Great Gear Under $50

Part one of Macworld's 2009 Holiday Gear Guide looks at affordable gifts under $50.

Welcome to the 2009 Gear Guide

We've all seen the headlines. Times are tough. Budgets are tight. Money isn't exactly raining from the skies these days. Fortunately that doesn't mean great tech gear for your Mac, iPhone, and iPod is out of reach this holiday season. We've scoured the store shelves (both physical and virtual) to find impressive gadgetry that doesn't put a hurt on your bank balance. The 14 items in this collection are all under $50 and they'll fit any budget that calls for spending just a few dollars. This gear will enhance what you already own, let you get more things done, and maybe even put a smile on your face.

Take a Deep Breath

When it comes to battery life, heat is the enemy. BBP Bags offers a no-sweat way to carry a MacBook while keeping the heat at bay. The Breathe Sleeve provides 4mm shock-absorbing neoprene protection for your laptop with ventilated panels to help keep the machine cool. The $35 sleeve comes in basic black and chic pink for 13-, 15-, and 17-inch laptops. The sleeve also boasts a couple of bonus pockets for storage, with just enough room for a power cord in front, a magazine in back and a USB thumb drive nestled snugly in between.—BEN BOYCHUK

Let Your Light Shine

An iPhone with a flashlight app is useful for small tasks like finding your keys. But more rugged situations call for a bright light and free hands. With the $30 Gorillatorch, Joby has taken the popular pliable legs from its Gorillapod tripod and replaced the camera mount with a powerful LED flashlight. The light has a dimmer switch, can shine up to 65 lumens, and runs for up to 80 hours on three AA batteries. To increase the little guy’s already impressive ability to mount almost anywhere, Joby added strong magnets to the end of each leg. The water-resistant Gorillatorch is ideal for camping, spelunking, late night-reading, and emergency kits.—HEATHER KELLY

One Word: Plastics

Agent 18’s popular Slider case for the original iPhone returns for the iPhone 3G and 3GS as the EcoShield Slider. As before, the slider fits the phone snugly and practically seamlessly. In this version, the case is made almost entirely from post-consumer plastic bottles. A locking mechanism ensures the case won’t slide on a whim, and silicon pads inside the case help guard against those scratches that iPhones seem to attract like corduroy attracts lint. As a bonus, the case has a little table stand, too. The $35 cases come in sleek black, white and a cool blue.—BEN BOYCHUK

Sign Me Up

Ten One Design’s nifty $7 Autograph application addresses one of those analog gaps in this digital world. It lets you write your signature on your computer—so long as the computer in question is a unibody MacBook running Snow Leopard. A hot key summons a translucent window; trace a finger on your trackpad and you’ll see your writing appear as if by dastardly black magic. Paste the result in any application of your choice; you can choose the color of the final result as well as whether the size of your John Hancock matches John Hancock’s.—DAN MOREN

Strike the Right Key

Maybe a keyboard doesn’t sound like the sort of gift that inspires squeals of delight come holiday time, but at least you know it’s something the recipients are going to use every day. And MacAlly’s iKey Slim is the kind of keyboard they’ll enjoying using. The $30 (compare latest prices) peripheral is a direct descendant of the company’s popular IceKey keyboard, complete with low-profile laptop-style keys, media controls (volume up and down, mute, eject), and two built-in USB 2.0 ports. At just $30, the iKey Slim shows that a decent keyboard doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.—DAN FRAKES

Wake-Up Call

Many iPhone owners already use their phone as a makeshift alarm clock—why not go all the way by turning it into your nightstand clock? Kensington’s $40 Nightstand Charging Dock charges your iPhone at night using a compact dock-connector base that supports the phone horizontally like a picture-frame stand. The base is thoughtfully covered in rubber, to avoid scratching your furniture, and features a USB cable that grabs power from the included AC charger or a USB port on your Mac. But the key is the free companion iPhone app that turns the iPhone’s screen into a dimmable clock that also displays the weather.—DAN FRAKES

We're All Ears

Because they sit just inside the ends of your ear canals to block out a decent amount of external noise, a set of canalphones makes the ideal replacement for the earbuds that come included with your iPod. Altec Lansing’s BackBeat Classic (left) stands out by providing decent sound quality, a sturdy design—including durable, fabric-wrapped cables—and a distinctive appearance for just $30. For an extra $30—still a reasonable price compared to the $100-plus prices of many canalbuds and in-ear-canal headphones—Maximo’s iM-590 iMetal Isolation Earphones (right) offer big steps up in sound quality, comfort, and design. I love the metal earpieces and color-coordinated trim, eartips, and cables. You also get an generous collection of accessories: a carrying case, four sets of silicone eartips, an extension cord, a shirt clip, an airplane adapter, and a 2.5mm adapter plug.—DAN FRAKES

Greeting E-Card

Thoughtful as they are, greeting cards lack that personal touch. RogueSheep’s Postage iPhone app lets you put a personal stamp on messages by converting your photos into electronic postcards. Choose from more than 60 templates and edit photos so that they fit the design perfectly. A holiday-specific version is reportedly in the works, too.—PHILIP MICHAELS

Pillow Talk

Maybe you’ve decided to show off your love for all things Mac with an Apple logo sticker affixed to your car or perhaps an Apple-themed t-shirt or even a framed "Think Different" poster. No offense, friend, but until your Mac fanaticism includes home furnishings, you’ve just scratched the surface of devotion. Throwboy offers a collection of handcrafted throw pillows designed to resemble half-a-dozen Mac OS X icons—the Finder, Dashboard, iTunes, iPhoto, iChat, and Photo Booth. Put those Icon pillows on your couch—they cost $29 each or $149 for the complete set—and people will know your Mac devotion the moment they enter your home. And if they don’t turn heel and run, you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.—PHILIP MICHAELS

Who's Got the Button?

For some, the austere look of the iPod shuffle is a thing of beauty. But if you’d prefer your own set of headphones instead of the included Apple earbuds (which also happen to feature the only way to control the shuffle), it’s button-phobic minimalism gone too far. But two low-cost accessories put the controls back in your hands. Scosche’s $30 tapStick (left) is a plastic case that slides onto your shuffle, featuring its own buttons for playing and pausing music as well as adjusting volume. (An including audio cable lets you connect the shuffle to a stereo system, making it an ideal companion for motorists.) Belkin’s $20 (compare latest prices) Headphone Adapter for iPod shuffle (right) sports those same controls on a slender cable—the shuffle plugs into one end and the headphones of your choice fit into the other.—PHILIP MICHAELS


iPhone-toting city slickers who’d like a taste of a frontier have a friend in Southern Brand. The company makes the $29 Limited Edition Cowhide iPhone Cover, which, as the name implies, swaddles your phone in the part of Ol’ Bessie that she won’t be needing after the last round-up. (The company offers an identically priced version made out of Longhorn hide.) The inside of the hand-made slip cover is soft suede with a smooth chocolate tanned leather backing. It’s a way to add a little bit of country to your rock-n-roll mobile device.—PHILIP MICHAELS

Take Note

I’ll be on the phone with somebody when suddenly, some vital piece of information—a phone number, an address, a time and date—will come up in the conversation. Naturally, this is when the notepad I keep near the phone decides to go missing, and I wind up scribbling data on the nearest piece of paper—an old newspaper, a napkin, a crumpled up piece of paper. Scratch-N-Scroll from Quirky can spare me the indignity of writing down a phone number on my hand, like some lovesick middle-schooler. The $15 mousepad also doubles as a writing surface; just use the stylus or, if that’s MIA, your finger to jot down notes on the pad itself. And once you’ve transferred the information to paper, just flip up the semi-transparent top sheet to make your notations disappear.—PHILIP MICHAELS

A Place for Everything

My iPhone makes phone calls, downloads e-mail, and pulls up any Web site I ask it to. So why should the case I store this multi-tasker in content itself with doing just one thing? eHolster must have asked itself the same question because it offers the $25 e-Vibe iPhone Case with Wallet (left). Not only does the universal device pocket hold an iPhone or iPod touch (or other, lesser smartphones), it also sports an ID holder, three card slots for credit cards, banks cards, and the link, pockets for both cash and coins, and a mesh pocket to stash extras like earbuds. Don’t feel left out, iPod nano owners—ProPorta’s £30 Wallaby Wallet (right) does much the same thing by combining a wallet with a nano case.—PHILIP MICHAELS

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