The hardest part of the holiday shopping is finding something that stands out from the crowd. It’s tricky to surprise anyone on Christmas day, for example, when you’ve wrapped an iPad, a 32GB flash drive, a gaming mouse, or a Kindle. Everyone knows about that stuff. That’s why I combed the bleeding edge of tech for these 10 cool but less well known products.
Cobra DriveHD. There’s a good chance that you only know two or three facts about Russia, and thanks to YouTube one of those facts is that everyone drives with a dash cam in their car there. Well, you can bring a little Russia to a loved one this year by giving the gift of a DriveHD dash cam. Cobra offers several DriveHD models, but I am partial to the CDR 840, which has built-in GPS that prints the exact coordinates of each leg of your trip right on the video. The DriveHD comes with an 8GB card that’s good for about 2 hours of video, continuously over-written so you always have a record of the last few hours of your travels. The video is sharp, high definition, with a wide viewing angle. And it can be yours for the giving for about $150.
Ozobot. This programmable robot is so adorable, and so cleverly conceived, it’s impossible not to love it. So what is Ozobot? Imagine a tiny bot that is designed to follow lines drawn on paper or on a computer screen (like an iPad). Different line patterns changes the Ozobot’s behavior — add a blue, red, and blue dash within a line, for example, makes the bot turn around and go back the way it came. That means Ozobot is fun and easy for kids to experiment with, and you can use Ozobot in free play or to race and solve puzzles (some of which are kindly provided in the free iPad accessory app). Really, it’s hard to overemphasize how great Ozobot is as a high-tech toy that doubles as a teaching tool. You can buy bots for $50 each or get a two-pack for $100.
Plantronics Rig. Most folks think that headphones are the best for immersive activities like gaming and music. The only problem? Most wrap-around headphones are designed to engulf you in sound and mask real-world audio. The Plantronics Rig is a gaming headphone that includes a second audio input which you can dial into the primary audio, hearing as much or as little of that source as you like. Imagine, for example, being able to play a game while listening to a baby monitor in the background. $99.
S+. Fitness bands that offer sleep tracking are all the rage these days, but S+, which is short for “Sleep Plus,” is novel in that it isn’t worn at all; it’s a small device that sits on your bed stand and works in conjunction with your iPhone to help you track your sleep and learn how to improve. S+ is really effective – it uses sensors to measure your respiration and restlessness from a distance, and in the morning it makes genuinely useful recommendations. For example, it can tell if you’re waking in the middle of the night because of nearby noises, or if light coming in the window is disturbing sleep in the morning. S+ can also help lull you to sleep with soothing sounds and coach you to better sleep. Anyone trying to sleep better or improve their health will appreciate the $150 S+.
SnapScan iX100. There was a time when everyone needed a scanner. All the time. And the scanners we had to choose from were clumsy, hard to set up, and expensive. At least these days, as our reliance on scanners has gone down, they’ve gotten far easier to work with as well. If you know someone who still needs to scan documents or photos, give them the SnapScan iX100. It’s a small, lightweight mobile scanner that fits in a briefcase or backpack, is completely wireless, and connects to any device – PC, laptop, smartphone, or tablet – using the local Wi-Fi network. No Wi-Fi? The scanner creates its own ad-hoc network so you can connect directly. Scans are fast and high quality, and you can give the gift of easy mobile scanning for $229.
Logitech Type +. Everyone knows someone who swears by his or her iPad, but complains it’s too hard to enter a lot of text using the on-screen keyboard. For that individual, I offer you Logitech’s Type+, one of the coolest iPad keyboards money can buy. It’s a thin-but-rugged case with a magnetic strip built in. When you unfold the case, the iPad snaps into position like a laptop screen, with the integrated keyboard laid out on the table in front of you. The Bluetooth keyboard springs to life when the iPad touches the magnet, so there’s nothing to remember to turn on or off. It’s available in several colors and sells for $99.
Chamberlain MyQ Garage. I hear what your dad is saying: He can already control his alarm system, thermostat, and front door using his iPhone. If only there was some way to open and close the garage door from his phone as well. Actually, there is. The Chamberlain MyQ Garage is a gadget you attach to the ceiling of your garage and plug it into your garage door opener. It connects with your home’s Wi-Fi and lets you operate your garage door from a simple iPhone app from literally anywhere you have Internet access. As long as your Wi-Fi works in your garage, MyQ should work fine, and of course your original garage door openers continue to work as well. Now you can check your phone at work or while on vacation in another state to see if someone forgot to close the garage door, and you can open the door to let someone in. Just $129 to automate dad’s garage.
Equil Smartpen 2. Despite the presence of Evernote and all sorts of other text tools, writing things by hand still feels the most natural – and has been proven to cause the best retention. That’s where the Equil Smartpen 2 comes in; it’s a pen that you can use to write with real ink on ordinary paper. But working with a clip that you clamp to the top of the page, the pen captures what you write in digital form, and sends the converted text to your PC, phone or tablet. It’s easy to use and very portable – great for both students and working professionals. $170.
TYLT Energi+ Backpack. I love the Energi+, a high tech backpack with oodles of zippered pockets and compartments, along with a massive Lithium Ion battery that can top off a tablet like the iPad or charge your smartphone about 4 times. The backpack has passthroughs for charging cables that run throughout the bag, so you can configure it to your liking. It has slots for a laptop, tablet, and smartphone, along with a general purpose section for whatever you like. It’s available for $200.
TIVO Mega. Last, but not least: TIVO claims that it’s so big, it’s almost inappropriate. While I am not entirely sure what that means, this much is true: The TIVO Mega DVR was engineered to appeal to the biggest TV and movie fanatics out there. The machine’s 24TB hard drive can store 26,000 hours of video (that’s standard video – or 4,000 hours of HD video), and its 6 tuners can record 6 shows at once. If you have $5000 to spend on your favorite couch potato, they will love you forever. On the other hand, I’m not sure that TIVO even expects anyone to really buy this monstrosity. It exists more for corporate bragging rights than anything else. That said, if you are wealthy and want to buy this for me, I will gladly accept it.
Image credits: Courtesy of each respective product manufacturer