Best Gifts to tickle your techies this year
Since the original iPad came along in 2010, tablets have been the must-have gift for Christmas, and this year is no exception. Except this year, the iPad actually has some competition.
In the world of “pure” Android Tablets, Google sets the standard with the new Google Nexus 7 and Nexus 10. Priced from $229 (or $399 for the 10), these tablets feature all the Google apps you use on your desktop computer, along with access to the Google Play Store, where you can choose from hundreds of thousands of other ap23ps.
And, there are other Android tablets that are cheaper still. A good, solid alternative to the Nexus would be the Barnes & Noble Nook HD or Nook HD+. These tablets, priced at $129 and $149 respectively (and frequently on sale), offer most of what the Nexus tablets offer, including access to the Play Store, at a much lower price. The catch? Barnes & Noble is supposedly getting out of the tablet business, so support might be hard to come by in years to come. But if that’s not an issue, these are excellent Android tablets at great prices.
Of course, Amazon has its own highly regarded, Android-based tablets: the Kindle Fire HD and HDX. These have prices ranging from $229 to $594, depending on the features you want. The main drawback of the Kindle is that it locks you into the Amazon app store (and Amazon doesn’t publish a number of available apps, at least none I could find), rather than allowing access to the main Google Play store like the Nexus and the Nook.
Still, there are more than 1 million books on the Amazon store, and a hefty selection of apps, including most of the big names that you’ll find on the Google Play store. The Fire does have one other big advantage over most other Android tablets: it has an optional LTE cellular antenna, so that you can stay online at all times.
Now, all these Android tablets don’t mean that the iPad isn’t still the gold standard in tablets. It is. With its superior materials (aluminum bodies versus plastic, for instance), much larger app selection (more than 1 million apps on the Apple app store as of October, as opposed to about 875,000 in the Google Play store, and even less on the Nook and Amazon stores), and, honestly, better apps, the iPad is the tablet to have if you can afford it. (And, yes, you can get an LTE version for an always-on connection to the Internet.)
But there’s the rub. While you can get “Angry Birds” on any of these tablets, the iPad itself will set you back quite a bit more money. The new iPad Mini with Retina Display starts at $400 and the new iPad Air starts at $500. Of course, you can still get older, less expensive versions of each device (last year’s iPad Mini is just $299 and 2011’s iPad 2 is just $399), but who wants last year’s iPad? Likely not the tech-head on your list.
Another reason to get an iPad? Starting with the release of the iPhone 5s earlier this year, Apple has been providing free downloads of their iLife and iWork productivity apps for all new iPhone and iPad purchases.
Taken together, those apps previously cost about $100, and they turn the iPad into an excellent content-creation device, right out of the box.
If your techie likes their music a bit less wearable, and just straight up weird, then check out the Otamatone Deluxe. The Otamatone is a… well, it’s hard to explain.
It’s an instrument in the shape of a musical note, with a touch-sensitive “neck” that you play to produce notes, and a “mouth” that you squeeze to change the vibrato. Seriously, it’s weird.
Of course it is from Japan.
The Otamatone has been around for a while, but the Deluxe version is new this year. The Deluxe version adds a line out jack, so that you can attach headphones or plug it into an amp for the next performance at Track 29. (Again, head over to YouTube and search for “Otamatone” for some seriously strange examples of this thing in action.)
And finally, if you want to give your someone special the gift of music, why not a musical instrument? Too expensive, you say? Well, in that case, consider a wearable instrument from ThinkGeek.
For just $29.99, you can get a T-shirt with either an electric guitar or a drum machine built into it.
Yes. A T-shirt.
The guitar shirt allows the wearer to play all major chords (by strumming the front of the shirt) and features a nice, fuzzy, classic rock sound.
The drum machine comes with nine different drum kits built into it, each with seven different sounds. You can even create loops and layer sounds on top from any of the nine kits. (Loops can be up to three minutes long.)
Both shirts come with a mini-amplifier that clips onto a belt, has an analog output jack and actually goes all the way to 11.
And, of course, the electronic parts can be removed from the shirts for laundering.
Once Christmas Present becomes Christmas Past, your techie will probably want to make a couple of New Year’s Resolutions. And, like last year, one of them will be “exercise more!”
But, honestly, how can you define, “more” when it comes to exercise? Well, if you have a Fitbit activity tracking device, you actually can measure the amount of exercise you partake in.
Fitbit is a family of devices (priced from $60 to $230) that track your motion throughout the day. Some clip onto clothes and some are worn on the wrist. At the end of the day, the wearer syncs the data from the Fitbit over to their computer and it shows things like steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled and stairs climbed.
Some models of the Fitbit can even track sleep habits, showing things like how long you slept and how many times you woke up.
The companion software allows your techie to set fitness goals and track their progress towards those goals. The software runs on Windows and Macs, as well as on iPhones, iPads and Android devices. So, wherever your techie goes, they can see just how much exercise they’re getting.
Take our advice—pick one of these for the techie in your life, and be the hit of the holiday season.
If your techie enjoys any of the following
Jumping off things.
Skiing down things.
Falling out of things.
Swimming with things.
Investigating the digestive systems of things from the inside.Then the GoPro camera is for them. The GoPro (priced from $199 to $399) is a relatively small but incredibly tough HD camera that can be strapped to head, chest, bike, kid…pretty much anything you want. And, it takes amazing videos. Just head over to YouTube and search for “GoPro” and you’ll see what I mean.
One interesting thing about the GoPro is that it is apparently very tasty to animals. There are dozens of different videos out there of bears, lions, eagles, and other animals, that stumble across forgotten, lost or planted GoPro cameras and decide that, “Yes. I would like to eat this shiny thing.”
Somehow, the GoPro always survives, and we end up with a look inside the mouth of something that we would normally have to die to see inside the mouth of. Let’s face it—that is cool.
So just imagine the video your techie will get when they accidentally leave their GoPro at NightFall.
Tablets are nice, but if you need a real keyboard, you probably want a laptop. Of course, this year, all of the new laptops are running Windows 8.1. If your techie is like everyone else in the world who is not buying Windows 8.1, you might want a Chromebook instead.
A “Chromebook” is any laptop-style computer that runs Google’s “Chrome OS.” Basically, it’s a laptop that provides all the Internet-based Google Apps (Chrome, Gmail, Docs, etc.), and any other apps that you can run inside the Chrome web browser.
Since the apps are all Internet-based, the machine itself has very little RAM and a relatively small hard drive (usually a 16GB flash drive), because it’s assumed that the user will store all documents in the cloud using Google Drive.
In other words, if you want to get anything done with it, you need an Internet connection. (Some Chromebook models also feature an LTE cellular option, which means you are connected to the Internet as long as you have cell service.)
But assuming your techie has an Internet
connection, and also assuming that they love the Google suite of applications, the Chromebook can be a very good choice for a light-duty device that they can get real work done with.
Best of all, because they have minimal hardware, Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive. Chrome OS is actually free, so there are a lot of different manufacturers to choose from, and they provide a fairly wide variety of devices at a lot of good price points, ranging from $199 to $1,250.