There are few things more closely associated with geeks than the gadget. This catch-all category covers everything from the practical and purpose driven to the clever and quirky. We’ve had our eyes out for the best gadgets and found a lot; yet we somehow narrowed it down to this jumbo-sized selection. So let us serve as Q to your Bond and show you out favorite gadgets we found this year. Recommendations come from John Baichtal (JWB), Jonathan Liu (JL), Ken Denmead (KD), Z (Z), Kathy Ceceri, (KC), Jenny Williams (JW), Corrina Lawson (CL), and me (DB) or take a look at previous gift guides.
Fun Kits from Think Geek
Want to get your hands a little dirty this holiday break? Check out some of the electronics kits over at Think Geek. There are many to choose from, but a couple of my favorites are the Useless Box from Solarbotics and the MintyBoost from Adafruit. The Useless Box is pretty, well, useless. After you put it together, every time you turn its switch on, the box turns itself off. Kids will get endless kicks out of it and you can always tell New Year’s Eve guests that their car keys are inside. If they can’t figure it out, they can’t drive home.
The MintyBoost is a simple electronics kit that allows you to create an emergency USB charger that you can use to charge cameras or phones when away from an electrical source. The whole shebang is meant to fit in an Altoids tin (thus the name) and, like the Useless Box, requires minimal soldering. Both kits are very simple and if you need to learn how to solder (or just a refresher) check out these easy instructions on Ladyada’s site.
Finally, for the younger and the truly creative, the Makey Makey Invention kit is a must-have for everyone. Turn lumps of Play-Doh into a game controller, type with bananas, or turn a bunch of pencils into a musical instruments — you’re only limited by your imagination. Inventing has never been this easy. (DB)
I love hip-hop, and, more to the point, I love beats. Sadly I am kind of horrible at making them. Thankfully there’s Korg’s nanoPAD2. It’s an ultra-slim USB-MIDI controller that boasts 16 velocity-sensitive pads, a multifunction X-Y touchpad and four scenes for expanded sample assignment. It comes with its own bundled software, but plays well with GarageBand or your favorite sequencer. It pairs this simple interface with an almost unbelievably tiny footprint sure to please serious musicians as easily as it does hobbyists. (Z.)
The Solemate is a battery-powered bluetooth speaker with really great sound for its modest (a little under 7 inches long) size. The Solemate is named for the fact that it sort of looks like a shoe. It has a carrying loop on one end, and the base has huge cleats which help reduce vibration and movement when you’re bumping the bass. It weighs over a pound, giving it a little extra staying power.
Syncing is a breeze, with a convenient robot voice letting you know when you’ve connected. Once you’ve gone through the initial steps to sync, resyncing is a breeze basically forever. Even better, the Solemate can serve as a speakerphone. Buy it from Amazon. (JWB)
ioSafe Rugged External Hard Drives
If you prefer your computer to be backed up locally instead of, or in addition to, in the cloud, any product from ioSafe is a very good choice. Solid, reliable hardware combined with fire- and waterproof technology gives you confidence that your data will be safe, regardless of natural or other disasters. ioSafe also makes more portable hard drives, and are branching out into NAS (Network Attached Storage). Read more at GeekMom and GeekDad, or buy them at Amazon. (JW)
The Zooka Bluetooth speaker slides easily onto the edge of your iPad or MacBook (with a notch for the webcam) and boosts the sound so you don’t have to choose between headphones or those tinny tiny speakers. A removable kickstand lets you prop up your iPad, a built-in mic (and 30-ft range) make it suitable as an iPhone speakerphone, and the silicon exterior is sturdy and comfortable. (Just one note: it’s too heavy for a MacBook Air. I’ve tried.) Read the GeekDad write-up, or find out more at Carbon Audio’s website. (JL)
The VTech Retro Phone
This is the prettiest cordless phone I’ve ever had in my phone. I already have an actual rotary dial phone in my family room because the kids cannot wreck it. I keep this one in my bedroom as it looks stylish and charges easily. Bonus points for being able to easily access the messages from the handset. Buy it at Amazon. (CL)
Logitech K310 Washable Keyboard
For those of us who may, from time to time, consume a meal or a beverage while working at our computers, the Logitech K310 keyboard may be the perfect answer to the risks those habits create. How many of us have ruined a keyboard by spilling a drink on it? How many have created pandemic-level pathogens with the food detritus that has built up in the nooks and crannies of our keyboard? Well, fret no more! Logitech, making of fine computing accessories, has solved our problem by creating a washable keyboard. The K310 is a stylish standard keyboard designed to be, literally, held under water and cleaned (or at least rinsed). It even has drainage holes. But it works quite well as a day-to-day keyboard as well (Logitech is really good at making keyboard). So, if you have a family member whose keyboard cleanliness leaves something to be desired, this may be the perfect holiday gift. Buy it at Amazon. (KD)
Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver Universal Remote
You’ll have everyone calling you Doctor when you wield this fantastic remote control to change channels, mute commercials, and press “play” to begin The Snowmen. While this universal remote can store nearly 40 remote codes, maybe its coolest feature is its ability to interpret gestures into commands — want to turn down the volume? Simply twist the sonic screwdriver. The tip illuminates and glows green, while the volume falls. This remote can do it all … except lockpicking. (DB)
The only thing that annoys me more than tuning is tuners. Pedal tuners mean additional patch cables, integrated amp tuners require additional button-fiddling and handheld tuners demand far more silence than I’m ever able to give them. The Korg Pitchclip, however, attaches easily to my guitar headstock, runs off a single coin cell and has a bright LED display that swivels 120 degrees for perfect visibility. The only thing more compelling than its simple one-button control is its delightfully diminutive size. (Z.)
Pure Contour 200i Air
This is a great speaker for iOS devices. You can plug your phone directly into the dock in front, which plays tunes and charges the phone as you’d expect. It also streams audio via AirPlay, Apple’s audio streaming function, giving you two solid ways to listen to music. You can stream audio to multiple 200i Airs simultaneously! Audio quality is good, with two 3.5″ 18-watt speakers; its 14″ width might take you aback, but the great sound justifies its footprint.
Setup is easy, particularly if you don’t use AirPlay — just pop your phone or Touch and start playing. One pleasant surprise was that you don’t have to download the company’s app to use the device, though they do have one that you can grab if you want, and it plays Internet radio stations. Finally, the unit’s remote is small and elegantly designed. It’s a great charger/speaker! Buy it from Amazon (JWB)
Tenqa Bluetooth Headphones
Free yourself from cords and use these headphones with any Bluetooth-enabled device. Watch movies on your iPad, play games on your laptop, or listen to music on your iPod. These rechargeable headphones last seemingly forever on a charge and allow you to move around while you watch or listen. Read the review, or buy them at Amazon. (JW)
Samsung Galaxy Camera
Business up front, Fruit Ninja in the back. Imagine your smartphone with a 16 megapixel, 21x-zoom camera on the backside, and that’s pretty close to what you’ll get with the Samsung Galaxy Camera. (Well, minus the phone.) With an four-inch Android tablet on the back with Wifi (and a SIM card slot for cellular access), you can post your photos to Twitter and Facebook directly from the camera, or automatically share them with your nearby friends as you snap. Visit the Samsung website for more details; currently the camera is available exclusively from AT&T stores. (JL)
Logitech Harmony Touch
The Harmony series of universal remotes continue to be the standard against which all others are measured. The hardware is excellent, as we’ve come to expect from Logitech products. And the web-based programming system that takes all terribly fumbling with codes and pointing remotes at each other to “learn” out of the equation. We’ve used our Logitech Harmony One for years now, but for this holiday season, a new, fancier model has hit the stores.
The Logitech Harmony Touch builds on the One, by including a touchscreen to replace many of the hard-programmed buttons, giving it a much more user-friendly appearance. Just the commands you need at any given time appear on the screen, and the system comes with specific icons for most of the TV channels available on US cable/satellite systems. The remote is also smaller, more streamline, and yet still gives you a sense of weight and solidity. In many ways, this is the iPhone of remotes, because you lose the tactile feedback of many of the buttons you normally can press by touch only (without looking), but once you’re through the learning curve, there’s no going back. Buy the Logitech Harmony Touch or the Harmony One at Amazon. (KD)
Gillette Fusion ProGlide Styler
Now that Movember is over, it’s probably time to do something about the scraggly patch on your lip and chin. Not only will it trim up your soul patch with three different combs that allow for a few different lengths, but you can also use the Styler with a ProGlide cartridge for a clean, close shave. What’s more, it has an edging blade to make nice, edged sideburns or goatees. The Fusion ProGlide Styler will have you looking good all year long. Buy it at Amazon. (DB)
Optrix XD Rugged Case
Mountable iPhone case with a built-in 175-degree wide-angle lens, designed to mount on skateboards, handlebars, and helmets for x-treme action videography! This thing is built tough, claiming mil-spec durability with regards to impact, particle resistance, vibration, and water immersion. There’s actually two cases, with the phone fitting into a thinner protective case which slides inside the big outer one. The case itself is a breeze to mount and dismount, and connect to a mounting plate that can be attached to whatever with hardware or a 3M adhesive patch. All of this, and you can still control the phone’s touch screen through a membrane. Optrix also provides an app that overlays such data as speed and G-force over the video. Buy it from Amazon. (JWB)
emWave2 Portable Biofeedback Device
Learn to control your stress and anxiety with this portable biofeedback device. It will help you calm down, combat stress, or fight panic attacks. It can help you achieve certain goals such as relaxation, or awareness of your heart rate and breathing. And it’s small enough to fit in your pocket. The accompanying software gives you even more options for use. Read the review, or buy it at Amazon. (JW)
Connect your lighting to your WiFi router with the new Philips Hue. Each LED bulb can generate white light from warm to bright and a huge variety of colors across the spectrum. The base station can control up to 50 bulbs and each can be controlled by your iOS or Android device. Control the lights when you’re not at home, match lighting to wall color, or even program the lights to wake you up each morning. Available exclusively at Apple stores. (DB)
Panasonic Technics RP-DJ1205 Headphones
OK, amazing sound. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. And at $249.99 these ‘phones had better sound sweet. But what else do you get? To begin with, they’re very likely the most comfortable headphones I’ve used, with a deliciously padded ear pads and a mess of adjustments that you can make to ensure that it fits perfectly. I’ve worn these ‘phones for hours at a time without any sort of discomfort. The coiled cord, which stretches to 10 feet, never gets tangled. Finally, as the headphones rock a DJ style, you can fold one earpiece back for the classic one-ear look or fold both for easy travel. Did I mention amazing sound? Buy them from Amazon. (JWB)
Idapt Charging Station
If you have a variety of devices to charge, don’t go hunting around the house for the right charger. The Idapt charging station has many tips available for different kinds and brands of devices, including those that charge via USB. Simplify your charging station with an Idapt unit. Read the review, or buy it at Amazon. (JW)
This classic 8-bit style controller with D-Pad, shoulder buttons and four face buttons is compatible with over 150 apps, including Atari’s greatest hits and all iCade games. The bluetooth controller works with iPhones, iPads and Android devices. Get your old school game on with 8-bitty. Buy it at Think Geek. (DB)
If you’re looking for a super-elite gaming mouse, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one more customizable than the ambidextrous Razer Ouroboros. You can swap out the side panels to fit personal preference and the palm rest slides out nearly a full inch and tilts to fit nearly any hand. It boasts 200 dpi for tight precision and a single AA battery will give you up to 12 hours of play. Buy it at the Razer store. (DB)
Iomega EZ Media and Backup Center
Iomega’s network attached storage drive could be the solution that simplifies Dad’s data storage needs. It’s a hard drive (you can choose 1, 2, or 3TB) packing a 1.3Ghz CPU, a USB 2.0 port, and a gigabit ethernet port. Iomega claims a number of Linux distros are compatible with the device, as well as machines running Windows and Mac OS. Iomega’s Protection Suite software provides a lot of value as well. It features media streaming (DLNA certified), file access via web browser, Time Machine compatibility, and you can set a backup schedule to keep your data safe. Buy it from Amazon. (JWB)
I became interested in smartpens when my oldest signed up for college classes in high school. As it turned out, his old-fashioned note-taking sufficed — but as someone who’s constantly scribbling down ideas for projects and crafts, I still love the idea of a pen that records and plays back audio synched to the notes or drawings you make. Livescribe Smartpens have a special notebook for writing and drawing, as well as stickers to use in printed material to record notes or create your own read-aloud storybooks. Amazon carries both the Livescribe 4G Echo Smartpen and the newer Livescribe 4 GB Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen. (KC)