The technology gifts you won't find simply anywhere
The gift-giving holidays are fast approaching, and geeks across the world are dreaming about techno toys. In the spirit of spreading holiday cheer of the gadget variety, InfoWorld presents our picks for the coolest gadgets for the gift-giving season tailor-made for that special geek in your life.
Chances are you won't find these suggestions at a big-box retailer, so they are likely to be a welcome surprise.
Remix Mini Android portable PC
With Android smartphones and tablets everywhere, why would you want an Android PC? Because some tasks are better done on a big screen with a keyboard and mouse. That's why the $70 Remix Mini should be on the shopping list for your Android-loving family member or friend. It uses HDMI to plug into a monitor or TV and USB ports to access input peripherals. The forked version of Android is designed for that larger screen, while giving you access to the full Android Play Store for apps.
OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
You can never have too many ports, and if you have a Thunderbolt-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, you'll really appreciate all the ports that the $249 Other World Computing Thunderbolt 2 Dock provides. You'll also appreciate that you'll only have to disconect and reconnect two cables on your MacBook when using this as a docking station: Thunderbolt (sadly, a separate purchase) and power.
There are other Thunderbolt docks, but this is the only one that includes a FireWire port for older hard drives and peripherals. Plus, it has two tablet-capable high-power USB 3.0 ports on its side for easy charging of your iPads and iPhones. On the back, you get a Gigabit Ethernet port, three additional standard-power USB 3.0 ports, a microphone input, a headphones jack, a 4K-capable HDMI port, and two Thunderbolt 2 ports (one of which connects to your Mac). I really love the one at my office.
If you have the new 12-inch MacBook, OWC will soon have the $159 USB-C Dock, a similar device that omits the FireWire port and the Thunderbolt ports (so it won't work with a Thunderbolt Display). Its USB ports differ as well, with two high-power Type A (the familiar version) USB 3.1 ports, two regular-power USB 3.1 Type A ports, and two USB 3.1 Type C (the new version) port; one Type C port is used to connect your Mac to the dock. It also adds an SD card slot.
'Star Trek' Bluetooth communicator
This is one gift you can't put under the tree because it won't ship until January. But a true Trekkie will love it: The $150 "Star Trek" original-series communicator is not merely a replica -- it's a working device. It connects to your iPhone or Android smartphone via Bluetooth, exactly like a headset or car system does, so you can talk over it and listen to music through it. You could actually conduct a conversation over this communicator -- "Kirk to Spock" for real.
'Star Wars' Millennium Falcon schematic lamp
The Force will be with us this Christmas, with the J.J. Abrams follow-on to the "Star Wars" franchise, and fans can show off their allegiance to the Rebel Alliance with this $120 lighted schematic of Han Solo's Millennium Falcon spaceship, which acts as a lamp. You can change the lighting's color to any in the rainbow, to match your mood and decor. Strap yourself in and make the jump to light speed!
Polaroid Snap camera
The instant-printing Polaroid camera is not only a 1950s icon but a favorite of photo artists. The old Polaroid cameras are long gone, as is practically all their special self-developing film, but now there's a new Polaroid camera that brings a modern twist to the classic. Despite its small size, the $99 Polaroid Snap (available in three colors) uses built-in inkjet printing to create the snaps almost instantly. Point, shoot, and print!
ShotTracker basketball tracker
Any athlete knows that measuring performance is key to pushing yourself to the next level. If you're into basketball or you know someone who is, the $150 ShotTracker combines a net sensor, wrist sensor, wrist band, and charging unit to track how you throw and how the ball lands in the net to give you the feedback via an iPhone or Android app on your performance, so you can improve it. Note that ShotTracker connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth Low Energy, which is not supported by all Android models.
Eagle Creek mesh pouches
We all have lots of stuff in our backpacks and briefcases: pencils, cables, adapters, USB drives, batteries, and so on. A mesh pouch is a great place to hold that stuff. What makes the Eagle Creek version so cool is that you can easily see what it contains, and most models come in a choice of colors, so you can tell which ones are yours.
The durable mesh pouches come in several sizes, but note that they're larger than their names suggest. The extrasmall pouch costs $7.50 and is great for pens and the like. The small pouch costs $8.50 and is great for cables and adapters -- I keep one in my backpack with all that stuff. The $10.50 medium pouch is about the size of an e-book reader or small tablet and is well suited to folded papers and receipts. And the $12.50 large pouch nicely accommodates notepads and papers.
Namsan safety LED armband
If you jog, bike, or walk in the dark, you know how dangerously invisible you can be to passing vehicles or how easy it is to lose track of friends and family members when hiking or simply playing in the park after sunset. Namsam's $14 battery-powered safety LED armbands to the rescue!
These brightly lit armbands will make wearers visible, and you can change the LED color, so you can tell who's who at a glance. They make great stocking stuffers, especially because they are often available for significantly less than their list price.
Pass & Seymour nightlight electrical outlet
This definitely falls in the category of practical gifts. The $26 Pass & Seymour Nightlight is standard electrical outlet that is available in several colors, in GFCI versions, and in both 15- and 20-amp versions. It also has an LED light in the center, so you can use both plugs -- unlike other nightlight outlets -- and still have a little illumination to guide you at night.
Press the light to change the intensity (there are three levels, plus off). The built-in sensor does a great job of knowing when to turn the LED on and off based on ambient light level. These are great in stairwells and hallways to provide trip-avoiding illumination, as well as in any room where a kid may be worried about monsters.
iPhone Charger Sticker Faces
If you have Apple iPods, Watches, and iPhones, you probably have a collection of the white USB power adapters that seem to come in every box. It's easy to get mixed up as to whose is whose in a family or at a meeting. The iPhone Charger Sticker Faces are a fun way to tell the chargers apart, so they go back to the right location.
The $13 Sticker Faces package comes with four adhesive labels, each with a different design, that go on your chargers, with a matching sticker for each that goes on the USB cable for that charger.
More on InfoWorld: Gadgets galore
Practical or zany, chances are another InfoWorld gadget roundup has something that will appeal to you for use at home or at the office: