It’s easy to make a geek smile at Christmas, but just in case you find the high-tech nerdlingo baffling when it comes to finding just the right gadget or gizmo, here are a few of my picks for cool presents with a high grin factor.
If your favourite geek likes to rock it old school (the Mullet may be chopped off, but it will always remain in our hearts — and photo albums), iHome has a new digital ghetto blaster that, at first glance, looks ripped directly out of the ’80s. Instead of our beloved cassettes, the iP4 Portable FM Stereo Boombox ($200 US; ihomeaudio.com) is designed for the iPod/iPhone (or any MP3 player with its line-in jack) and delivers get-this-party-started sound that your old portable tape deck struggled with. With a five-band equalizer and SRS bass, you’ll want to leave this one on the picnic table rather than perched on your shoulder. The only downside I have is that to be truly portable, the boombox requires six D batteries. I would prefer a built-in rechargeable battery, so that it’s always ready to unplug and go. A perfect complement to the iP4 is Apple’s iPod Classic ($249; apple.ca). This 160GB player sports cool retro styling (considering iPods didn’t even exist 10 years ago — yikes!) but in a sleek and light package that feels so perfect in the hand. I like the design of the granite black model, but it also comes in a nice titanium silver. And with all that room on the compact hard drive, it can hold every album you’ve ever owned. I currently have about four decades of music on it, and there’s still room to grow. These two musical beauties are a marriage made in AC/DC heaven.
If retro isn’t your thing, I’ve also been playing (when I can wrestle it away from my daughter) with the new iPod Touch ($299; apple.ca) and come away very impressed with all that it can do. It’s incredibly thin and light, yet packs 32 GB of storage, four-inch, high-resolution display, and a five-megapixel camera with tap to focus, LED flash, and the ability to shoot 1080p video. Apple’s new EarPods are packed in the box and deliver crisp, clear sound that will impress most people. The larger screen (the same as on the new iPhone 5) makes everything pop, and the processor runs every game I threw at it without a hiccup. When you pick one up for the first time, you will be amazed at how a device this light and thin can do so much. After watching a tourist accidentally drop her camera phone into the Gorge recently, I also appreciate the removable wrist strap that Apple bundles with every iPod Touch. Great addition.
When it comes to protecting your iDevice, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with the various protective films out there. They can be essential to protect your device from scratches, but I’ve never really enjoyed the tactile feel of them. I know, picky, picky. But, recently, I discovered the Shell Shock: G-Class ($40 US; cellairis.com) that is made of tempered glass and comes in a variety of cool colours (around 15 different choices). Available for the iPod Touch and iPhone, this thin yet solid, self-adhesive screen protector goes on without a single bubble and feels great upon the fingertips without taking away any of the device’s tactile feedback. The Shell Shock has quickly become my favourite screen protector; now, I just wish there was a glare-free version available for my original iPad.
For the couch potato (or as I prefer: interactive entertainment connoisseur), Logitech is making universal remotes geekaliciously cool with the introduction of the Harmony Touch ($250 US; logitech.com). I’ve been using Logitech’s Harmony remotes for several years now, and would be completely lost without one in my sweaty little hand, but the Touch is something new in that it truly is a one-handed, do-everything device. To begin, you log-in to the Harmony site, input all your devices in a simple, step-by-step procedure, and sync it with your remote. Once programmed, you interact with the Harmony’s colour touch screen with a simple swipe of your thumb. Touch “Watch DVD” for example, and it will switch on your TV, DVD player and sound system, and then give you all the controls to interact with each device with a simple tap. Swipe with your thumb, and you can now select “Watch TV” or “Play XBox” and the system will automatically switch everything over to the correct inputs, etc. On TV mode, for example, the touch screen can now display your favourite channels so that you can switch to any of them with a single tap of your thumb. The curved shape of the Harmony Touch also feels good in the hand, which I like. To make things even easier, the buttons are backlit so you can use it in a dark room, and it’s always ready to go thanks to a handy charging station for the built-in battery.
Logitech also makes another gadget that makes life easier for the busy geek, the Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard ($100 US; logitech.com). Not only is this slick slab of QWERTY goodness light, wireless and glowy, but it can also be tethered to three different devices. This means I can use it with my Mac Mini (hooked up to my aging TV — although I am being seduced by the dropping prices of a new 1080p 60”. Hint, hint, Santa.) from the comfort of my couch, then tap a button to use it with my iPhone to answer a quick text message, or tap another button and use it with my iPad to jot some notes on the next novel I’m working on — all without moving the keyboard off my lap. Hmm, that sounds a bit pathetic, doesn’t it . . . and yet it’s still so cool.
Now, for the child inside us all what is cooler than a remote-control vehicle? How about a remote-control vehicle that you steer via your iPhone? Yep, the folks over at Griffin have unleashed the growl-hungry MOTO TC Monster ($60 US; griffintechnology.com) that turns a serious-business-only work phone into a grin-inducing, vroom-vroom remote to put you behind the virtual wheel of a toy monster truck. With sound effects that include screeching tires and revving engines, it’s tough not to smile gleefully when playing with this speedy little guy. The only downside is the vague instructions for getting it paired to your phone. Gently press and hold the tiny bluetooth button or you’ll break the silly thing off and have to get out the screwdriver and glue to make it work again.
If you want to go a little more geeky — and, really, why not? — Sphero ($130; gosphero.com) is a small white ball (about the size of a tennis ball) that you control with a tilt, tap, or touch on your smartphone. Now, driving a ball — that can also glow in various colours — around the room is, admittedly, a lot of fun, but where Sphero really shines is with the 20+ downloadable games available for it on either iOS or Android. Try Sphero Golf, use it as a game controller or be blown away by its use of augmented reality. This waterproof robot (yep, it can go in the bathtub) lasts for a solid hour of play before it needs to be dropped back into its cable-free induction cradle to recharge. Because it keeps evolving, this is one toy that is difficult to get tired of.
If your favourite geek is more of a laid-back, chill individual, you may want to take a look at the incredibly convenient new DaVinci Vaporizer ($200 US; davincivaporizer.com). Looking a lot like a small walkie-talkie or retro flip-phone, the DaVinci is a pocket-sized aromatherapy device that delivers the full flavour of your favourite herbs, essential oils and/or tobacco without smoke, tar or harmful carcinogens. Simply charge the device, insert your favourite ground herbs in the supplied canisters, and inhale. You get the full flavour and potency in a nice, cool vapour without actually igniting the plant or oil. Despite its discrete size, the DaVinci can reach temperatures exceeding 220°C, and its digital controls easily allow you to choose the best temperature. Along with your own herb blends, DaVinci’s website also carries an interesting supply of essential oils, such as chamomile to help you sleep or St. Johns Wart for depression. The absence of smoke (and smell) is a definite plus for anyone who needs a mid-afternoon pick me up without going outdoors. I tried it out with a nice Black Forest pipe tobacco and was pleasantly delighted by the full flavour without any telltale signs that I was smoking. Discretion is definitely this gadget’s middle name.
Slightly less discrete, but still packing a nice flavour in a smokeless environment is The Cuban ($20 US; logicecig.com). This electronic cigar is of a similar size (and only slightly heavier) to your regular Cuban smoke, but lasts for approximately 1,500 puffs and releases a rich, thick vapour rather than smoke. With 1.8-per-cent nicotine by volume, it is mild to medium flavored and has a pure tobacco aroma. Weighing only 1.5 ounces, the only downside is that it is disposable rather than rechargeable, but the price is right to pick up a couple for those times when you just need to close the door and have a cheeky, wee smoke.
If you’re lucky enough to twist Santa’s arm into stuffing a nice HDTV down the chimney, you’ll be looking for some ooh and awe-inducing movies to show it off. For the weekend bender, you can’t go wrong with Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures on Blu-Ray (approx. $60 Cdn; Paramount). Not only are all four action-packed movies a heck of a lot of fun, but this high-definition restoration delivers a crystal clear picture and sound. To keep the action rolling, you may want to slip a copy of Expendables 2 ($39.99; Alliance) into your hubby’s stocking. This was one of the biggest action movies of the year, and will be sure to raise the roof with its support for 11.1-channel DTS Neo:X sound. Another great title to really show off your system (and one that both partners will enjoy) is the new Blu-Ray release of Titanic (approx. $35 Cdn; Paramount) in its new combo-pack of Blu-Ray 2D and 3D. If you have a 3D TV, 3D Blu-Ray player and 3D glasses, Titanic truly is spectacular movie making. M