More great gifts
Hang on, we're not finished yet. As we do every year, we've gathered one last batch of fun and useful products that fall outside our main categories but make excellent -- and in some cases quite affordable -- holiday gifts for techies.
There are a lot of good headphones out there -- so many that if you're trying to find a gift for an audiophile, it can be really hard to choose. If you're looking for a nice balance of audio quality and great style (with a pinch of ecological awareness for flavor), you might want to check out The House of Marley's line of headphones. Ranging from the $59.99 Positive Vibrations model to the high-end $299.99 Destiny TTR, these headphones feature an organic look using wood, recycled plastics and leather accents.
I tried on a pair of the mid-range Exodus headphones ($149.99) at a trade show recently and was surprised at how comfortable and lightweight they felt. The sound quality was also fine -- and Inner|Fidelity reviewer Tyll Hertsens agrees:
The sound quality is shockingly good. I'd say right up with best of $150 sealed on-ear headphones --- especially when viewed from the perspective of the intended audience. I auditioned them comparing with the V-Moda V-80, Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators, Quincy Jones Q460, and Beats Solo. To my ears they fairly easily bested all but the V-Moda, and there it was surprisingly close. (Read the full review.)
If you're looking for something a bit smaller or less expensive, House of Marley also offers a range of earbuds
from $29.99 to $99.99 that offer the same interesting styles and attention to audio excellence.
You might also like: dB Logic's HP-100 Headphones ($49.95) and EP-100 Earphones ($34.95) limit sound pressure to 85 decibels based on OSHA guidelines to help users avoid damaging their hearing while still enjoying their music.
-- Barbara Krasnoff
Exodus headphones from The House of Marley
Street price: $130 - $150
Summary: House of Marley's Exodus headphones combine an attractive style, eco-conscious materials and great audio.
It's a universal affliction: No matter how neat and tidy you try to keep the earphone cords for your phone, music player, tablet or other device, they always end up in a tangled mess in the bottom of your bag.
The Sinch is a startlingly simple solution to that problem. In fact, it's so simple -- consisting of nothing more than a half-inch-wide strip of slightly elastic silicone with two strategically placed magnets inside and a hole at one end -- that you might elicit a "huh?" reaction when your loved one pulls it from her stocking.
The Sinch's reinforced hole fits snugly over a standard 3.5mm earphone plug, and the whole thing hangs down unobtrusively behind the phone or other device while the earphones are in use. Then you just wrap the cord around the device and the Sinch together, and lift the magnetized bottom end of the Sinch up to meet its other magnet near the top. The Sinch holds the cord neatly in place even when the device is tossed in a bag.
To store the headphone cord separately from the device, just slide the wrapped-and-Sinched cord off the end of the device, or else wrap the cord around your fingers and the Sinch together. Either way, the Sinch will hold the cord in a tidy, tangle-free coil until it's needed again.
When you want to use the earphones again, simply give them a little tug to release the cord from the Sinch. It really couldn't be easier -- in fact, it's far simpler to use than to describe. Available in black or white, the Sinch is pricy at $16, but it beats out other cord-management gadgets with its good looks, ease of use and quick release.
You might also like: If the Sinch's $16 price tag seems too steep, consider a cheaper cord-management option such as Quirky's Wrapster. It's less elegant than the Sinch, but it can be found for about $5 online.
-- Valerie Potter
Sinch from Dune Road Design, LLC
Summary: Keep earphone cords tidy and tangle-free with the clever Sinch.
You've been out of the office all day and need to check in, so you pull out your smartphone. Oops! You forgot to turn off the GPS, the battery drained and now you've got maybe five minutes left before you're out of power. What do you do?
Well, if you're using a Powerbag backpack or messenger bag, all you do is hook it up to your phone and stop worrying. Powerbags include their own rechargeable batteries (3000mAh or 6000mAh, depending on model) plus four separate hookups: an Apple connector, micro- and mini-USB connectors and a USB port (so that you can connect any devices that have specialized connectors).
You just put your device in the charging pocket at the front of the bag, connect them, and go. You can use the bag for emergency charges, or just to keep your devices topped up when you're not using them.
An on/off button in the Powerbag's logo makes sure that you're not wasting battery power when you're not charging any of your devices. (You can also use the button to check the battery level.) When you're back home, simply attach the included A/C adapter to a charging port on the side of the bag to recharge the Powerbag's battery.
The Powerbags come in a variety of colors and styles, including messenger bags, backpacks, slings and wheeled briefcases; prices on the Powerbag site range from $139.99 to $249.99. Unfortunately, they currently can't power laptops, but for those who can't leave home without their tablets, smartphones or cameras, these are the perfect power insurance policy.
-- Barbara Krasnoff
Powerbag from Ful
Street price: $86 - $250
Summary: Powerbags are the perfect gift for electronic gadget fans who often find themselves in need of a power supply.
Some of us aren't ashamed of being Doctor Who fans. In fact, we flaunt it, decorating our homes with models of the Tardis, arguing about which companion we like the best, and loudly proclaiming that fezzes are cool. If, however, you have friends who want to show their dedication to Time Lord lore in a more practical way, give them a Doctor Who Cell Phone Alert Charm.
These handy little devices are a mere 1.75 in. tall so they can hang from a backpack, keychain or zipper. They alert you to an incoming phone call by spinning madly around -- you get a choice of a spinning Tardis, Cyberman or Dalek -- and flashing tiny lights at the base. What could be more useful when you're fighting Daleks and can't hear your smartphone above the screams of "Ex-ter-mi-nate!!"
There is a catch, unfortunately: The charms only work with phones that are on an 800-1600MHz GSM network. But if your friends have phones and service providers that can handle GSM (such as AT&T and T-Mobile), then these snazzy trinkets can ensure they don't miss those important calls while traveling through time.
-- Barbara Krasnoff
Doctor Who Cell Phone Alert Charms from ThinkGeek
Summary: Doctor Who Cell Phone Alert Charms are a great way for Time Lords and their fans to avoid missing calls.
A compact megazoom camera makes an excellent holiday gift for beginning photographers; these cameras can be had for less than $300, and they offer features and image quality that can't be matched by the built-in camera on a phone. They're also appealing for people who already have a high-end digital SLR camera but want a small, inexpensive second camera that they can take everywhere.
There are a number of strong contenders in this space, but our pick is the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. This 12-megapixel camera features a 14X-optical-zoom lens with superb image stabilization, a sharp and colorful LCD screen with easy-to-navigate menus, and a large array of both automatic settings and manual controls. This year's model adds 1080p video capture, high-speed shooting and limited in-camera GPS features.
PC World reviewer Tim Moynihan sums it up:
Canon consistently makes some of the best-performing point-and-shoot cameras in our tests, and the PowerShot SX230 HS is no exception. Its image quality puts it among the top tier of 2011's pocket-megazoom class, and the camera can be as easy to use or as manual-oriented as you want it to be. (Read the full review.)
What's more, it's currently a steal, available at a number of online merchants for around $200 -- more than a third off the $330 list price.
You might also like: Offering an 18X zoom lens and full automation, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 (widely available for around $270 or less) is an outstanding compact megazoom for casual photographers who want the camera to do most of the work for them but still get great shots. Another great option is the $300 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V, which offers top-notch video quality and an array of fun and innovative features.
-- Valerie Potter
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS from Canon U.S.A. Inc.
Street price: $197 - $350
Summary: The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS delivers 14X zoom and excellent image quality in a compact, affordable package.
Jawbone has made its reputation on its well-designed and high-quality headsets for mobile phones, and its most recent headset, the Jawbone Era, doesn't disappoint. The Era offers a variety of features such as noise and wind reduction, automatic volume control and a single multifunction button to keep things simple.
It also has a built-in accelerometer, which makes it possible to use a feature that Jawbone calls ShakeShake -- if the headset isn't in your ear, you can give it two quick shakes to pick up a call (and then, presumably, put it in your ear). And if you're wearing the Jawbone and get a call, or are already on the phone and get a second call, you can tap the Era twice to receive or switch calls -- thus avoiding the need to spend precious seconds finding and pressing the headset button.
PC World's Lex Friedman certainly appreciated this feature:
In fact, the Era's tapping gesture offers two benefits that I hadn't anticipated. First, as someone with longer hair, I find that tapping is actually faster than moving my hair out of the way to find the Era's physical button. Second, by using a gentle tap instead of a button press, I don't risk jostling the Era out of my ear. That's not a major issue with the Icon or other earpieces, but it's nice to be able to avoid the risk completely. (Read the full review.)
One of the Era's most fun and useful aspects is its ability to download apps via its MyTalk online service. You can decide what kind of voice you'd like to hear (to announce incoming calls, remaining battery life, etc.), access voice-to-text services or try out a number of different audio apps. And the Era includes http://www.pcworld.com/article/217319/aliph_jawbone_era.html, so you can listen to your favorite music as well as your favorite people.
In short, the Jawbone Era is the perfect gift for anyone who is constantly on the phone, and wants to make that experience as pleasant (and stylish) as possible. The Era lists for $129.99, but can be found for significantly less at many online retailers.
You might also like: The Plantronics Voyager Pro UC headset (which can be found for $111 - $200) offers high-quality audio, the ability to receive calls by simply placing the device in your ear, and a mini USB adapter that lets you also use it for Skype and other computer-based phone services.
-- Barbara Krasnoff
Jawbone Era from Jawbone
Street price: $73 - $130 or buy from Jawbone
Summary: The Jawbone Era is a well-designed, full-featured mobile phone headset that will suit anyone who is always walking and talking.
We all know that electronics don't particularly like water -- which is unfortunate, since we're surrounded by it.
Enter the Bheestie Bag: Its sole purpose in life is to dry out wet devices. Inside this silver-colored plastic pouch are two smaller sacs that contain water-absorbing pellets. You just place your phone, camera, MP3 player or other small device inside the pouch (it isn't big enough for tablets) and seal it up with the Ziploc-style zipper, and the bead sacs will draw the moisture out of the device.
The company recommends leaving devices sealed in the bag overnight to remove everyday moisture left by rain, sweat, general humidity in the air and even the moisture in your breath. You can use the bag again and again for up to a year, according to Bheestie; when the blue beads in the sacs turn white it's time for a new bag.
But where the bag can come really in handy is for immersion catastrophes. If you drop a phone in the pool, for instance, Bheestie advises immediately drying it off with a towel, removing the battery if possible and leaving it sealed in the bag for 24 to 72 hours. (Note that if a device gets soaked with saltwater, it's a good idea to get the salt off first by immediately immersing it in fresh water, then proceeding as above.)
Bheestie doesn't make any guarantees that the bag will revive a waterlogged device, but it did dry out and revive an old LG clamshell phone that I submerged for long enough to get water stuck behind the screen.
Why not just put the device in a bag of rice to dry it out? That method can be effective too, and it costs a lot less than $20. (More advice on drying out your cell phone can be found on wikiHow.) But the Bheestie Bag makes a really useful -- perhaps device-saving -- gift for college students, frequent travelers and others who may not always have a bag of rice handy.
-- Valerie Potter
Bheestie Bag from Bheestie
Street price: $18 - $35 or order from Bheestie
Summary: The Bheestie Bag provides a handy, easy way to dry out wet phones and other devices.
It takes a bit of chutzpah to call your tablet holder the "Ultimate SleeveCase," but in this instance, manufacturer Waterfield Designs may not be all that much off the mark. Its tablet cases are fitted for specific tablets; if your giftee's particular device isn't listed, you just send Waterfield Designs the appropriate dimensions and model, and it will send you a case devised specifically for that tablet.
Each SleeveCase is made of ballistic nylon filled with neoprene to cushion any accidental falls; the inside is lined with Ultrasuede to protect your display from any scratches. It closes with a Velcro tab and has an outside pocket for your USB cord or earbuds.
Prices for the Ultimate SleeveCase vary. For Android or Windows-based tablets, cost depends on the size of the tablet you're buying it for, from $50 for the Nook Simple Touch to $57 for the Toshiba Thrive; you can add the Brown Leather trim for an extra $5. The iPad Ultimate SleeveCase costs $55 for the Lead Iridium trim and $60 for the Brown Leather trim. In either case, you can add a basic shoulder strap for $12 or a more ergonomic padded one for $22.
Whatever type of tablet you're shopping for, the Ultimate SleeveCase will protect it from scratches, nicks and falls with style.
You might also like: Speck's $49.95 PixelSkin HD Wrap for iPad 2 not only protects your entire device, but also lets you prop it up at two different heights. It's the perfect stocking stuffer for the iPad enthusiast in your life.
-- Barbara Krasnoff
Tablet Ultimate SleeveCase and iPad Ultimate SleeveCase from Waterfield Designs
Price: $50 - $60
Summary: The Ultimate SleeveCase provides iPads or Android tablets with well-designed and fashionable protection.
Vinyl record sales may be up, but even the most dedicated fan of analog music can't exactly take an LP with her on her morning run. Enter Spin It Again ($35), a Windows program to help bring record and cassette collections into the digital age.
Spin It Again records the output from a record player or tape deck and saves it as 24-bit audio at a sampling rate of 48 to 192 kHz in MP3, OGG, WMA or WAV format (but not AAC or FLAC). Along the way, Spin It Again can automatically detect breaks in tracks and remove any pops, clicks or background noise, resulting in a conversion that sounds better than the original.
Not included is the hardware to play the original media; users need to supply their own LP or cassette player that can be connected to the computer or sound card's line-in or USB port. An inbuilt "Hookup Wizard" helps users configure this connection.
Those familiar with more complex audio editing software can accomplish the same function with a free program like Audacity, but Spin It Again's dedicated feature set makes conversion simpler than ever.
You might also like: Griffin Technology's iMic USB adapter ($39.99) adds audio input and output to Macs that don't have them; it includes Final Vinyl, software designed for converting LPs to digital formats.
-- Ken Gagne
Spin It Again from Acoustica
Street price: $35 - $42 or buy from Acoustica
Summary: Spin It Again makes it easy to convert classic tunes into a modern format.
A tablet can be a really handy way to look up and use recipes, but do you really want to expose it to kitchen messes?
That's where Belkin's Chef Stand + Stylus comes in. The stand has a nonslip rubber base to hold your tablet upright (and ideally back away from splashing food), while the magnetic stylus, which has its own mini-stand, lets you interact with the tablet without touching it with messy hands.
According to Belkin, the stylus works with any touchscreen, but it can only wake up an iPad 2. The stylus and the stands are washable.
If you know any cooks who like to work from recipes on their iPad 2 or tablet, this could be the ideal gift.
-- Valerie Potter
Chef Stand + Stylus from Belkin International Inc.
Street price: $28 - $50
Summary: The Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus helps you interact with a tablet in the kitchen while keeping it clean.
The music revolution wrought by technology has been largely about digitizing music onto computers and portable devices, and about the growth of streaming music services like Pandora and Internet radio. But while digital music is firmly entrenched in the 21st century, speaker technology has largely stayed in the mid-20th.
Sure, you can buy speakers that play Internet radio or music streamed from a computer or mobile device wirelessly. But the $299 Sonos Play:3 speaker, coupled with the company's Bridge networking device ($49), represents the next step forward for digital music.
This great system lets you stream your entire digital music collection to any place in your house wirelessly, with remarkable sound quality despite a small footprint (5.2 x 10.6 x 6.3 in.) and very light weight (5.7 lb.). You can also stream Spotify, Pandora and countless lesser-known streaming music services, as well as tune in to thousands of Internet radio stations.
Just plug the Bridge into your Wi-Fi router, and it shares the wireless connection with one or many Sonos speakers. You control the speaker either from software on your PC or Mac, or via a free iOS or Android app.
And here's where it gets really cool: If you have more than one Play:3, each operates independently of the others, so you can listen to blues in the kitchen, classical in the living room and salsa in your office.
So if you've got a music lover on your list this year, the Sonos Play:3 and Bridge make a great way to bring their audio system into the 21st century.
You might also like: The $399 Sonos Play:5 speaker is bigger and pricier than the Play:3, and also has richer sound. If you're willing to spend $100 more for someone who has the extra room, it's worth a look.
-- Preston Gralla
Play:3 and Bridge from Sonos
Price: $299 for Play:3, $49 for Bridge
Summary: The Sonos Play:3 and Bridge combo wirelessly streams your music collection -- and services like Spotify and Pandora -- to a great-sounding speaker.
We all like to jot down a note now and again, or do a quick sketch, or even just doodle. The Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet offers your giftee a great way to save notes and sketches to a computer rather than wasting paper.
The Boogie Board is a lightweight (11.5 oz.) device that provides a 9.5-in. pressure-sensitive LCD writing surface on which to doodle or draw using a simple included stylus. Above the writing surface are two buttons: one to erase your image when you're finished, and the other to save it -- either to the Boogie Board's internal memory (it comes with 8MB) or to an external device as a PDF file (via the included USB connection cable).
This isn't a perfect solution, especially if your gift recipient likes to create very detailed artwork -- some users have complained that the thickness of the lines drawn on the physical board aren't reflected in the saved PDF file. But for recording quick thoughts and doing simple sketching, the Boogie Board is ideal.
You might also like: If your giftee doesn't need to save her work, the Boogie Board 8.5 is a great stocking stuffer at $39.95.
-- Barbara Krasnoff
Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet from Improv Electronics
Summary: The Boogie Board Rip LCD Writing Tablet lets you take notes, doodle and sketch -- and then save it to PDF -- without muss, fuss or paper.
Is there someone on your gift list who's always walking out the door without his cell phone? This handy little Bluetooth device may be just what he needs.
Less than two inches across and about half an inch thick, the disc-shaped Zomm Wireless Leash attaches to a keychain that can be easily slipped into a pocket or purse. If it gets too far away from the Bluetooth-enabled phone that it's paired with (about 30 feet by default, but that's configurable), the Zomm vibrates, flashes and emits loud beeps, making it very unlikely you'll forget your phone.
The Zomm also works as a decent speakerphone for hands-free calling when clipped to a car's visor, and it has a panic button feature that sounds an alarm when you press and hold it for 10 seconds; hold it down longer and it calls 911.
Available in black, white or pink, the basic Wireless Leash lists for $90, but you can find it cheaper online. There's also the Zomm Wireless Leash Plus, which costs $10 more and works with the free myZomm App for Android or iOS to help you keep track of all kinds of objects besides your phone.
The Zomm does have some downsides: Leaving it paired with a phone can be a drain on the phone's battery, and it's easy to forget to turn the Zomm off when its distance alarm isn't needed -- for instance, when leaving your phone at your desk to attend a meeting. But for someone who has a bad habit of leaving expensive phones behind, it could really save the day.
-- Valerie Potter
Zomm Wireless Leash from Zomm LLC
Street price: $70 - $85
Summary: The handy Zomm Wireless Leash keeps you from leaving your phone behind.
There are a number of digital devices out there meant to encourage those of us who do a lot of sitting and computing to move around and get fit. Last year, our gift guide featured the FitBit, a small padded paperclip-type device that records your activities and downloads it to a website.
For more immediate feedback, there's the Striiv, a tiny, lightweight device with a 2-in. color touch display that tracks the number of steps you take and stairs you climb throughout the day. At any time, you can find out how you're doing compared to your daily average or to your maximums for the last week or last month.
The Striiv also tries to push its users to move more. As you earn energy points, you can use them to populate a fantasy landscape with creatures, plants and buildings. You can also take part in a virtual walkathon and donate to one of three charitable causes (according to its literature, Striiv has partnered with an organization called GlobalGiving for this purpose). And you can set yourself challenges such as a number of stairs to climb in 15 minutes, or a number of miles to walk in 30 minutes.
Striiv shipped in October 2011 and still has a few glitches, mainly involving the software it uses to sync with a computer (so you can register your charitable contribution), which is still in beta and singularly uninformative. But on the whole, this is a really fun and informative way to help someone you care about get motivated to get moving.
-- Barbara Krasnoff
Striiv from Striiv Inc.
Summary: If somebody in your life needs to get up and get moving, Striiv is a fun and convenient digital motivation tool.
Know someone who needs to keep two or more mobile devices charged when they travel? The iGo Charge Anywhere can provide juice to two devices simultaneously via its dual USB ports, and with an array of available adapter tips that plug into those ports, it's compatible with thousands of phones and other small devices (check for specific devices here).
Big deal! At least a dozen other (less expensive) universal chargers can do the same thing.
But the Charge Anywhere stands out from the crowd for a couple of reasons. It includes a 1800mAh battery so you can charge your device even when you're away from an outlet -- which, of course, is inevitably when your battery dies. And it's light (3.8 oz.) and compact (just 2.28 x 2.52 x 1.46 in.) with plug blades that fold in, so it's easy to carry around everywhere.
Note: The iGo site, which lists the Charge Anywhere at $40, says it's currently out of stock, but it's widely available at online retailers for around $32. You get one free adapter tip (plus the two USB ports) with the charger; additional tips range from $7.50 to $13.
For someone who's always on the go, the Charge Anywhere makes a very handy stocking stuffer.
You might also like: For something a bit more upscale, how about the AViiQ Portable Charging Station? This $80 charger houses a four-port USB hub in a slender zip-up case; USB cables stay inside in an orderly, clutter-free fashion.
-- Valerie Potter