Great gear for under $150

Part two of Macworld's 2009 Holiday Gear Guide looks at gifts between $50 and $150.

Welcome to the 2009 Gear Guide

Budgets may be tight but 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 11 affordable items in this collection are all priced between $50 and $150. This gear will enhance what you already own, let you get more things done, and maybe even put a smile on your face.

The ‘S’ Stands for ‘Solar’

Scosche’s SolChat gives people without the good fortune to have Bluetooth in their cars the ability to have a (mostly) hands-free speakerphone experience with their phones. Once you pair the $100 (see latest prices) SolChat with your phone, it’ll speak the caller ID information of incoming calls—a feature the iPhone currently lacks—and then function as a speakerphone. A solar panel on the SolChat’s back powers the device, though you can also charge it via USB or direct from your car. And the SolChat works with the iPhone 3GS’s Voice Control feature, so you can dial out without picking up your phone.—JASON SNELL

Let the Sun Shine In

Sure, the sun is responsible for sustaining all life on Earth, but what’s it really done for you lately? Make that big ball of gas start earning its keep by having it power your iPhone 3G or 3GS. NovoThink’s $70 surge is an iPhone case available in eight colors that also doubles as a hybrid solar charger. Using solar panel technology, it harnesses sunlight that might otherwise be wasted on photosynthesis to keep your iPhone powered up.—PHILIP MICHAELS

Banish Videotape

If you were of drinking age during the Clinton Administration, it’s likely you have a crate full of video tapes stashed in the garage. Those tapes are not improving with age, and if some hold content you’d like to keep, it’s time to transfer them to your Mac. Roxio’s $79 Easy VHS to DVD (see latest prices) and Elgato’s $100 Video Capture (see latest prices) both include a USB converter dongle that you string between your VHS player and Mac. Run through the software assistant and you’ve captured that content in its original standard definition glory.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

Circle Gets the Square

Attaching your Mac to your TV in an attempt to build the ultimate media server is challenging enough. But what about controlling that Mac from the couch? Hillcrest Labs offers a solution in the form of its Loop pointer. Shaped true to its name, the Loop is a wireless mouse that you control by pointing the device at your TV and moving your hand where you’d like the cursor to go. The $99 Loop features Left and Right mouse buttons and a scroll wheel, works over RF in league with a USB transceiver, runs off two AA batteries and is compatible with Windows, Mac, Sony PlayStation 3, and an Apple TV running aTV Flash.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

Go Green

For the student ever on the move, or the mover headed back to school, Targus’s Spruce EcoSmart Backpack offers a comfortable fit with ample space and plenty of pockets for the stuff of 21st century life. The $90 backpack will accommodate a laptop with up to a 15.6-inch screen. Separate pockets will hold a water bottle, MP3 player, business cards, keys, and sundries. And the pack boasts environmentally friendly materials and construction, including tough polyester woven from recycled bottles and nickel-free hardware. The Spruce EcoSmart Backpack comes in black with green accents.—BEN BOYCHUK

Mouse Anywhere

Most optical and laser mice can’t be used on reflective, glossy, and transparent surfaces. That’s not a problem, though, for the Explorer Mouse which uses Microsoft’s BlueTrack technology. Specialized lenses and a blue LED allow you to use the mouse on almost any surface. The $80 (see latest prices) mouse feels solid and very comfortable for righties, and the tracking is reliable. Microsoft includes a rechargeable AA battery and a charging cradle that fully recharges the mouse in a few hours, but all it takes is a 30-minute recharge to get enough power to last a day.—ROMAN LOYOLA

Storage on the Side

If your iPod or iPhone has more storage than you need for media, that extra capacity doesn’t have to go to waste. ClickFree’s Transformer for iPod lets you use the free space on your iPod or iPhone to back up your data. Just connect the $50 Transformer to your Mac’s USB port, then plug your iPod or iPhone’s dock-connector cable into the Transformer’s own USB port, and the Clickfree software launches and automatically backs up common document types. (You can customize which types of data, as well as designate particular folders, to back up.) The Transformer also goes the other way, letting you copy music and media from your iPod or iPhone back to your Mac.—DAN FRAKES

On the Other Hand...

Logitech’s free-spinning, hyper-fast, weighted scroll wheel design was a landmark in mousing when it debuted three years ago, and it remains, in my opinion, the best scrolling technology on the market. In fact, the two biggest complaints about this technology have been about the mice that didn’t have it: Bluetooth models and left-handed versions. Logitech’s Bluetooth Mouse M555b addresses both complaints in one fell swoop—the M555b is an ambidextrous, laser-tracking mouse that connects via Bluetooth rather than RF. Complete with programmable buttons and power-saving features, it’s a great all-around replacement for your Mac’s stock mouse.—DAN FRAKES

Know When to Fold ’Em

If earbuds or in-ear headphones aren’t your cup of tea, check out Sennheiser’s MM 60 iP. The $129 MM 60 iP is the iPhone-focused version of the company’s acclaimed PX 100 lightweight headphones, which have long been among the best buys in audio. You get impressive sound quality for portable headphones, surprisingly good comfort, and a nifty design that lets the MM 60 iP fold up like a pair of eyeglasses and slip into the included hard case. An inline microphone and controller button let you take calls, record voice memos, and control media playback.—DAN FRAKES

Pro Sound, Amateur Price Tag

The Pro Tools name has long been synonymous with professional audio recording, but a high price and dense feature set put it out of reach of most hobbyists and newbies. That’s all changed with the release of Pro Tools M-Powered Essentials, a simplified version of the full-fledged production package that is basically being given away for free with the purchase of the company’s rebranded M-Audio USB instruments. The three new bundles, aimed at young content creators and priced at $99 each, include Pro Tools KeyStudio, Pro Tools Vocal Studio, and Pro Tools Recording Studio. All cost just $99, the same or less than they did under their old M-Audio names—and without the new Pro Tools bundle.—JAMES GALBRAITH

A Space for Everything

The bottom may have fallen out of the housing market, but there’s are at least one place where real estate is as valuable as ever—on your desk. Slim as Apple’s unibody laptops may be, they still occupy space that could be better put to peripherals, work areas, and elbow room. Twelve South’s $50 BookArc props your laptop up until the unused air space above your desk. With a 10-by-4-inch footprint, the BookArc fits any MacBook model, thanks to different sized scratch-free silicone cushions to grip your MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air. Who knows? Your newly uncluttered desk could spark a real estate boom all on its own.—PHILIP MICHAELS

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