Holiday Tech Toys

Holiday Tech Toys 2016

holidaytechtoy2016 has certainly been an interesting year to say the least. I think many people are looking forward to the holiday break but first we all must get some gift shopping done. In order to help all of you make good technology gifting decisions, I present to you my 9th Annual Holiday Tech Toys list. This year I’ve tried to present a list of lower-cost items that are still great tech gifts and some can even work as stocking stuffers. Make sure to take a look at Holiday Tech Toys from years past as there are likely still many gifts that could still be good choices for this year.

iHome SmartPlug

Holiday Tech ToysI’ve been following home automation technology for a long time. Besides being expensive, the main problem in years past has been that most home automation devices were difficult to understand and devices from different companies rarely worked well together. Anyone who wanted to go beyond simple automation had to be highly technical or pay someone a good chunk of money to set up highly complicated systems. The good news is that in the last few years various companies such as Apple with their HomeKit platform, Google with their Nest platform, and handful of others including Amazon’s Alexa are bridging together formerly disparate home automation technologies into cohesive and simpler to use units. Unfortunately many home automation technologies are still a bit pricey. However I did find one inexpensive home automation device that can easily automate many electronics such as lamps and small appliances. The iHome SmartPlug iSP5 requires nothing more than a smartphone and Wi-Fi network to function. I’ve found it as low as $29 at Home Depot and it I’ve purchased several for my home over the last year. My family and I can control the attached devices with a simple app on our iPhones or by using Siri voice commands. Because I did not need to buy a “hub” or other proprietary controlling device, this makes setup very simple and less expensive. Another great thing about the iHome SmartPlug is that it works with virtually every current home automation platform. Note that the iSP5 model may be getting low on stock as the replacement iSP6 model begins to enter the market. The iSP6 is about $10 more expensive on average than the iSP5, but I expect that this price will drop over time.

 

Holiday Tech ToysSmall Flying Drones

Flying drones have been a popular, albeit expensive, tech toy over the last few years. However, I am now starting to see small drones that are much less expensive, yet still have some of the capabilities that have made flying drones so popular. A quick search around a store like Best Buy will show many drones now under $200, with several under $150 and $100. If you’re looking for more of a “toy” flying drone, there are now many under $50, although you will sacrifice some features that more “serious” drones offer. Still, for under $50, it could be a great way to find out if you or your family have a real interest in pursuing the larger, more expensive flying drones.

 

NES Classic

Holiday Tech ToysThose of us who know (or remember) video game history will say that the Atari 2600 was the first popular home console system. But we also know that it was the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that really brought home video gaming into the mainstream and we have never looked back. Now those us of that want a simple way to play several of the most popular NES games on our new-fangled HDTVs have an option in the new NES Classic mini-console. At $60, it is a miniaturized version of the original NES system with 30 built-in games, plus an HDMI port. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it seems the NES Classic is so sought-after that it is out of stock almost everywhere. So if the NES Classic is on your shopping list, then keep your eyes peeled for any that might sneak into availability at your local stores.

 

Small Automated RobotsHoliday Tech Toys

It seems that just as small flying drones are popular, small automated robots are also becoming very popular. One example of such a tech toy is the Sphero BB-8 App-Enabled Droid. This is a very small replica of the character from the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. However, it can be controlled by a smartphone and can also run autonomously. It is normally $150, but it was on sale for less than $100 recently so I would not doubt if that price point can be found again soon. Other similar robots allow the owner to actually program them, like the Wonder Workshop Dash. This type of robot might be more educational but either tech toy should satisfy a little one who is into robots and automation.

 

Car Dash Cameras

Holiday Tech ToysFor a variety of reasons, car dash cameras are becoming hot items. One of the reasons may well be that the price of good quality dash cams has come down to reasonable levels. A model like the Thinkware F50 is less than $100, features a 140-degree wide camera with 1080p resolution, and will automatically save video 10 seconds before and after a collision is detected. Some more expensive models also allow you to attach an additional rear window camera as well.

 

Robot Vacuums

Holiday Tech ToysLittle toy robots might be fun to play with, but robots that can take care of household chores are much more useful! Robot vacuums like the Roomba have been around for years, but in the last couple of years the technology has improved greatly and the prices have come down significantly. It used to be that high quality robot vacuums started at $500 or more and you can still buy models that are in upwards of $900, but a model like the Roomba 650 sells for approximately $325 on Amazon. My family had new hardwood floors installed in our house this summer and I purchased a Roomba 650 to keep our first floor free of excessive cat hair and dust. I set it to run every night around 3 AM and it manages to keep our entire first floor noticeably clean. There are a few things to get used to when living with an automated robot running around your house at night, but other than a few minor adjustments, we haven’t had to do much to make sure the Roomba can do its job every day. Since it is a gift that keeps on giving, a Roomba might be perfect for someone on your list.

 

Bluetooth Headphone Adapters

Holiday Tech ToysWith all the fuss made over the iPhone 7 (and some other less well-known phones) eliminating the traditional headphone jack, many people are considering options for using their favorite headphones with these newer-style devices. One very simple and inexpensive way to adapt traditional headphones is with a Bluetooth adapter. Simply put, a Bluetooth headphone adapter allows traditional headphones to receive an audio signal wirelessly. Simply pair the adapter with your phone, connect your old headphones or earbuds, and listen wirelessly! A model like the Griffin iTrip Clip is only $20 so this can make a great stocking stuffer for someone who has or will soon have an iPhone 7.

 

C.H.I.P

Holiday Tech ToysImagine a computer that can fit in the palm of your hand and only costs $9. Well stop imagining because the C.H.I.P. is exactly that. True you need to add a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and put it in some sort of enclosure because for $9 all you get is simply a small circuit board. However, on this small circuit board is a full-fledged PC including a 1 Ghz processor, 4 GB of storage, 512 GB of RAM, and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Now this may not sound like a lot of processing power compared to what you can purchase in a new traditional PC, but believe it or not the C.H.I.P. is capable of running a modern operating system and software. Now this certainly is a gift for someone who likes to dabble with technology projects, but for $9 it might create some technology curiosity in a young (or young-at-heart) gift recipient.

 

PhoneSoap

Holiday Tech ToysIt’s been said that the surface of most of our smartphones has more germs than a toilet bowl. I’m not sure that is true, but just to be safe it probably isn’t a bad idea to sanitize your phone. The problem is that most normal methods of sanitizing aren’t phone friendly. Either cleaning solutions present a liquid damage hazard to your phone or simply taking the time to clean your phone is a pain. Luckily for us, the PhoneSoap uses ultra-violet light to safely and quickly sanitize any smartphone (or anything you can put inside it). Basically, you put your phone inside the PhoneSoap device, close the lid, and 5 minutes later the phone is sanitized. At only $60, one PhoneSoap can serve your entire family. My family owns one and I can tell you that it does appear to do its job. If it saves someone just one illness, it is definitely a gift worth giving!

 

 

Parrot Pot

Holiday Tech ToysA lot of us enjoy having live plants in our home. But some of us aren’t so good at remembering to water our potted plants. If only there was a way to have a pot that would water our plants for us. Well now there is! The Parrot Pot is a “smart” pot that detects when your plant needs water and automatically waters at the right time. It can hold enough water for up to a month of watering, so you can be sure your prized plant will stay healthy even if you are away on a trip. Normally at $150 it may be a bit of a stretch for someone who isn’t a serious gardener. However, it is currently on sale for $99 so it might be a great gift for someone who enjoys their plants but isn’t a green thumb.

 

If you have any questions about these or any other technology gift, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Holiday Tech Toys 2015

holidaytechtoyIt’s that time of the year again! Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, it’s time to think about what tech gifts you will be handing out to your friends and family. As before, be sure to look back upon some of the previous years’ Holiday Tech Toy lists since some items will still be good gifts this year (and maybe even cheaper now that some time has passed!)

This year, Apple brand products seem to be hotter than ever before so I will start the list off with 4 Apple products. I have also included more Holiday Tech Toys than ever before in this year’s list, so get reading!

 

iPhone 6S

rose-gold-1Ever since Apple introduced “big” phones with the iPhone 6 last year, sales for Apple have been skyrocketing, seemingly at the expense of other smartphone manufacturers. If your loved ones have been hinting at a new iPhone (or any “phone”), the latest iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus are sure to please. Just be certain to verify what size and/or color preference your gift recipients want. Alternately, used iPhones may be a good option as often iPhones from a year or two ago are still excellent devices and can sell for very reasonable prices. Just be sure to buy from a reputable source with good support.

 

 

iPad

ipad proApple’s recently introduced large-screen iPad Pro is getting all the media buzz, however the iPad Mini 4 may be a better gifting option, especially for children. The now mid-sized option (formerly larger or “regular-sized” option) is the iPad Air 2. Any way you go, tablets are taking over the computing landscape so an iPad is almost certainly a welcome gift. In many cases, an iPad can virtually replace a laptop especially when paired with an external keyboard. The iPad Pro has an Apple-specific external keyboard option, but there are some nice third-party keyboards available for all iPads, one of which I will cover later in this article.

 

Apple Watch

0910_apple-iwatch_2000x1125-1940x1091The Apple Watch is certainly going to be a hot gift item this year. However, it is a tricky gift to give, as there are so many variables in the options available. I recommend purchasing an Apple gift card if you don’t want to get the wrong Apple Watch for your gift recipient. Also, be sure that your gift recipient owns an iPhone 5 or newer (or will own one by the time they get their Apple Watch). The Apple Watch requires pairing with an iPhone and will NOT work with any other brand of smartphone or iPhone older than the iPhone 5. Finally, while kids may ask for an Apple Watch, I currently feel adults would get the most practical use from the Apple Watch. That may change as more third-party developers create apps for the Apple Watch, but it may not be the best gift for a child at this time.

 

Apple TV

apple-tv-hero-select-201510At the beginning of November, Apple’s new Apple TV became the most popular streaming TV device in just one week of sales. By introducing an Apple TV App Store that includes a lot of crossover Apps that are currently available on the iPhone and iPad, it seems Apple has a big hit on their hands for the holiday season. If you have people on your gift list who aren’t overly tech-savvy but want to use video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu (and many others) on their main TV, the Apple TV could be just the ticket.

 

Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard

k380-multi-device-bluetooth-keyboardAs I mentioned above, there are many third-party keyboards available for the iPad. Most of these keyboards are bluetooth-based so they should work with any mobile device, such as smartphones. Other devices like the Apple TV, Playstation 4, and any Bluetooth-capable computer (such as most Macintosh models made in the last several years) can also make use of a bluetooth keyboard. The Logitech K380 is reasonably priced and can be configured to switch between three devices at the push of a button. Logitech also claims that the K380 will last 24 months with one set of batteries. Even if the device gets only half of that, that is still great battery life! The Logitech K380 has received great reviews and I think it is a perfect gift for use with a TV-connected device such as an Apple TV, since entering long passwords and such can be tedious with an on-screen interface.

 

Fitbit

fitbit charge hrIf an Apple Watch is not in your gift giving budget but you have a health-conscious person on your gift list, a Fitbit might be a great idea. I personally recommend the Fitbit Charge HR model since it can track heart rate, which any moderately serious health-conscious person will appreciate. Don’t confuse the HR model for the plain Fitbit Charge since it does not include heart rate tracking. Other similar fitness trackers from other companies may also be a good choice as a gift. The only wrinkle may be that most models have a variety of colors to choose from and you may need to get a measurement of the gift recipient’s wrist to buy the correct size. That being said, if you purchase from a store with a good return policy, exchanging a Fitbit or other fitness tracker should not be too much of a problem.

 

Health Tech Bling

The trouble with most fitness tracking watches is that they are not considered very fashionable. Here are a couple of gifts that can help with that.

tory burch for fitbitTory Burch for FitBit

For owners of the FitBit Flex, the Tory Burch for FitBit conceals the technology inside some eye-catching bling. Various styles are available beyond the example pictured here. Unfortunately, owners of other FitBit models are out of luck at this time.

miraMira

The Mira is a standalone fitness tracker that looks virtually like a stylish bracelet. It is also available in a few different styles than what is pictured here. While it keeps track of basic fitness parameters such as steps, calories, distance, and elevation, it unfortunately does not track heart rate.

 

goTenna

gotennaIf you have people on your gift list that often spend time in areas with a lack of cell coverage (such as remote outdoor areas), the goTenna could be a great gift for them and their travel partners. The simple explanation of the goTenna is that it is an external antenna for a smartphone that can communicate directly with another goTenna antenna and paired smartphone. This allows users of the goTenna to send text messages and GPS locations directly to each other when there is not sufficient cell signal in an area. With a multi-mile range in open areas, goTenna is sort of like a high-tech walkie-talkie for texting. One goTenna device can also send out a broadcast message to any other goTenna devices in an area, which is useful in emergency situations. goTenna can also be used in urban areas for situations where cell towers may be over-saturated with traffic, although range is reduced. Regardless, the goTenna looks like a very interesting technology that any outdoor enthusiast would be happy to own.

 

Universal Remotes

harmony 650One tech item that has been around a long time are universal remotes. Yet most people have a love/hate relationship with these devices. While they should simplify the lives of people with various audio/video devices, they haven’t always filled this role perfectly. The trouble with most universal remotes to this point was that the less expensive ones weren’t always so “universal” and the more powerful ones were difficult to configure. This left people still using more than one remote for their TV setups. However, universal remotes have come a long way. Today many universal remotes are configurable though your Mac or PC computer, which makes setup significantly easier. By taking advantage of Internet databases of thousands of audio/video equipment, many universal remotes will now almost configure themselves once you input what brands and models of equipment you own. A good example of a reasonably-priced computer-programmable universal remote is the Logitech Harmony 650. A newer model universal remote might be a great gift for someone who you notice has a handful of remotes on their coffee table!

 

Drones

P1320544Flying drones (or even driving drones) that take video seem to be getting extremely popular. The problem is that there are a great variety of drones available at wildly different price points. Some drones come with a built-in camera, others require you add your own camera. This makes buying a drone as a gift very difficult. Fortunately, the Parrot BeBop 2 is a model with good reviews that combines reasonable cost with a built-in 1080p camera. However, this is a brand-new product and for this holiday season it will likely set you back over $500.

 

Mobile Chargers

Limefuel BlastI included mobile chargers in last year’s Holiday Tech Toy list. It seems this type of product has become extremely popular in the last year and is a great gift for anyone who uses their mobile devices extensively. If you know anyone that has ever had a phone battery die on them, this gift is almost a no-brainer. Here are a few great options:

Anker PowerCore+ Mini: Small, inexpensive, and good quality.

Jackery Mini Portable Charger: Another brand that is small, inexpensive, and good quality

Limefuel Blast: Limefuel is still among the top brands making affordable and quality mobile chargers and one of the few that include 4 charging ports on their larger sized models. The higher power capability and extra ports make them great for families or when your friends’ smartphones all seem to lose charge at the exact same time.

Multi-port USB Chargers

Anker Desktop ChargerI also included multi-port USB chargers on last year’s list. A multi-port USB charger is a practical and inexpensive tech gift to give those who have several devices that charge from a USB port – which is probably most people you know! People who travel a lot may especially appreciate one compact unit that can charge all their devices. This year I even found a 10-port charger! That’s a lot of ports! Here are a few good options:

Anker PowerPort 4 Wall Charger: A good number of ports in a wall-plug form factor, so no cord to keep track of. Nice for travelers with multiple devices or an outlet over a counter.

Anker PowerPort 5: 5 charging ports and plenty of power to simultaneously charge devices on all the ports, including tablets.

Photive 6 Port: 6 charging ports should satisfy most charging station needs. This particular model is reasonably priced and high quality.

Anker PowerPort 10: A whopping 10 charging ports will power the ultimate charging station!

 

Any Questions?

As always, if you have any questions about technology gifts or any other technology topic, please feel free to contact me!

Holiday Tech Toys 2014

holidaytechtoyThis year’s Holiday Tech Toys list is a little different than previous iterations. All the items on this year’s list are devices I have personally been using over the last year. Needless to say, I have extensive experience with every item on this list. Also, many of these items are great for those on your list who are picky about their technology. Beyond the short write up I will give each item, I will also follow up soon with more in-depth reviews. So keep an eye out for those upcoming reviews, but in the meantime, if you have more questions about these devices please let me know.

Automatic

AutomaticThe Automatic is a device that plugs into the OBD-II port in your car and transmits data about your car’s health and your driving habits to your smartphone. I bought it primarily to help me monitor my fuel efficiency, which it does well, but I also started using the data it stores about where and when I drove to help me monitor how much time I spend in the car. It is amazing to see hard data about just how much time I spending in the car! Based on the information I am getting from the Automatic, I know I am driving fuel efficiently, but I also know that I could literally get one extra working day a week if I didn’t drive so much! The Automatic would be a great gift for anyone who is concerned about their fuel or time efficiency.

Fitbit Force/Charge

Fitbit ChargeI wanted a device that had a silent alarm so I could wake up without disturbing my wife. The Fitbit Force “fit” the bill nicely. I was also interested in the activity and sleep monitoring features. Ironically after a couple of months of using the Fitbit Force, it was recalled due to some people suffering skin reactions. I did not have any reaction to the Fitbit Force so I kept using mine. The redesigned replacement for the Fitbit Force is called the Fitbit Charge. After several months of using the Fitbit Force, I did enjoy the silent alarm function, but I didn’t use the sleep monitoring feature much because I had to remember to enable and disable it each night and morning. The activity monitoring was neat, but it only truly worked for walking. It was not accurate for things like skating (I play a lot of hockey), nor would it really monitor activity of any other sort. My thought was that if the Fitbit Force had a heart rate monitor it would be perfect. That being said, within the last couple of months, Fitbit released an upgrade for the Force that added a few nice features. Now the Force will automatically monitor your sleep as well as integrate with your smartphone to vibrate when you have a phone call. This has made me happier with my Fitbit Force, but I still wish it had a heartrate monitor.

The reality is that the upcoming Apple Watch is going to completely change the landscape of the fitness technology market. The Apple Watch will have the heart rate monitor that I had wished for and now it seems that in response, Fitbit will be releasing new models that include a heart rate monitor for only about $20 more than what I paid for the Force. That being said, in a market that is about to be dominated by the Apple Watch, the Fitbit could still find fans among people who want a heart rate monitor but at a lower price point than the Apple Watch. If you have someone on your gift list that is a walker or runner, a current Fitbit model might be a great gift. Otherwise, wait for the new models next year.

Apple iPhone 6

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 PlusWhat is there to say about the iPhone 6 that hasn’t already been said? The iPhone is still the standard that all other smartphones aspire to and now that the iPhone comes in larger sizes, competitors suddenly must find something else that make their phones different. I will say that I was hesitant about the iPhone 6 being too big, but I have found that the iPhone 6 is a nice comfortable size for a smartphone. The iPhone 6 Plus is simply too large for my usage, but for some it might be just what they want. Either way, the new iPhones make an amazing gift. Just be sure to add the AppleCare Plus coverage so that accidental damages to the new iPhone are covered.

Anker Desktop ChargerMultiport USB Chargers

The more mobile devices families acquire, the greater the need for a “charging station” to recharge all those devices. The problem is that it is difficult to plug in a bunch of chargers into one standard outlet. Sure, power strips can be used, but they are big and bulky. The best solution I’ve found is a multi-port USB charger. As my household has need of several different charging stations, I have purchased devices from both Anker & Photive (specifically the Anker 5-port 40W, the Anker 5-port 25W, and the Photive 6-port 50W). So far, the chargers have been working great with a variety of devices, such as iPhones, iPads, iPods, plus many other gadgets that my family owns, including several that are on this Holiday Tech Toy list. They even charge our Playstation 3 controllers, which are notoriously hard to find third-party chargers for. The key when shopping for chargers like these are to look for devices that use “intelligent” charging technology. This will allow one charger to charge a variety of different devices from different manufacturers, since many manufacturers use different charging specifications. If you know gadget-people who need help charging all those devices, a multi-port USB charger could be just the gift they are wishing for.

Chamberlain Smartphone Ready Garage Door Opener with MyQ Technology

Chamerlain Garage Door OpenerI moved into a new house a couple of months ago. The garage door opener that came with the house was from 1991. Besides the fact that it didn’t have the safety features that newer garage door openers have, there was no way to use it with devices that integrated with smartphones. So I decided to purchase an entirely new garage door opener that had built-in integration. Never having installed a garage door opener, I was a little hesitant to tackle such a project. However after researching this particular Chamberlain model that I could buy at Home Depot, I went ahead and made the purchase. It turned out it wasn’t that hard, even for someone like me who is much more comfortable with electronics than mechanical things. This garage door opener is has nice features like a motion sensor for the garage lights, a battery backup so it will still open the garage door if the lights go out, and a wireless keypad so the garage door can be opened from the outside. All this was on top of the ability to monitor the status of the garage door as well as being able to open and close it from a smartphone from anywhere in the world. I also really like the fact that this garage door opener is extremely quiet. The best part was that it is less than $250! Now maybe a garage door opener isn’t exactly what someone thinks of as a Christmas gift, but I’m sure there’s someone on your list that would appreciate it.

SimpliSafe

simplisafeI am a big fan of home security systems. I am not a big fan of the installation process, the complexity of the systems, or the pricing. I am glad I found SimpliSafe because it solves most of these problems. The pricing of the equipment is reasonable, the equipment is wireless so setup is simple and a technician is not required. The best part is that the basic service is only $15/month and no contract is required. My only complaint is that some of the more advanced features (being a “techie” I would like to use) cost an additional $10/month. I’ve not found that these features are worth the extra $10/month so far. Most people would probably not need those features, so it isn’t really a huge problem. I’ve read rumors that the next generation of SimpliSafe equipment will be much more advanced. I can’t wait to find out. Home security systems may not be a traditional Christmas gift, but if you at least let your friends and family know about SimpliSafe before they buy a traditional home security system, it may be the best gift you could give them!

Plantronics Voyager Legend

Plantronics Voyager LegendI wrote a review of the Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth headset earlier this year. Six months later and I’m still very happy with the device. I can say it worked really well on my iPhone 5S and so far just as well on my newer iPhone 6. I have had clients say they’ve noticed an improvement in call quality, which is an excellent proof that this headset is doing its job well. I can find the Plantronics Voyager Legend on sale for around $80, which is a really great price for the quality of headset. Read my more extensive review on the Plantronics Voyager Legend and if you have someone that could use a Bluetooth headset, this could make a very good gift.

Smartbean Bluetooth Wireless Receiver

Smartbean Bluetooth ReceiverWhen I purchased my iPhone 5S last year, I had to change how my iPhone connected to my car. My previous charger also integrated audio to my car stereo directly. However, there was no equivalent device available for a new iPhones with Lightning connectors. So for a time I had to also connect an audio cable to my iPhone if I wanted to listed to music from my iPhone in my car. This was a bit of a pain. I wanted something that would let me stream my music from my iPhone 5S (and now iPhone 6) to my car stereo without wires. And I didn’t want to purchase a new stereo receiver for my car (at least not yet). I stumbled upon a deal on the Smartbean Bluetooth wireless receiver. Simply put, I can keep the Smartbean connected to my car stereo and send music from my iPhone via Bluetooth to my car stereo. After several months of using it, I can say it does the job very well, with a few minor inconveniences. The biggest issue I have with the Smartbean is that I can not easily charge it in the car. I need to bring it inside to charge it when it runs low on battery. However, the battery lasts several weeks between charges so it’s not a huge deal. The Smartbean (also known as the A.M.P. Bluetooth Receiver) lists at $39.99, but you can usually find it on sale for half that price (check Groupon), so find a deal before purchasing. The Smartbean makes a great gift for people to use in cars as I do, but also people who are into fitness, as the Smartbean can clip to clothing for use with wired headsets.

Limefuel Blast

Limefuel BlastOn a few occasions in the last couple of years, my iPhone ran out of battery. This is a rare occurrence, but when it happens, it is a real pain, especially while traveling away from home. On those occasions that my iPhone was running out of charge, all my travel companions were also running out of battery. I wanted to find a device that could recharge my iPhone while on-the-go, but also be powerful enough to recharge multiple smartphones. I did some research and was finding products that were simply too expensive for my wishes. I did a little more research and found the Limefuel company. Their battery-based external USB chargers had larger capacities and were about half the price of the other devices I was finding. I decided on purchasing the Limefuel Blast L130X, which I liked so much, I went ahead and bought two so that my wife could have one in her car as well. So far, after many months of using the Limefuel Blast, I am very happy with the purchase. It has come in very handy on several occasions and often my friends are using it more than I am. I make sure to send one with my daughters if they are going on a field trip and they end up sharing it with their friends as well. Limefuel has improved upon the model I purchased and it the now has 4 ports that can simultaneously charge multiple devices. The Limefuel Blast makes an amazing gift for people who travel a lot, especially those who go to remote locations.

Crucial M100 Solid State Drives

Crucial MX100 SSDThere have been few advances in computer technology in the last 10 or more years that have had the impact of Solid State Drives (SSD). Simply put, replacing a traditional hard drive with a solid state drive can significantly boost the performance of a computer, especially those that are more than a few years old. In addition, solid state drives are more reliable and use less power than hard drives. The only problem with solid state drives was that they were significantly more expensive than hard drives. However, earlier this year, Crucial introduced their M100 line of SSDs, which basically slashed the going price in half! Other companies have begun to drop their prices in response, but Crucial is a great brand with a great product. If you know someone with a computer, especially laptops, that are more than a couple of years old, an SSD upgrade could be like giving them a new, faster computer. Plus, since the computer no longer has a hard drive, an SSD upgrade will likely extend the lifespan of the computer for several more years. An SSD may not be the flashiest gift, but it may be the most practical, especially when combined with my Laptop Supercharge service.

Holiday Tech Toys 2013

holidaytechtoyIt’s that time of year again! The holiday season means gift-giving and technology gifts are hotter than ever. My Holiday Tech Toys list is in its seventh year and I like to list some of the best tech items to give – or get! But first one quick tip on technology gift buying: do not open any technology gift you give until you give the gift and the recipient is completely sure they want to keep the item. I know some people like to personalize gifts by placing cards or such inside the boxes of gifts, but with most technology gifts, opening them restricts your return options. An unopened tech gift usually can be returned for a full refund or exchange, but opened items are usually subject to a restocking fee. Keeping that in mind, take a look at this year’s Holiday Tech Toys and if you have any questions about holiday tech gifts, please get in contact with me.

iPad_Air_and_iPad_mini_with_retina_displayiPad Air/iPad Mini & iPhone, iPod Touch

The iPad has been one of the hottest tech gifts ever, especially since the iPad Mini was introduced last year. With the upgraded iPad Air and the new iPad Mini with Retina Display, the trend is sure to continue. The iPad Mini makes a great gift for kids since it can be used for educational purposes as well as for fun. However, rumors are that the new iPad Mini with Retina Display will be in short supply this holiday season, so shop early! Alternately, the iPod Touch is like a “mini” iPad mini in case you have a younger person on your gift list who wants an iOS device. Of course the iPhone is still a hot gift, especially with the new iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S models, but make sure you are getting the person exactly what they want.

consoles_2013_gen

Nintendo Wii U, Sony Playstation 4, Microsoft Xbox One

The new 8th generation video game consoles are all ready for purchase just in time for the holidays! If you are buying for someone, make sure you know which platform is their favorite. However, note that the prices are quite different this year. The Nintendo Wii U starts at $299, Sony Playstation 4 $399, and Microsoft Xbox One $499. I’m finding it hard to believe that parents are willing to spend $399, yet alone $499 on a video game console, so I have a feeling that many people will be passing on the more expensive consoles this year until the inevitable price drop that usually occurs. But if you have a hardcore gamer on your gift-giving list and they want one of these consoles, shop early as oftentimes new game consoles are hard to get.

The Nest Learning ThermostatNest Learning Thermostat

I reviewed the Nest Learning Thermostat last year, but it is still a great gift this year because it is an excellent example of a mainstream application of technology – and it can save its users a lot of money. Who wouldn’t want a thermostat that can be controlled from a smartphone even when you’re not home? Plus it “knows” when you leave the house so it can save energy. Read my review of the Next from last year.

the_leap

Leap Motion Controller

The Leap Motion Controller is a little on the techie side, but in the right hands (literally), it could be an excellent gift. The Leap is a small box that sits in front of your monitor and you can then move your hands in the air to control your computer. It may take a while for more apps to be written to take full advantage of the technology, but I believe that the technology of the Leap will have a place in the future of computing. If you have someone on your gift-giving list that is a forward-thinking techie type, check out the Leap. Read my preview of the Leap I wrote last year.

Activity-trackersFitbit, Jawbone Up, Lark

Personal activity and sleep trackers are a growing trend. They integrate with an App on your mobile device and help you keep track of sleep and fitness goals. Plus they have silent vibrating alarm clocks so that you can wake yourself up without disturbing your sleeping partner. The various models of Fitbit, the Jawbone Up, and the Lark are examples of this type of technology. Check them out and buy one for for your sleeping partner – or maybe do them a favor and buy one for yourself!

GoPro & MeCamfull_GoPro_HD_Hero_3_357728

“Action” cameras are getting very popular and no brand epitomizes the category more than GoPro. If you know someone in the market for a video camera, the GoPro is worth looking at if you think they ever want to shoot video from their own perspective or from something like a bike or surfboard. If the GoPro is too far out of your budget, take a look at the MeCam for a less feature-filled but more affordable option. The MeCam isn’t ruggedized or waterproof like the GoPro line of cameras, but they are wearable and are good for more casual uses or maybe for younger children who aren’t going to be doing “extreme” videos.

koomus_black_2_largeKoomus K2 Smartphone Car Mount

With as much as we do with our smartphones in the car, I think having a dashboard or windshield mount is critical. They allow you to have your smartphone in plain sight and easy reach, similar to (but even better than) your car’s radio. The key is finding a good mount that will solidly hold your phone but doesn’t break the bank. After much research I believe I have found a good option that is also a good value. The Koomus K2 is an affordable mount that will securely lock down your smartphone to either your dashboard or windshield and is easy to get your smartphone in and out of. It works with multiple types and sizes of smartphones. I’ve been using mine since I had to get a new mount to fit my iPhone 5S a few months ago. So far, I’ve been very happy with the Koomus K2, although my own car was a bit of a challenge to securely place the mount at first. The Koomus K2 comes in black or white to match your smartphone.

Doorbotimages

It’s about time we had an upgrade to the traditional doorbell. The Doorbot allows you to see who is ringing your doorbell through your smartphone. You don’t even need to be home. Doorbot could be a solution for those who would like a simple way to keep an eye on who is visiting their home without investing in an expensive security camera system.

iMac and MacBook ProApple MacBook, iMac, Mac Mini

For some, a traditional personal computer is still a gift they need to receive. With all the uncertainty about Windows, not to mention the increasingly destructive malware continuing to plague the platform, Apple’s Macintosh computers are probably the safest bet as a quality laptop or desktop gift. Many people aren’t aware that Macintosh computers can run Windows software if necessary, so you aren’t limiting yourself or a gift recipient when buying a Mac – rather you are giving them the most options possible. Plus since Macs are virtually immune to the onslaught of malware, a Mac can pay for itself over time in greatly reduced service calls. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are Apple’s line of laptops, while the iMac is Apple’s main desktop line. If you’re looking for a Mac on a budget, the Mac Mini can fit the bill nicely. If you are buying a Mac for someone, try to get as much information as possible on which Mac would be best for them and consult with a knowledgeable Mac expert before buying. Also, as I said above, do not open the packaging until the gift recipient is completely sure they want the Mac you purchased them in case you need to return the item.

BT4000__0001_Black_0Etón BoostTurbine 4000

As we become increasingly dependent on our mobile devices, getting caught with a dead battery can be a big problem. There are many models of portable “spare” batteries that can be used to recharge on the go. The problem is that we need to remember to recharge our spare batteries – they do us no good if they are also drained. However, the Etón BoostTurbine 4000 includes a wind-up turbine that we can use in a pinch to give ourselves a few precious percents of battery power. Simple but effective. I now have a way to survive in case of the apocalypse.

Holiday Tech Toys 2012!

I posted my first Holiday Tech Toys list back in 2007! Feel free to review all my past Holiday Tech Toy articles by clicking on this link. As always, if you have any questions about technology gifts, please feel free to contact me any time!

 

 

 

 

iPad Mini/iPad

iPad and iPad MiniThe iPad will no doubt be a hot gift this year as it has been every year since it was introduced. However, the smaller and lower cost iPad Mini may be the most popular gift of the season, bar none. As I mentioned in my previous article, if the iPad Mini becomes the “iPad for Kids”, the sky is the limit for how many will be sold this holiday season – and into the future.

A few of words of advice: please make sure to buy any Apple product from an authorized Apple dealer. Scams, especially online, are rampant. Apple keeps tight control over what their dealers can sell their products for, so if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Availability will be very tight this holiday season so make up your mind right now if you want to buy an iPad Mini as a gift or otherwise, and start shopping right away to make sure you can find one before December 25th! Finally, if the person you’re shopping for wants an iPad, make sure you buy an actual Apple iPad. A tablet by any other name is just not the same thing!

 

iPhone 5

iPhone/smartphones

I generally don’t recommend that people buy smartphones as gifts. There are just too many options out there to accurately choose a model that another person will really be happy with. The one exception (or the rule, depending on your viewpoint), is the iPhone. If the person you’re buying for has asked for an iPhone, then go ahead and get them an iPhone 5. It’s a much simpler decision than with other smartphones. Otherwise, I recommend buying a gift card so that the person can pick out their own phone. And just as with the iPad, if someone wants an iPhone, get them an iPhone. No other smartphone will do.

 

Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Video Game Consoles

Video game consoles are still popular gifts and this year Nintendo has released their new “Wii U” console. It is also a hot item this year, so if you want to buy one, plan on doing it sooner than later. The old Wii is also still available, but be careful on buying an old Wii as a gift, unless you are very certain that is exactly what they want.

The next-generation Microsoft XBox and Sony Playstation models are not due until sometime next year, probably around time for the 2013 holidays. That makes buying an XBox 360 or Playstation 3 for this holiday season an iffy proposition. One one hand, getting a year or two of use out of the current console may be a worthwhile investment for some families. On the other, if the recipient is going to want a new console when they are released next year, then maybe it would be worth saving the money to put towards a new console for the next holiday. Of course, this assumes that Sony and Microsoft don’t run into any production delays and actually do ship new consoles next year.

 

Digital Cameras and Accessories

Digital Cameras/Camcorders

If social media has taught us anything, it is that people love to take pictures and videos and share them. Digital cameras and camcorders are popular technology items, but they are difficult to buy as gifts. In the last couple of years, the quality of smartphone cameras has increased to the point where they rival low-end digital cameras and camcorders. So many people are using their smartphones more for the quick pictures and video. Those who want something more advanced are usually going to be fairly particular about what they want. My advice is to purchase a gift card so that those on your gift list can get exactly what they want.

 

 

Apple Gift Cards

iTunes/Apple App Store Gift Card

Apple’s iTunes Store is by far the largest music retailer in the world. Pretty impressive considering the iTunes Store is not quite 10 years old! The reality is that if you want to buy someone music as a gift, an iTunes gift card is a very safe bet. But increasingly iTunes gift cards are being used to buy Apps in the Apple App Stores. As Apple’s iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches) have exploded in popularity, Apps are a hot item. Apple Macintosh owners can also purchase Mac Apps through the Mac App Store, as well as digital books from Apple’s iBook Store.

In addition, the number of kids that are App consumers is booming as well. The reality is that many kids are more interested in low-cost video game Apps on their iOS devices than they are in the much more expensive video games for their Xbox, Playstation, or Wii. Parents certainly like the fact that kids can buy games that only cost a few bucks as compared to $20-$50 per game for the consoles. So considering that one iTunes or App Store gift card can be turned into many different gifts, it is no wonder that Apple gift cards are on almost every kids’ wish list.

Just to be clear, it doesn’t matter if the gift card says “iTunes”, “App Store”, or “iBooks”, they can be used interchangeably. Apple does not distinguish between purchases made on the iTunes Store, the iBook Store, or their iOS or Macintosh App Stores. The gift card credits can be used on any store. You may also want to make your gift recipient aware of that fact.

 

iShower

iShower

One of the most tragic things that can happen to an electronic device is getting wet. Liquid damage is almost always fatal to things like iPods and iPhones. But people want to listen to music from these devices wherever they are at, including poolside or in their bathroom. the iShower is a remote speaker system that is water-resistant. This allows people to keep their devices safely away from water while still streaming music from their device. As the name implies, it can even be used in the shower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cobra iRadar

iRadar

One of the hot trends in electronic devices is smartphone integration. By integrating a device with a companion App, users can get highly advanced functionality without a highly complicated interface. One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is the iRadar. The iRadar itself is a highly functional radar detector, but with almost no buttons or controls on the device itself. Instead, most of the control and operation of the unit is done through an App that works on iPhone and Android smartphones. As a result, the cost of the iRadar is similar to very inexpensive radar detectors, but the functionality is comparable to much more expensive, top-of-the-line units. If you know someone who has a smartphone and wants a radar detector, the iRadar may be the gift for them.

 

 

BabyPing

BabyPing Monitor

Another example of a smartphone integrated device, the BabyPing Monitor is a video baby monitor that integrates with iPhone or iPads. It allows parents to check on their babies whether they are in the house or not. This may be a great gift for new parents, especially those that have gone back to work and still want to periodically check on their napping kids.

 

 

 

The Nest Learning Thermostat

Nest

The Nest is to thermostats as the iPhone was to cell phones. You can read my previous article on the Nest to find out more details, but simply put, this smart thermostat has the ability to reduce your power bills significantly and it integrates with smartphones and tablets. Note that there is now a 2.0 version of the Nest available and the 1.0 version is $50 cheaper now. Unless you are close to busting your holiday budget, I’d go ahead and buy the 2.0 version if you’re giving one as a gift.

 

 

 

Fitbit One

Fitbit One

The Fitbit One is a device that keeps track of your activity and sleep patters. It also has a vibrating alarm that can wake you up without disturbing your partner. It wirelessly synchronizes with your computer or many smartphones so you can review your data on Fitbit’s dashboard software. You can then share your accomplishments and compete with friends on social media. The Fitbit may be a great gift for the health-conscious on your list.

Holiday Tech Toys 2011!

Every year I create a list of Holiday Tech Toys. I thought I would change it up a bit this year. Instead of a list of Tech Toys for consumers, this year’s list is for businesses. As many businesses look to spend some money at the end of the year for tax purposes, here are some ways to spend that money and get some great technology that will help their bottom line. As usual, review my past Holiday Tech Toy articles (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) for more ideas and if you have any questions about these items, please feel free to contact me.

 

New Desktop or Laptop Computers

iMac and MacBook Pro

A pretty obvious choice of technology purchases, newer faster computers can certainly help out productivity. But before you run off and purchase the cheapest PC you can find, consider that the technology world is transitioning into the “post-PC era”. Due to years of reliability issues and other problems like virus infections, more and more businesses are moving away from the commonplace Windows PC. It is in your business’ best interest to review whether or not a Macintosh computer could bring benefits to your workplace. Buying a Mac to test pilot in your work environment just might be a great way to spend that end-of-year money and position your company well for your next computer purchases.

 

Battery BackupBattery Backups

It is amazing just how many computer problems are caused by poor power or catastrophic power events like surges. Every computer, server, printer, and network device should be properly protected. Battery Backups (also known as UPS or Uninterruptible Power Supplies) are the best form of power protection, going above and beyond simple surge protectors. If you aren’t making use of battery backup units, consider buying one for all the devices in your office. Usually the money you save on service calls will more than make up for your spend on battery backups.

 

Technology ServicesTech Help

Of course, when making technology purchases, you’ll need someone to consult with and implement the technology. Why not pay ahead for those services you’ll need next year right now? Most technology professionals will offer a retainer option, which in most cases is simply buying services ahead of time and often includes a discount on the service rate. Spending the money now will likely reduce your tax burden for this year and set you up for having technology services when you need them next year.

 

Just Mobile Gum PlusPortable Device Charger

As more workers become highly mobile, their ability to keep their technology devices charged and working becomes increasingly important. Sometimes, it just isn’t possible to find a power outlet to plug into. Portable device chargers, such as the Gum Plus from Just Mobile, are basically batteries that hold enough power to recharge devices such as iPhones when a power source is otherwise unavailable. I like the Gum Plus because it has a high-power output that quickly recharges devices and holds enough power to supply multiple recharges. Buy one for all your employees that are frequently on the road.

 

iPad 2iPad 2

As I mentioned above, the world is transitioning into the “post-PC era”. No device epitomizes this New World of Technology as does the Apple iPad. Thin, light, and powerful, the iPad has turned the technology world upside down. Industries across the board are tripping over themselves trying to figure out how to best utilize the iPad and keep up with their competition. If you haven’t yet begun to implement the iPad into your workplace, now is the time to do it before your competition gets the upper hand.

 

Acer MonitorMonitors

If your employees are using monitors that are over 4 years old, it is time to look into replacing them. As screen sizes have gone way up, prices have come way down. The improved productivity from larger monitors is documented and often old monitors lose brightness, which strains vision. Additionally, adding a second monitor can also help productivity. Just ask anyone who has a dual-monitor setup how much more they enjoy it as compared to a single monitor. Look for brands that have longer than one-year warranties. Acer is one such brand that I have had great success with myself and many of my clients.

 

Mobile Hotspot 4G

Mobile Hotspots

The ability to access the Internet from anywhere is very important to mobile workers. As these mobile workers begin to use multiple devices or work in teams that all need access, it isn’t enough to have a USB wireless broadband device that can only be plunged into one computer at a time. Mobile Hotspots solve this need by using Wi-Fi that can be accessed by multiple devices at one time. As 4G services become more widely available, it would make sense to purchase a 4G Mobile Hotspot from your favorite wireless company.

 

iPhone 4SiPhone 4S

The smartphone that sets the bar for all other smartphones, the latest version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S, raised the bar again with it’s integrated Siri function. Siri is voice recognition that allows users to talk to their iPhone to do things like setting appointments, look up the weather, or send text messages. Now that all 3 major wireless companies carry the iPhone, it may be time for your company to upgrade phones. Don’t be fooled by the imitators, only the iPhone can truly deliver with a combination of power, ease of use, and availability of Apps. While the other phone companies try to impress with flashy commercials touting how powerful their phones are, that power is often wasted when problems and confusing interfaces stymie their users. Do your company and employees a favor and just get iPhones already.

Gigabit Network Switch

 

Gigabit Networking

The current standard of networking technology is gigabit Ethernet. Referring to the throughput (or speed) of the network, gigabit is equivalent to 1000 megabits. Many companies, however, still are using 100 megabit or even (gasp!) 10 megabit networks. As prices have come down significantly in the last few years, it is worth investigating if gigabit Ethernet is something that would benefit your company. Generally, computers made in the last 5 years can support gigabit networking, so it may be as simple as upgrading your main network switch to achieve gigabit speeds. Consult with your technology professional to find out if gigabit networking can benefit your company.

 

Wireless RouterWireless Router

The rate at which wireless networking has improved over the last few years is staggering. The latest technology drastically improves speed and range. If your wireless router or routers are more than a couple of years old, it is worth investigating whether a new wireless router would help out any devices that use wireless in your company. Again, consult with your technology professional to make this determination.

Holiday Tech Toys 2010!

While I was writing this, I realized that this is the 4th year I’ve done a Holiday Tech Toy article! It is interesting how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Certain items from my first Holiday Tech Toys article are still good gifts (in fact some keep appearing on the list). Others that have appeared through the years have been replaced by new models, and those new models are now good gifts. So please review my previous Holiday Tech Toy articles (2007, 2008, 2009) for some good ideas from the past, then read my new list below!

Jawbone Icon

I consider the Jawbone to be one of the best Bluetooth headsets on the market. Their latest Jawbone, the Icon, has a lot of

new features that add to an already impressive device. For example, on supported phones like the iPhone, the battery levelof the Jawbone will display on screen, so that you never need to guess just how much battery charge your headset has left. If someone you know has a Bluetooth headset on their gift list, you will likely not go wrong with the Jawbone Icon.

AR.Drone

Unlike most of my Tech Toys, this item is actually a toy! However, it can be played with by kids of all ages. The detailed description of the AR.Drone can be read elsewhere on the web, but let’s just describe this as a remotely piloted flying quad-helicopter with a video camera “eye”. Controlled using the motion sensitive capabilities of an iPhone or iPod Touch, the pilot can actually see what the AR.Drone sees! Jimmy Fallon actually had one on his show over the summer, so I expect that this item will actually be on quite a few wish lists this year.

Wireless Hotspots

As we all have become increasingly dependent on technology, we find ourselves needing access to the Internet while we are away from home. While we can often find free Wi-Fi hotspots, it is not always convenient to depend on someone elseto provide us with connectivity, especially now that unsecured hotspots can be risky to use. Many people have used USB cellular data devices, but the drawback being that only one laptop at a time could use the connection. Fortunately, many cellular providers are now offering “mobile hotspots”, which are basically devices that connect to a cellular provider’s data network and then rebroadcast that connection via Wi-Fi. Laptops or other mobile devices such as iPads or iPod Touches can then all share that connection without any sort of installation or complicated configurations.

iPad

Does this item really need any introduction? The iPad will likely be one of the biggest selling devices of this holiday season. If you need a quick primer on the iPad, read my previous article from this year. The iPad is proving especially popular as gifts for teenage or younger children, for senior citizens, and anyone who wants a simple computer for reading web pages, reading eBooks, viewing photos or video, and reading and writing e-mail.

MacBook Air

MacBooks always make my Holiday Tech Toys articles because they are just so

darnpopular! But this year, Apple has introduced the next generation MacBook Air, and so far it has been flying off the shelves. With an even thinner design, solid state storage, and a lower starting price, Apple seems to have hit the sweet spot on ultra-light laptops. If you know someone that needs a laptop (as opposed to an iPad), make sure to check out the new MacBook Air.

iMac

A recent Facebook post from one of my friends asked why the iMac is so sexy. I don’t know about you, but computers are not generally referred to as sexy! But for someone on your gift list, an iMac with a 21.5″ or 27″ screen, quad-core processor, wireless keyboard and mouse, and lack of messy cables just might get their blood running! So don’t settle for some bottom of the barrel PC when you can get the sexiest computer on the planet!

Canon PowerShot SD 1400 IS

It’s tough to recommend digital cameras. So when I wrote a Tech Toy article about the Canon PowerShot SD 780 IS earlier this year, I thought I made a good recommendation. Unfortunately, that model was soon phased out by Canon. Fortunately, it was replaced by a new model with slightly better specs, the PowerShot SD 1400 IS. If you’re looking for a model that doesn’t need 720p HD video recording capability, the SD 1300 can save you some money, but for about $179 street price, I’d go ahead and splurge for the SD 1400.

HDTV

As a highly-respected (and admired?) technology expert, it is sort of embarrassing that I don’t yet own an HDTV. It’s not that I don’t want one, it’s just that my highly picky nature has made me put off the purchase, waiting for prices to come down and technology to mature. However, the itch to upgrade is setting in, so I’ve been shopping around for an HDTV. I’ve been impressed with what is available this year and feel that the timing is great if you are in the same boat I am. So read my recent HDTV article and go shopping!

AppleTV

Apple is on a roll this year! Another example of a product that is flying off the shelves is the new generation of the AppleTV. Now witha sub-$100 price and the ability to stream Netflix movies, it seems Apple has finally got the right combination of features and price-point to make the AppleTV a mass market success. If you do buy an HDTV this year, add an AppleTV as well!

iPhone & iPod Touch

These items have been on my list every single year. It really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyonejust how popular these devices are. However, with the flood of new smartphone competitors this year, I just want to reiterate that if someone on your list specifically wants an iPhone or an iPod Touch, a competitive product just won’t do. This is actually good advice for any technology product. Please try to be sure exactly what your recipient wants before you spend money on a purchase, especially if a restocking fee applies.

Holiday Tech Toys 2009!

holidaytechtoy.jpgWhat gets me about the holiday lists created by other technology companies is that they often put things like printers and monitors on their lists. Sure, these things might be great tech items, but do they really make great gifts? Maybe for some, but I’d say they are the high-tech equivalents of toasters and blenders. But enough ranting. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here in no particular order, I present my list of some great technology gifts for 2009.

Ghosts of Christmas Past – I’ve written 2 previous Holiday Tech Toys lists (2007 and 2008) and you should go back and review them as many of the items there are still great gifts this year. Also, clicking this link will take you to all my previous Tech Toy of the Month articles so you can review other tech gift ideas.

macbook.jpegMacBook – Most laptops purchased as gifts are for high school and college students. The MacBook line is the #1 selling laptop on college campuses. So if you are going to buy a laptop for a student, you can’t go wrong with an Apple brand laptop, especially considering that MacBooks can run both the Mac OS and Windows. No other laptop gives a student so much flexibility in their ability to run various software, which is very important for students who may be taking a wide variety of classes.

ps3.jpegConsole Video Games – Of course, the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, and XBox 360 are all popular items. Which one should you get? That completely depends on who you are buying it for. Many people have a preference on which they want – and purchasing the wrong console would be quite disappointing. Or many people now own multiple consoles (usually the Nintendo Wii along with either the Playstation or XBox) so find out what they already own and if they want another console (usually because a particular game is only available on that console). You can read about the Nintendo Wii in my earlier articles (part 1, part 2), along with why I think the Playstation 3 is a great purchase just for playing Blu-Ray movies.

kindle2.jpegKindle – This device is quickly becoming the de-facto standard in the new category of “e-reader”. An e-reader is a device that lets you download and read electronic books. Read more about the Kindle from my article earlier this year.

atomicbass.jpegAtomic Bass Headphones – I still love these headphones every time I use them! I think they would make a great gift for someone who is still using the original headphones that came with their iPod or other music player. A previous article details why I think these headphones are great.

iPhoneiPhone & iPod Touch – Yet again, these devices are selling at a phenomenal rate! One of the reasons for the growth of the platform is the high number of applications available for these devices. With now over 100,000 applications available, as the tagline goes, “There’s an App for That.” This is probably a good time to state that if someone really wants an iPhone or an iPod Touch, know that they will be seriously disappointed if you get them a competing product. iPhone and iPod are not generic names like Kleenex and Xerox 🙂

imac27.jpegiMac – The iMacs have recently been updated with larger screens (21.5″ and 27″ models) and increased performance. For people who love big screens, video games, or movies, the new iMacs are a great choice. And the quad-core iMacs are incredibly powerful for the price. I’ve not been seriously geeked-out about new iMacs in a long time, but I can totally envision myself sitting in front of a 27″ quad-core iMac completely immersed in a 3D video game.

itunesgift.jpegiTunes Gift Cards – They’re not just for music anymore! The iTunes store has expanded into movies and TV shows as well, but perhaps more important is the fact that applications (and games) for the iPhone and iPod Touch can be purchased through iTunes. For the same price as a single cartridge or disc for most game platforms, many high quality games can be purchased for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

gps.jpegGPS (Personal Navigation Devices) – GPS devices are now being called Personal Navigation Devices or PNDs. Not to be confused with WMDs, Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan are still among the most popular brands. It may be a little difficult to know which model to purchase for someone, so a gift card to a technology store may be a good option here.

If you have any questions about any technology gift, feel free to contact me.

Holiday Tech Toys 2008!

holidaytechtoy.jpgOnce again for the holidays, instead of a single tech toy for the month of December, I am offering a list of cool technology gift ideas. Some of the items on this list are updated from last year, others I’ve written about this year, and some are totally new!

imac-20in.jpgApple iMac & MacBook
Apple has sold more Macintosh computers in the first 3 quarters of this year than they sold all of last year – and we still have the holiday season to go! Obviously, Macintosh computers continue to grow in popularity by leaps and bounds. Since last year, Apple has introduced the new MacBook Air and has revamped the MacBook line. So once again, take a look at these models of Macs before buying any other computer.

GPS navigation devices
GPS navigation devices used to be luxury items. Now they seem to be considered a standard feature on many cars and a mainstream purchase for those cars that don’t already have GPS. If you know someone that drives a lot (or gets lost a lot), a GPS navigation device can make a great gift. Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan are a few of the most popular brands.

hdtv.jpgHDTV
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard that most TV stations will be required to broadcast only in HDTV by February 17th 2009. While it is NOT true that you MUST buy a new HDTV by that date, the perception is out there among many people that this is true. The reality is that it will be easier to have an HDTV after this date, so feel free to get yourself an HDTV (or give one as a gift). Prices have never been better on HDTV and it might be possible that prices will go up after the holidays and the February 17th date nears.

Blu-Ray Players
To go along with your new HDTV, consider a Blu-Ray player. Earlier this year, Blu-Ray became the high definition successor to DVD. Blu-Ray discs offer twice the resolution of DVD, taking full advantage of the most advanced HDTVs. Blu-Ray players also “up-convert” today’s DVDs, making them look better than they would on a standard TV. As I wrote about previously, consider a Sony PlayStation 3 as your Blu-Ray player.

theone.jpgBinary Watches
For the techie who has everything, consider getting them a stylish “binary” watch from The One. The trick to these watches is that the time is displayed in the binary number format, which is uber-cool for many of those who consider themselves techno-elite. And even if you aren’t down with the binary, the watches are extremely stylish, so they can make a great gift for anyone who wants a unique watch. If you’re in my area, you can check out watches from The One at Exactime Watch & Clock in Glen Carbon.

Rearview Cameras
Many cars today come with a video screen in the front dash. For cars that don’t come with them built-in, it is possible to add them with aftermarket products. These video screens can be used for GPS navigation or other informational features. One accessory for use with these video screens that is gaining in popularity are rearview cameras. Basically, aftermarket rearview cameras mount to the rear of the car and allow the driver to see directly behind the car. This makes backing up and parking a lot safer for the driver and those behind the car.

xlink.jpgXLink BT Cellular Gateway
Many people are dropping their land line phones and going with cell phones only. However, some of those people would still like to be able to make use of their old phones while in their homes. The XLink BT Cellular Gateway allows you to connect your old landline phones to a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. This setup could work really well with those unlimited talk mobile plans. This may not necessarily be a good gift idea for others, but it could make a great gift for yourself or your family, especially if you’re able to drop the monthly cost for a landline that you rarely use.

USBaroma.jpgUSB Toys
For a quick and simple tech gift, there are many USB gadgets and toys out there from beverage chillers to foam missile launchers. I had written a previous article with some links to these types of gadgets. A new one I just read about is a USB aromatherapy oil burner.

Holiday Tech Toys!

holidaytechtoy.jpgRather than having a single tech toy this month, I’ve decided to offer a list of what I think are cool technology gift ideas for the holiday season. Some of the items on this list I’ve written about before. Others are new or have additional information. If for no other reason the items on my list are included simply because I think they are worthy. And I can do that because this is my list – so there! 🙂
OK, without further ado and in no particular order, here is the Marcel Brown Tech Toy Holiday shopping list:
imac-20in.jpgApple iMac & MacBook
Apple Macintosh computers are a very hot item. Macintosh computers have been slowly but surely gaining market share from Windows over the last few years as more and more users are switching. If you are thinking of buying someone (yourself?) a Macintosh, start by looking at the iMac and MacBook. The iMac is an all-in-one desktop computer. The MacBook is Apple’s “consumer” oriented laptop. Both models have recently been “speed-bumped”, meaning that new models are out, offering faster speeds and more features at the same price as previous models. However, be warned that these new models are selling out quickly, so you may want to get one ASAP.

centro.jpgPalm Centro SmartPhone
Finally! Palm has come out with a true smartphone for the average user. In other words – it is actually affordable!. With a 2 year agreement, the Centro is only $99. For the time being, the Centro is only available on the Sprint network, but I’m sure it will become available on other carriers soon. For more info on smartphones, see my previous article. For more info on the Centro, see this website: http://www.palm.com/us/products/smartphones/centro/
hdtv.jpgHDTV
If you’re going to buy someone a TV, please make sure it is an HDTV (high definition television). Remember, all TV stations will be required to broadcast ONLY in high definition in 2009. There are so many HDTV models in so many difference price categories, I can’t really make a specific recommendation. However, here are a couple of tips. Try to actually see the TV in person and compare it with other models. There is no substitute for actually seeing a TV in person – after all, what else do you do with a TV but stare at it? Also, make sure the store you purchase from has a liberal return policy. The TV that looks great in the store may not look so great in someone’s living room.

digital%20photo%20frame.jpgDigital Photo Frames
Digital photo frames can make a great gift, even for those who are not into tech toys. These gifts can be personalized by including your own family pictures on a compatible media card (this a great use for older, smaller media cards that you may no longer use). Read more about digital photo frames in my previous article.

wii_console.jpgNintendo Wii
Simply put, the Nintendo Wii is a revolutionary video game console, but more importantly, it is THE hottest tech toy of the season. You can get more information about the Wii in my previous articles, http://www.wii.com, or http://www.nintendo.com/wii. Besides the Wii’s features, the Wii is also known for being notoriously difficult to find. Availability of the Wii was improving – until the holiday season began. If you are in the market for a Nintendo Wii, shop early and shop often, as your only chance may be to snag one as they put it on the shelf.

Charging Stations
If you know someone who has a few gadgets, then a charging station can make a nice, yet inexpensive gift. Rather than putting up with an unsightly mess of cables, charging stations allow a user to organize the cables and then easily charge their devices. There are many different types of charging stations, so I’ve picked out two examples at different price points.

powerstation.jpgThe first is the “Power Station”. At $19.95, it is useful but inexpensive, charging up to 3 devices at one time. Available in black or grey plastic, it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing product, but if that isn’t a consideration, then it should be a much appreciated purchase. You can find the Power Station at X-TremeGeek.com.

brookstone.jpg
The second example is the Brookstone Charging Valet. This charging station can charge up to 6 devices simultaneously and looks as if it is made out of a slightly dark wood, which should blend in nicely in many decors. However, you’ll pay for this as at $75, it is more than double the price of the Power Station. However, if “Spouse Approval Factor” (SAF) is important to your gift recipient, then do them a favor and spend the extra money! You can find the Charging Valet at Amazon.com.

iPhoneiPhone & iPod Touch
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you certainly know that the iPhone from Apple is a hot item. Feel free to read more about the iPhone in my previous articles or at http://www.apple.com/iphone. However, you may not know about the iPod Touch. Basically, the iPod Touch is just like the iPhone – without the phone features. It still has Wi-Fi connectivity, the Safari browser, the large rotating screen, and all the other cool features of the iPhone. You just can’t make calls on it or use it with a cellular data network. It also sports a lower price tag than the iPhone. So for many people who like all the features of the iPhone but don’t need another phone, the iPod touch could be perfect.

slingbox_family.jpgSlingbox
It appears that the Slingbox is going to be a popular item this year. The Slingbox basically lets you watch programming from your home TV on your laptop or mobile device anywhere in the world. You can read more about the Slingbox in my previous article or at http://www.slingbox.com
ds.jpgNintendo DS
The Nintendo DS is the current handheld game system from Nintendo. It has been a consistent hot seller since the device was introduced in 2004. The DS stands for “dual screen” and is the first handheld game system that uses two screens. One of the screens is a pressure-sensitive touchscreen, which allows users to interact with in-game elements in a more direct way than by pressing buttons. The DS also includes built-in Wi-Fi networking, allowing users to play with others across the room or around the world. Current colors of the Nintendo DS are white, black, and pink.

myvu_solop_prod.jpgMyvu Personal Media Viewer
Simply put, you can wear these glasses to watch movies or play video games on a virtual big screen. With the included earphones, you can watch your movie or play your game without disturbing others. You can connect these glasses to any video source such as a portable DVD player, video iPod, or video game console. I will write in more detail about this item for my next Tech Toy of the Month article, but in the meantime go to http://www.myvu.com for more information.

If you have any questions about any technology gift, feel free to contact me.

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