Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hanukkah 2014 Tech Gift Guide

I've been writing the "Jews in the Digital Age" column in the Detroit Jewish News each month for several years, but this was the first year I was asked to come up with a Hanukkah Gift Guide of techie gadgets and toys. I also wrote a similar tech gift guide for The Huffington Post Technology.

I tried to cover the practical (fitness wearables and phone cases) as well as fun techie toys. With Hanukkah beginning this evening at sundown and lasting eight nights, and Christmas in a little more than a week, last minute shoppers will still have enough time to order just about anything online and have it gift wrapped and shipped in time for the holidays.

The most popular gifts during holiday time in the 21st century have been technology-related. From HD flat-screen TVs and smartphones to gaming systems and e-readers, we're all shopping for the latest, greatest tech gadgets each year. With tech wearables and drones soon delivering our Amazon.com orders, we seem to be getting closer to living like the Jetsons. As a techie with an addiction to the latest, greatest tech gadgets, I have put together a short list of the best tech gifts for holiday shoppers this season. These gifts range in price so there's something for everyone.


Just about everyone on your holiday gift list has a phone and they need a durable, yet fashionable protective case. I looked at dozens of options (there are thousands of phone cases on the market because they are cheap to produce) and narrowed it down to a few that are the most protective and useful. Some cases are ultra-sturdy, but feel bulky and heavy. Most of the companies that make strong cellphone cases also offer a line of protective wear for tablets too.

Otterbox (various prices) is the hands-down winner when it comes to durability and protection. Otterbox feels like the toughest case and it's made of higher quality materials than most other phone cases on the market. It comes in a variety of color combinations and is available for both iPhone and Android models. Otterbox's Symmetry Series is a slim, one-piece protective case. There is also a Defender Series for more rugged protection and Commuter Series for on-the-go protection. To protect the screen, Otterbox makes Alpha Glass, a fortified glass screen protector. www.otterbox.com

Otterbox Review

iLuv's Selfy (retail: $40) is a durable case with a built-in wireless camera shutter. The shutter makes it easier to take great photos and videos without straining your arms or worrying about a shaky camera. It's also much easier for group shots that don't leave anyone out. The shutter is integrated into the case itself, sliding out when it's time to take a quick selfie, then fitting securely back into the case after the photos have been taken. The selfy case uses a dual-layer, shock-absorbent design that protects the device from everyday drops and bumps, making it perfect for the on-the-go use. When the selfy shutter is out of the case, one of six accessories easily slides in to take its place including a mini tripod, car mount, navigation and hands-free calling, as well as various mounts for action movies. www.iluv.com

Amzer Crusta (retail: $35) - the world's first tempered glass embedded case. Its 4­ layer construction provides a rugged casing to combat any drops or spills and resists dust and dirt to preserve the smartphone. It uses a Kristal Edge2Edge Tempered Glass Screen Protector for high definition clarity and maximum touch sensitivity. www.amzer.com/crusta


iLuv's FitActive Run (retail: $27.99) These earphones feature an ergonomic design with an in-ear brace so that they not only feel comfortable, but also stay in the user's ears no matter what the activity. These earphones were creatively designed to suit the needs of active people who enjoy being outdoors. These also have a convenient built-in microphone and remote to make it easy to answer calls and control music while on the move. www.iluv.com

AfterShokz Sportz 2 Headphones (retail: $46.67) – I love these impressive headphones because they're not ear-buds so there's no problem with them ever falling out because they don't go inside your ear. This makes them safer too. They feature military special ops bone conduction technology, meaning they sit comfortably in front of the ear, keeping your ears open, while delivering stereophonic sound through the listener's cheekbones to the inner ear, permitting users to hear ambient noises such as oncoming traffic, car horns, ambulances or other warning noises. These come with a microphone that actually works well and they recharge through USB. www.aftershokz.com


When people hear the term "wearable tech," they often think of Google Glass, Bluetooth earbuds or GoPro cameras worn by mountain bikers. However, some of the coolest wearables are the ones that haven't been released yet. Here are a few that are on the market now and will make great gifts for your techie friends this holiday season:

Fitbit Charge (retail: $129.95) - Fitbit unveiled three new high-performance wristbands this past October, but only the Fitbit Charge is currently available for sale. The Charge HR and the Surge will be available at the beginning of 2015. The Charge, a reinvented Fitbit Force, gives you all-day activity tracking, real-time fitness stats and Caller ID right on the wrist. It's ideal for those on your holiday list who want to step up their everyday activities to improve their overall health and fitness tracking. Like many other wearable fitness trackers on the market, Charge provides accurate tracking of steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned and floors climbed. It's waterproof, boasts up to 7 days of battery life and also has automatic sleep detection to monitor sleep quality using motion analysis to understand sleep and wake times. www.fitbit.com

Fitbit Surge Review

Pebble Steel SmartWatch (retail: $199) - This is one of the sleekest designs for a smartwatch because it looks like a traditional watch. It's compatible with both iPhones and Android smartphones. It's water resistant for swimming and showering and has a built-in pedometer for persistent fitness tracking. www.getpebble.com

Pivotal Tracker 1 (retail: $130) - Released just in time for the holidays, this activity tracker will be free with a $12 yearly subscription for access to the company's mobile app, which will be available for free on Android and iOS. This wearable is stylish and impressive. With the help of a 3-axis accelerometer it will track your steps, distance traveled, calories burned, active minutes and sleep. You can show the time and scroll through all of your data on the device's OLED screen by pressing a small button on the top of the tracker. Its battery life is pretty strong at 5 to 7 days and a full charge takes only 60 minutes to complete. www.pivotalliving.com


Brookstone's LED Projector (retail: $449.99) This ultra-light weight projector is powerful enough to show movies outdoors or give an impressive business presentation to hundreds of people. It's ideal for watching sporting events in the basement with large groups also because the 200 lumens light produces a great quality picture that only expensive LCD or plasma televisions can replicate. The ED lamp project can project images up to 100 feet diagonal and lasts up to 20,000 hours. The device is so small that it's really easy to just throw in a briefcase or suitcase. (A less powerful 100 lumens version is available for $299.99.) www.brookstone.com/projectors

Mio Lifesaver II (retail: $49.95) There are so many mobile phone chargers on the market for that emergency when you can’t plug in and need to charge your phone or tablet. Most of these are very similar, however, I’ve found this one to be the best because it’s sleek (weighs less than any phone), has a nice ergonomic design and charges quicker than other brands. I just lent mine to my father-in-law for a long flight to Australia. The Lifesaver II fully charges an iPhone in about 90 minutes and will charge most tablets to about 50% when left idle while charging. Any emergency charging unit makes a great gift because you'll be thanked over and over each time they save someone who has a dying phone. www.buylifesaver2.com

iLuv's Rollick (retail: $49.99) This portable Bluetooth stereo speaker with a rounded design makes it easy to pick up and carry for on-the-go use. Its powerful dual speakers produce rich, high fidelity stereo sound that remains clear even at higher volumes. Rollick also comes with a lithium-ion rechargeable battery so that music fans can enjoy their music for hours no matter where they are. www.iluv.com

Logitech's Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard k480 (retail: $49.99) This portable keyboard connects to three devices at once letting you switch between different Bluetooth connected devices. That means you can use this same keyboard for a computer, phone and tablet, but also have it connected automatically to someone else's phone or tablet (ideal for when one of the kids is doing homework on an iPad and needs to type). This is definitely a practical gift that will make someone extremely grateful. www.logitech.com/k480


Sphero's OLLIE (retail: $100) Ollie is a mobile phone controlled robot toy. Shaped like a small cylinder, Ollie is controlled by either an iPhone or Android device to race, spin and tumble. Ollie has interchangeable tires and hubcaps for different terrain. The body features LED lights with millions of colors, a 30 meter Bluetooth range and the ability to reach speeds of over 14 miles/hour. It's recommended for 8 and over and has Connected Play capability. Users can race their Ollie against other devices and get points for more intricate maneuvers and tricks. The battery life runs for about an hour. www.gosphero.com/ollie

PowerUp 3.0 Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane (retail: $49.99) Most kids (and a lot of adults) love folding paper airplanes and trying to get them to fly. This is the paper airplane for the Digital Age. Shai Goitein created an Electric Paper Airplane Conversion Kit that allows you to transform your homemade paper planes into electric aircrafts capable of twisting and turning through open skies for 30 seconds or more. www.poweruptoys.com

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all of my blog readers!

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