Holly Gift Guide

If you’re looking for inspiration for holiday gifts for an Apple fan in your life, we thought it might prove useful if a bunch of us here at 9to5Mac put together our top gadget recommendations. I’ve tried to cover a range of price-points, though admittedly I don’t have much to suggest at the stocking-filler end …

MacBook Air 11: from $999 list

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There was a time when the MacBook Air was very much entry-level, but today’s MBAs are extremely capable machines. For many people, they will be the only Mac they need, perhaps in conjunction with a Thunderbolt Display … 

I love portability, so for me the 11-inch model is the one to go for. Despite its diminutive dimensions, the keyboard is very usable and the screen is large enough when working in one window at a time. The 128GB SSD of the standard model is a little tight, so you might want to look at the 256GB model.

The breakthrough with the mid-2013 MBA was the Haswell processor. Apple claims a 9-hour battery-life, and even with heavy use and the screen brightness three notches down from maximum, I get seven hours of real-life use. That’s enough that I don’t even have to think about taking a power supply with me unless I’m away for more than a day.

The popularity of the machine means it’s hard to find bargains, especially leading up to the holidays, but there are small discounts to be had, and a little more saving on refurbished models. Do check, though, that these are mid-2013 models and have U.S. keyboards.

iPad Air: from $499 list

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An iPad is one of those gifts for techies and non-techies alike. While techies will love it as an additional device, iPads are also ideal as a computer replacement for those with simple needs: an easy-to-use device perfect for those who only use a PC for email, web and video messaging.

After upgrading from the original iPad to the iPad 2, I managed to resist the 3 and 4 – but not this one. As I said in my review:

Having owned and used one extensively for a week now, I actually think Apple’s hype didn’t go far enough. This is not just a bit thinner and lighter, it’s virtually a third category of iPad [...]

Conclusions? If you can afford one, buy one. If you can’t afford one, don’t try one: you’ll end up in debt.

The wifi-only models are great for iPads that will mostly be used at home, while the LTE models offer the flexibility of usage almost anywhere if someone is willing to pay the monthly cost of a data-only SIM.

Storage-wise, the 16GB base model is really only recommended for those who will use a limited number of apps and won’t need to store media on it. Otherwise, I’d treat 32GB as a sensible minimum, 64GB as the luxury option and 128GB only for those who want to take a lot of media with them when travelling.

As the latest gadget on the block, and a popular holiday gift, discounts are again hard to come by, but keep your eye on Amazon.

BookBook MacBook cases: $59.99 to $79.99 list

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I love these cases. They’re available for iPhones, iPads, MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros. I have two of them, for MBP 17 and MBA 11, and can’t recommend them highly enough.

They offer far more protection than most cases, with rigid material that protects against dents as well as scratches. They also look great, and offer perhaps some degree of theft protection when walking at night or leaving your MacBook around the house when out, as the book disguise really is convincing – I can’t tell you how many friends have asked why I, Mr Gadget, am carrying a paper book.

If you know someone who is OCD about their Apple gear, one of these makes a great gift. Check out the range.

iPad keyboards: from around $50

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The on-screen keyboard on the iPad is amazingly good, but it’s not ideal when using an iPad as a laptop substitute – you lose half the screen and end up hurting your fingers when typing a lot. So if you’re buying for someone who uses an iPad a lot, a Bluetooth keyboard can make an excellent gift.

You need to be careful when buying, as there are a lot of cheap-and-nasty keyboards out there. Personally, I recommend sticking to four brands: Apple, Logitech, Belkin and Zagg.

Apple doesn’t offer a keyboard case for the iPad – something I’ve always found a surprising omission, but perhaps it doesn’t want to suggest the iPad is incomplete. However, the standard Apple Bluetooth keyboard is compatible with the Mac, and makes an excellent choice if you have a bag with enough room for it.

More convenient for most people, however, is a combined keyboard case. There are a bunch of different styles available, but most fall into two categories. First, magnetic attachment, where the keyboard uses the Smart Cover magnets to hook on, and fold over the iPad protecting the screen. These are very neat, but do leave the back of the iPad unprotected. The second style is the folio approach, where the iPad slips into a hinged case, making it thicker but with full protection.

I previously used the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (above), and currently use the Belkin QODE Slim Style Keyboard Case (below) and can recommend both.

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Check out the links above to see the ranges available. Do check compatibility, as there are usually different models for the iPad 2/3/4 and Air.

B+W P5 on-ear headphones: $320 list

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These are, hands down, the best headphones I’ve ever owned. The sound is everything you’d expect from B+W, one of the best names in true hifi, and they allow in just enough ambient sound to allow you to remain orientated to what’s around you when wandering the streets, and to hear when announcements are made on PA systems.

You might think that headphones are rather bulky compared to earphones, but P5s have a couple of tricks which make them take up a lot less space in a bag than you’d expect. First, they are on-ear rather than over-ear, meaning the cups are significantly smaller than traditional headphones. Second, they have a clever twist mechanism to allow them to fold flat.

They are fully iPhone-compatible, with a microphone built into the wired remote, allowing you to make and receive calls as well as listen to music.

They are also supremely comfortable, with super-soft sheep’s leather forming the ear-cups. Finally, they look as good as they sound – better, in my view, than the later P7. A fantastic gift for the music-lover in your life. Available from about $265.

Mac speakers – UCube Compact: $149.95 list

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While on the subject of audio, if you have a Mac-owning friend or relative who still uses the Mac’s built-in speakers, desktop speakers can bring the quality of the audio up to the standard of the display.

At the lower end, the UCubes above offer a decent level of sound for desktop use – and their design is clearly very much inspired by iMacs/Thunderbolt Displays. The ones I have are aluminum, or you can get the black ones shown above.

They are digital speakers, meaning they connect via USB instead of earphone socket. This makes for a particularly neat installation on a desk with a Thunderbolt Display – all you need running to the Mac is power and Thunderbolt cable, while the speakers plug into the back of the display.

You might think wires are a bit 20th Century when everything is wireless these days, but I’m not a massive fan of Bluetooth for audio transmission. I tried a Bluetooth adapter to connect my Mac to my hifi system and found that the quality didn’t match that of a wired connection. If you have a Thunderbolt or Cinema Display, running the USB line from the monitor to the speakers is pretty unobtrusive even if your intended recipient doesn’t have an iDesk.

Available from the Apple Store.

Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 speakers: $499.95 list

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At the other end of the desktop speaker scale are the fantastic B+W MM-1 speakers. Like my more modestly-priced suggestion, these are digital speakers that connect via USB. The built-in studio-quality Digital-to-Audio Converter is a very high-quality one – coupled to the twin-driver speakers this delivers the sound quality you expect of Bowers & Wilkins. There’s also an Aux-in socket if you want to plug in an iPhone or iPod.

The volume is also extremely impressive. If you have a large display in a home office, study or den and have a couch in there, adding these speakers would enable it to double as a decent second TV system – especially as they come with a remote.

I haven’t quite managed to justify these speakers myself, so if anyone was wondering what to buy me … Sadly, I couldn’t find any deals when I looked – indeed, some Amazon sellers are asking for more than list price! But there are legitimate sellers at list price, with free express shipping for Prime members.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 portable scanner: $199 list

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One of the longest-lasting and impactful gifts you could give someone is the gift of paperlessness. Pick up a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner for them, and point them to my guide to living a paperless life.

The ScanSnap requires no external power supply, using the same USB connection for both power and data, making it neat on a desktop as well as sufficiently portable to slip into your hand-baggage with a MacBook when travelling.

The included software can be set to automatically scan documents to a folder. Just touch the blue button to begin the scan, feed in any additional pages and then touch the button again to indicate the end of the document.

What I do personally is have it set to scan to a Temp folder on my desktop (used for anything transient), then I just copy from there to wherever it needs to be. Once you’re in the habit of immediately scanning all incoming paperwork as soon as it arrives, it takes no more than a couple of minutes a day to keep up with it.

Available on Amazon for $40 below list.

Garmin Virb HD Elite camcorder: $399 list

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The iPhone makes an extremely capable handheld camcorder. I’ve used mine quite extensively for everything from holiday videos to product reviews. But even if I could find the mounts, I don’t think I’d like to risk it attached to a bicycle, skis or climbing helmet.

The clumsily-named Garmin Virb HD Elite GPS camera is specifically designed for action sports. It’s robust, is compatible with an almost infinite range of mounts (handlebars, smooth helmets, cycle helmets, rollbars, car doors, you name it) – and has a built-in GPS to capture track data as well as video.

Use the free Virb Edit software and it’s child’s play to overlay data on the video. There are templates for a range of activities, so for example you can choose a speedometer with an appropriate range for your likely maximum speed, be it skiing, cycling or motorcycling. Other data you can overlay includes altitude, a climbing/descending gauge, compass heading and G-force indicator.

Garmin claims a battery-life of up to three hours, which translates to about 2.5 hours in a real-life use. There’s no card included, so budget around $60 for a 64GB microSD card good for around 7 hours of 1080p footage. Spare batteries are around $30 each.

List-price is $399, but there are deals out there on Amazon. Check out the bundles too, but make sure ‘Elite’ is in the name: the standard Garmin Virb camera doesn’t have the built-in GPS (it’s still a decent camcorder, but the data overlay is where it’s at).

Stocking-filler options: Power supplies, Lightning cables and MagSafe adapters

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I’m with Zac: they may not be the most thrilling of gifts, but if you’re buying for an Apple-head, they can never have too many power supplies or cables. It’s a lot more convenient to have extra power supplies in different rooms in the house than to carry one around, and having spares for travel bags and everyday bags makes life a lot more convenient. Stick to genuine Apple ones – there are too many horror stories around to risk damage to their Mac or worse with a Chinese knock-off.

Lightning cables are also always handy (again, genuine MFI ones are safest), and – for anyone who has switched to a new MacBook but still has power supplies for older models – MagSafe to MagSafe 2 adapters.

Prices start from just ten bucks.

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16 Responses to “Ben’s holiday gift guide – my top 10 favorite gadgets of the year”

  1. Great list, i take the whole thing from top to button, number 11 on my list would be the rich uncle to pay for all that stuff :)

  2. Joe Tee says:

    I agree with the inclusion of anything made by Bowers & Wilkins. I have an A5 and A7 and they are simply the best Airplay speakers available imo.

  3. A great list… For the Waltons, that is. And I don’t mean the John-Boy Waltons, I mean the Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club/We make more money in an hour than most of the world makes in a lifetime.

    Seriously, though, maybe add in a top 10 under $100? You don’t have to do it, but maybe a more fiscally minded contributor?

    And seriously, $150 for computer speakers? Yeesh.

  4. You recommend the Qode(maybe even any bluetooth keyboard) with the sleep of death issues in iOS 7.0.x?

  5. mustafa1429 says:

    Ben Ben Ben, can you please tell me what font you used in the picture above? The one that said “9to5 Mac Holiday Gift Guide 2013″ is it Avenir?

  6. Gary Lum says:

    Fantastic list. Thank you.