Nationwide -- Get the power outlets ready: Millions of you will unwrap and activate new gadgets Christmas Day. Smartphones, e-readers and tablet computers were at the top of many wish lists this holiday season.
For many of you, it will be your first tablet or smartphone. So, to get you started, here's a look at the top gadgets and some tips for getting the most fun and use out of each one.
Apple's iPad 2
Have you unwrapped the season's hottest gift - the Apple iPad 2? You've got an incredible device. Here are some tips to use it well.
Apps to download
Netflix and Hulu Plus: One of the best uses of the iPad is as a personal video device. Each of these apps requires a separate $7.99 per month service charge to access the streaming video. Netflix is heavier on movie titles and older TV shows, while Hulu Plus carries many of the current series on Fox, NBC and ABC. Many past seasons are also available.
Dropbox: This app lets you easily share documents from a computer to the iPad. It's a great service to use anyway, but with the iPad, it's a super-convenient way to access things like PDFs, photos and other documents. The service is free for up to 2 gigabytes of online storage.
Skype: The iPad 2's front-facing camera means the tablet is a great way to video chat. Video chats are free and can be made to any other Skype user on a computer, smartphone or tablet. It's a great way to keep in touch with long-distance family members or those overseas for free.
Use four or five fingers at the same time to swipe left and right between open apps. It's the fastest way to switch to the last app you were in. You can also use four or five fingers to swipe up to reveal a tray of all the apps currently running frozen in the background.
You can customize which apps appear in the bottom tray, so that the programs you use the most are always there. Just take an app and hold down on it until it shakes. Then drag it to the dock. You can have up to five items here.
You can use iMessage on the iPad, which means it's possible to send text message-like notes to anyone running iOS 5, including iPhone and iPod Touch users. The new iMessage system has given iOS users a seamless way to send messages between devices. They can also be sent over Wi-Fi without a cellular data connection.
When your iPad is in use, there is little reason to be encumbered by a clunky wrap-around case. Usually, iPad users are safely at rest on the couch or in bed.
Apple sells the Smart Cover, which starts at $39. It's a great way to keep the screen covered and also doubles as a typing and viewing stand when folded back.
For the iPad 2, a sleeve-like case will keep your iPad protected while in a bag but allow you to take it out and use it without a covering.
A tip here: If you buy a sleeve that says it also works with the thicker original iPad model, you'll also have room in the sleeve to leave on Apple's Smart Cover. That's the best combination out there.
Amazon Kindle Fire
Amazon.com sold millions of Kindle Fires this shopping season. The online retail giant said this month that it has been filling more than 1 million orders per week.
For Amazon, the Fire is the next generation of e-reader - a more tablet-like device that allows users to operate many of the apps available on the Android platform in addition to reading e-books.
The app selection is still limited, but look for it to improve over the next few months.
Apps to download
Words With Friends: This Scrabble-like mobile game has become a popular distraction for millions. It's a great way to kill some time. When you play a turn, your friend will receive a notification to play next. Games often take a week or so, but if you have several going, you'll stay entertained.
Pulse: This app lets you customize a digital newspaper of sorts, pulling headlines and stories from several sources. It's a good one-stop shop for today's news.
Where's My Water?: This game (99 cents) is a physics challenge that asks gamers to dig a channel through the ground, bringing water to an alligator that lives under the city and is in need of a bath. Picking the correct route gets the water there the fastest and also passes through three checkpoints for full credit. The premise is strange and simple, but it's an addicting puzzle.
Keep your eyes peeled for a notification to update the software. Amazon released an update to the e-reader's software last week, addressing some performance and security concerns. But depending on when your Fire was purchased, you'll likely be prompted to update the software. Do that.
The software update will add the ability to set a password on the device that limits access to Wi-Fi networks. That's in place so that someone can't buy items - books, music, apps - with your Amazon.com account without your permission.
There's only one button on the Fire, and that's the power button. That can make the navigation a bit clunky sometimes. When reading a book, tap the center of the page to bring up a menu of options that will allow you to get out of the book.
To adjust the volume on the Fire, you'll also have to use on-screen controls, which are accessible by tapping the menu bar at the top of the screen.
Amazon offers a free app every day. It's worth it to check in with that each day to see what you can get. Last week, Amazon offered a nice interactive Charlie Brown Christmas book for free that is regularly $7.
There's nothing better than the DODOcase, which is made using traditional bookbinding techniques at a small San Francisco shop. It makes your Fire look like an iconic Moleskine notebook.
The DODOcase for the Kindle Fire is $44.95. An iPad version is also available for $59.95 and can be monogrammed.
If you're upgrading from an e-ink Kindle and have a sleeve-like case, it may also work with the Fire. They have a similar footprint, but the Fire is thicker and heavier.
Apple iPhone 4S
Apple's iPhone 4S didn't see a design overhaul from the iPhone 4, so almost all cases and accessories built for the iPhone 4 will work with the newer one.
Apple boasts the most expansive and polished app catalog. There's a lot of good stuff to check out.
Apps to download
Instagram: This photo-sharing app has not-so-quietly become a community of more than 11 million iPhone users. The app creates those square, retro-styled photos you may have seen pop up on Facebook.
Twitter: Apple's new mobile operating system, iOS 5, comes with system-wide Twitter integration, which means it's easier than ever to share links and photos on the social network. If you're new to the iPhone, you should check out Twitter, too. It's a great way to stay current on all sorts of news.
Remote: This underutilized app from Apple allows you to use the iPhone (or iPod Touch or iPad) as a remote for a computer's iTunes library or an Apple TV. It's a great way to manage music at a gathering without having to go to the source. You can adjust the volume from the iPhone, too.
Use folders to organize your apps into categories such as "Social," "Location," "Photo" and "News." To start a folder, hold your finger down on any app and wait until they all start to jiggle. Then take that app and drag it on top of another. Both apps will start a folder.
You're already hands-free: The white earbuds that come with the iPhone have a microphone in them, which means you can use them as a hands-free calling device. To pick up a phone call, click the center of the microphone that's on one of the wires.
Make a custom vibration: Loud, distracting ringtones are no friend to anyone. On the iPhone 4S, head to the Accessibility settings and turn on custom vibrations. Then, under "Sounds," you can pick from several vibration patterns. You can even create your own by tapping out a pattern on the iPhone's screen, giving each caller a different cadence.
You may have been gifted any of a ton of Android smartphones on the various wireless networks. Each has its own quirks and features.
The new lineup this winter is full of high-powered phones with dual-core processors and mammoth screens.
Apps to download
Path: This new social network is working to carve a niche as a mobile Facebook for just your closest friends. Users can share photos, their location and other information, such as when they wake up. You are limited to 150 friends on the app; the creators really want it limited to just the people you know well. The free app is available on Android and iOS.
Spotify: If you're new to having a smartphone, one of the biggest choices you'll make is how to listen to music on the device. Spotify launched earlier this year in the U.S. and is a great way to have access to any song you'd want without having to download it. A premium subscription ($10/month) is required for mobile access.
Google Currents: This new app from Google is another digital magazine of sorts that pulls together content from Forbes, Popular Science, Saveur and many others. It also uses Google's search power to build editions that represent top current topics online.
Organize your homescreens into areas for different activities, such as work and personal. Widgets can be added to the homescreen on most versions of Android by holding a finger on an empty spot on that homescreen pane. There, you can add things such as calendar notifications or weather information to display on the home screen.
Check your settings to make sure you aren't unnecessarily draining the battery, especially if your device accesses a 4G network. Turning off things like GPS and Wi-Fi when not in use will help the phone's battery last longer. Many phones now also have device-specific power management settings, such as optimizing the screen's brightness.
Update coming soon? If your Android phone is a newer model, chances are that it is due for an upgrade to Android 4.0 sometime early next year. That will bring a bunch of new features, including a more refined interface. You'll want to upgrade when the chance comes and you get a prompt.
Password Protect Your Gadget
Gannett News Service