Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip: 12 (+1) Holiday Gift Ideas for Techies

We're now into the gift-giving season, so we thought we'd post some techie gift ideas for the holidays.   Some of these might make great gifts for you (and you can use this blog to drop a hint); others might be the perfect idea for someone else.  While we are not endorsing Amazon as the place to purchase any of these, we do provide some links so that you can get more information (including user reviews). Here's 12 (+1) gift ideas for the techie (in no particular order).

+1. Public library card (free!).  Okay, I know -- this is one you should give yourself if you don't already have one.  But if you have kids and they don't have a library card, it really is the gift that keeps on giving (and it's FREE!).  You can check out audio books, ebooks, and even music and movies in electronic formats, in addition to using their hard copy resources at the library branches.  Thanks to the Colorado Libraries Collaborate! program, any CO resident can get a library card at any public library, regardless of his/her address.  Check any library's website to see how to obtain a card.

1.  Portable Chargers (typically under $25).   If you're traveling or just need an option when you're not around an outlet to charge a device, there are some great portable chargers on the market (many under $25). Basically, these provide a portable way to charge USB devices (tablets, cell phones, eReaders, etc.), and some can charge multiple devices simultaneously.  Great for emergencies or times when you just run out of juice.

2.  Stylus pens (~$2.00 - $10.00, depending on quantity).  While there are increasing numbers of tablet devices, many of them do not come with a stylus to write on the device (our colleague +Nanci Meza-CCSD calls these Sty-pens).  You can use the on-screen keyboard for writing, but quite a few people still prefer the act of writing (or doodling) by hand.  You can pick up packs of these on the cheap, and most of them work both with paper and with tablets.  

3.  USB Flash Drives or Memory Cards (price varies).  The cloud is great (we use it all of the time), but sometimes you still need a USB drive or an SD card for physical storage.  And the amount of storage you can now get is crazy (you can actually buy 1TB flash drives now, but they aren't cheap).  With the holiday deals available now, you can get a really good 64 GB flash drives or memory cards under $20.   

4.  Chromecast ($35.00).  There are quite a few options for wirelessly streaming content these days, but Chromecast is inexpensive, works with Chrome browsers, iOS, and Android, and is very easy to set up.  You do need a TV or projector with HDMI (you can get a VGA-HDMI adapter if you don't have HDMI), but you can stream (or "cast") content from a mobile device or Chrome browser to your TV or projector.  Chromecast can either get power from a USB port in your TV or projector or you can use the power adapter in the box to plug into an outlet.

5.  Bluetooth Audio (~$15.00 - $500).  Wireless or bluetooth audio accessories are another gift idea that comes in a range of prices (from affordable to laughable).  Bluetooth speakers range from small portable units to larger room solutions, and these can be a great gift -- they even have indoor/outdoor versions that can be great for backyards or family rooms.  Bluetooth headsets or headphones are another idea and can be an especially good gift for those who like to workout with audio players and don't want the hassle of cords.

6Tablets ($99 - $500).  Lots of choices are out there for tablets now, and while they can still run on the expensive side (depending on model and screen size), you can get the Amazon Fire for just under $100 (7 inch), the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 for just under $200 (8 inch), or the iPad Mini for $249 (7.9 inch).  Larger screen sizes will be pricier, with Android OS devices being less expensive than iOS models.

7.  Protective Cases (price varies).  Perhaps not as thrilling as the devices they protect, cases are a  must-have, especially if you are thinking about gifts for kids.  These also range in price, depending on what's being protected and how, but if you getting a tablet (or even a phone), you probably want to figure in the cost for a good case.  (We have to give a shout-out to Otterbox, a local company who makes great cases and also is very supportive of education and educators.)  For those who need a keyboard for a mobile device, you can also buy cases with keyboards built-in.

8.  Mobile Device Mounts ($20 - $50).  Another accessory for mobile devices, a stand or mount that is free-standing or can be attached to a cabinet, desk/table, or tripod can be really handy.  Kitchen cabinet mounts keep a device at eye level for recipe perusing, desk/table mounts with flexible legs can turn mobile devices into document cameras, and tripod mounts attach any mobile device to a tripod for stationary/stable recording.

9.  Wearable Technology (price varies).  Wearable technology will get more popular as prices come down and more devices are developed, but for now, the most common (and most affordable) wearable technology is related to fitness.  However, you'll find everything from watches to wearable cameras (like the GoPro) to glasses if you look around (Amazon now has a section on their site devoted to wearable tech).  They even have wearable technology for pets -- and babies.

10.  Mini Projectors ($50 - $500).  Another technology that will likely become more available, more affordable, and more impressive is the mini projector.  The quality currently is about what you'd expect (not awesome but decent for smaller rooms with little light polution), but this could be a fun solution for a kids' room or for outdoor use.  Some run off of USB power, which could also be a good road trip or travel option.

11.  3D Drawing Pens ($80 - $180). This gift idea comes from  +Jon Pierce, our Elementary STEM and Innovation Coordinator (thanks, Jon!)   In the same way that wearable technology is gaining momentum, items that help create 3D objects are also on the rise. There are several vendors who make these, but basically, these are pens you fill with print filament (different colors are available) that allow you to doodle a 3D object.  If you run out of fillament, you can buy replacement packs.

12.  Laptops (price varies).  Yep.  Had to include this one.  Laptops obviously range in price, but Chromebooks can be a good option.  Consumer Reports rated Asus & Toshiba the highest in terms of quality, but the Samsungs (like what we have) weren't far behind.  Most district employees or educators can find education discounts from Apple and Dell (or Microsoft).  One of our school technology coordinators, +Nate Krulish, posted on his blog today: What Laptop Should I Buy? -- it's a great list of ideas (and it's a good idea to find out what technology is already available at a school if you're purchasing a gift for a kid).

So, there are our 12 (+1) ideas for techie gifts for 2014.  Happy giving (and receiving)!

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