being honest. But that’s okay! I’m here to save your Black Friday/Cyber Monday/entire Christmas with a list of the best technology on the market that’s not a new console. There’s still a ton of cool gift ideas out there that most likely won’t be out of stock. So let’s dive in and see what Graydon Claus has in his sack, eh?

Credit: Apple

The New iPad

The first deal on our list is the brand spankin’ new iPad from our favorite corporate overlords, Apple. Available in Air, Pro, Mini, or just plain old iPad, these latest models are guaranteed to deliver the best iPad experience yet in a fairly affordable package. Notice how I didn’t say “the best tablet experience,” because I haven’t tried any of the other tablets on the market and I don’t want to seem ignorant. Though I will admit I’m a bit biased, seeing as I personally want one of these new iPads. I mean, just look at them! So many colors, an A12 Bionic Chip, an 8 megapixel camera, and all the sleek new features available with iOS 14. I’m currently using a 2-year-old iPhone with iOS 14 and it works pretty well, I can’t imagine what a brand new device could do! My third generation iPad looks like a brick compared to this beautiful new design, and take it from me, it runs like a brick, as well. To top it all off, these babies start at just $329, which is a steal compared to some other tablets out there. Of course, if you want to get fancy with it, you could find yourself spending up to $600 for the cheapest iPad Air, but that’s entirely up to you. I’m just the ideas man, I’m not gonna plan your whole Christmas for you.

Credit: TechHive

Roku (Any Kind)

If you’ve yet to step into the future of television, allow me to introduce you to the Roku. Available in multiple versions ranging from a simple stick that plugs into your television, to a little box that runs the show all by himself, the Roku is one of the best ways to indulge in the best of streaming services. Use my family as an example. Between our Roku (and our Apple TV as an added boost), we get access to HBO Max, Disney+, Netflix, HULU, and Amazon Prime Video. Of course, most of these services require their own individual subscription fees to really reap their finest benefits, but the Roku is a great place to start on this journey. They’re super affordable, too, with the Roku Express only costing $30. Devices that offer 4K streaming will run a bit more costly, but if you’ve got the television for it, this is the best way to watch today’s best shows and movies. As for streaming services themselves, I highly suggest HBO Max to start with. From DC Universe shows like Harley Quinn and Doom Patrol to a recent favorite of mine, The Sopranos, there is so much on offer from this service alone. Unfortunately, HBO Max doesn’t have a dedicated app on Roku as of yet, but with similar casting devices you can watch HBO shows, or even purchase subscriptions through other subscriptions. What a world we live in! Do your family a favor and give the gift of a streaming stick this holiday season. Wow, I sound like a commercial already.

Credit: TechRadar

Disney+

While HBO Max may be a great place to start, Disney+ is one of the most original streaming services to arrive to date. Maybe it’s the Disney bias in me – okay, it’s entirely that – but Disney+ has been delivering some of the best content out there since its launch back in November of 2019. Not only does it compile so many Disney films in one place that it’s nearly impossible to notice what’s missing, it also provides viewers with some terrific original content. Notable releases include the short Pixar film Out, which follows a gay man struggling to come out to his parents; Forky Asks a Question, a series of shorts in which the Toy Story 4 character Forky… asks questions; and Once Upon a Snowman, a short film based on the hit movie Frozen, in which viewers learn how Olaf the snowman came to find Anna and Kristoff. Disney+ has also been used to release new movies in lieu of typical theater openings, such as Onward and Mulan. But the biggest hit Disney+ has is The Mandalorian, which you’ve no doubt heard about. This Star Wars-oriented series from Jon Favreau follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter as he journeys across the galaxy to deliver an adorable package back where he belongs. Disney+ is worth it for The Mandalorian alone, but I highly encourage you check out all the nostalgia on offer with this streaming service, available for the low price of $7 a month.

Credit: Xbox Wire

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

You had to know this one was coming, right? There is truly no better deal on the market than Game Pass Ultimate. It genuinely should be a crime how cheap and rewarding this service is. Bear with me here: access to hundreds of games – including every first-party Microsoft title – across Xbox One, PC, and Series X/S consoles. Not only this, but EA Play is also included, with a backlog of some of the best games from Electronic Arts. Better still is the inclusion of Project xCloud, the streaming service from Microsoft that allows you to play console-quality games on your mobile device (just not an Apple device yet). Oh, and you get Xbox Live Gold for free! Perhaps the best part, though, is that all of this runs for just $15 a month, with a majority of retailers currently selling 3-month codes for less than $30. Like… what? Are you serious? How is this legal? It just continues to blow my mind how Xbox makes money off of this whole situation, but I’m not complaining. Game Pass Ultimate is the gift that keeps on giving to anyone with, well, an Xbox, PC, or Android phone! That’s a whole lot of people! Though, if you’re looking into playing on a phone, you might want to look into one of those controller mounts, as well. Playing a game on a tiny screen with a controller can get a bit… tedious.

PS VR/Oculus Quest 2

While 2020 may have sucked in nearly every possible way, there’s no denying it’s pretty awesome we live in a world with virtual relity. I mean really successful virtual reality with games based on licensed properties that look graphically beautiful and truly deliver that feeling of escapism we longed for decades ago. I was going to make this whole gift idea be about the PlayStation VR, considering the PS5 has just released and it’s going to make PSVR games look a lot better. On top of this, retailers usually have good sales on PSVR bundles around this time, so be on the lookout. But do be aware, a new PSVR model may be coming down the pipepline soon for the next-gen console, and while I don’t think this will render the current one obsolete, it may offer a much higher-quality experience that will be worth waiting for. In the meantime, though, I could point you in the direction of a newer virtual reality headset that I can claim – with firsthand experience – delivers one of the best VR presentations on the market. The newly-released Oculus Quest 2 is but a few months old, and it offers a display so game-changing, I sold my original model less than a year after buying it just to get a taste. Let me tell you, it was worth it. The Oculus Quest 2 is gorgeous, vibrant, and an absolute dream come true. Just know… unlike a PSVR, you need a Facebook account to use it. You have been warned.

Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo LABO

This summer I went on a family vacation as I typically do each year, and like most years before, I brought a single project to work on all week. 2020 introduced my family – even my grandparents – to the Nintendo LABO, albeit a few years late. The cardboard-centric add-on to the Nintendo Switch console had me working day and night to create some of the most elaborate cardboard structures you’ve ever seen. From retractable fishing rods to makeshift pianos to steering wheel/gas pedal combos, I frantically worked my way through three whole LABO kits in the course of six days, and it was worth every second to see my family’s faces light up. I’ve given Nintendo a lot of flack in my day for some of their marketing decisions and gimmicks, but believe me when I say that LABO genuinely blew me away from start to finish. I wanted to write a whole piece on how much fun I had with these cardboard creations, but ultimately I found it more helpful to just spill my laud here, so you can share the fun with your family this holiday. While the work may feel at times overbearing and slightly monotonous, the payoff is outstanding, with enough minigames and features to leave the family stunned. When I watched my grandpa laugh out loud, thoroughly delighted by catching a virtual fish with a yardstick-sized contraption made of cardboard and string… I knew LABO was something special. That’s a gift in itself, and I will never forget those moments.

Credit: Best Buy

Blue Yeti Microphone

Here’s a wacky idea: have you ever wanted to host your own podcast? Perhaps you and your buddies have got a little website going and you want to expand your horizons amongst this vast expanse we call “the internet.” Well look no further, because all you need these days to get a podcast going is a Discord channel and a microphone! “But Graydon,” you may ask, “What kind of microphone should I use?” Well, hypothetical reader, I was recently in your very shoes. But then I took a chance on the Blue Yeti, and I must say it made my life so much easier! For the low, low price of about a hundred dollars or so, you too can own one of the crispest, user-friendly budget microphones on the market. Using this mic is truly a breeze, and with a third-party mic stand I purchased separately, I’m able to record our wonderful Week in News podcast each week with no hassle. Seriously, though, I never had much luck with microphones, growing up. I tried to record a YouTube show with my friends back in high school, and our microphone was quite sad, considering how expensive it supposedly was (we borrowed it from my uncle). But now that I finally have a job and a real reason to have a good microphone, I treated myself to this baby and she never disappoints! I can’t recommend the Blue Yeti enough.

Credit: Playbill

The SpongeBob Musical on DVD

This one may sound weird, but please stay with me here, okay? Back in 2018, the SpongeBob SquarePants musical arrived to Broadway with limited fanfare. It was a terrific show – with an original soundtrack composed by contemporary artists such as Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Panic! at the Disco, and David Bowie – in which the kid-friendly inhabitants of Bikini Bottom were faced with the impending crisis of… the end of the world. The plot was deep, though-provoking, humorous, and downright fun, and it was an absolute shame when The Palace Theatre’s sudden closure for renovations caused the musical to close less than a year into its run. A national tour would follow, bringing some minor changes to the lyrics and set, but this too would be ultimately cut short thanks to a global pandemic. So what do we have now? What can we do to keep Broadway alive while it remains dark in New York? Well thankfully, a full recorded version of the musical was produced for Nickelodeon earlier this year! Utilizing the tour version of the show and most of the original Broadway cast, The SpongeBob Musical is now available on DVD for anyone who wishes to view it. Which you all should, to keep that Broadway spirit alive! Also, go watch Jingle Jangle. I hear that’s a damn fine musical, as well, which is just what the world needs in these trying times.

Television!

Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t do a whole lot of research for this list, okay? I kind of compiled this based on the big things I’ve seen on sale recently. So here I am, grasping for something else to add. Well… have you watched any TV lately? I mean, there are some great shows out there for your viewing pleasure, should you be interested. There’s also no better time than now to binge watch shows, so why not? You can always find deals this time of year on things like the entire Game of Thrones collection, or maybe Breaking Bad? I personally just bought the whole Twin Peaks series, complete with the Showtime exclusive season and the film, Fire Walk With Me. I’ve also purchased the boxed set of The Office as a gift for my sister this year, and my own Christmas list to my mom included the Mr. Robot complete series. What? She asked me for a list! Anyway, if you’ve been skimping out on television for a while, there’s a whole new world out there to explore. Times have really changed since the whole world watched Friends together. Now we’re all out here watching The Umbrella Academy and Tiger King and Ratched. Hell, some of us just discovered The Sopranos for the first time! I’d hate to be that guy, though, he sure missed the boat. Oh wait, I am that guy…

Best Games of 2020

I feel that amidst all the new console news and the overall cacophony that is 2020, many games got lost in the kerfuffle. Let’s be real, this has been an awesome year for video games. I won’t go crazy and mention all of the great indies that have graced our presence, though I would love to point you in that direction if you’re scouring the holiday Steam sales and what-have-you. No, I feel I should instead let you all know of the blockbuster games that will no doubt be gracing the pages of “Black Friday Savings!” ads. Oh wait, they already are. Games like Mafia: Definitive Edition and Watch Dogs Legion are on sale for less than $30 at most retailers. These games are both fantastic, so get on that. Same goes for games like Star Wars: Squadrons and Crash Bandicoot 4, which seem so new that these prices feel criminal. I’m not sure what all the sales have to offer, but I’d highly suggest games like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which can be played on both current- and next-gen consoles (upgrade fees may apply for some titles). Another new favorite of mine is Fuser, the latest game by Harmonix, and of course Cyberpunk 2077 will be available for purchasing by the end of this holiday season. Alas, I’d be remiss if I left out Assassin’s Creed Valhalla which, though I haven’t personally tried it yet, I’ve heard it is an excellent addition to my beloved franchise.


So I say to you now, dear readers and gamers alike, go out and partake in the Black Friday savings! Above all, though, be safe, and wear your damn mask.

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