Dozens of hands-on tests later, we proudly present more than 20 tech gifts guaranteed to please picky tweens, teens, moms and dads. (Sixteen are $100 or less!)
By Dan Tynan & Christina Tynan-Wood
Inside most men is a boy coveting a two-way radio wristwatch. This delivers on the dream. Once connected via Bluetooth to his smartphone, he can answer calls with a tap of a button and read texts with a glance at his wrist. Part Dick Tracy, part Star Trek. So cool. Martianwatches.com, $249
Our teenage daughter is one with her earbuds, making it tough to actually talk to her. These eye-catching (and well priced) Coloud Pops come in 10 colors and have an on-cord microphone -- meaning we can simply dial her phone to get right through. (Hopefully she answers!) Coloud.com, $25
Carrying a wallet and a tablet can be a drag for anyone who doesn't use a decent-size purse. Enter the WanderFolio, a sleek case with room for a device, plus cash and credit cards, even travel documents if needed. For iPad, Kindle and Kindle Fire. Speckproducts.com, $70
Cleaning gutters typically ranks up there with taxes and dental work, but iRobot's Looj makes it easy. Guided by a handheld remote, this device burrows into leaves and dirt, churning them out using a high-velocity auger spinning at 500 rpm. iRobot.com, $300
Just 5 inches wide and weighing less than a pound, this shock-absorbing, water- resistant speaker can also double as a wireless speakerphone. Throw it in a backpack and jump on a skateboard. Head to the beach and go kayaking. It's light, looks awesome and can take a beating, all while providing plenty of tunes. Braven.com, $180
A case that mimics the cover of a literary classic helps bolster the claim, "But I'm reading." For iPad, Kindle, Kobo and Nexus tablets. Outofprintclothing.com, from $45
Clipped to a belt or pocket, the Fitbit Zip is miles ahead of any old-school pedometer. It meticulously tracks steps, distance and calories burned, then syncs the stats wirelessly to any computer or some smartphones. Tiny device, big motivation. Target.com, $60
The Dell XPS 10 is a slam dunk for the dad who wants a cool tablet but needs a tool to help him get work done at home or on the road. Unlike the iPad, it runs Windows RT and comes with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It also lets him switch easily to TV, movies or games. Spring for the optional keyboard ($150) and this portable is likely to become his constant companion. Dell.com, from $450
An excellent, affordable upgrade for anyone looking to get beyond the Bluetooth- rammed-in-the-ear routine. Draped over the neck, Backbeat Go wireless earbuds are forget-about-them light and offer terrific sound quality with up to 4.5 hours of listening and talk time. Plantronics.com, $80
Housed inside this smartphone is a nifty Windows Phone 8 operating system, including a mobile version of Xbox: Add the SmartGlass app and the phone will act as a controller for the game console. Plus, it's not too cool for school -- the Microsoft Office app lets him turn in homework from anywhere. Verizon.com, free with two-year contract.
If you want to pull your dad into the digital age, the Jitterbug Touch could do the trick. A simplified Android smartphone, this has both a touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard to make typing easy. For peace of mind, consider a subscription to 5Star Urgent Response ($15/month) to call for help in case of emergency. Plans from $15/month. Greatcall.com, $149
Yes,your grad has out grown dolls -- but she'll want to carry one of these cuties on her key chain to keep her smartphone, tablet or iPod fingerprint-free. The Screenster's microfiber back wipes away residue, and the silky face side polishes screens to a shine. Toddygear.com, $10
This compact backup battery looks like a lipstick, but it's something far more important to today's grad: power. With a charged MiPow handy, she can stop dreading that moment when a dead smartphone battery threatens to kick her off the grid. Plugging into the Power Tube yields a full charge. Mipow.com, $35
Well, it was bound to happen -- the crossing of the smartphone and the tablet. This 5.5-inch "phablet" is a state-of-the-art Android device that does everything from navigate on the road to plug into work email. He can even whip out the built-in pen to jot notes on the back of photos snapped with its top-quality camera. Samsung.com, $300 with two-year contract.
A Roku 3 box is the easiest way to bring broadband television directly into any living room, provided there's an HDTV and a fast Internet connection. Think lightning-quick searches across Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, plus hundreds more. And plugging headphones directly into the remote means he can watch without waking anyone. Roku.com, $100
Big high five to Polaroid for smartly rebooting the instant camera of our youth -- including the iconic white border. This 10-megapixel take also saves digital copies and allows for sharing via social media. Polaroid.com, $180
Speakers the size of half dollars are stitched into the polar-fleece-lined headband, delivering rich sound without damaging ear canals. (The speakers can be removed when the beanie needs washing.) Plug the long 54-inch cord into a music player or phone; an in-line microphone lets him take calls and then return to rocking out. Available in nine colorful unisex styles. Aerial7.com, $60
It's not cheap by any means -- but if you can afford it, this camera is loaded with features usually reserved for more expensive models. It responds to voice commands like "zoom" or "shoot" and boasts an awesome telephoto lens for capturing spy-worthy close-ups from a distance. Sealing the deal is instant sharing to Facebook or via email. Samsung.com, $450
Just clip the device below the handle of any golf club, start the app on an Apple or Android phone and take a few hacks. A sensor records the velocity, angle and rhythm of each swing and transmits the data to his phone for detailed analysis. True, the SwingTIP won't turn him into Tiger Woods -- but it might keep him out of the woods, most of the time, anyway. Swingtip.com, $130
Stylish yet surprisingly functional, the Wedge is a little beanbag that holds a mobile phone at the just-so angle for optimal screen viewing. Multitaskers, let's hear a hallelujah—the microfiber cloth is spot-on for quickie screen wipe-downs as needed.
The always awesome iPod nano gets a holiday reboot just in the (St.) Nick of time. One noteworthy new feature on this tiny portable unit—the thinnest iPod ever made, barely thicker than a credit card—is the built-in pedometer to track workouts. The 2.5-inch Multi-Touch display is nearly twice the size of previous screens, and better yet, this anodized aluminum beaut is compatible with wireless (Bluetooth) headphones. Brilliant.
For anyone who's over the whole Bluetooth-always-in-the-ear routine by now, here's a tiny one that clips to a shirt, bag or belt and comes with noise-blocking earbuds. It connects to two Bluetooth-enabled devices simultaneously, allowing for instant switch-ups between phone and MP3 player. But fear not: Incoming calls override tunes.
It's as though the original Wii gaming system grew up and headed off to college. The hotly anticipated Wii U boasts a significantly mightier processor and a GamePad remote that allows for more sophisticated action. The GamePad can also be used to control the TV, surf the Net, stream videos and video chat with other Wii U fans. It even doubles as a portable gaming system, so teens can keep playing when the rest of the family wants the TV back.
If there's a student on your list, consider the fact that about 1,100 (!) ebooks will fit on the new Kindle Paperwhite. This 7-inch handheld boasts a crisp white display plus a nighttime reading light and can even measure average reading speed and predict how long it will take to finish a chapter.
Anyone tablet-obsessed will want this tiny, elegant mouse. The Wedge Touch Mouse requires no cables or USB plug, works on virtually any surface, powers down right along with its synced tablet or Bluetooth-enabled laptop, and is small enough to drop into a pocket.
Silencing one's cell phone in a restaurant is the polite thing to do, but no parent wants to miss a call from the sitter or a teen who's driving after dark. Sony's stylish SmartWatch connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone and keeps the wearer constantly but subtly in the loop when a call, text or email pops up, displaying info on the 1.3-inch square touchscreen.
Another tablet? Boring. Except if it's the Surface. Talk about gadget lust. Bigger than a typical purse-size tablet but still perfectly portable, the generous 10.6-inch display shows off wide-screen movies. A built-in easy-to-use kickstand holds it at the primo angle for hands-free viewing. It runs Windows 8, so anything a laptop can do, the Surface can too. Then there are the covers: Cardboard thin, they snap to the Surface magnetically, come in great colors and have a real keyboard on the inside. Open the cover, pop out the kickstand and you have the most portable computer we've ever seen. Love!
Big DSLR cameras rock because the shutter never lags, letting you capture life in real time. Point-and-shoot models slip easily into a purse, but you can miss a great shot by half a second. Then there's this little hybrid. An ideal compromise, it's extremely fast yet very portable, and one of the higher-resolution options out there. The NX1000 also does something that most cams can't: It connects wirelessly to your smartphone, enabling you to post directly to Facebook.
Whether you're camping, exploring Disney World or just strolling the neighborhood, rugged Talkabouts can keep a family in touch. Drop these waterproof walkies in the pool and they float. The weather band radio will pipe up if storms are brewing, meaning the game's about to be rained out. The flashlight is handy too.
On-ear headphones with superior sound that are comfortable and stylish? Sold. Generous extra padding on the ear cup means they can be worn for hours without sore ear syndrome. Plugged into a phone, the Nokia Purity HD doubles as a hands-free mic, with volume and call controls on the flat tangle-free cord. We "loaned" these to our 13-year-old daughter to try with her Amazon Kindle and almost had to surgically remove them from her head. Available in four colors.
Make arguments over rights to the so-called big TV a thing of the past. Just plug the 3.6-ounce Ipico into an iPod touch or iPhone to project movies, photos and web pages more than 50 inches wide on any flat surface. Pair with a wireless Bluetooth speaker (like the HMDX Jam, below), and screen flicks on the ceiling of your teenager's room, even in a backyard tent. Compatible with the iPhone 3GS and 4/4S, plus the third- and fourth-generation iPod touch.
Memory cards offer maximum storage in minimal space, but anything that small is prone to getting lost in the shuffle. Say hello to this little water-resistant case that keeps up to 12 memory cards safe and organized.
Whoever had the (patent-pending) idea to manufacture a wallet that accommodates an iPhone, up to three credit cards and a little cash is a genius in our book.
Besides playing movies in glorious 1080p HD, this Blu-ray disc player can display them in 3-D, if your set supports that. Connect to your home network and use LG's Smart TV technology to dial up Netflix movies, watch YouTube videos, listen to Pandora radio or catch up on Facebook or Twitter. Smart is right.
This portable wireless speaker may be small enough to fit inside a jam jar, but it packs enough sound to fill a dorm room or hotel suite. Just pair it with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth to play music, listen to audiobooks, pump up a movie's sound track, whatever. Our crew loves having one in the kitchen: That's where we and the music really start cooking.
Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and styles are subject to change.