Cool tech ideas for Christmas giving

2 Dec

By Geoff Meeker

December 2, 2013 – Technology can make for great holiday giving, but a visit to your nearest appliance store presents an almost overwhelming array of gadgets and devices. How does one choose wisely from such a range of options?

First, do your homework. Listen for clues from loved ones, because people do drop hints at this time of year. If there are none, ask the giftees what they are interested in. Probe if necessary. Pin down a general wish list.

Second, read this column. I’ve done some preliminary research for you, and gathered a list of potential gifts for all budgets, from $79 to $2000, beginning with the least expensive.

The ZAGGkeys Profolio Plus makes the iPad more user-friendly for those accustomed to traditional keyboards.

The ZAGGkeys Profolio Plus makes the iPad more user-friendly for those accustomed to traditional keyboards.

Tablet case

Pretty much everyone has an iPad or other tablet, though I don’t suggest buying one without confirming that the intended recipient will actually use it. However, I do recommend a protective case that adds functionality to those who already own an iPad or other tablet. Most cases are folio-style, folding open to reveal a keyboard and a built-in stand to hold up the tablet, laptop style. There are various brands and price ranges, starting in the $79 range, but I recommend the ZAGGkeys Profolio Plus (for iPad), which boasts a handy backlit keyboard ($129 at Future Shop).

The $300 PSB M4U 1 headphones compare well against devices that cost $1000 and more.

The $300 PSB M4U 1 headphones compare well against devices that cost $1000 and more.

Headphones

With so many of us carrying music around in our pockets, headphones can make welcome gifts. But you get what you pay for: cheap headphones have inferior sound and break easily. For in-ear headphones, ideal for people on the go, I recommend spending $60 to $80 on a good set of Sennheisers. For on-ear headphones, better suited for at home listening (though they are often used outdoors), I suggest you splurge on the PSB M4U 1, which will set you back $300 (West End Electronics) but compares well with headphones costing $1000 and more.  That special someone will be blown away by the sound quality.

The ION Party Rocker can be a fun alternative to traditional karaoke machines.

The ION Party Rocker can be a fun alternative to traditional karaoke machines.

Ion Party Rocker

Children of all ages love karaoke and the Ion Party Rocker makes a versatile alternative to traditional karaoke machines. It connects wirelessly to Bluetooth-enabled devices and includes a powerful 50-watt speaker, microphone and 1/8 inch audio input. It even projects a multi-coloured light show that responds to the beat and tone of the music.  There is no karaoke screen, but this application can be driven on the connecting smartphone or tablet. It’s regularly priced at $199 but I found it on sale at Best Buy for $129, and $149 at The Source.

The Logitech z600 speakers pack some big sound in a small package, and are ideal for small living spaces.

The Logitech z600 speakers pack some big sound in a small package, and are ideal for small living spaces.

Logitech z600

These Bluetooth speakers have woofers in the bottom and tweeters at the top, pumping out sound that feels bigger than the $159 price tag (at Future Shop). You can connect three devices at a time – from laptop to smartphone to tablet – to the speakers with easy switching between sound sources, and there is a convenient touch-sensitive volume control on the top panel. These compact speakers are ideal for small apartments, students living in residence, or just anyone on a tight budget.

The Tivoli iPal radio (left) makes a great-sounding gift for people who enjoy camping, while the Tivoli table-top radio is ideal for those who spend a lot of listening time in the kitchen. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Tivoli iPal radio (left) makes a great-sounding gift for people who enjoy camping, while the Tivoli table-top radio is ideal for those who spend a lot of listening time in the kitchen. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Tivoli radio

Do you know someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen? Is that person using a tiny, tinny-sounding cabinet-mounted radio? If so, perhaps it’s time to upgrade to the Tivoli table radio.  It’s deliciously retro, with a handmade wooden cabinet and an analog, backlit dial. The unit’s strongest point, however, is its sound, which is incredibly deep and rich for such a small unit – due in part to the electronics, speaker quality and resonance of the wooden case. Frankly, you need to hear it to believe it. It starts at $199 (at West End Electronics). There is also a Bluetooth-enabled version ($259) and a portable, battery-rechargeable unit that is ideal for cabin or tent ($259).

The Sonos Bridge sounds great by itself, but can also be a stepping stone into a high-end 5.1 surround sound system.

The Sonos Bridge sounds great by itself, but can also be a stepping stone into a high-end 5.1 surround sound system.

Sonos wireless speakers

Is someone close to you scouting for a new stereo system or home theatre? If so, you might consider investing in the Sonos TV-compatible Playbar ($750 at West End Electronics), a wide, low-profile speaker that sits in front of your widescreen TV. It contains six woofers and three tweeters for full, rich sound (I’m still in awe of it). And over time, you can add the subwoofer ($750) and two satellite speakers ($250 each) to generate true 5.1 surround sound. It’s all wireless and you can play music from your TV, computer, smartphone or tablet.

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