You are currently down to the proverbial wire. You’re in a gift-shopping crunch, and likely the folks remaining on your list aren’t still they’re because they’re your least favorite; they’re likely just difficult to shop for. With that in mind, here are a handful of helpful suggestions.
An Inexpensive Tablet That’s Actually Worth Having – Kindle Fire HD 6 / Fire HD Kids Edition
If your kids are anything like mine, they desperately want an iPad for Christmas – except they don’t necessarily want an iPad-proper. (The term itself has become yet another proprietary eponym, like Pop-Tarts, Kleenex or Chap Stick.)
As a Kindle Fire HDX-owning Prime subscriber with a ton of apps and media already purchased from Amazon’s digital environment, adding more Kindle devices only made sense – and at a $99 price point who could say no?
In a world of phablets, a 6″ display may not sound like much, but the Fire supports 1280×800 resolution at 252 ppi, which makes for crisp visuals on its diminutive screen. Its quad-core processor pushes up to 1.5GHz, and, while I do notice the occasional slowdown, it’s snappy enough for most tasks. The construction is solid, and the choice of color options for the rear shell gives it a little extra style.
The only real drawbacks are the cameras (VGA front-facing and 2MP rear), and the constrained storage space; the $99 8GB model only offers about 4.5GB of free space. Still, it’s a great way to introduce the uninitiated to tablet computing, especially if you’re already among the Amazon-faithful.
For a little extra scratch you can certainly upgrade to the 16GB model or even make the jump to the HD 7, but if you’re buying for a particularly young geekling you’re likely bettered served by the Fire HD Kids Edition. This includes a 2-year, worry-free breakage guarantee, a spongey (think Nerf) case and a year of Amazon’s premium Freetime Unlimited service.
This means that – in addition to already being able to do things like set daily reading goals, whitelist selections from your own purchased books and apps for use by youngsters and even lock down the Fire after bedtime, all easily implemented via the new Profiles & Family Library service – Amazon will also provide your kids with a growing assortment of curated age-appropriate content. Best of all, a single Freetime Unlimited license can be shared by multiple family members, each with his or her own age restrictions and usage constraints.
A New Way to Manage Your Heating and Cooling – Honeywell’s Lyric Thermostat
I’ve been in the market for a smart thermostat for a while now, but, while I was equally interested in both connectivity and the ability to reduce my power consumption, I didn’t want to get saddled with a complex setup or the inevitably convoluted schedule that would surely reflect my irregular daily comings and goings.
I found a great match in the Honeywell Lyric. Installation was a breeze, with the device’s partner app walking me through every step of the process. While the thermostat has wonderful eye appeal – complete with a minimalist touch interface, auto-wake motion sensor functionality, a rotatable outer ring and subtle light effects that complement its round throwback shape – the app itself is the functional nerve center.
It’s designed to give the user very granular control of how the Lyric operates, including Smart Cues to keep you informed of its current status and upcoming maintenance, and to walk you through the creation of Shortcuts – behavior macros that can be either automatic (if/then) or manually toggled on and off via the app itself.
My favorite feature, however, is its Geofencing. By creating two simple Shortcut rules, keep it comfortable when I’m at home but switch to power-saving Eco mode while I’m away, my Lyric has established a geographic threshold. When I cross that border in the morning it dials back the climate control, and then it slowly returns the house to my preferred temperature on my trip home. In short, it’s flexibility and functionality without a lot of hassle.
Dress Up That New Device – Skinit Cases and Skins
I really like to accessorize. (That shouldn’t exactly come as a surprising stance to our regular readers.) As such, I never feel like a new phone or other gadget is mine until I’ve dressed it up a bit.
I’m all for uploading a picture of your kids or your dog or your kids’ dog to create a truly one-of-a-kind device cover, but I also like a solid selection of licensed designs. Skinit offers both in a staggering number of permutations. Whether you’re looking for a specific case option for a tablet or an Otterbox-compatible adhesive skin, they’ve got you covered. (PUN!)
If you’re surprising a loved one with a new device, including a special cover is a good way to add a personal touch. Obviously Skinit’s create-your-own process can easily walk you through the design process for an original product, but a geeky recipient might prefer one of their growing line of licensed images.
Alongside names like Hello Kitty, Looney Tunes and even the NHL, they’ve recently added nerdy standards Star Wars and Marvel Comics. From the former line I’d direct your attention to the Chewbacca on Hoth design, which makes for an amazing hard case, while, from the latter, the muted tones of the Avengers Action Sketch look perfectly gorgeous on a MacBook.
Give the Gift of Sci-Fi/Fantasy Gaming – Shadowrun
D&D isn’t the only big name RPG brand currently celebrating a tabletop renaissance. Shadowrun – also now in its 5th edition – has returned, and exploring the Sixth World has never been easier thanks to not one but two great starter sets.
The Shadowrun Beginner Box Set is a fun, easy and super-affordable way to jump into this world of technology, magic and corporations run amok. Complete with a 24-page primer (The Edge of Now), easy-to-understand quick-start rules containing an intro mission and Gamemaster info and five pre-generated characters on durable, full color laminate paper (troll face Ms. Myth even has a multi-page character dossier with a bonus solo mission), it really has a lot to offer. And that’s without even mentioning the excerpt from Shadowrun novel Fire & Frost – which perfectly captures the type of engaging fiction this unique environment fosters – and a dozen d6s to help you get started building (or rebuilding) your dice collection.
A nice step up in both complexity and content is the Runners Toolkit Alphaware. This big box includes more than a few familiar items – dice, the Fire & Frost excerpt and The Edge of Now – but there’s so much more! Coydog, Sledge, Gentry and Hardpoint each get their own dossiers as well as customizable (and oh, so glossy!) character sheets. The Rules of the Street guidebook further expands on the world of Shadowrun, in-game combat, magic, technology and equipment, giving players a real grasp of what the Sixth World has to offer, and an included stack of gear and spell cards helps them make their adventures their own. Gamemasters also get a nice quick-reference sheet, the 76-page Plots and Paydata adventure guide and maps galore.
While neither of these approach the massive content (or massive bulk) of the hardbound fifth edition core books, the value-to-cost ratio skews heavily in the consumers’ favor. Gamers can easily get their feet wet with the Beginner Box, but the Runners Toolkit Alphaware is sure to please the returning shadowrunner with its irresistible treasure trove of quality wares.
All Things Old Are New Again – Hasbro’s Transformers: Generations and Marvel Super Hero Mashers
The Transformers Generations line offers collector quality toys at kid-friendly prices, and is perfect for fans of all ages. With this year being the property’s big 30th anniversary, Hasbro went all out with their offerings. Gen 1 favorites like the Deluxe Class Arcee make amazing additions to any old school toy hound’s lineup, while the alternate color palette of the High Octane Bumblebee is more specifically geared toward those interested in the series’ modern incarnations.
If you’re looking for a toy with broad appeal for a comic book fan, though, I’d say look no farther than the new Marvel Super Hero Mashers. These modular figures can be easily disassembled and combined with parts from any other compatible toy to create the ultimate customized hero (or villain) – a feat that’s far beyond our beloved old Secret Wars action figures. There are two-packs, which are a great place to start, but you can grab singles to create a more a la cart mix-and-match play experience. Best of all, the Mashers line also extends to the Transformers, putting an even broader base of cool arms, legs, heads, torsos, weapons and accessories at your disposal.