- Kindle ($79). Particularly now that you can check out Kindle e-books for free (and completely online) through your local library, this is an exceptional value. Furthermore, since all you can do with this device is read books, you get the satisfaction of knowing the recipient of your gift will either use it productively or not at all. I should add that there isn't much reason to go with this device's neighboring models: for $30 more you can get an ad-free version, but since the ads never appear when reading (i.e. they appear only as screensavers or when switching from one book to another) that's difficult to justify, and the $99 "touch" model adds extra size/weight for extra features which in my opinion just aren't needed.
- Sony BDP-S580 Blu-Ray Player ($109). Of the current crop of Blu-Ray players, the best choice within this general price range seems to come down to either this model or one particular Panasonic model. The main advantage of the Panasonic model seems to be starting the Blu-Ray disc playback more rapidly, while the Sony model has the advantage in the breadth of online services it provides access to (i.e. a total of forty including almost all the ones people use Roku boxes for). I believe the latter advantage is more important, since it provides more free ways to "channel surf" if you need to cancel your cable or satellite television service. Assuming the Blockbuster Video near my house is typical you can now rent Blu-Ray titles for either 49 cents or 99 cents a day, so renting movies is still cheap entertainment just in general.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for Xbox 360 or PS3 ($59). There's cost, and then there's value: this isn't the cheapest game in the world, but it will remain fun for more hours than pretty much any other game available for gaming consoles. However, it isn't so addictive that the recipient may be at risk of ruining his or her life, so it's still a gift you can give with a free conscience.
- Better Speakers for Your Computer. The neat thing about music as an art form is that you can enjoy it while doing other productive things. The neat thing about upgrading your computer speakers is that you'll derive more enjoyment from this art form every single day from then on, including deriving (with no additional setup or hassle) more enjoyment from the limitless and zero-cost world of internet radio.
Related YouTube Video (Kindle): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxQX3pAnML0