Tech Tools: A Gift Guide of Jingle Bells and Whistles

Not sure what to give family or friends this holiday season? Check out these 11 tech goodies that anyone would be excited to unwrap:

Apple iPhone 6 Plus (Apple.com)

Apple has answered the demands of the people, creating a phone with a truly massive display. The supersharp screen is larger (compare the 6 Plus, pictured here on the right, to the regular iPhone 6, to its left). But that isn’t the only thing to love about the 6 Plus (as low as $299 for a 16 GB version, plus two-year contract). Apple’s new electronic payment system, Apple Pay, should make handling the bill at restaurants and stores a whole lot easier. And for those who need a lot of storage in addition to a big screen, this beast can pack up to 128 GB ($499). And despite being a supersized iPhone, it’s significantly thinner than previous models.

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Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo (Belkin.com)

The Crock-Pot has long been a friend of the busy work warrior who doesn’t want to consume garbage fast food every night. No time to cook? Just throw in the ingredients and return hours later to the enchanting aroma of a delicious home-cooked meal. But the one thing you could never do is control the pot from afar. What if you’re coming home later than planned? What if things need to start cooking only three hours before you get home? For $129.99, Belkin’s WeMo technology can fix all this for you. Now by using an app, you can control a Crock-Pot in your house with your phone or tablet from practically anywhere.

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Lytro Illum (Lytro.com)

The Illum is the product of many years of research by the team at Lytro, who are merely trying to reinvent photography. This camera uses what’s called light-field technology to make the seemingly impossible a reality: Shoot first, focus later. It’s true—with the Lytro Illum, there’s no need to focus—the camera captures everything in sharp detail, and you then have the chance to refocus the image digitally, bringing certain things in or out of focus as you wish or making the whole image one sharp HD photo. It’s an amazing tool that will likely change photojournalism and sports photography, but its applications in the creative field seem limitless as well. (And that’s why it costs an arm and a leg—$1,599.)

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Lomo LC-Wide (Lomography.com)

Digital photography is wonderful on many levels, especially when you consider its future (see Lytro Illum). But it’s easy to forget how magical shooting on film can be, and Lomo’s LC-Wide ($389) creates the kind of images, with its ultrawide field of view, that Instagram can only dream of. Add in excellent optional Lomo accessories, such as an underwater camera housing or a smartphone scanner that allows you to share your film prints digitally, and it’s easy to imagine shutterbugs of any age becoming a little obsessed with the world of film photography.

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Reclaimed wood is all the rage in new architecture and design, and now Salvage Audio brings the handsome look of old wood to a realm sorely in need of a makeover: stereo gear. From single-speaker options reminiscent of some Tivoli Audio table radios to larger soundbars for your television (and quite a few options in between), everything Salvage Audio makes delivers quality audio in a fantastic, environmentally friendly design. Prices start at $249.

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DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ (DJI.com)

Have you seen that secret video of the new Apple headquarters that was taken from overhead? Or the video of the fireworks taken within mere feet of their explosions? Drones make these feats of bravado and imagination possible, and the Phantom 2 Vision+ from DJI is the most user-friendly option on the market. How so? It comes with its own camera, as well as built-in GPS. It performs very well in heavy wind scenarios, returns home when it realizes it has flown out of range and needs to get back before its battery runs out, and allows you to use your smartphone as your viewfinder. It’s about as high-tech as a drone gets in the toy realm, so it costs a pretty penny, $1,159.

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Blue Microphones Mo-Fi Headphones (Amazon.com)

Blue Microphones is known mainly to audio engineers and musicians with home studios for making great microphones that often look like art deco design pieces from a bygone era. It’s no surprise, then, that the company’s first headphone pair looks cool. But you could be reasonably skeptical about whether they’re worth the high price. The Mo-Fi ($349.99), however, is armed with an incredibly powerful internal amplifier that sculpts and boosts audio from mobile devices into a high-fidelity audio experience, with rich bass and crisp high frequencies that bring out the vocals and the goose-bumps factor. And despite their crazy-but-cool design, these bulky headphones are also super-comfortable.

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Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver (AudioEngineUSA.com)

Problem: You want wireless audio for your living room, but prior experience with Bluetooth and other options like AirPlay has pointed out its weaknesses—namely, that stuttering issue that makes your music stream start and stop obnoxiously. Advancements in Bluetooth audio have not only created a much-higher-fidelity stream than was possible a few years back, but because Bluetooth isn’t competing with other devices in your house for a Wi-Fi signal from your router, you also get a cleaner, near-stutter-free audio stream. Setting up Audioengine’s B1 receiver ($189) is as simple as connecting it to your stereo receiver or speakers and then pairing it with your phone, and its internal digital-to-audio converter will ensure you’re listening to the highest-quality audio level possible.

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Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad (Logitech.com)

Logitech bills its keyboard cover as “the other half of your iPad,” and that seems like a pretty great way to describe this affordable ($99.99) accessory. You get protection for your screen and a fully functional keyboard that works wirelessly via Bluetooth, and it uses magnets to clip onto the tablet for seamless integration. There’s also an on/ off feature that powers down your iPad instantly when the cover is closed, just like Apple Smart Covers. The best thing, however, is how incredibly thin the cover is; you might expect it to bulk up your tablet, but it’s not chunky at all, allowing you to retain the best feature of any tablet (its lightweight mobility) while upgrading the feature set for a more laptop-like experience.

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Motorola Moto 360 (Moto360.Motorola.com)

Sure the Apple Watch looks very cool, but it won’t be gracing anyone’s wrist until 2015. In the meantime, the Moto 360 is gorgeous and aimed at Android phone users. This water-resistant watch ($249.99) comes preloaded with six different faces. It responds to your voice, sends weather updates and notifications from your phone, and even acts as a heart-rate monitor and pedometer. But perhaps most important, it does all these things while looking stylish and cool, a feat that most wearable tech has yet to pull off.

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Dyson DC59 Motorhead (Dyson.com)

The greatest inventions take something that’s a chore—say, vacuuming—and eliminate the worst thing about that chore, such as having to unplug a power cord multiple times because no company in the history of vacuums has ever made a cord long enough. It seems impossible, but with Dyson’s DC59 vac ($549.99) there’s nothing to trip over and nothing that will catch on table legs and instantly disconnect from the electric outlet. A cordless, rechargeable vacuum: It sounds so easy to use, it almost makes us want to vacuum. Still, it goes without saying that this is a gift for yourself, and not a significant other. You do enjoy living,  right?

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