Our annual gift guides for geeks and gamers have returned for another holiday shopping season. We’re kicking things off with a look at some of our top picks in console gaming hardware, PC gaming mice and keyboards, headphones/headsets, and more. Stay tuned for additional product updates and gift ideas throughout the holiday season!
Check out our other gift guides at these links:
– VGBlogger’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Comics, Novels, Story and Activity Books
– VGBlogger’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Art and Coffee Table Books
– VGBlogger’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Toys, Collectibles, Stocking Stuffers & Beyond
Madden fans as well as gamers who want to show off their team pride while enjoying their favorite games will be doing their own family room touchdown celebrations come Christmas morning, should one of these controllers be waiting to be unwrapped under the tree. PDP’s officially licensed NFL Faceoff controller is a solid piece of gaming hardware on its own, featuring the same core design and build quality of other PDP controllers like the Rock Candy or Afterglow Prismatic. This is a great third-party controller for Windows and Xbox One gaming. The standout feature, of course, is the controller’s interchangeable faceplate design. Out of the box, the included faceplate mimics the look of an American football with a bumpy but soft synthetic pigskin texturing, actual white laces tied up the center, stitches dotted all the way around the edge, and the NFL shield printed on the right grip. This default faceplate can then be snapped off and interchanged with other faceplates available in jersey color and logo schemes for all 32 NFL teams. Team faceplates run $15, but a voucher card comes included in the box with a code to redeem at PDP.com/faceoff for a free team faceplate of choice. Now that’s a sweet deal.
JoyTops Premium Thumb Grips — Buy From JoyTops:
I’ve been recommending KontrolFreek thumbstick grips for years now (including more coming up in this guide), but there’s a new alternative on the market that’s putting a sporty spin on controller accessorization. The unique selling point to JoyTops thumb grips is the use of materials found in sports equipment, such as basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, and baseballs, as well as carbon fiber weave. These aren’t so much designed to give a boost in competitive or high twitch FPS gaming, but rather for added comfort and support, to go along with a distinguishing design style tailored to the sports junkie sensibility. And boy are JoyTops ever comfortable, soft and supple and cushiony to the touch, with enough grip to prevent thumb slippage. JoyTops are, in a way, both convex and concave at the same time. The sports ball material of choice is domed in the center, but the outer plastic ring, which is used to secure the grip material to the rubber base fitted around the controller’s analog stick, creates an edge with sort of a thin moat area in between. This little dip with the outer ridge provides increased leverage for finessing subtler analog stick movements. The only potential concern with the plastic ring–specifically on the right stick–is the way the increased surface area encroaches on the nearby face buttons. Depending on thumb size, the ring may rub up against the side of your thumb when going to press either of the two closest buttons (X and A on Xbox, or Square and Cross on PlayStation).
A cool perk offered by JoyTops is the opportunity for personalization, which is a major bonus when it comes to gift giving. For an extra $5, you can submit a black and white image or logo with your order to have it printed directly on the grip material. I was able to get a pair of grips made with the VGBlogger logo printed on them, and it looks fantastic. Something else worth touting is the universal compatibility. While the grips are sold in models for PlayStation or Xbox, I’ve had no problem using a single pair across DualShock 3, DualShock 4, Xbox One, and even some other generic controllers. Having one size fit all (or at least one size fit most) extends the value and versatility in a huge way. A pair of the football grips is a perfect companion gift for the NFL Faceoff controller (I’ve tried, and they do fit).
Tying in with the remastered version of Modern Warfare included with the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition, KontrolFreek is offering a sweet pair of controller thumbstick grips for PS4 and Xbox One. Immediately catching the eye with their bright green color and centralized “MW” logo, these sticks offer a unique, versatile configuration consisting of a lower, wider domed left stick grip with a high-rise concave grip for the right stick, an ideal analog stick loadout for quick maneuverability as well as added leverage and range of motion so you can find your targets with improved speed and pinpoint accuracy. These are a limited edition offering, so grab them while you can, for that special Call of Duty fan in your life.
Another new Call of Duty themed KontrolFreek offering out just in time for the holiday season is this pair of thumbstick grips inspired by the series’ signature Zombies survival mode, sporting an official Revive Soda design style and vintage blue rubber coloration. Both grips stand a uniform medium height, topped by a surface that is flat across, etched with the Revive Soda emblem, and fluted around the edge to look just like a bottle cap. Though they aren’t the grippiest of KontrolFreek’s thumbsticks, they are certainly solid for general usage, while the mid-rise height makes for a broader, non-specialized accessibility. Primarily, though, the Revive set is a collector’s item, available in an extremely limited supply for fans to stash alongside the Jugger-Nog Perk-a-Cola grips released last year.
KontrolFreek 12FT Gaming Cable — Buy From KontrolFreek:
KontrolFreek doesn’t just make specialty thumbstick grips, folks! The 12ft gaming cable is a brilliant little accessory for upping your charge game with compatible micro USB devices, from PS4 and Xbox One controllers to PC gadgets and mobile smartphones and tablets. The extended foot-long length enables comfortable console gaming at a longer distance away from the system (many out-of-box cables for controllers are far too short, making it impossible in most setups to play while charging without sitting within arm’s reach), while an attached Velcro strap lets you roll up any excess cable to reduce clutter, or unwind additional length as needed. Available in blue and white, green and black, or red and black color schemes, the cables are braided and flat, which lends a premium aesthetic while also preventing tangles. The ‘KF’ lettering on the micro USB end even lights up–red to indicate charging in progress, green when the connected device is fully charged–which is a nice visual touch. This is one of those invaluable gaming accessories that you don’t know how much you need until you actually begin using it.
In the world of gaming mice, Logitech’s Chaos Spectrum is like a sports car and Swiss army knife all in one. By that I mean it’s astoundingly versatile yet also sleek and sporty and expertly tuned to give your precious mouse hand all the luxury comfort and performance it deserves. The Chaos Spectrum is a fully ambidextrous mouse. The symmetrical, almost scarab-like design accommodates claw, fingertip, and palm grips for righties and lefties alike. Out of the box, the mouse is set up for righties, with standard forward/backward thumb buttons on the left side, and a completely smooth right side. These buttons attach via magnets on both sides of the mouse, which means they can be removed and switched to the other side, depending on your preferred configuration. An extra set of buttons is included as well, should you want two buttons on both sides, for a full capacity of 11 programmable buttons.
Another standout feature is the mouse’s wired/wireless dual functionality, which allows for immediate plug-and-play switching between the two modes simply by unplugging the mouse from its braided USB cable and attaching the included wireless receiver dongle to the cable. The transition is so seamless, you can do it without a hitch right in the middle of a game. The wireless performance is the best you’re going to find, too. Wired is almost universally preferred over wireless for serious PC gamers, but here you can game wirelessly with confidence thanks to a reliable connection free from latency, jitter, or acceleration. I honestly can’t perceive any difference in performance when going from wired to wireless, the connection is that strong and stable. In wireless mode, the mouse has a good 32 hours of operability on a full charge, without lighting turned on (with lighting you’re looking at around 20 hours). Thanks to the dual operability, you can continue using the mouse in wired mode while it’s recharging, which takes roughly an hour or two depending on how low the battery is.
Every other aspect of the mouse is so well designed. The mechanical pivot buttons provide a firm, tactile click that feels quicker and more satisfying than any other mouse. Similar to the Proteus Spectrum, the wheel has a switch to toggle between a notched scroll and a free spin mode. By wireless mouse standards, it’s also incredibly lightweight–though it feels solidly constructed. It also comes with a luxurious price tag of $150, which is a huge investment reserved for the truly elite gamers who demand a higher caliber product. If you can get over the sticker shock, you’ll find a mouse that totally lives up to its lofty price.
SteelSeries brings a number of impressive innovations to gaming mouse design with the Rival 700. As soon as it’s plugged in, the onboard OLED display, located on the front tip of the mouse’s left side, immediately catches the eye. In terms of nuts-and-bolts functionality, the OLED screen allows for onboard adjustment of the sensor, button mappings, and saved profiles without needing to run the Engine background software. For a touch of flash and customization, the OLED screen can be configured to display black and white images or animated GIFs, from a selection offered by SteelSeries or by uploading your own image file. For example, I have mine set to show the VGBlogger logo, which perhaps has too many details to fully show up but looks great considering the small display size. Additionally, the display can be set to show stat updates, like kill/death ratio, ammo or health status, or headshot count, which is kind of gimmicky, but also a cool flourish that distinguishes this mouse from others. Haptic feedback is another distinguishing characteristic, enabling different ticks, pulses, and buzzes to be set as a form of tactile vibration associated with customizable in-game events.
It’s disappointing, then, that two of the main selling points–the OLED stat display and the tactile feedback–are restricted to functionality with just three default games, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and Minecraft. You can still set different vibrations to occur on-click for each of the mouse’s seven buttons, but the real purpose of rumble is to get feedback when certain things occur during gameplay, not just for clicking a button. The feedback feels really cool too, so it would be great to have more supported games, or the ability to import your own library into the Engine app and set customized events to trigger feedback in different games.
Thankfully, the mouse’s core functionality is fantastic. It’s a heavy duty, wired mouse with nice textured grips on the side panels, an ergonomic shell that comfortably fits the contours of the hand and palm, good button click feel, and an optical sensor with a CPI range of 100 to 16,000 (plus a button to toggle between two pre-set CPI settings). I will say that the mouse probably is better suited to users who lean toward using a palm grip, and the build may be too heavy for folks interested in a lighter weight for high twitch gaming. The Rival 700 also offers some versatility of its own. Two detachable USB cables are provided out of the box, including a longer braided cable as well as a shorter rubber-coated cable, catering to different preferences. Modular customization is provided through optional components that, for an extra cost, allow you to swap the optical sensor out for a laser sensor (sold separately for $25), change the top cover between different materials and colors (cover packs sell for $15), or even create custom rubber nameplates to insert into the back end of the mouse (a 3D printer is required for this part). The limitations of the OLED, tactile feedback, and customization narrow the appeal somewhat, but overall this is a balanced, well-rounded gaming mouse that you really can’t go wrong with as far as performance and quality construction at a reasonable price.
Do you play a lot of MMOs and MOBAs and like to have a ton of programmable buttons at your disposal? Then give the Rival 500 a whirl. It’s got buttons. Lots of buttons. 15 of them, in fact, positioned around the mouse in an innovative new layout design that maps out a circular array of buttons around the left-side grip, each within natural reach simply by rotating your thumb. It’s like having a radial selection wheel right under the tip of your thumb, the lower two buttons doubling as a thumb rest by extending out to create a cupping lip. There’s even a slider lock on the mouse’s bottom, which can be used to secure the buttons in place so they don’t click (obviously this is only an option if you don’t mind sacrificing the functionality of those two buttons). Super-sized feet and a balanced weight give the Rival 500 the smoothest glide of all the mice I’ve tested this year. Ergonomically, the mouse has a squat, wide-bodied chassis that conforms comfortably to the contours of the hand, but may be a bit too stocky and bulky for users with smaller hands. Like the Rival 700, the mouse supports on-click tactile alerts, plus GameSense integration with the Engine 3 software for more specialized haptic feedback in the same limited library of currently supported games.
Half the price of the excellent Orion Spectrum mechanical keyboard, the G213 Prodigy is Logitech’s economical gaming keyboard for PC gamers seeking better performance in a simpler, more accessible package. Using so-called “Mech-Dome” technology, the Prodigy features membrane/rubber dome keys with switches that impart the more precise, tactile response you get with a true mechanical keyboard, for the best of both worlds. Obviously the keys don’t feel as good as Logitech’s mechanical Romer-G switches, but the performance, surprisingly given the price, really isn’t that far off. Beyond the difference in key switches, the G213’s clean form factor and streamlined design takes after the G810 Orion Spectrum in many ways. There are full volume and media control buttons at the top-right corner, alongside buttons to toggle gaming mode (which disables the Windows key and any other selected keys when activated) and turn on/off the 16.8M full spectrum RGB lighting. While the G810’s volume wheel roller has been sacrificed, this keyboard is spill resistant and features a built-in palm wrest, a 2-inch bar along the full length of the keyboard’s bottom, with a smooth surface and rounded edge for maximum comfort. The G213 Prodigy doesn’t offer any fancy bells and whistles, just a sturdy, well-made keyboard that helps to elevate gaming and all-around PC performance without destroying your wallet. This is a great choice for someone looking to take their first steps into dedicated PC gaming keyboards.
Retro-Bit Generations — Buy from Amazon:
Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition seems to be the hot gaming fad this holiday season (mainly through the way Nintendo manufactures hype by creating high demand and then limiting the supply), but if you’re looking for some retro gaming fun there’s another all-in-one console on the market that you won’t have to scour every retailer in hopes of finding one or throw away wasted money to buy one from greedy eBay scalpers. The Retro-Bit Generations console provides even more content and a better overall value, featuring more than 100 pre-installed games, two six-button USB controllers right out of the box, HDMI and AV outputs, internal game save support, and an SD card slot for storing and transferring save data. The included game lineup may not have the mainstream draw of the major Nintendo franchises, but there are definitely some classics–like Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Bionic Commando, a couple R-type games, to name a few–that should please any retro gaming enthusiast.
“Are you embarrassed by your small, flimsy mouse pad? While gaming do you constantly struggle to keep your mouse from slipping off? Is your mouse just not happy with the size and performance of its desktop mate? Then the Razer Gigantus is just the mouse pad enlargement supplement you need to make for a more mutually pleasurable experience between you and your mouse.” Read our full review here.
Afterglow Prismatic Xbox One Controller — Buy From Amazon:
“The Afterglow Prismatic sets a high quality standard for third-party gaming controllers, and it’s a far less expensive alternative to an official wireless Xbox One controller from Microsoft while simultaneously benefiting from extra features that replicate at least a small scale portion of the customization possibilities ushered in by the expensive premium controllers that have hit the market since the Elite. Seeing the Afterglow lighting at work in person is a thing of beauty, and all of the programming options are handled directly on the controller, without any need for additional software installs or background apps.” Read our full review here.
“Logitech’s G810 Orion Spectrum is a gaming keyboard for the PC gamer who wants to upgrade their performance without a lot of extra bulk or rarely used buttons cluttering things up. The Romer-G switches are super fast, responsive, and accurate, built first and foremost for gaming yet perfectly capable of fulfilling a dual purpose role for typing and general PC use. The keyboard has exceptional heft and a sturdy build quality, instilling confidence that it will hold up to the rigorous pounding of long gaming sessions tap, tap, tapping away at those lovely Romer-Gs. I also love the understated yet clever functionality things like the volume roller and collapsible, multi-angled feet bring to the overall package.” Read our full review here.
“The build quality feels solid and reliable, while the overall design is sleek and polished, making for a happy marriage between confident, durable functionality and enough flair to look cool without going too overboard on gratuitous flourishes. I suppose the only potential stumbling block is the right-hand-only design. Unfortunately, lefties are plumb out of luck here as the mouse’s contours, button placement, and RGB lighting are tailored for use and visibility with the right hand. This is a wired mouse as well (braided cable!) so anyone in the market for a wireless mouse will want to consider other options. Those minor points aside, at this price range you won’t find a mouse with a more finely tuned all-around balance of functionality, durability, comfort, sensor accuracy, and pure, blissful gaming performance than the Proteus Spectrum.” Read our full review here.
PlayStation VR — Buy From Amazon:
“Overall, I am truly impressed with just how well the PlayStation VR performs. At times the visuals are a bit muddy or swimmy, a better way to describe how objects appear but don’t have the same clarity that a 1080p (or presumably 4k) display offers. However, playing a game that takes advantage of the VR headset is something truly to behold. From time to time, I still feel a twinge of vertigo when a game initially starts up, but I’m guessing that has more to do with my own head trying to process going from being on a chair in the middle of my living room to suddenly being in a mech suit or tank and having a full 360-degree view of a completely different landscape than my boring house. Cable tangles aside, the PSVR is entirely comfortable and impressive given that the PS4 at this point is three-year-old tech. Head tracking is so well done; turning around to look at something behind you in VR is tracked without any problem. If you’ve got a few hundred dollars to burn, I would without hesitation recommend buying a PSVR.” Read our full review here.
“With the first-ever glow in the dark design, the Spaceland Zombies CQC thumbsticks offer a cool-looking gimmick and additional collector’s appeal for Call of Duty fans, while the usual high-quality KontrolFreek grip design provides increased leverage and control for elevated performance, whether you’re a diehard multiplayer competitor or a solo gamer. Compared to other more specialized KontrolFreek designs, the uniform mid-rise stick height and concave surface I would say puts these into the class of all-purpose analog stick caps, featuring an even balance of comfort, grip, and quickness that’s ideal for improving general gaming performance across all genres and gaming styles.” Read our full review here.
“Aesthetically understated yet booming with premium sound quality, Status Audio’s HD Two headphones deliver high-end performance that far exceeds the price tag. Other headphones may have more brand recognition and celebrity street cred, but decibel for decibel these are hard to beat.” Read our full review here.
“They are so lightweight and comfortable, with rich, crystal clear audio that not only sounds great, but is healthier for the ears than other products without sacrificing a lick of performance. The 24-hour battery life is exceptional as well. While I’m not a heavy Bluetooth user on a daily basis, even after hours of regular Vita gaming I’ve only had to recharge (USB cable is included) a few times in as many months. While it’s a shame the Bluetooth functionality currently isn’t compatible with gaming consoles, for PC and portable devices, both wired and wireless, you can’t go wrong with the BT-5200s. If you’re in the market for new headphones, I suggest putting these at the top of your wish list.” Read our full review here.
Tt eSports Poseidon Z RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard — Buy From Amazon.com:
“Tt eSports may not have the same brand recognition as major PC gaming companies like Logitech, Razer, and SteelSeries, but if you ask me the Poseidon Z RGB mechanical keyboard stacks up favorably against any competing product. Although I can’t speak to the long-term durability of the Kailh switches at this time, the keyboard feels incredibly sturdy and well made, and I have been nothing but impressed by the high level of performance experienced thus far. The complete and utter lack of a single garish, unnecessary feature is a plus in my book, too. For gaming, for typing, and for all-around PC usage, the Poseidon Z RGB mechanical keyboard is a solid choice.” Read our full review here.