Every gift guide is the same. Each focuses on the great products you can buy to make Mom, Dad, Sis, or the boss happy. But when you get to the store, they always seem to be out of the best stuff.

So you’re forced to make compromises and do the best you can out of the dreck that’s left. Here are two handfuls of devices to avoid at any cost this holiday season, culled from the worst-scoring products we tested this year.



Digital Cameras: John C. Dvorak seems to think that a $99 Concord camera is just the ticket. Well, if it’s anything like the Concord 5062AF—don’t walk, run to another product instead. This camera claims to be five megapixels, and I’m sure that in some engineering fantasy land it pushes that many electrons. At about $200, it’s probably the cheapest 5MP camera you’ll see. But in this case, cheap doesn’t equal good. In our tests, its picture quality was barely equivalent to a 2MP camera, which can be found for much less than two Benjamins. It starts up slow and cycles slower, taking more than five seconds between shots. Whites were blown-out and images were overly green. If Kermit the Frog is on your list, then maybe. Otherwise, no. Our Digital Camera Product Guide has much better choices for every budget.



PDA: iPAQ used to stand for quality. Then HP bought Compaq, and you can’t bet on an iPAQ anymore. Witness the fundamentally flawed iPAQ rz1715. HP’s low-end PDA was designed to compete with low-cost products from Dell and Palm, but it lacks any of their redeeming qualities. The glacially slow processor and anemic memory make using it torture, but at least the pain is short lived—because the battery wears out hours before the ones on comparable units do. It’s a pity this iPAQ’s so bad, but don’t saddle yourself or your friends, with this boat anchor. There are better products available for less. Our PDA Product Guide has details.



Phone: Samsung has built a major brand around the twin concepts of style and quality. But as we found when we tested the Samsung D415, the first slider phone for Cingular, style without quality just doesn’t cut it. Sure, the phone looks cool. But svelte it is not. In fact, our reviewer called it a “big chunky slab,” which is not what I want to carry around in my pocket. It’s both big and difficult to manage. The four-way navigation pad seems to have been designed by orangutans without opposable thumbs. Finding a command in the menus takes longer than it took the Minnow’s crew to escape Gilligan’s Island, and selecting that option requires either two hands or a stutter-step of rapid finger movement. The audio’s bad, the speaker phone is muffled, and the processor is slow. Think again if you’re looking for a fashionable phone—and check out our Phone Product Guide for better choices.


Desktop PC: For Apple, the entry-level eMac really does represent Think Different. That’s because for a company that prides itself on quality, this computer is different. As in bad. On the plus side, it’s stylish. On the downside, it’s slow, underpowered, and pathetic. The 40GB hard drive will fill up quickly, the lack of a DVD burner makes offloading files impossible, and the Radeon 9200 graphics card won’t even run this fall’s hot Mac games. And at around $800, this eMac ain’t cheap. If you’re considering a home Apple, think different. Buy a Dell. Or be prepared to spend a lot more for an acceptable Apple computer. Our Desktop Product Guide can lead you to the best Apples, along with the best of the rest.



Notebook PC: Voodoo has made quite a name for itself in the enthusiast category, delivering super-fast tweaked-out boxes for gamers and power users who don’t want to build their own. We’ve favorably reviewed a number of their PCs, and found them fast, well built, and good-looking. Yes, the VoodooPC Envy m:380 looks good, but one out of three is not enough. At an outrageous price of over $4,000, this notebook should be spitting fire and hauling butt. Instead, it just sits there and delivers less-than-stellar performance for a gaming notebook. It barely even beat Sony’s lame VAIO A190. If you’re looking for a gaming notebook, we’ve got better options, for less, in our laptop product guide.



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