Holiday Gift Guide #5 — Some Groovy Gadgets

Geek Culture Gift Guide Hacking the Holidays Tools

This week, we are on to one of our favorite categories, the ubiquitous gadget. Whether it’s something to help you get work done and a device to help you take care of yourself, gadgets just make everything easier. Check out our (long) list of favorite gadgets from Tony Sims, Brad Moon, Jonathan Liu, Curtis Silver, Jason Cranford Teague, Z, Chuck Lawton, James Floyd Kelly, Jenny Williams, and me. And if you’ve missed any of our other guides, you can find them here.


MIO Alpha Strapless Heart Rate Monitor
A lot of people make resolutions this time of year to get in shape, and a heart rate monitor can help make sure you don’t push too far too quickly. I’ve been testing the MIO Alpha Strapless Monitor for about a month now and I absolutely love it. The MIO Alpha is the world’s first strapless monitor; there’s no chest strap and nothing to wear besides the watch. Not only is it accurate (I get the exact same readings as the HRMs built into machines at the gym, probably because the MIO Alpha scores 99% against an EKG), it also picks up my heart rate much faster than any chest strap I’ve ever worn. Click one of the MIO Alpha’s two buttons and you can start workout mode, which alerts you when you drop (or top) out of a programmable heart rate zone. And on top of all that, it’s also a very cool looking watch. Buy it at Amazon. (DB)


ioSafe External Harddrives
If you need to make sure your data is safe, not just safe from disk failure but also from potential house fires or floods, then ioSafe is the external hard drive company for you. They have hard drives you can bolt to the floor, rugged portable drives, and even NAS systems so you can have your own personal cloud. If you’re looking for any external storage whatsoever, ioSafe is a solid choice. Available at Amazon. (JW)


Cool Tools
Can a book qualify as a gadget? It can if it’s Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, a full-color 460+ page catalog filled with tool recommendations that run from hand tools to books to websites to DIY stuff that’s just a bit difficult to be classified. After a few hours of browsing, my dad found a special tool he didn’t know existed for helping him replace the tiny tiny batteries in his hearing aids. My gardener mom has already found and asked for her birthday gift for next year — a unique set of garden shears. And I discovered a highly recommended book series that’s helping me prepare my own metalworking foundry (a project I’ve been wanting to do for some time). It’s an oversized book — 11×14 inches — so be sure to clear a space on your coffee table. You can read my complete review of the book here. (JFK)


iLoud Speaker
IK Multimedia has a new offering that lets musicians go mobile and be heard. The iLoud is the bluetooth speaker that goes to eleven. Dubbed the portable personal studio monitor, their speaker is true to its name delivering an extremely clear 40 watts of power with a 10 hour battery. But that’s only half of the story. An integrated iRig guitar/bass input enables connectivity to the Amplitube app on your mobile device for amp modeling with effects. It’s a powerhouse for impromptu jam sessions and quite simply one of the best sounding bluetooth speakers out there. Buy it at Amazon. (CL)


Transformers Construct-Bots
The good news is Santa got my letter. The bad is that it arrived nearly 30 years too late. Hasbro’s new Construct-Bots are Transformers for the DIY generation. Triple Changers like this Bumblebee can be assembled in one of two alt modes that transform into robot mode without the need of dismantling/reconfiguring the individual components, but the real fun comes when you purchase multiple figures. Triple Changers, Elite Class and even the simpler Scout Class sets can be mined for parts and used to create your own custom ‘bot. If you’ve ever wanted easily hackable Transformers, your time has come! [Review materials provided by: Hasbro] (Z.)


The Wahoo Balance Smart Body Scale
The saying goes that ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to loosing weight that could not be less true. At around $80, The Wahoo Balance Smart Body Scale is an effective way to turn knowledge into power. The scale links easily to your iPhone through a Bluetooth connection, working with the free app to record your weight and BMI (Body Mass Index) chart your progress. After a simple set up—it literally took seconds—you can run the iPhone app (sorry, no Android or Windows app) whenever you step on the scale and record your current weight with a tap of the screen. The data is then graphed showing changes in weight and BMI over time, with a smiley face when your weight is down. You can set a goal weight to track against. You can also set up different profiles for different family members, even allowing the scale to auto synch to a particular account if the detected weight falls within a certain range associated with that user. For example, if you are between 220–250lbs. and your spouse is between 160–180 lbs., it knows the difference and synchs the weight accordingly. Buy it here. (JCT)


Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite
This super thin laptop might not have the muscles that the non-lite version carries, but at nearly half the price the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite isn’t a slacker. While some concessions had to be made, such as a completely plastic frame (versus aluminum), this laptop still boasts a 1.4Ghz processor and a 250GB SSD drive. A touch screen laptop with an SSD drive for under $1000? Regardless of any shortcomings in it being classified as “lite,” that’s a pretty good deal. Available at (CS)

UE Boom

UE Boom Wireless Speaker
I’ve tried out a lot of wireless speakers this past year and the Ultimate Ears Boom is my favorite. Big sound in a small package, easy to sync via Bluetooth or NFC, and huge volume buttons. Get two for stereo sound, and use the free UE Boom app to fine-tune settings or set an alarm. (Note: cute baby compensates for the hard-partying folks on the UE website.) The UE Boom retails for $199.99 and is available in a range of colors. Buy it from Amazon. (JL)


Sonos Play:1 Wireless Speaker
Finding a decent wireless speaker for under $200 is tough — many in that price range are built more for portability than audio quality. Sonos has a long standing reputation for providing high fidelity wireless audio gear that skips the Bluetooth compression and offers the added advantage of expandability. The Sonos Play:1 is its most affordable option yet. For a limited time, the Wi-Fi bridge is included for free. You can expand the system later — add a second Play:1 for full stereo, for example, but right out of the box you’ll have a wireless speaker that looks and sounds better than most. Buy it from Amazon. (BM)


Sky Viper QuadCopter
Amazon will not be using these to deliver packages to your door, but you can have a ton of fun with the Sky Viper QuadCopter! We have so many toy-grade RC helicopters that I should be a collector. My son and I usually play with them until the ceiling fan takes their plastic lives, but they are fun for a bit. The Sky Viper though is something completely different. It does not spin around in circles while you try to gain control or lurch up and down, it just works right. The Sky Viper flies straight with precision control — even up and down fluidly with a computer-controlled 6-axis gyro and accelerometer stabilization. It even has pre-programed stunts built-in! Get one today from Amazon. (TS)


The Brydge + Bluetooth Keyboard
I love my iPad, but I hate the touchscreen keyboard, so I love testing out alternatives. Recently, I tested a Brydge +, which is made from the same anodized aluminum as an iPad. The Bydge + is hinged, making the marriage of keyboard feel like a laptop, but with the freedom of leaving the keyboard behind if I want. The keyboard itself is responsive and feels almost full-size, which is nice. The plus model comes with speakers too, which offer an advantage over the iPad’s anemic speakers. You can check out the Brydge’s specs here and then order at the Brydge site. (DB)

GoPro Hero3 Black

GoPro Hero3 Camera
Whether you love to capture action video as you bike down the winding single-track or go river rafting, or if you just want a camera that you can hand to your kids and not worry about, the GoPro Hero3 is the answer. Extremely compact and well-protected in its waterproof case, the Hero3 captures stunning video or still images. It is so itty bitty that it will fit in your pocket or bag, and has very affordable accessories. Check it out at Amazon! (JW)


ScanSnap Scanner
I’ve reviewed more scanners than I can remember, and the more recent products are definitely a major improvement over the old desktop flatbed scanners. Two of my favorite suppliers of scanners are Doxie and Fujitsu, and you really can’t go wrong with any of their current models — the Doxie Go series is my favorite when it comes to the small, portable, no-computer-needed scanning. But for books, magazines, and just about everything else, I now head upstairs to the home-office and fire up the ScanSnap SV600. It handles photos and other single-sided items, but its real power is in book and magazine scanning. Lay a book open and the SV600 can scan both pages simultaneously and then the software can crop to the edges of the pages and flatten the page as well. Additional software features allow you to split a scan into two distinct pages and save as a keyword-searchable PDF. You can read my two reviews of the SV600 here and here. (JFK)


iPhone Boom Mic and Slingshot Stabilizer
Photojojo’s iPhone Boom Mic and Slingshot stabilizer and tripod are great devices on their own – the former is an adjustable boom that fits into your headphone/mic jack and allows for much improved mono- or omnidirectional sound capture, while the latter is an ingeniously simple one-handed phone stabilizer with a built-in tripod. Together, however, they’re an unbeatable iPhone filming upgrade that’s perfect for recording concert footage, making silly movies with your kids or capturing those Christmas morning memories. Plus, with a combined price of $60, they ship free to the US. [Review materials provided by: Photojojo] (Z.)


TRACE Premise Surveillance Camera
Maybe you’re paranoid, maybe someone has been stealing packages off your front stoop, maybe you just want to get some night pictures of nature. Regardless, this camera captures HD video in a lockable weather resistant case. With a 50 foot radius and infrared night time illumination, the Trace Premise snaps video in under 1 second when triggered. Self sustaining and mountable pretty much anywhere, this camera is a must have if you are looking for a cheap option to capture all the action in your backyard while you are sleeping. Available at (CS)

Korg Headtune

Korg Headtune
For the musician geek in your life, the Korg Headtune is a tiny little device that clips onto your instrument’s headstock and helps you tune up quickly. Pluck a string, and the Headtune displays the closest note and whether you’re sharp or flat. There are different versions for guitar, bass, or ukelele—though we’ve been using ours on violins and mandolins. Buy it from Amazon. (JL)


VMD – Vehicles of Mass Destruction
The Vehicles of Mass Destruction are powerful remote-operated weapons that shoot hard, fast and far. There are currently two versions of the VMD tank-like RC vehicles and both are really cool! The Missile Striker fires a large foam dart that claims to shoot over 65 feet, while I cannot attest to that — I can say it will destroy LEGO castles and hit a neighbor’s roof from my yard. The Cannon Commando packs a gatling cannon that can rapidly fire 16 smaller foam darts in succession. Again, this will turn any room into a battlefield and yield no mercy on pets or action figures alike. Get one or both today from Amazon. (TS)

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