This year, there are plenty of technology gift options that will brighten someone's holiday without busting your budget.
By Dan Tynan and Christina Tynan-Wood
We had one big problem with Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play: getting it back from our game-crazed teen. That's because this sleek Android phone is also a pocket gaming machine. Slide up the 4-inch touch screen to reveal a miniature controller based on the PlayStation Portable model. The Play comes preloaded with six games, including Madden NFL 11 and Sims 3, with dozens more available to download. It's also a state-of-the-art phone that lets you check e-mail, surf the Web, snap photos and, yes, make calls. Per our monosyllabic 15-year-old son: "It's awesome." Can't ask for higher praise than that.
With two dogs, two cats and one rambunctious rabbit scampering through our home, we're up to our ankles in fur. That's where the Mint Plus comes in. This robotic cleaner uses wet or dry microfiber cloths to mop or sweep hard-surface floors while we do, well, anything but clean. Just set up the cube-shaped radio beacon in the area that needs spiffing. The Mint uses the signal to map its location and covers every inch of the floor while automatically navigating around furniture, kids' shoes and carpets. The newly minted Plus can sweep up to 2,000 square feet on a single charge (500 square feet for mopping) and when done, automatically returns to where it started. True, it won't replace the full-size vacuum in our crowded household, but we happily get out of the way while the Mint does a quick sweep.
Ears warm? Check. Tunes playing? Check. Looking good? Oh yeah. These multitasking headphones will have your crew ready for the slopes, or snow shoveling, this winter. Choose the color, pattern and fuzziness that suit their style.
Kitchen junk drawers—like archaeological digs—are windows into the everyday lives of a home's occupants. Ours was crammed with an absurd number of gizmo chargers until we discovered this elegant solution. Plug the "zip tails" into your gadget's micro or mini USB port, or your iPhone's 30-pin connector. Then drop the other end on the sleek plate, adorned with receptors—the tail slides it into place for a rapid charge. It looks good, eliminates cord tangle, and charges up to three devices. Three "zip tails" come in the package, and ones for non-USB devices were forthcoming at press time.
Wresting control of the television remote from the kids was hard enough before we got an Apple TV; now it's virtually impossible. This hockey-puck-size box plugs into your HD set and streams high-definition movies and TV shows from iTunes, plus YouTube videos, Netflix and much more. You can even subscribe to Major League Baseball, NBA and NFL broadcasts. Control it all via a wafer-thin remote or an iPhone app; the Apple TV's slick interface is almost as entertaining as the shows themselves. The best part: It comes with parental controls, so we actually have a say in what the kids watch.
In the history of personal computing, no one has ever accused a mouse of being high-style. That's no longer the case—upgrading to one from the Artist Studio Series will bring some bling to any desk. Microsoft commissioned artists from around the world to rethink the desktop workhorse, resulting in six stunners.
Smaller than a matchbook but more powerful than a boom box, this mini MP3 player clips to your clothing so you can rock out while you power walk or listen to a book as you amble. The 4GB model holds about 60 hours of music (you can add more via a MicroSD slot); it's also an FM radio and a voice recorder. Available in white, black and five eye-catching colors.
That $400 laptop isn't worth a dime to you if someone else walks off with it. Protect your investment with this cable and combination lock from Griffin. Loop the cable around a table leg, slip the lock blade between the screen's hinges, and attach the lock. Forget the combo? Log in to your account and retrieve it online.
We're big fans of the Sonos Wireless home music system because it allows us to pipe high-quality music from our digital collection to every room in the house without running wires everywhere. In the past, it was a high-ticket solution. But this year, the company launched the Play: 3, a cute wireless hi-fi at a price that makes us happy. Grab one of these—and a Bridge to connect it to your Wi-Fi router—and you'll have a great starter system that you can add to over time.
Who wouldn't be thrilled to find this feature-rich netbook under the tree? With a dual-core AMD processor optimized for graphics, 250GB hard drive, and Windows 7 under the hood of its 11.6-inch screen, this baby balances nicely between portable and functional. The keyboard is full size. The slightly-larger-than-most-netbooks' screen is watchable. And with a built-in HDMI port, you can plug it into a TV to watch YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and other Web-only video on your big screen. It also looks cute in black or teal with a modern, easy-to-grip molded cover.
Once exclusive to cars from General Motors, OnStar now works with most cars built after 1981, from any manufacturer. Replace your rearview mirror with OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle), and you can make hands-free calls or talk to a live person at the press of a button. Ask, "Where's the nearest pizza joint?" and the operator will send turn-by-turn voice directions. If your car's been stolen, OnStar can use GPS to track it. And if you've been in an accident and are unable to call 911, a built-in accelerometer automatically detects the crash and sends emergency responders to your location. At $19 to $29 a month, an OnStar subscription isn't cheap, but the peace of mind it brings can be priceless.
Now's your chance to play tank commander—use an iPhone or Android handset to send these bots blitzing over obstacles or racing head to head. Each runs for about 10 minutes per charge and rejuices via a computer's USB port. Bug- and wheel-shaped bots are also available.
Kindle, iPad, Kindle, iPad—Amazon's new Fire might be the perfect compromise. The 7-inch color tablet fits neatly in a purse or jacket, with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you access the Internet from almost anywhere. You can download e-books, music and videos from Amazon's store; browse electronic magazines; check your e-mail; play games or surf the Web using Amazon's ultrafast Silk browser from any wireless hotspot. And at less than $200, the Fire won't burn a hole in your wallet.
Unlike typical earbuds that you have to mash painfully into place, these clip onto the upper side of the ear, where they fit comfortably and stay put. They also sport a microphone so you can leave them in to answer a call. The cloth cord gives them old-school class while preventing tangles, and they come in awesome colors to boot.
Touch-screen phones, tablet PCs, and eyeglasses aren't so great when they're smeared with greasy fingerprints. These pretty cloths—fuzzy microfiber terry on one side, patterned silk on the other—clean quickly and look good doing so. More than 40 patterns to choose from, or create an original.
Charging gadgets at the end of the day has to be as much a ritual as brushing teeth—unless you want to spend the next day on your knees searching for outlets. This stylish, brilliantly organized bag from Ful changes things for the better. When devices run down, tuck them into a pocket and plug into a built-in charger. Press the button on the front of the bag to activate the internal battery. Gadgets conveniently spring to life; you go about your day. At bedtime, plug in the bag to charge it and everything within. The bag has plugs for mini and micro USB, iPhone and iPod; use your phone's own cord for special plugs. (The bag won't charge laptops.) In black or gray; a nifty backpack style is also available on the website.
Just say no to a drab, nondescript phone, laptop, Wii or tablet. Instead, blanket it with beautiful artwork. The process is simple: Log on, select your device, browse skin designs from more than a hundred talented artists (or upload your own), then finish ordering with a few clicks. This is a great gift certificate to send via e-mail—the recipient will have a blast choosing a cover and think of you every time she gets compliments.
Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.