Going tech sHOPPING for the holidays? Read this first!

It’s here! Leapfrog Labs’ top picks for home computers, smart phones and more.

Desktop computer: For the most stable computing, choose Dell or HP  — any model, preferably one with a 64-bit operating system (see “What’s the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit and why should I care?” in this issue of FrogTalk). And whatever you do, don’t forget the extended warranty! It’s a smart investment, and so is any accidental damage coverage that’s offered. Sure, it’s no fun to think about your computer breaking but guess what? It happens.

Netbook: First ask yourself, are you sure you don’t want an iPad? Or other slate-type device? If you’re truly in the market for a netbook, follow the same advice as with the desktop computer with an even heavier emphasis on the accidental damage warranty. The small size makes it very convenient — and very easy to drop.

All-in-one printer: HP Officejet. This is a reliable line, and since it’s EnergyStar qualified and uses individual, high-capacity ink cartridges, it’s cost-effective, too. While you’re at it, buy some replacement ink and extra paper so you don’t run out mid-hop.

Smartphone: We’re big Android fans here at Leapfrog. We especially like the EVO 4G (by HTC) on Sprint or the Droid 2 (by Motorola) on Verizon. We recommend you also buy the TouchDown app (about $20) to help with Exchange email. Shopping for a BlackBerry? The Torch is best but AT&T is the only current U.S. carrier. AT&T is also the only carrier for the iPhone 4, which gets a big thumbs up, too. On the other hand, avoid Samsung Android (the Galaxy line) and BlackBerry Storm.

External hard drive:  Fortunately, all of the leading external hard drives are good. The key is to get one that has at least as many GBs as your computer’s hard drive and, if you’re going to carry it around, an option for encryption in case you lose it. Set up regular backups using Windows Backup and Restore or the software included with the drive. And to back up files automatically over the Internet, sHOPPING is easy with online services like Mozy (up to 2GB backup is free) and Carbonite.

If you’re a Leapfrog client, here’s an extra bonus: feel free to give us a call for specific advice. We’re happy to hop you through the specs so you can choose the perfect, gift.