November 23, 2012
Hey, adults like toys too! Whether you're on the lookout for a memorable gift for your wife or the perfect item for your company gift exchange, a slick little gizmo is always a great option. Of course, prices run the gamut in this arena so you'll need to be careful, but whether you're looking for a new smartphone for your spouse or some portable power for an office mate, you can find something to fit your budget.The Galaxy SIII and Nokia Lumia 920 have heated up the smartphone arms race like never before, and are making the decision of what phone to buy tougher than ever. But for one more year at least, the iPhone remains the dominant superpower on the market. The iPhone 5 represents Apple's most complete release yet as they thinned the size of the entire phone, while crafting the largest (and clearest, thanks to the retina display) screen yet, meaning it's got more of what you love and less of what you don't. More than just a pretty face though, the iPhone 5 thrives more off of its incredible camera, incomparable 4G capabilities, enhanced Siri features, and most importantly that it still supports the greatest app market available in the Apple store.
What's funny is that everything new and great about the iPhone 5 is done by another phone on the market. However, it remains the best collection of these features available, and while it may be unseated next year, this year it remains the only phone you don't have talk yourself into buying, but rather out of buying.With the iPad 4's impossible good looks and wide spec range I convinced myself early in the year that it would be the best tablet available.
But then comes a flighty little Android powered temptress called the Nexus 7, and with its compact design and wide range of functions and features, it showed me that not only could Apple be beaten at its own game, but that 7 inch tablets were no longer a compromise. What's especially great about it is how practical aspects like speed, battery life, and of course price are all top of the line, but the device still feels more entertaining to use than its similar competitors as there is always some new ability to discover that it exceeds at.
We've come a long way since the Kindle Fire laughingly called itself an iPad challenger, and thanks to the Nexus 7, you no longer have to choose between price and quality, or size and capabilities. It's a real game changer, and damn fun to boot.
At under $1,200 for the 55 inch model you could do worse for the Panasonic VIERA ST50, and you' be hard pressed to do better in terms of overall quality. While it has all of the smart TV features, 3D capabilities, and input features you would expect from an ultra-modern TV, what impresses most about this model is how without touching a single setting or playing with any feature, you are still dealt one of the better out of the box televisions for its price on the market. A rundown of its specs will show you that it compares to units almost twice its price in every major category, while a quick viewing of the model in person reveals the kind of drool inducing clarity that you expect for such a centerpiece device. You should get a lot of miles out of your TV, and with the VIERA ST50, you also get a lot of value.This stylish set of Bluetooth speakers sounds fantastic and is easy to set up. As an upgrade on the original Prisma speaker system from Edifier, the Prisma BT subwoofer boasts the same unique pyramid shape but with a built-in Bluetooth receiver, it can now seamlessly stream music wirelessly within a range of about 30 feet. For non-Bluetooth devices, there also is an auxiliary port located on the back of the subwoofer and another port on the wired master volume remote. You'll also find a headphone jack concealed on the remote to give you all sorts of listening options. The bass adjustment dial is hidden on the back of the sleek subwoofer, and the simple yet elegant wired speakers complete this 48-watt RMS speaker system. Small yet powerful, the Edifier Prisma BT works great as a desktop set or as a home stereo solution. Portable tuneage just keeps getting better and better, and BRAVEN is one of the leaders in that arena. We listed their 625 speaker in our Stocking Stuffers section, but we couldn't ignore the BRAVEN 650. Boasting up to 20 hours of playback, this sleek HD wireless speaker can fill a room despite its small size, with enhanced APTX wireless audio producing beautiful, high-fidelity sound. But there's more to the 650 than music playback. With a built-in microphone, it also serves as a hands-free speakerphone capable of making and receiving calls, and its ChargeExtreme Powerbank can quickly charge your phone or other USB device, making it the Swiss Army Knife of Bluetooth speakers. To top it off, it looks great, boasting a sleek design of aircraft-grade aluminum that will complement any décor. There's a reason we keep writing about the BRAVEN line of speakers – maybe it's time to check them out for yourself! Beats by Dre may be the more popular option when it comes to buying a pair of premium over-ear headphones, but you shouldn't count out Fanny Wang's impressive line, which features the same great quality with an extra dash of style. The new 3000 Series ANC headphones come in a variety of colors (including a limited edition black-and-red pair) and are specifically designed to eliminate over 95% of ambient noise. Using two microphones that measure noise levels from inside the ear cup, and two other microphones that measure the level of ambient noise, the headphones are able to generate a cancelling signal, which lets you listen to your music in total isolation. In addition to the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) switch, there's a Bass Boost option that kicks in 6 decibels of rich bass, while the included DuoJack features a built-in headphone splitter so you can share your beats with someone else. And though they're just as bulky as most over-ear headphones, Fanny Wang's 3000 Series feel a lot more durable, and as a result, are probably the most comfortable of the bunch. It's a tough day when you have to admit that the stunning new MacBook Pro is out of your price range, but honestly at over $2,100 for the top of the line model, it is an unreasonable venture for all but the most affluent of shoppers.
Luckily if you leave the world of Apple, you'll find you don't have to settle, but at worst adjust. You can really help ease the blow by picking up the beautiful HP Envy Spectre. At just under $1,000 you get all of the specs you can expect for a laptop in this price range, but you also get an unexpectedly thin laptop that's modeled after a Macbook in many aspects. Under the hood rests a powerful, but practical processor capable of most everyday functions, a decent battery life, 4 GB's of RAM, and the nice built in Beats audio system, backlit keyboard, and included Photoshop and Adobe Premier programs help round out the entire package. If you're looking for an everyday, capable laptop for under a $1,000, the Spectre more than keeps up, and its style puts it over the top in its class.As simple and affordable Bluetooth speakerphones go, the Supertooth HD is a winner. Installation…well, there really isn't any installation – just slide the magnetic clip to the visor of your car, attach the Bluetooth unit and you're good to go. Synching with your phone takes just a few moments, at which point the Supertooth will automatically start downloading your phonebook. The unit announces calls by name and allows for voice dialing for up to five contacts, along with separate options for calling home, office, emergency and voicemail. Once your contacts have been established, voice dialing is as simple as a quick button push, then a prompt like, "Call Contact 1." Ring, ring. You can also answer, reject or ignore a call, or send emails and texts with voice prompts. There apparently is even an option to use Facebook or Twitter, but we didn't take that feature for a test drive. The Supertooth can be paired with two phones simultaneously, and is small and easy enough to slide into your pocket when you get out of the car. Ah, but what about the quality? We're pleased to report that this unit sounds about as good as most non-headset Bluetooth units these days when making a call: good, not great. Fortunately, the two-speaker, 5 watt RMS system was easy to hear, even on the highway, making this one of our favorite little gadgets of the year. There are so many iPad cases flooding stores these days that it takes something really special to grab our attention, and the new full-cover Orion model from MapiCases did exactly that. Handcrafted from some really eye-catching, high-quality cowhide leather, and available in five different colors, the Orion allows for multiple viewing positions with a foldable cover (similar to Apple’s own smart covers) that can be used to stand the iPad upright or swiveled 90 degrees in either direction to view in landscape mode. One of the biggest problems with a lot of cases is that they don’t always make it easy to access the tablet’s various ports, but the Orion provides ample space so you never have to remove it just to plug your iPad into a charging dock. Though it’s pretty expensive at $160, we loved this premium leather case so much that if you have the money to spend, you won’t be disappointed. We all rely on our cell phones to get help during an emergency situation, but what happens when your battery is dead and you have no means of charging it? That’s where having a SpareOne stashed away in your glove box or backpack comes in handy. A slim mobile phone that runs on a single AA battery, the SpareOne will keep its charge for 15 years and provides up to 10 hours of talk time. Better yet, while its main function is to call 911 without the need of a SIM card (there’s even a big red emergency button preprogrammed to speed dial), you can also insert the SIM card from your everyday cell phone in order to call regular numbers as well. Though it’s a relatively barebones device – there’s no screen, and the only other notable feature is a torchlight – the SpareOne is the sort of gift that you could buy for just about anyone in need of a little peace of mind. There are an impossibly good amount of headphones on the market, but it can be pretty tricky picking one as you either give up an arm and a leg for a decent set, or you risk your ears with saving money on a cheap pair.
That's why we recommend the Incase Sonic model. They may lack some of the style of other headphones, and you couldn't really make an argument for them as a professional pair of headphones, but their foam lined earpieces are some of the most comfortable you'll find, and provide one of the most relaxing listening experiences available at any price range. Even more important though, is that the sound quality aptly handles all ranges from elegant to booming. The fact that you can snag them for $150 at full price, and around $50 if you find them on sale, also makes them the perfect introduction to the world of higher quality headsets, that won't break the bank. Obviously, if you can afford a pair of say top of the line Bose headphones, proceed in that direction. For everyone else out there, the Incase proves the big difference between value and cheap.Sometimes, a portable Bluetooth unit fits your situation and sometimes, you need something with more…oomph. That's where this bad boy comes in. There are plenty of speakers out there that can "fill a room," but the BOOM Junior could fill an arena. Hyperbole? Well, maybe just a tad, but trust us when we say you won't be disappointed by the output of this 100W speaker dock. Featuring two 1-inch tweeters, two midrange 3-inch drivers and one 5.25-inch subwoofer, the BOOM Junior delivers amazing sound without any distortion, even when you crank up the juice. And this speaker can crank! In fact, considering its amazing price (check out the deal at Costco, as of this writing!) and the fact that it comes with a wireless remote, this may be one of the best speaker dock values around. While the dock is designed for any 30-pin iOS device, all other devices can play through the BOOM Junior via the auxiliary jack. This speaker isn't as small as other docks or BT solutions (8.7" H x 16.5" W x 9.8" D), so consider your needs before buying, but if you have the space, you'll love the BOOM Junior. Here's another POV HD camera gadget built around eyewear. In this case it's customized for skiing or snowboarding as it's built into goggles you can use on the slopes. Wouldn't it be great to capture some of your incredible runs down the slopes? With the ZEAL iON HD camera goggle you can do just that. ZEAL Optics recently introduced this camera goggle to help you document your adventures on the slopes. The slick design will make you want to wear these goggles weather you're recording or not, but now you'll always have the option to capture your experiences with a point of view video. The goggles are also very comfortable. The ZEAL iON captures 1080p HD quality video and can shoot up to 8 megapixel photos for quick, easy POV videos. Oh boy, get ready to have some fun! With 100 real-time performance effects, MP3/WAV playback and data storage/exchange capabilities, the Korg Mini Kaoss Pad 2 is a handheld wonderland of music and sound experimentation. Admittedly, it takes a while for a beginner to fully grasp the purpose and power of the Mini Kaoss Pad 2, but once you do, this thing is hard to put down. Inject some of your own style into your favorite tunes using the input jack or, even better, slide in a microSD card and start experimenting, mixing and saving your favorite creations. The Mini Kaoss Pad 2 is amazingly intuitive with a touchpad interface that lets you test out all of the cutting-edge effects, and the internal mic allows for a personal touch. Of course, it all becomes even more exceptional in the hands of experienced musicians and DJs who know how to fully utilize the device's seemingly unending list of effects and features. You can record an instrument with the input jack, add your favorite effects and then save the finished product to the memory card. All in the palm of your hand, and all powered by two AA batteries!