The Serious Insights Holiday Geek Gift Giving Guide
It’s that time of year again. Here are a few of my favorites gadgets and accessories that I have not only evaluated but adopted into my life. This is a very personalized holiday gift guide that includes some of my favorite things–things I think others will enjoy if they show up under the tree or next to the Menorrah. Some of them I’ve played with for awhile, others I use every day. When the list is complete, I will provide a Black Friday/Cyber Weekend/Cyber Monday check list with notes.
Come back often. As I think of other items or get asked questions about particular categories I haven’t included yet, I will add them in. Check-back often between now and Black Friday and the entire Cyber Weekend (and Monday too!).
Note, many of these items are available in stores or elsewhere, but I have provided an Amazon links for quick access to details and purchases. Ad blockers may blank out the links.
Samsung Gear VR
If you are ready to get into virtual reality, and you already have the right Samsung phone, this Oculus-partnered device and experience is the best place to start. Look to the innovator edition for earlier phones like the Note 4. With Oculus Rift not shipping until next year, Samsung offers the best experience through the Oculus Home, Oculus store as well as the various Samsung properties available. Beware that while the main software is good, some of the content pumped through it isn’t. Overall this will be a welcomed surprise for any owner of a Samsung device.
The Amazon Echo is THE device for Amazon junkies with Prime this and that. Crank out music, order stuff, listen to Audible books, set alarms, check on sports scores, etc. Yes, Siri and Cortana and Google can all do some of that, but they aren’t hooked into the Amazon ecosystem like Echo. Only problem, the geeks in your like may choose to talk more to Alexa than to you once the device is installed. Unlike other devices, Echo is just there.
Massive Audio TARDIS Bluetooth Speaker
Absolutely the coolest speaker you can have on your desk. And it sounds great too. Massive Audio has done a great job of making a device that is fun and functional. Sculpting of the Police Box matches the sculpting of the sound. Lights flicker. Sounds are emitted on pairing and connection. It even works as a speaker phone. No modern Whovian will want to be without one of these on their desk. Read my full review on iPhone Life.
I can’t say enough about the quality and craftsmanship of the ThinkGeek’s Star Trek Phaser Remote Control. Every Trekkie wants one, and none that receive it will be disappointed. This is a full-sized, working, but non-lethal phaser. It includes:
Compatibility with virtually all home entertainment systems
A detachable Type I Phaser
Gesture-based IR controls
A personal lock code
Guided setup that teaches owners how to use the phaser with spoken prompts
Store up to 36 programmable gestures in 3 memory banks
Multicolored flashing emitter
Ten position dial selects range of different Phaser firing sounds (including Phaser Overload sequence)
Tactile force-feedback vibration motor lets you feel the power of the phaser
Metal display stand with hidden magnet
Rechargeable lithium polymer battery
Specially-designed, protective transit case
The display stand makes for a great desk accessory, and if you have a TV nearby, a useful tool for the home office. It feels heavy in the hand, just like a phaser should. Highly recommended.
Watch my unboxing video:
Swiss-Tech Mobile-Tech Key Cables ($35.99)
If you are looking for the perfect stocking stuffer for a family member or friend with an iPhone or iPad, look no further. This key fob, known by Swiss-Tech as a Key Cable, brings together a Lighting connector for USB charging, with a protective cap that is also a flashlight. They are attractive and very useful. They don’t tangle, and unless you lose your keys (I know) then you probably won’t lose them
The Swiss-Tech Mobile-Tech Key Cables make charging batteries and syncing data through a USB connection quick and convenient. Attach it to your key ring and it’s always with you when you need it. No need for cables that can tangle and get lost! Two options available: Lightning and Micro-USB devices. Also included is an LED flashlight to make even more useful. These are new so you won’t find them on every end cap which will make them not only useful, but memorable.
Blue Microphones Mo-Fi Powered High-Fidelity Headphones with Integrated Audiophile Amplifier
For mobile devices these headphones offer outstanding sound partially due to the integrated amplifier that boosts the signal. Of course, they also contain 50mm titanium-reinforced ultra-responsive dynamic drivers. I highly recommended them for the geek on your holiday list because of the outstanding design. The curves and spaces, materials and finish make them the most distinctive headphones on the market.
Occipital, Inc Structure Sensor with bracket for iPad Air 2
Not everyone wants to create three-dimensional scans of people, or stuff. But people who create games, develop special effects or build models for 3D printers definitely want to do that, and its damn expensive given traditional approaches. Enter Occipital with the Structure Sensor, a devices that outfits various iPad models (the link here is for the iPad Air 2, the best of the iPads to attach to the device). The Structure Sensor uses sophisticated sensors along with the iPad’s camera to create full-color models from people or objects. And if the geek on your list isn’t into printing, the Structure Sensor can be used for augmented reality games (some samples available, betting more to come). This is a unique device that will give the geek on your list endless hours of exploration, especially if he or she dives into the available SDK and builds their own software atop this great device. I recently interview Mark Kolpack, the effects supervisor on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Structure Sensor has brought down his costs, and given him capabilities he couldn’t afford in the past.
SanDisk iXpand 64GB Mobile Flash Drive with Lightning connector For iPhones, iPads & Computers
Another outstanding item for iPhone and iPad lovers that fits neatly in a stocking or other small package. This small package, however, packs a punch that will really be appreciated. The SanDisk iXpand delivers up to 128GB of extra external memory to iOS. It doesn’t work like Android where the memory just integrates, but it works. Download the associated app and music, images and even video can be easily accessed. The link above lands on the 64GB model, bigger and smaller version available. This is the one I own. A perfect travel companion for long flights or long trips. Read my full review on iPhone Life.
Tylt ENERGI 5K+ Battery Pack with Built-In Lightning and Micro-USB Cables and Universal USB Port
I have a lot of external device batteries. Several of them have travelled with me. None has been in my SCOTTeVEST pocket, or in my bag, more often than the Tilt 5k+. Perfect for the traveler. It will even fit in a big stocking, but makes a nice wrapped gift for a geeky colleague. The link is for a grey one. They also come in blue and red.
Plantronics Voyager Focus UC
If you spend time of Microsoft Skype or Apple FaceTime or any other realtime collaboration tool, then you need a good headset, and you can’t find a better, more professional model that the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC. The headset features noise cancelling as well as multi-device connectivity. Yes, that is right, you can connect to your PC and to you phone at the same time, so this becomes your universal communication headset. Comes with a nice bag as well, so it travels. The stand is OK, but doesn’t always charge and it takes up space. I prefer to use a micro-USB cable to charge the headphones over the stand. Sound is outstanding, as is compatibility. At $299.95 list, this isn’t a cheap gift, but it is one that will be appreciated by people who live in the world of voice and of sound. Not available directly from Amazon, but through partners. Prices vary widely so shop around.
If you have a Windows-based gaming platform, be prepared to be amazed. These new headphones just started shipping. The sound is incredibly clear, with great separation and a clear sense of space. With the drivers loaded and the 7.1 Dolby turned on, you might as well close your eyes and be some place other than where you are. A perfect companion to tethered virtual reality.
Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Medium Tablet
Sometimes a tablet computer just isn’t enough. Not when you are illustrating in big formats. Why limit yourself to a small screen (thus new tablets like the iPad Pro). Any computer, however, can become very pen-enabled by adding a Wacom tablet. My tablet of choice is the Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Medium Tablet. It fits perfectly on my credenza’s pullout work surface. It is also wireless, so I can pick it up and put it on my lap as well. Multiple nibs hidden in the pen holder offer different surface feels. And if you just want to use it as a large touchpad for OS navigation, it does that as well. Wacom is the leader in PC tablets, so you know you will be getting a quality device that will support your drawing needs.
This is group of items from Logitech really need to be considered together, but of course, can be purchased separately. They have become the basis of my PC gaming experience, turing a Quad Core tower from a few years ago into a formidable game system. The LED lights that work in unison across the keyboard, mouse and headset. That means when you go into spooky breathing mode, everything looks like it is breathing together. These great effects attest to the very thoughtful software that Logitech has created. On app, so to speak, to rule them all.
Great mechanical keyboard with great responsiveness, multi-color backlighting with special effects and an extra long USB cable so you can wield it from someplace other that atop your computer. It helps you find the right keys in the dark and even connects via app to a smartphone to send game statistics, making your phone a true second screen during game play. Activating game mode disables superfluous keys so tapping the wrong place doesn’t cause an untoward action that will crash and burn whatever your driving or derail your current plan.
12,000 dpi. Best sensor from Logitech with surface tuning. Onboard memory profiles means you can take it from computer to computer without need for software. Flexible braided cable is long, durable and flexible.
Watch the trailer:
Logitech G640 Large Cloth Gaming Mouse Pad
Giant mouse pad. Didn’t know I needed one until I had one. Don’t know how I ever did without it. comes in a tube. A good add-on or something unexpectedly niche budget gift for a gamer friend.
OMG. Lights, sound, action. 7.1 sound. Programmable keys. Custom sound profiles. Multiple source wired input for answering the phone while playing—mixing the sound so you don’t have to halt gameplay to talk. Noise-canelling microsoft folds away when not in use. Nice, soft, long-wearing material on earcups. Outstanding sound. Connects to consoles or mobile devices.
A bit heavier than the Plantronics headset, but if you are buying a set, this is the headset for the Logitech gaming collection.
Watch the trailer:
iDevices iGrill2 Bluetooth Thermometer
In-doors or out, I can’t cook without a good thermometer. This is my choice. Up to 4 probes, but wait for it, it’s Bluetooth, connects to the iDevice app on an iPhone or iPad, making cooking a remote activity. Ideal for the geek that not only wants something electric, but lives to cook.
Diamond Select Toys Star Trek: The Next Generation: “All Good Things” Enterprise D Electronic Starship
This is the Enterprise the ended the Next Generation. Unlike the movie Generations, the “All Good Things” timeline did not include the loss of the Enterprise D, which was retrofitted and turned into a dreadnaught class flagship. Saucer section separates easily, as it is attached by powerful magnets, a much better solution than other models which require some sort of snapping together (and apart) of parts that can be damaged. Comes with two stands so it can be displayed together or saucer and battle bridge separately. Any Trekkie will ooh and awe. Tell them to take time and unbox it delicately, and then to open the battery compartment, with a screwdriver, to go from demo mode to play mode.
There was an experiment during Knight Rider, and that experiment was K.A.R.R., a more automated vehicle than K.I.T.T. Unlike K.I.T.T., K.A.R.R., was programmed for self-preservation, which means it was dangerous. That danger limited it to a few story arcs, but it returns from Diamond toys in an electric version that talks and lights up. A great gift for any Knight Rider fan (#gohoff).
Watch the review video:
UE Boom 2
The UE Boom 2 is my latest family speakerphone. Yes, it also plays music outside, with no worries about an occasional splash of rain during while I BBQ. Which is what I love. Listening to some Eagles while flipping the steaks, and then call the family in LA while the fire is getting going. It’s a great geek gift for several reasons. First, it offers some of the best sound in a speaker its size. Second, it comes with an app that allows multiple UE Booms to synchronize, so you can spread the sound around. Third, as I said, it is IPX 7 rated – waterproof up to 30 minutes and a depth of one meter. Fourth, insane 15hour battery life. Fifth, a new UI that includes a tap to play, pause or skip songs. And sixth, an app that includes synchronization of devices as well as over-the-air firmware updates. And it’s a tube. Easy to carry and the ruggedness means it won’t really matter how you carry it. And it’s tube. Looks all SciFi on the desk. I like my speaker too much, however, to really test it in the dirt and grime, though it has had a bit of a splash occasionally. Comes in multiple editions. Phantom edition in link. Search for additional options.
Watch the review video:
Cross Click Star Wars Pens
The Cross Click Star Wars Collection. A trio of great writing instruments that not only supply ink at the right time, they provide it in the right way, if you want to write with a bit of Star Wars inspiration or flair. I love gel pens, and these pens the smooth writing expected from gel with a well appointed cross pen that also happens to include detailing for Darth Vader, C3PO or a Stormtrooper. These thin and light pens are themed to match up with the character they portray. Darth Vader’s says Vaddr down the barrel, accompanied by white Imperial stripping. Cool enough for the executive on the list, and they look rugged enough for the teen fan. Star Wars packaging and a statin ribbon over then pen adds a touch of class from the premier pen maker. A good stocking stuffer or a nice little unexpected package for your favorite Star Wars fan.
SCOTTeVEST Shell 8.0 ($215)
I have used several SCOTTeVESTs over the years. I still have a couple in the closest, one which is my “don’t carry anything on the show floor” Comic-con and other conference jacket/vest. The latest version to arrive from Scott Jordan and the team at SCOTTeVEST is the Shell 8.0. That “8.0” constitutes major learning about materials and manufacturing, quality improvements and better design. And it looks great too. This is geek clothing with style. Comes in a great bag that is used for shipping, but flip it inside out and it becomes a rather nice shoulder bag for the beach or the grocery store. (Video review of Shell 8.0 coming soon).
The Shell 8.0 is made of water-resistant, wind blocking fabric with a breathable mesh lining. You can wear it as a jacket or a vest. The adjustable hood can be rolled and stowed in the collar or zipped off completely and stored in a pocket. It has 20 pockets and compartments, including a huge, exterior zippered back pocket. Exterior pockets also include large chest pockets and handwarmer pockets. The interior pockets include 2 clear touch chest pockets that allow you to see and control your devices without removing them from the pockets, an RFID blocking pocket and large zippered pockets for tablets and other larger items. The patented Personal Area Network (PAN) provides built-in wire management and quick, tangle-free access to your earpiece so you can put your cell phone or iPod® in a pocket and wire headphones through the lining to the earbud pockets which will keep them hidden near the collar. The Shell 8.0 has a very roomy fit. That’s because it also accommodates the Fleece 8.0 as a zip-in liner for extra warmth. You can purchase both jackets together as the SeV System 8.0 and save $85!
Piper ($199 to $279)
Piper is an all in-one-home automation solution and security system. I use mine at the moment to monitor the new carpet when I’m away. If the dog gets passed the fence, then I get a text message. That is just one application. The little camera, sensor, remote speaker can monitor any interior space. When the motioned sensor is tripped, it can send off a variety of actions, including turning on lights through compatible home automation devices. Emits a powerful 105 dB siren when a security mode is breached. Settings for home, vacation and away change behavior with a click from the accompanying free app.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.