Those readers who can remember technology 10, 15 or 20 years ago might be relieved to see this list. We finally made it, people: Technology is finally living up to the promise of making things easier and more fun. No more are video cameras expensive, awkward, shaky and easy to break. No more are phones just for calling, but equally as important, no more are their apps extremely limited and slow. No more are mp3 players, well, pretty much at all.
Instead, as this year’s tech gifts show, technology now is about access to more information and more connectivity through all kinds of devices and services. Give someone the gift of a really awesome gadget from our list below.
Olloclip 4-in-1 PhotoLens ($69.99)
That budding Instagram (or is it now Snapchat? Or still Flickr — c’mon guys) fanatic on your list may get a kick out of the Olloclip 4-in-1 PhotoLens. The device includes four lenses, a fisheye, a wide-angle, and two macro lenses, that clip on to your iPhone (generation 4 and 4S). The fisheye takes in an almost 180-degree view, while the macro lenses come at 10x and 15x strengths for 18 mm and 12 mm focus distances. The lenses are made from precision-ground, coated glass and aircraft-grade aluminum but attach with soft plastic that securely fits on your iPhone.
Roku 3 ($99.99)
The Roku 3 is the latest for streaming video on demand — read: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go and PBS are among the 1,000 channel options — as well as music players like Spotify on your television (HDTVs only need apply). The latest model boasts a motion-control remote that can be used for games, headphone jack, faster processor and apps to employ your mobile device as your remote. Attach to your TV with an HDMI port and set up through your Wi-Fi or Ethernet to watch all the back episodes of 30 Rock you’d like, again and again.
Google Chromecast ($35)
Tired of paying that cable bill just to have something worth watching on that big-screen HDTV? Here’s your chance to give a great holiday gift that can solve that problem. Plug the Google Chromecast into your HD television’s HDMI port and you’re ready to go. Now you can watch everything from Netflix and Hulu to Pandora, YouTube and more. Chromecast also works with Google Play’s TV shows, music and movies. And if you use Chrome as your browser, you can even send your TV any videos you want from your computer or smartphone. Chromecast works with iPhones, iPads, Chrome for Mac, Chrome for Windows, Android tablets and smartphones and it automatically updates itself to work with other apps as they come online. For $35, this gift is as smart as it is entertaining.
Sony PlayStation 4 ($399) and Microsoft Xbox One ($617)
The two titans of console gaming are clashing again this holiday season with new weapons. Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One — even the company acknowledges that people say “Xbone” — will both be on sale for the holidays, and while more will be written about them than about the housing market collapse, we can provide a brief overview.
The Xbox One covers almost every base you can imagine: video games, yes, but also Netflix, Kinect features (gestures and voice to control the system), cable or satellite TV control, a huge upgrade to Xbox Live, even Skype. The PlayStation 4 is more focused on processor speed and quality gaming, though it does provide Netflix and other video apps.
Square Card Reader ($0)
Yes, like those old bank account offers used to say, a free gift! Square is among the leaders of a new method of payment, allowing merchants to process payments with a smartphone and a free credit card reader. Both Square and the similar Intuit GoPayment work based on a percentage of sales: Merchants pay nothing up front, but Intuit and Square take 2.75 percent of each sale. For the loved one in your life with a nanobrewery, handmade confectionary or mountain bike guiding company, a simple link to http://squareup.com could get them off cash-only and looking legit.
Sony HDR-AS15 Camcorder ($168)
Yes, the GoPro cameras pretty well revolutionized — maybe even created — the sports camera industry, and they still might be the high water mark for quality. But after a few years of one product being on top, you can bet on other options hitting the market. And Sony’s new 3-ounce camera presents a lower-cost alternative to GoPros — which range from $200 to $400 — while still delivering clear, HD video aided by Sony’s SteadyShot stabilization. The HDR-AS15 is waterproof to 197 feet and excels in low light, so the adventurer in your life can capture crazy moments in more times and more places.
Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit ($119.98)
We’ve become so dependent on our gadgets — especially smartphones — that it’s almost debilitating when the battery dies. Goal Zero makes a variety of portable chargers, and solar panels can be tacked on for use in the outdoors. One favorite is the small, lightweight Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit, which features a USB port as well as a charger for AA/ AAA batteries. At only about $120, it’s cheaper than some of the larger, more powerful charging boxes and super portable. If you’re interested in a bigger unit that you can keep in the car for emergencies, check out the Yeti 150 Solar Generator. It’s a little more pricey at around $200, and solar panels cost extra, but it’s got the juice to charge everything from laptops to tablets to cameras.
Otterbox Preserver Phone Case ($89.95)
You know that feeling when you see your smartphone falling, in slow motion, into the swimming pool or toilet? That panicky sensation of losing access to all of those texts, emails, photos, music, Facebook posts and tweets? Well, Otterbox makes a waterproof case, the Preserver series, that lets you stay connected without worry, even while soaking in the bathtub. Another cool Otterbox case is the Commuter Wallet, which has a sliding drawer that can hold up to three credit cards and a bill. Eventually, purses and wallets will be relics of the past and we’ll have everything we need, right on our phones.
Kindle Paperwhite ($119)
A print publication recommending an e-reader? Seems wrong, doesn’t it? But we aren’t Luddites here, and we know a really remarkable e-reader when we see one. The Paperwhite is basically what e-readers always should have been: It’s small, light, relatively inexpensive and extremely easy to read. Its screen almost entirely rejects glare and projects a clear, readable image that doesn’t glow like a computer screen. An ad-free version is $20 more, but ads do not display while reading, only on the home screen and screensaver, so we say save your money for a nice glittery card.