As a gamer, there’s no better gift I enjoy receiving than games, whether digital or analog. This year, the coolest gadgets I saw at PAX, E3, and all the other tech conferences were open-sourced portable gaming solutions based on the Android OS.
Although the iPhone is widely hailed as an early smartphone innovator, Android has grown leaps and bounds, largely thanks to Google’s open market and the customizable nature of the OS. Video games were largely grouped into either console or PC groups, but mobile gaming is rising in popularity, and this holiday season is the perfect time to
Looking to compete with Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s Vita, Nvidia released the $199.99 Shield on July 31, 2013 to an initially great response. Much like Sony and Nintendo’s portables, however, the market quickly waned, and even the PC gaming hardware giant was forced to try a redesign, prompting anticipation for the holidays.
The original Shield resembles an Xbox controller with a detachable 5-inch Android tablet display running Android KitKat 4.4.2 OS. The newly released Shield 2 features a larger 8-inch tablet screen and is one of the first stable devices prepared for Lollipop 5.0, making the extra $100 a worthy consideration for a holiday gift.
While the price tag may seem steep, the open market, removable micro-USB storage, and customization options inherent to Android devices gives these handhelds much more utility than the above-mentioned portable consoles. In fact, Android emulators are available to play both Vita and 3DS games on the Shield.
Not only do these devices run Android games smoothly, it’s also easy to program the buttons on most emulators and it’s capable of streaming Steam games from your desktop. Once you see how capable an Android device is of running Arkham Origins, you’ll curse every freemium gem purchase offer you ever see again.
2. Sony Ericsson Xperia Play R800i ($160)
Although late to the console party, these days Sony seems more interested in video game innovation than even Nintendo, releasing a slew of cool gaming gadgets this winter.
Announcing two Xperia devices capable of streaming PS4 content through a Bluetooth connection to a controller is what many credit with taking the wind out of the Nvidia Shield’s sails. It’s the hardware design of the Xperia Play R800i that still reigns supreme, though. You can also purchase an unlocked device without a service plan to save money on your holiday gift list.
One of the last slider phones left on the market, the R800i features a sleek game controller beneath the screen in place of a keyboard. This makes the device the best phone/gaming hybrid on the market and a perfect gift for the pirate or hacker on your list.
The downside is the nearly four-year-old phone isn’t capable of running the newer Android OS’s, so emulator gaming is one of the best options for Sony’s legendary Android gaming phone. As South Park brilliantly pointed out this season, however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering the current problems with freemium gaming.
3. Sony Xperia Z3 ($630)
Available exclusively through T-Mobile, an unlocked version of Sony’s Xperia Z3 can be purchased through Amazon for a hefty price tag. The console price for a mobile device may turn off gift-givers who like to think big, but there’s a lot of power in this small package.
PlayStation fanatics will immediately flock to this waterproof Android phone with a 20.7 megapixel camera and the ability to pair with a Dual Shock controller via Bluetooth to stream PS4 and Sony movie content over Wi-Fi through the PS4 Remote Play service. The app will eventually be available on other devices, but you know how proprietary Sony likes to be with everything. They’ll even sell you a clip to attach the phone to the controller.
Glitch-free emulators often run at least a generation behind gaming consoles, and the Xperia Z3 Android device shows Sony is taking more steps than Nintendo and Microsoft to overtake homebrewed emulators with cloud-based subscription services. This dynamic is especially interesting to watch considering Microsoft is leading antipiracy charge with cloud-based subscription pricing models on its Office suite and even a free Windows OS to compete directly with Android.
If someone on your holiday gift list is a die-hard PlayStation fan or Sony fanboy, the Xperia Z3 is the hottest gadget to roll out of Sony’s manufacturing plant this year.
4. Mad Catz M.O.J.O. Micro-Console ($200)
Although it’s not the first Android device to connect to your TV, the doorbuster price of this dedicated video game console is its biggest lure for selfish shoppers lined up to start Black Friday Wal-Mart fights for cheap goods.
Mad Catz has been undercutting console accessories for years. They brought this expertise and quality to their dedicated Android-based video game system. Running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS and packing a 1.8GHz Nvidia Tegra processor, the M.O.J.O is capable of displaying 1080p images via HDMI or Wi-Fi.
Hardcore gamers love the freedom to play video games on the primary living room TV screen, and Android made it happen much quicker than any desktop PC solution, although you’ll still find you can push a bit more power out of a laptop.
M.O.J.O. is a sign of things to come, as the Internet of Things proliferates our society and video games become even further accessible from our devices. If you can’t decide what to get for that early adopter tech geek on your holiday gift list, Mad Catz M.O.J.O. is sure to satisfy.
5. Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player ($33)
Gamers not looking to dedicate an entire console to their TV have another holiday gift option. Google is currently in beta testing to allow Android screen mirroring through its Chromecast device. As of this writing, only select devices are compatible with the service, including various Nexus, Galaxy, HTC, and LG models.
Using screen mirroring enables these devices to be used as a controller while you’re viewing the game on your HDTV. Hook up an Android game controller like the Nyko PlayPad, and Chromecast suddenly becomes a true gaming console worthy of a hardcore gamer.
If you’re shopping among Roku, Apple TV, and other streaming television services for someone special in your life, check what type of phone and tablet they have. If they’re using Android devices, they’ll certainly appreciate the smart-home entertainment system integration Google provides through Chromecast and its Google TV platform over other streaming options.
6. Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro ($540)
For touchscreen purists, external buttons are too clunky. All that matters is having a high-powered device that runs fast, lasts long, and has a brilliant display. If you have someone like this in your life, there’s no better tablet to game on than the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2. It’s the perfect gift for anyone looking for a tablet, easily outshining the Kindle Fire.
More powerful than your average laptop, the Galaxy Tab is the benchmark by which all other tablets and mobile devices are measured. HTC and Apple have contenders, and it’s only a matter of time before Sony and Microsoft find a way to jump into the fray. Until then, nothing beats a Samsung tablet as a mobile gaming powerhouse.
7. Google Glass (Closed to Public)
With all the media attention, it feels like Oculus Rift and Google Glass have been out forever. The closed beta of Google’s Glass slowly trickled the eyewear with a UI that triggered the wearables market. Last year, I was lucky enough to receive an invite to purchase Project Glass for $1500, which I wasn’t lucky enough to have burning a hole in my pocket.
Google recently announced they’re no longer accepting applications to purchase the Android-powered Glass, and they’re again delaying the release of the device to the public market. This creates a Tickle-Me-Elmo-like supply-and-demand issue this holiday season and could make Glass one of the hottest black-market gift items of the 2014 holiday season.
There aren’t likely to be as many innovative games on Glass as we originally hoped (at least not in the immediate future), but there will still be plenty of gaming entertainment. Glass is capable of voice and facial recognition, GPS location (perfect for geocaching), and comes standard with a HUD that puts many FPS designs to shame. The possibilities are endless.
If you’re lucky enough to have a new-in-box Google Glass in hand, I’d highly recommend keeping an eye on EBay, Craigslist, and Amazon to see if there’s a profit to be made. Even the Grinch is a beloved holiday character, so who’s gonna judge you for being a wolf of Lollipop Lane.
8. Motorola Moto 360 ($300)
Wearable smartwatches are nothing new. Even Dick Tracy had one in the old movie based on the even older comics. Google is going much further than Apple toward imbedding these watches with enough power to be smart devices in their own right with the Android Wear platform.
Apple does everything proprietary (just like Sony), so if you want an iOS watch, your options are limited. Google, on the other hand, worked hand-in-hand with a diverse set of tech and fashion companies to integrate technology into fashionable items that won’t have us all dressed like it’s 1984.
This holiday season, the hottest smartwatch is the Android Wear-powered Moto 360 by Motorola. Not only is the watch itself beautiful (although personally I prefer the stone leather band to standard black), it integrates with your Android device to track vitals, stream music, and display notifications.
Although there aren’t any games that take full advantage of integrated wearables, it’s only a matter of time. Giving this gift to someone on your holiday list enables them to be prepared for the upcoming age of wearable video game tech. It’s multiple devices for the price of any one function indivually.
9. ASUS CUBE v2 ($80)
Your standard Chromecast device is pretty much just a Wi-Fi box that enables your TV to be used as a monitor for any compatible device. The ASUS (pronounced us-SOOS…bet you’ve been saying ACE-is this whole time) CUBE is more than that – it’s also a functional computer.
Version 2 of the CUBE sees a more compact device with faster speeds, due to the 4GB of installed RAM. In addition, this gift comes with 50 GB of cloud storage space, allowing the ability to keep all your ROMs on a centralized server, accessible anywhere from any Android device.
10. Favi DLP Pico Smart Projector ($500)
Some people just can’t seem to get a big enough TV screen. Companies release an 80-inch HDTV, and they want 100. For the A/V snob on your holiday shopping list, you’ll need something that really impresses.
The Favi DLP Pico Smart Projector is a portable Android-powered projector capable of projecting a screen size up to 120-inches with a battery life of 2-hours. This doesn’t mean you have to run it on batteries – just that you can if you want to, which is something you can’t say about most projectors.
Built in Wi-Fi, a dual core 1.3 GHz CPU chip, and Android 4.2.2 make this one of the most powerful Android display devices on the market. Imagine being able to play Candy Crush (I’m kidding, and if you actually do this, I’ll hunt you down), stream Netflix, or take a video call on a 10-ft wide screen. Now imagine the look on a loved one’s face when they realize you gave them that ability for Christmas.