Funny how boys are so easy to buy for, yet so hard to please -- so many gadgets and toys, but there's just no accounting for taste, especially when it's something so discerning as that of a young nerd in training. Of course, you don't need us to recommend the ever-obvious DS or PSP, but read on for some other hot picks and off the beaten path gift ideas. Don't forget to leave some of your own in comments, such that other parents, and family members and friends can win the young master's favor.
$0 - $100
T.M.X. Elmo eXtra Special Edition - Pretty much every holiday season we think to ourselves, "Well, this is it, Elmo's last tickle." Somehow, though, Fisher-Price has managed to defy the odds and pull through with an even more extreme version of the already-extreme TMX Elmo, appropriately dubbed the "eXtra Special Edition." It's probably a must-have for children who've worn out their original Elmo, and a good starting point for tykes just getting into the wide world of ticklish furballs for the first time.
$40 - Shop for T.M.X. Elmo eXtra Special Edition
Wowwee FlyTech Dragonfly - Flying objects are always a surefire hit with the young'uns, and the Dragonfly is no exception. It conveniently charges off its own remote control, scares the heck out of older folks on account of its wildly flapping wings, and looks just a little evil thanks to a pair of eyes that light up. If that's not a perfect combinations, we don't know what is.
$40 - Shop for Wowwee FlyTech Dragonfly
SanDisk Sansa Shaker - Chew-toy or your boy's first MP3 player? Maybe both -- either way they don't get much eaiser to use than this motion-sensing 512MB player. (The pink version is also good if you've got a little lady, or are just progressive.)
$60 and up - Shop for SanDisk Sansa Shaker
Wii Zapper - Only those fams lucky enough to have a Wii need apply: while it may not be the original NES Zapper -- or even the Super Scope, for that matter -- you can't beat Nintendo's official gunning solution for the Wii. Besides the slick look and making creative use of the Wiimote and Nunchuk, it includes Link's Crossbow Training, and runs just 20 bucks. Get it for the minigame alone, man!
$20 - Shop for Wii Zapper
Noteworthy mention: Wowwee Roboquad and / or Roboboa
$101 - $250
Xbox 360 Racing Wheel - Now that the... ahem, issues are worked out, Microsoft's official Xbox 360 Racing Wheel makes a solid gift. A little more immersive than driving around with your thumb, plus, that faux sense of independence is always good for the spirit, you know?
$130 - Shop for Xbox 360 Racing Wheel
$180 - Buy from Chumby
GamePark GP2X F-200 - Chumby isn't the only hackable gadget on the block: the GP2X F-200 is a great alternative for kids who might think that the DS and PSP are passé. Ok, that's like five kids, but if you want to foster his inner uber-nerd then try it with a portable that's ready to emulate the SNES, NES, and Genesis.
$170 - Buy from Play-Asia
Line6 Pocket POD - A solid choice for young Eddies Van Halen in the making, the Pocket POD from Line6 simulates a wide variety of amps and throws in popular effects to make it your portable one-stop shop for gigging. Even better, it can be hooked up to your PC to modify the built-in presets and offers a line-in and a headphone jack (read: you don't have to listen to Junior rock out with this thing). Of course, you could also just go with Rock Band.
$130 - Shop for Line6 Pocket POD
$251 - $500
Cowon A3 - We'd love nothing more than to recommend Cowon's new Q5W to keep Junior all shut up and quiet in the back seat, but they're just nowhere to be found yet. Unfortunately, the same actually goes for the infamous A2's successor, the A3 -- but at least that device (which comes in 30 and 60GB sizes) looks like it'll be up for grabs in the next couple of days. So keep those holiday peepers peeled as this one hits retailers and e-tailers, something tells us this WVGA, codec-friendly monster will go quickly.
$350, if you can find it.
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT Graphics Card - If your kid already has a decent PC, you can give it a boost with this latest graphics card from NVIDIA, which hits just the right balance of price and performance. Depending on the model, you can likely find one for less than $250, but those looking for that little extra something would do well to spend a bit more for something overclockable.
$250-$400 - Shop for NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT
Xbox 360 Arcade - Serious gamers will probably be clamoring for a Premium or Elite edition (in fact, last year we listed the 360 Core as a gift for your enemy), but the recently released Xbox 360 Arcade is far harder to snub your nose at. Besides the newly added HDMI out and bundled games, the price price is hard to contest -- there's simply no excuse at this point not to give your kid a 360, especially if it's really for yourself.
$280 - Shop for Xbox 360 Arcade
YouTube cams - Maybe you aren't so keen on your kid lifecasting, but there's no doubt that YouTube is the choice of a new generation. If your boy's the kind of kid with an insatiable desire to put his ant-igniting antics online, cut out the middle man and help the fam get in on the action with a YouTube-ready camera, like Casio's Exilim EX-Z1080, V8, S880, Z77, or Sony's NSC-GC1. Just be careful not to start 'em too young, you don't want human newbs to grow up completely without a sense of privacy, do you?
$300 - Shop for Casio Exilim EX-V8
Noteworthy mention: Pleo (although we'll be officially recommending it in our for daughter guide)
$501 - $1000
AT&T USBConnect 881 (with 1 year unlimited data) - The card itself is a mere $50 after rebate, but throw in a year's worth of unlimited HSUPA service and you've got a gift that keeps giving year 'round, and is sure to make you a little envious. Just get ready to shell out again when the year's up, 'cause once he's gone HSUPA he'll likely never want to go back.
$882 - Buy from AT&T
Dell XPS M1530 - You'll have to ignore the upgrade options if you want to keep things under $1,000, but even the basic M1530 will give you a system that's good enough for plenty of multimedia tasks and even a little gaming. The fact that it also looks a good deal better than your average Dell doesn't hurt either, just don't waste too much time ordering one or you may have some explaining to do.
Starts at $999 - Buy from Dell
Canon HV20 HD Camcorder - Plenty of you already recommended this little powerhouse when we asked you to chime in on the best video camera for $1,000, and now that it's widely available for even less than a grand it's even easier to put out there. Just don't blame us when he comes looking for help financing his first film in a few years.
$800-$1,000 - Shop for Canon HV20
HotSeat Chassis Combat Flight Sim - If you're splurging, you're splurging, and if the son on your list wants to be a pilot, the HotSeat Flight Sim is about the closest thing to a real simulator you're going to get inside your house. You can configure this rig from the bare chassis all the way up to a fully-loaded rig with a 27-inch HD monitor and 2.2GHz Core 2 Quad PC, but they all come with 6-speaker Dolby Digital sound and an under-seat subwoofer. All the but the base model also include C&H flight controllers and a copy of Microsoft Flight Sim X, so you'll be immediately cleared for takeoff.
$1,449 to $4,674 - Shop for HotSeat Chassis Combat Flight Sim
Dream Arcades DreamCade pre-built MAME console - Sure, if you've got the time and the skills, you and Junior can bond over actually building one of these yourselves, but no one's going to complain if you let the folks at Dream Arcades handle it for you. All models include over 145 licensed classic games from the likes of Midway, Atari, NAMCO, and Capcom running on an Athlon-based PC that can be used to play modern PC game and custom controls, but beyond that, you've got your choice of a crazy amount of configurations -- anything from a four-player tabletop (pictured) to a classic standup console to the monster $3,999 Wii-compatible DreamVision 120 DLP projector rig. Whoever said you can't buy love?
$999 - $3999 - Buy from Dream Arcades
Voodoo Envy H:171 gaming laptop - All the other kids might feel awfully smug with their Vaios and MacBooks, but the smiles'll fade fast when Boy-o busts out this 17-inch, custom-painted, custom-inked lappy with a 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme processor, NVIDIA GeForce 7950 SLI graphics, and an internal RAID array. Sure, it may not be the most portable rig in the world and realistic battery life is probably in the one-hour range, but we're pretty certain you won't hear any complaints if this thing is under the tree. Of course, if you're liking the idea but looking for an alternative, check out Alienware, specifically their fresh new Area-51 M-series.
$5146 - $6672 - Buy from Voodoo
Did we miss something good? Let us know in comments what that little bugger really wants, maybe we'll find some place to work it in.