No one needs another scarf, tie, or festive cheese ball. Tech gear? Well, that’s a whole ’nother story. Here’s an eclectic mix of holiday gifts—any of which are sure to win the love and admiration of the technophile on your shopping list. One proviso: We’ve left off some obvious (and very good) choices, like the Apple iPhone and Kindle Fire, since we covered them in recent issues.
1. Distil Union iPhone Snooze Alarm
This $35 nightstand dock turns an iPhone into a bedside alarm clock, complete with a “slap-happy” snooze bar. Distil Union’s free Snooze App shows the time on the iPhone screen. To silence the morning alarm—or ignore an incoming call—simply slap the rubber snooze bar button. The wooden dock is built to hold an iPhone (4 model or later) alone or in a small iPhone case. Another plus: The built-in cord catch prevents the iPhone’s charging cable from falling behind the nightstand.
2. SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip
Not only does SanDisk’s $50 digital music player have twice the storage of the 2 GB Apple iPod shuffle, it has a 1.1-inch color display for viewing album track titles and art work. (The shuffle doesn’t have a screen.) The Sansa Clip Zip is compatible with most digital audio formats, including AAC (iTunes), and has a built-in FM radio. A clip on the Sansa’s backside makes the player easy to attach to a belt, clothing, or backpack strap. And here’s the kicker: The 4 GB Sansa Clip Zip costs the same as—OK, 99 cents more than—the Apple iPod shuffle.
3. Google Chromecast
Chromecast is a small device that plugs into an HDTV’s HDMI port.
Wait, stifle that yawn! Chromecast ($35) is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to stream Internet video and audio—including Netflix and YouTube—to a big-screen TV. Using Google’s Chrome browser or app, you control Chromecast via a tablet, smartphone, or personal computer (PC). Even better, Chromecast will add features as software developers write more video apps to work with it.
4. Fitbit Flex
This water-resistant wristband is handy for that special someone who’s trying to shed pounds, exercise more, and get healthy. Fitbit Flex tracks calories, distance, and steps during the day, as well as sleep activity at night. It also compiles the wearer’s stats and syncs them wirelessly with a smartphone, tablet, or PC. Graphs and charts show your physical activity and reveal health trends, such as whether you’re burning more calories by walking to lunch every day. Priced at $100, Flex even lets you challenge friends and family to fitness competitions.
5. Bluetooth Headphones
If there’s a music lover on your list, wireless headphones are a great way of saying, “I love you, but please keep your music to yourself.” You could spend hundreds of dollars on high-end Bluetooth headphones, but there are plenty of quality options south of $100. The $45 Kinivo BTH220 headphones are comfortable to wear, fold up easily, and deliver good sound quality for the price. And the MEElectronics Air-Fi Runaway ($99.99 list, but street-priced closer to $60) phones have soft padding, a hidden microphone, enhanced bass, and convenient music and phone controls.
6. Google Chromebook
A laptop for $200 to $350 … that’s actually usable? Reputable PC makers such as Acer, Hewlett-Packard, and Samsung offer Chromebooks, bargain laptops that run dozens of free Google Web-based applications. Built for cloud computing, a Chromebook comes with 100 GB of free space on the Google Drive online storage site for two years, after which you’ll have to buy more room for additional files. For folks who spend most of their computing time inside a Web browser, the Chromebook is an appealing alternative to pricier Mac and Windows laptops.
7. Microsoft Xbox One
Know a serious gamer? Well, if you don’t mind dropping a cool $500, your timing is impeccable. Microsoft is about to launch the Xbox One, the latest version of its popular game console. In addition to stunningly immersive and realistic games, Xbox One comes with Microsoft’s Kinect technology for controlling the device with gestures, movements, and voice commands. The Blu-ray player is handy for watching HD movies on disc too. With an Xbox Live Gold Subscription ($60 per year) you can stream Internet video services like Netflix, and engage in Skype video chats with friends while watching TV. Bottom line: Xbox One is a powerful, if pricey, home entertainment system with something for everyone, even non-gamers.
8. Sony PlayStation 4
If the Xbox One is too pricey, consider the PlayStation 4, which is slightly more affordable at $400. The PS4 also features rich graphics and immersive games. It plays Blu-ray discs, has optional motion-control features, and you won’t have to pay extra, aside from the service fee, to stream Internet video services (e.g., Netflix, Hulu Plus). As with the Xbox One, you can start playing games while they’re downloading.
9. Samsung Galaxy S4
Too many Android phones out there? Check out the Samsung Galaxy S4, a huge handset that somehow manages to be both slim and stylish. The 5-inch HD display shows sharp details and bold colors, and the 13-megapixel rear camera with LED flash captures images that rival those of a good point-and-shoot. The Galaxy S4 does some clever — and vaguely creepy — tricks as well. Smart Pause, for instance, pauses the video you’re watching when your eyes look away, and then resumes playing when they return. The S4 costs $200 with a 2-year AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless contract, or $600 and up without a contract.