20 mostly practical gifts for the technophile


Lets face it: A lot of holiday gifts just aren’t that useful, and end up stored in a closet indefinitely.

That’s just a waste of money, so we’ve tried to collect gadgets tech that will hopefully avoid the same fate. As such, some of these items aren’t necessarily things you’d normally consider as gifts, and some are on the pricey side. But they are, for the most part, things a techie could make use of on a regular basis. Of course, that’s not to say we haven’t thrown in some fun ones too.

Lastly, it’s worth worth noting that all of these products are things we’ve actually used, so they have a real stamp of approval. And if these don’t catch your eye, you can check out some of our other holiday gift ideas here and here.

Optoma NuForce BeFree8

Apple’s AirPods may have jump-started a trend in truly wireless earbuds, but they don’t actually sound all that great. Optoma’s NuForce BeFree8 don’t suffer from that problem.

While they may not be quite as sleek as the AirPods, sound quality is in the “legitimately good” range for its price. Tuning is fairly balanced, with a slight bass and treble bump. My biggest issue with them is a lack of direct volume controls (you need to summon Siri or Google), but you can play, pause, and skip tracks with the single button on each bud.

The best part? There’s rock solid connection between earbuds. I never experienced any drops during my testing.

➤ $140

RHA MA750

If you want Bluetooth earbuds, but would rather them be tethered to each other, RHA MA750 wireless are an excellent choice. They feature the same great sound as the wired MA750 – a favorite among audiophiles. They pack in 12 hours of battery life, and can vibrate for notifications.

As far as neckband headphones go, they look quite good, and they mercifully charge via USB-C so you don’t need to carry around an extra cable if you have a recent Android device.

➤ $169

Palette

Palette is like a modular mixing table for photographers, and it’s kind of awesome. I’ve been using it to edit my photos for a couple of months, and it both saves me time and is way more fun than just using keyboard shortcuts. Better yet, it already comes with an extensive variety of control presets, so you don’t have to spend too much time configuring everything to your liking.

While it’s definitely on the pricey side – you’re going to want as many modules as possible – you can always start off with the beginner package and add pieces later on once you’re able to.

➤ $199+

Sensel Morph

The Sensel Morph is basically a giant touchpad for creators, and the tech behind it is impressive. It’s extremely precise pressure sensitive surface and system of silicone overlays allow it to imitate anything from a drawing tablet, a midi keyboard, a mixing console, and shortcut panel for video editing. You can even create your own custom overlays too.

While it might not always be quite as powerful as the dedicated devices it’s able to imitate, it’s an incredibly versatile tool that could save you money over buying all those devices separately.

➤ $299+

Roli Lightpad Block M

Keeping with the trend of modular physical interfaces, Roli’s Blocks are a super versatile music creation tool. Using the same tech in the company’s famous Seaboard, Blocks  are pressure sensitive MIDI controllers that are flexible enough to create music on your smartphone or be used for a serious production setup.

The main Lightpad Block can light up to show different musical scales or access different controls, or you can opt for the Seaboard Block if you want something closer to a keyboard experience.

➤ $209

Nanoleaf Aurora Rhythm Kit

Nanoleaf’s Aurora is one of the coolest-looking smart lights around, but it’s made even better by the company’s Rhythm adapter.

Then triangular light panels can be arranged in any shape or color, and there are a myriad of community-created themes to try. And with the rhythm pack, it’s able to either use an internal microphone or plug into a source to react to your music with a variety of customizable patterns.

➤ $229

Google Home Mini

Google Home Mini is the best gateway to using a voice assistant in your crib. The fabric design is both attractive and unobtrusive, while the $50 price – currently discounted to $29 – almost makes it an impulse buy.

It sounds surprisingly good for its size too, and integration with Google services makes it a particularly good choice for Android users. The one qualm compared to Amazon’s Echo Dot is the lack of a 3.5mm jack – you’ll need to spend an extra $35 on a Chromecast Audio if you want to hook it up to more powerful speakers.

➤ $29 now, but usually $50

Kindle Oasis

If you’re looking for a gift for a literary fiend, the Kindle Oasis is the best ereader out there. It features a sharp, 7-inch screen, fast refresh times, and – most importantly – it’s waterproof. Finally, you can read during bubble baths without worrying about soggy pages or shorting out your gadgets. Bonus: the Oasis comes with free LTE connectivity for finding new books on the go.

➤ $250+

AIAIAI TMA-2

This list is heavy on headphones, but headphones make for reliable gifts. AIAIAI’s TMA-2, however is more versatile than any other headphone I’ve tried.

The idea is that you can pick out the individual headphone components and create your own perfect pair. Choose from a variety of drivers for different base sounds, which are further altered by your choice of earpad. You can pick from a variety of cables and even replace the headband with one that allows Bluetooth connectivity.

All this customizability means you can always swap out individual components instead of buying a new pair, making for a headphone that really feels future-proof. And yes, the sound is excellent, though I’ve only heard one driver (the S04 speakers). As a neat bonus I discovered out of curiosity, you can actually plug in another headphone to the TMA-2s to easily share your music.

➤ $145+ ($315 as tested)

Sennheiser Ambeo

These are yet another pair of great headphones, but the Sennheiser’s appeal is actually in recording sound. With the growing popularity of immersive media like VR and AR, realistic, sound is becoming all the more important. Sennheiser’s Ambeo comes with microphones embed on each earbuds, allowing it record hyper-immersive binaural audio.

If you’re not familiar, binaural audio is kind of like surround sound on steroids, except it works with headphones. The result is an all-encompassing sound that actually tricks your brain into thinking objects are moving around you within 3D space. It’s a great choice for anyone who works with videos, and with Sennheiser’s acoustic pedigree, the headphones themselves sound pretty great too.

The caveat is that the headphones currently require a Lightning port and are thus exclusive to iOS, though the company says it’s working on a USB-C version for Android as well.

➤ $300

SNES Classic

After the raging popularity of the NES classic, Nintendo followed up with an even better selection of games for the remake of its 16-bit console. The SNES classic provides a real trip down Nostalgia Lane with classics Like Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, F-Zero, and Super Metroid. All the while it includes some neat improvements, like the ability to save anywhere in a game and even ‘rewind’ gameplay.

Despite the fact that you’ll have trouble finding one without paying more than retail, the SNES classic is too fun to not be on this list.

➤ $79, but street price hovers around $110

Samsung T5 Hard Drive

Samsung makes some of the fastest drives in the business, and Samsung’s T5 is about as small as external storage drives get. It’s so small I tend to carry around with me everywhere, and it comes with both USB-A and USB-C cables should you want to connect it to your smartphone.

Because it uses flash memory, it’s highly resistant to shock or damage, while being faster than most mechanical external drives. It’s a great little drive to carry around movies and photos on a trip.

 $150

Samsung HMD Odyssey

One of the more expensive entries, but it’s worth it; Samsung’s HMD Odyssey provides some of the the highest fidelity VR experiences to date. The OLED panels outclass both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in sheer image quality. Meanwhile, the headset uses technology borrowed from HoloLens to allow you to move around a virtual room and track hand movements accurately without the need for clunky external modules.

The Odyssey takes advantage of Microsoft’s new mixed reality platform, and includes two VR remotes. But it’s also compatible with Steam’s extensive and growing VR catalog. There are still some occasional bugs when using Steam apps, but for the most part it’s smooth sailing.

➤ $499

Apollo Cloud 2 Duo

Storing files in the cloud is convenient, but it can be slow if you’re trying to share large files on devices on a single network, and doesn’t usually offer much in the way of privacy. Apollo’s Cloud 2 Duo combines the accessibility of cloud storage with the practicality of a NAS, making it handy for backing up your files or just storing movies to share between various devices. It’s kind of like your own personal Google Photos – except you don’t have to share your images with a company that’s fond of tracking everything you do.

➤ $400

Fitbit Ionic

Fitbit’s Ionic may not have lived up to its promise as a smartwatch for the masses, but it’s still a really good fitness tracker. The blocky look is actually pretty classy in person, and its tracking abilities are some of the best around. You can check out our review here.

➤ $270

Autonomous Smart Desk 2

Standing desks are increasingly popular, but most are much prohibitively expensive. Autonomous’ Smart Desk manages to be very well built while only costing 300 in its base configuration. It’s as sturdy as some desks that cost much more, while looking pretty good too. The company even sells a kit so you can use your own cut of wood if you prefer.

➤ $299+

Logitech Craft Keyboard

Logitech’s Craft Keyboard is a an excellent wireless keyboard with a useful twist – literally. A knob on the upper-left corner allows you to perform a variety of useful functions, such as switching though tabs in Chrome or changing your brush properties in Photoshop. It can also pair to three different devices, making for useful all-rounder.

➤ $199

Razer Atheris

Razer’s Atheris is a mouse for gamers on the go. It’s surprisingly comfortable for its size, has three extra programmable buttons, and has far better gaming performance than most small wireless mice. It’s not going to replace a full size mouse at home, but it’s a solid choice that won’t break the bank if you’re constantly on the move.

➤ $49

Nokia Body Cardio

Giving someone a scale for the holidaysmay seem a bit of a backhanded gift, but the Nokia Body Cardio packs a ton of features for the fitness aficionado or anyone trying to reshape their body. Not only can it sync your weight and BMI to your favorite fitness apps, but it also tracks your body fat percentage, muscle mass, and resting heart rate.

Of course, you can’t check your heart rate on a scale every time you workout, but daily measurements of resting heart rate can provide a picture of your overall cardiovascular health. If you don’t need heart rate measurements, the Body+ has all the other functionality for less cash.

➤ $135

Moment Case and Lenses

As good as smartphone cameras may be, they don’t have the flexibility of being able to change focal lengths as readily as a real DSLR. That’s where Moment’s photo cases and lenses comes in.

Available for Google, Samsung, and Apple phones, the case and lenses allow you to modify the field of view from your photos. Options include an superwide angle, a fisheye, a telephoto, and a macro lens. And unlike most add-on lenses, Moment’s glass is usually sharp enough to not notice a degradation over a standard camera.

It’s also worth noting the lenses are particularly powerful on the Pixel 2 – as that phone only needs one camera for Portrait mode, you can still use shallow depth of field with any of Moments lenses.

➤ $30 for the cases, $89/$99 for the lenses



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