The latest trendy smartphone alone could set you back $650 or more. But plenty of cool and clever tech gadgets cost a Benjamin or less. Here are our faves:
Hobby-class flying drones can run hundreds of dollars, but the Hubsan X4 H107L (www.hubsan.com) is nicely priced at around $30 online. A diminutive quadcopter small enough to rest on the palm of your hand, the Hubsan X4 packs enough oomph for dazzling flying tricks that you control wirelessly via a handheld transmitter. Four LEDs — one in each corner — make the drone easy to spot on night flights. But keep your trips short: Flight time is about 7 minutes with a control distance of 100 meters.
The Apple Watch is pretty, but it’s crazy expensive ($350 and up) for someone who wants a basic fitness tracker. The frugal alternative? Misfit Flash ($30, misfit.com) is a stylish wristband that monitors physical activity — miles traveled, steps taken, and calories burned — and sleep quality. Flash syncs with your Android or iOS smartphone, where the Misfit app tracks your fitness progress and lets you set exercise goals.
Maybe there’s a smartphone klutz on your list, a special someone suffering from a chronic bout of the dropsies. Lifeproof (lifeproof.com) specializes in ruggedized phone cases for inhospitable environments: a sandy beach, ski slope, or even a mountaintop. The dirt- and waterproof LifeProof NÜÜD ($81 for the iPhone 6; $90 for the iPhone 6 Plus) survives drops from 2 meters (6.6 feet) and is remarkably slim for a tough and sturdy case.
A standard tablet keyboard won’t bring glad tidings. But how about one that switches seamlessly between three devices: tablet, smartphone, and PC? Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480 ($50, logitech.com) connects wirelessly with up to three devices, and includes an integrated cradle for a phone and tablet. A left-side dial makes it easy to switch between devices: Tap out a text message on your phone, then flip the dial to begin writing a long document on your laptop or tablet — all on the same keyboard.
Here’s one for the selfie fan on your list. Camkix Extendable Selfie Stick with Bluetooth Remote ($23, camkix.com) does pretty much what its name suggests — allow your narcissistic pal to take self-portraits with ease. The retractable stick extends from 11 to 40 inches, works with newer Android and iPhone models, and has a Bluetooth remote for controlling the phone’s camera shutter. Then again, you may not want to encourage this behavior.
Sure, a smartphone is handy for tunes on the go — but its speakers and headphones don’t do the music justice. The JBL Flip 2 ($100, jbl.com) is a portable wireless speaker with a 5-hour battery. It connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone (or other compatible device) to deliver clear audio with reasonably deep bass, given its soda can size. Another plus: A built-in microphone allows you to answer calls and use the Flip 2 as a speakerphone. A Christmas miracle? Not quite, but it’s still pretty cool.
Roku 3 ($100, roku.com) is pricey as video streamers go, but it’s worth the $30 to $65 premium over competing set-top boxes. What sets it apart? Clever extras like voice search on the Roku 3 remote, which makes it far easier to search for titles, actors, and channels. The in-ear headphones plug into the remote, preserving the peace in the wee hours when you want to watch a show while your partner sleeps. Priced a penny under $100, Roku 3 delivers more than 2,000 channels from the Internet to your TV, including cord-cutter favorites like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Big-screen smartphones outsell tablets by a wide margin, but the latter is still better for a lot of things, such as curling up with a good e-book. One of the best tablet deals this season is the Amazon Fire HD 6 — just $100 with free shipping (amazon.com). Don’t let the bargain price fool you. This 6-inch slate has a vibrant HD display, a speedy processor, and 8 GB of storage (4.5 GB available). For streaming movies, social media, and other light tasks, the Fire HD 6 is a great choice. Is $100 too much? Amazon unveiled a new $50 Fire tablet for the holidays. The 7-inch Fire is a notch below the Fire HD 6 in terms of speed and screen quality, but still good enough for reading and Web browsing. Its memory card slot adds up to 128 GB of additional storage, but don’t expect stellar photos from the so-so front and rear cameras.