Choosing holiday gifts for the techies in your life isn’t always easy, so we’ve put together a series of gift guides to give you plenty of ideas. These include category guides, like making music, smart home and in-car, as well as across personal recommendations from the rest of the 9to5Mac team – with more to follow.
For my personal guide, I’ve opted for a mix of the fun and the functional – ranging from action cams and drones to backup drives. Mix-and-match to the personalities of your lucky gift recipients as appropriate …
Action cams – Garmin Virb/Elite, GoPro Hero/Hero 4 Black: from $99 to $499
The video camera built right into the iPhone is an extremely capable one, but if you have loved ones who like nothing better than downhill mountain bike riding or ski stunts, they probably won’t want to strap their iPhone to their helmet.
The good news is that there are a huge number of action cams out there designed to attach to anything from a ski-pole to a motorcycle, and the technology is improving so rapidly you can pick up slightly older models of top brands from around a hundred bucks.
My personal favorite is the Garmin Virb Elite. This is waterproof without a case, offers loop-recording and time-lapse as well as conventional clips, and has a built-in GPS which allows you to overlay a bunch of data on your videos for the proud owner to show they really did hit 40mph down that ski-slope. Retailing for $399.99, you can currently pick one up on Amazon for a bargain $249.99. The older standard Virb without the GPS has now been discontinued, meaning you can pick it up for an amazing $99 on Amazon – saving $200!
It’s a similar story with the ubiquitous GoPro cameras, which offer almost infinite mounting options. The top-of-the-range Hero 4 Black records in 4K at 30fps, or 1080p at 120fps, and has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth for remote viewing – a generous gift at $499.99. But drop back to the older GoPro Hero – still with a respectable 1080p 30fps – and you can pick one up for just $129.99.
Drones – unmanned flying fun for all: from $50 to $1160
If there’s one gadget category that has really, uh, taken off this year it’s the drone, or quadrocopter.
Designed to be easy to fly thanks to on-board GPS and a whole bunch of automation, a key appeal for many is the ability to use most of them as camera platforms to capture video footage from a unique perspective.
There are drones at every price point, though generally you’re going to get what you pay for in terms of video capability and flight time – two critical criteria.
If you’re buying for a younger child, you don’t want to buy them something expensive that they’re going to crash first time out. The Hubsan H107L will get them flying for around $50. As you’d expect at this price level, it’s a very basic model, with no camera, a non-removeable battery and a flying time of just five minutes – at which point they’re going to have to leave it charging for a while before they get another go. The palm-sized dimensions also mean you’ll need a calm day to fly it outdoors. But despite thse limitations, it still gets a solid four stars in Amazon reviews.
The Hubsan H107D is a big step up in both price and features. A retail price of $250 (much less on Amazon) gets them an on-board camera with a live feed to the screen on the controller. It can also record video to an SD card. However, video range is only around 300 feet, and the small size coupled to lack of automatic return-to-home function means they will want to keep it fairly close. Again, it’s small, so wait for a calm day.
The DJI Phantom FC40 is a good mid-range option, retailing at $650 but available on Amazon for $450. It’s larger and thus more stable than cheaper drones, has a 720p camera which records to an SD card as well as streaming to an iOS app via wifi. Flight time is around 11 minutes, and there’s a return-to-home function (though you have to download this software). This is a serious gift for someone you are confident will love their new hobby, and is an ideal upgrade for a cheap-and-cheerful model.
Finally, for that person right at the top of your gift list, there’s the DJI Phantom 2 series drones, starting at a little over $1000 at Amazon prices. These machines are the real deal, with 1080p camera mounted on a full 3-axis gimbal, and a 25-minute battery-life – with removable batteries enabling longer shoots just by landing and swapping batteries. You of course get wifi video streaming back to an iPhone app, and can adjust camera settings via the app. The original model retails at $1399 but is on Amazon for $1040, while version 3 gets more power and control thanks to updated components. $1300 on Amazon buys the V3 model with an extra battery and 32GB SD card with reader.
Cheap-and-cheerful: Hubsan H107L for $44.99, saving $9. Low-cost with camera: Hubsan H107D for $156.85, saving $93. Mid-range with camera & wifi streaming: DJI Phantom FC40 for $449.95, saving $200. High-end with 1080p, 3-axis gimball & 25-minute flights: DJI Phantom 2 series from $1039 to $1299.
Speakers – bicycle & desktop: from $95 to $500
If you have people on your gift-list with cheap speakers, buying them quality ones is likely to be something they’ll appreciate every time they press the play button.
For the cyclist in your life, the Scosche BoomBottle allows them to enjoy music as they ride without the safety risk of earphones. I tried it out last month and was impressed. Officially $149.99, you can pick one up on Amazon in a range of colours from around $95.
For desktop speakers, the Harman Kardon Soundsticks have been around absolutely forever, but with a timeless design and a great sound, the current version III still makes a fantastic visual and auditory feast for any computer desk. Officially $210, you can save $50 at Amazon.
The ultimate desktop speakers, offering true hifi quality and room-filling sound, are Bowers & Wilkins MM-1. You get the sound fidelity you’d expect from Bowers & Wilkins, including a built-in analogue-to-digital converter – the speakers are connected via USB rather than plugged into the headphone socket. It’s hard to find them for less than list price of $500, but just like Apple refurbs, you can pick up as-new B&W recertified speakers with the standard two-year warranty for $100 less.
The gift of peace of mind – backup drives: from $60 to $300
As the old saying has it, there are only two types of people: those who have experienced the pain of data loss, and those who are going to do so. If you know anyone who doesn’t backup their Mac, do them the biggest favor you can and buy them a backup solution.
Macs make it incredibly simple to create automated backups: if you don’t already have a backup, the moment you connect an external drive, it will ask you if you if you want to use it for Time Machine backup. Say yes, and OS X will take care of the rest. A 1TB drive will backup any standard Mac, and you won’t save much by going smaller than this.
You can buy cheap but reliable 1TB drives from as little as $60 for something like the Western Digital Elements. Mac owners tend to appreciate style, however, so if you can run to $100, you can buy them something more in keeping with a Mac: the beautiful Lacie Porsche Design P’9223.
For the ultimate in speed, a Thunderbolt drive is between two and four times faster than USB 3.0, and the G-Technology G-Drive also looks the part with its solid aluminum case. You are, though, paying almost twice as much for the privilege at $220 list, $190 on Amazon.
But the ultimate in fit-and-forget Mac backup is a Time Capsule. While a cable is recommended for the initial backup, this replaces their existing Internet router, so subsequent backups are performed automatically via WiFi whenever they are connected to the Internet at home. Current-generation Time Capsules are available in 2TB and 3TB versions (enough room to backup more than one Mac, or retain old backups for a long time), for $200 or $300 – or a bit less at Amazon. You can pick up older models for less.
Low-cost option: WD Elements 1TB for $59, saving $22. More stylish option: Lacie Porsche Design P’9223 for $99.99, saving $40. Stylish and fast: G-Technology G-Drive for $189.95, saving $30. Fully automated backup via WiFi: Apple Time Capsule 2TB for $277.99, saving $20, or 3TB for $359.99, saving $39.
The gift of paperlessness – Fujitsu ScanSnap portable scanner: from $209 to $247
Finally, a scanner might sound even less exciting, but making the switch to a paperless life was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. I no longer have a filing cabinet cluttering up my office, all my paperwork instead sitting in neatly-organised folders on my Mac. Laying my hands on anything I need is just a few trackpad taps or a Spotlight search away.
If you want to give the same gift of paperlessness to someone in your life, there’s little point in buying them a sheet-fed scanner – which they’ll need only for the initial batch-scanning of existing paperwork. Far better to help them borrow or rent one of those, and to buy them the scanner they will want on a day-to-day basis: something compact enough to take up next to no room on a desk.