Computerworld's holiday gift guide 2015: Stocking stuffers for $35 or less

Part 3 of our annual holiday gift guide presents a selection of low-cost and highly cool gadgets that will put a smile on the face of any tech enthusiast.

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Stuff those stockings

Sometimes, it's the smallest things that are the most difficult to decide. If you want something nifty but inexpensive for your co-workers, neighbors, family and friends, how do you choose from the hundreds of items out there? Well, we've picked out some great tech-related gift ideas costing $35 and under.

For example, there are portable battery chargers (including one that also keeps your hands warm), bendable flashlights in the shape of bugs, brightly colored cable clips and a folding tablet stand. And just for fun, Doctor Who holiday lights and a kit for making your own stop-motion videos. And more!

When possible, we've included both the price direct from the original vendor and a range of prices from retailers. Be aware that costs can change from day to day -- and when you're googling for the best deals, look out for fakes and scams.

Want something more high end? See our complete 2015 holiday gift guide for a searchable, sortable list of all our tech gift suggestions.

And most important: Enjoy!

niteize
Credit: Nite Ize
Nite Ize BugLit LED Micro Flashlight

The Nite Ize BugLit Micro LED flashlight is a neat little novelty item that has pretty good application beyond the whimsical.

It really looks like a bug: Two 3-in. legs radiate from each end of an oval polycarbonate body that has a clear lens at one end and a small carabiner at the other. The flexible legs are designed to wrap around poles, twigs, straps, dowels or any convenient what-have-you for hands-free illumination. Or, if you prefer, you can stand the BugLit on its own four legs and aim the LED wherever you need.

The BugLit produces white light in four modes: high power, low power, strobe or signal. The high power mode produces 6 lumens (about the same as a penlight) for 10 hours; low mode promises 1 lumen (enough to find a keyhole at night) for 22 hours. It takes two 3V coin batteries and comes in a variety of color combinations.

At less than an ounce, it's light enough to take anywhere and cheap enough to give to all your tech friends.

Direct price: $13
Retail price: $10 (Amazon price)

-- Dan Rosenbaum

chromecast
Credit: Google
Google Chromecast / Chromecast Audio

Sometimes it's the simplest things that make the biggest splash. Such is the case with Google's newly improved Chromecast, a dead-easy device that plugs into a TV and makes streaming Internet content to the big screen nearly effortless.

Unlike most set-top boxes, Chromecast doesn't make you wade through complex on-screen menus or use clunky remotes. When you want to watch something, all you do is open a compatible app on your phone, tablet or computer -- like Netflix, HBO Go or YouTube -- and tap a special icon to connect it to your TV. And that's it: Anything you play from the app is then beamed directly to the television. It's perfect for anyone who'd enjoy watching Web-based content on the tube without any hassle.

If someone you know has extra speakers around the house, meanwhile, Google's new Chromecast Audio might be just the ticket. Chromecast Audio makes it possible to turn existing speakers into smart speakers and then stream audio to them using apps already on your phone, tablet or computer. It's a brilliant way to get music or podcasts playing in any room of the house, without the cost or complication usually involved.

And if you've got more than one giftee in mind, you're in luck -- while the Chromecast and Chromecast Audio cost $35 each, you can buy both together (or two of either) for $55.

Chromecast
Direct price: $35
Retail price: $35

Chromecast Audio
Direct price: $35
Retail price: $35

-- JR Raphael

cable clips
Credit: IGetTech
iGotTech Cable Clips

Cords, cords, cords! Anyone who has any kind of computer or electronics gear (in other words, anyone) probably has a tangle of cords in at least one room of their house.

Enter the iGotTech cable clip: two-cord holder on one side, sticky pad on the other. Just stick one on a wall, a desk, the side of a filing cabinet, the back of an entertainment center or wherever needed to keep cords neatly in place. Because the clips use strong adhesive, though, it's best to avoid putting them on nice furniture.

The quintessential stocking stuffer, iGotTech clips are available in black, white or multicolor packs of six.

Direct price: $16 for a pack of 6
Retail price: $10 for a pack of 6 (Amazon price)

-- Valerie Potter

stikbot
Credit: Zing
Zing StikBot Studio Pack

If you've got friends who love the films of master animator Ray Harryhausen or Aardman Studios' genial duo Wallace and Gromit, then what better gift for them than a way to make their own stop-motion videos?

The StikBot Studio Pack contains two bendable figures -- each a different color -- with suction cups instead of hands or feet so they can be photographed upright, sideways or upside-down. The kit also comes with a small phone-sized tripod to help avoid camera jiggle.

Then just download the free StikBot Studio app (available for Android or iOS) and you're all set to go. Place your StikBots where you want them, use the app to shoot a still photo, move the figures to a new position (an onscreen grid helps your track their movements) and shoot the next frame. When you're done, you can add audio and view the results -- and then exhibit your masterpiece on social media. (Note: The videos sometimes look pixelated within the Android app, but the exported results are perfectly okay.)

The app is actually available free to anyone, whether or not they have bought the StikBot Studio Pack. But for only $15, using StikBots as actors can make it a lot more fun.

Direct price: $12
Retail price: $26 (Amazon price)

-- Barbara Krasnoff

candy shell
Credit: Speck
Speck CandyShell Clear iPhone 6 / 6S cases

Know someone with a new iPhone who's torn between protecting his precious device and flaunting its snazzy rose gold color? Speck's CandyShell Clear case could be the answer.

The case is completely transparent without adding bulk. Certified to meet MIL-STD-810G drop-test standards, it offers multiple levels of protection including a raised bezel around the display edge and a dual-layer design -- one layer absorbs impact and the other disperses impact.

Speck also makes a $40 version of the CandyShell Clear for the iPhone Plus, but not, unfortunately, for other phones. That said, the company does offer good-quality cases for many popular smartphone models from Samsung, HTC, Motorola and more.

Direct price: $35
Retail price: $23 (Amazon price)

-- Michael deAgonia

ninjaloop
Credit: Loop
Ninja Loop

As stocking stuffers go, it's virtually impossible to beat the Ninja Loop. For a mere five bucks, this unassuming length of ribbon loops through just about any smartphone case, adhering to the inside and leaving just a hint of play at the rear.

What's so great about that? Well, when you slide your fingers under the strap, suddenly you've got an easier, more comfortable and more secure way to hold your phone. In fact, if it's a big phone that you've struggled to use one-handed, the Ninja Loop helps by allowing your thumb to travel farther.

This is one of those things that sounds a little ridiculous and looks a little silly but quickly proves indispensable. The Ninja Loop is available in several colors and styles to suit a variety of tastes.

Direct price: $5

-- Rick Broida

foldingtablet
Credit: Arkon
Arkon Folding Tablet Stand

Tablets are great for reading books, watching movies and, of course, Jetsons-style video chats with distant relatives. Not so great: Having to hold a tablet at just the right viewing angle during all those lengthy tasks.

One cheap and effective solution: the Arkon Folding Tablet Stand. True to its name, this multi-jointed stand props up tablets large and small (anything with a 7- to 12-in. screen), then folds into a compact, easy-to-transport baton.

Because the stand's lower and upper arms can pivot to just about any angle, they're able to hold a tablet in either portrait or landscape mode. And at $15, it's less than half the price of many stands that aren't nearly as portable. This is a great item for travel (think: airplane tray-table) and home (think: kitchen) alike.

Direct price: $15
Retail price: $13 (Amazon price)

-- Rick Broida

droid.jpg
Credit: Dead Zebra / Google
Dead Zebra Android Mini for Science / Google Android Umbrella

Editor's note: The Android umbrella is no longer available.

Android fans are nothing if not passionate. The Google-loving giftee on your holiday shopping list is sure to appreciate one of Dead Zebra's new limited-edition Android Mini for Science collectible figures.

These pint-sized scientists are part of an ongoing series of Android-themed figurines created by the company and collected by many an Android fan, and they have an extra-special geeky twist: The robot-shaped statues are made to look like renowned scientists Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton. What more could you ask for? (Note that the set of three is sold out, but you can buy them individually.)

Another fun stocking stuffer worth considering is the Android Umbrella from Google's own official merchandise store. The umbrella looks like an ordinary (albeit bright green) apparatus when closed, but pop 'er open, and sweet Mary Poppins! It transforms into the familiar loving face of the Android robot mascot.

Your favorite Android enthusiast will think of you and feel a ray of sunshine every time a dreary day arrives.

Dead Zebra Android Mini for Science
Direct price: $10 each

-- JR Raphael

Celestron Aukey chargers
Credit: Celestron / Aukey
Celestron ThermoCharge / Aukey PB-T1

Editor's note: The Aukey PB-T1 is no longer available.

It's the moment everyone dreads: Seeing that panic-inducing low-battery symbol show up on your smartphone before the day is over. Help your favorite people avoid that horrific fate with a portable battery pack that's easy to carry and full of extra power for gadget emergencies. (You wouldn't want to drive your car without a spare tire, would you?)

Celestron's ThermoCharge, part of the company's Elements line of outdoor gear, holds enough power (4,400mAh) to give practically any phone a full charge at a moment's notice -- and in a neat twist, the rugged device doubles as a hand-warmer, heating up to 113 degrees to fight off a cold night at the campsite while simultaneously battling a low battery.

If your gift recipient is more warm-blooded or technologically demanding, consider Aukey's PB-T1 battery charger instead. The sleek and sturdy aluminum device supports the super-fast Quick Charge standard present in many current Android phones, and it holds enough juice (10,400mAh) to take a typical standard-sized smartphone from zero to 100% three times over.

Celestron ThermoCharge
Retail price: $30 (Amazon price)

-- JR Raphael

nordic camerafloat
Credit: Nordic Flash
Nordic Flash Waterproof Camera Float

Know someone who loves to take pictures while scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing or kayaking? It's all fun and games until she accidentally lets go of her camera and it ends up at the bottom of the sea.

But not if she has these handy floats from Nordic Flash. They attach to a waterproof camera and slide onto her wrist, and if they happen to slip off her hand, no worries -- they float to the surface, bringing her camera with them. They come in four neon colors for easy visibility.

Each float is designed to support a waterproof camera weighing up to 7 oz.; using two at once doubles the support. (They come in two-packs for just that reason.) Even so, they aren't meant to support heavy DSLR cameras, just smaller point-and-shoot models.

It's an easy (and cheap) way to help a friend capture those face-to-face moments with the fishes without losing her camera to Davy Jones' Locker.

Retail price: $13 for two (Amazon price)

-- Valerie Potter

yootech
Credit: Yootech
Yootech Qi Wireless Charger Charging Pad

Wireless charging feels like the future: You just set your phone or tablet down on a surface and ta-da! It's charging. No cables to plug in and no fussing -- it quite literally just works.

Yootech's Qi Wireless Charger Charging Pad is a minimalist, unobtrusive and affordable pad for getting the job done. The small guitar-pick-shaped gadget will blend into any nightstand, kitchen counter or coffee table without drawing too much attention. And its soft rubbery surface will keep your friend or loved one's mobile device from sliding off while it's powering up.

Just make sure the recipient of your gift has a phone or tablet that's compatible with the Qi wireless charging standard. Samsung's 2015 Galaxy S and Galaxy Note devices all are, as are most of Google's pre-2015 Nexus phones and tablets.

Retail price: $11 (Amazon price)

-- JR Raphael

snakable
Credit: Snakable
Snakable USB cables

Standard USB cables are thin and prone to breaking, usually right behind the connector where they bend to reach the port. Friends will be relieved of that frustration if you give them a Snakable cable, which is designed to relieve the stress at that weak point. The cable has three ball joints at each end, right behind the connector, that lets it bend at that point without breaking.

Available in five colors (orange, green and red in addition to black and white), the cables are four feet long and available in micro USB or Lightning (MFi-certified) configurations. The three-year warranty ensures that the recipient will be grateful for a long time to come.

Direct price: $30
Retail price: $30 (Amazon price)

-- Jake Widman

homingpin
Credit: HomingPin
HomingPin

Frequent travelers dread two things: flight delays and lost luggage. There's not much you can do about the former, but HomingPin aims to help reunite travelers and their bags. And it can help your gift recipient recover other frequently lost items as well, including keys, phones, laptops and even passports.

The product comes in the form of specially coded luggage tags, key rings and stickers. Once you've registered each HomingPin code and linked it to your mobile phone number and email address, you're done. Not only is the tag's ID number registered with HomingPin, it's entered into the WorldTracer baggage-tracking system used at thousands of airports worldwide.

If and when a baggage handler or helpful stranger finds a lost item, the HomingPin provides the instructions they need to immediately alert the owner via text message. (The owner's personal information is not shared with the finder.)

A starter set of one tag and loop, one key ring and four stickers costs $10, while a standard set of three tags and loops, one key ring and 12 stickers costs $20; both include a 12-month subscription to the HomingPin service. After that it runs $8 annually.

Direct price: $10 for Starter set, $20 for Standard set

-- Rick Broida

tardis
Credit: ThinkGeek
ThinkGeek Doctor Who Tardis String Lights

Fans of the British television series Doctor Who tend to be, well, fervent -- and enjoy celebrating their loyalty to the adventurous Time Lord and his various companions. So what better way to celebrate than with a set of Doctor Who Tardis String Lights from ThinkGeek?

This is a nine-foot-long string of 10 mini holiday lights, each in the form of that famous blue police box. The lights shine through the windows of each box so that you know that the Doctor is inside partying his hearts out. And who knows? Time travel can make strange things happen -- it's possible that the intrepid Gallifreyan may actually step out of one to say hello!

(If, on the other hand, one of the lights goes out, the package comes with four replacement bulbs, or you can use standard holiday light string bulbs.)

ThinkGeek isn't the only vendor selling Doctor Who holiday lights -- you can also find them from several other online vendors.

Direct price: $20

-- Barbara Krasnoff

For a lively look at some of the other products that are in Part 1 and Part 2 of our gift guide, watch our Tech gifts for every budget video. Or see the Holiday Gift Guide center for even more great gift ideas.