Computerworld's holiday gift guide 2016: Stocking stuffers for $35 or less

Part 3 of our annual roundup of holiday gift ideas features an array of cool gadgets that won’t break the bank but will put a smile on your loved ones’ faces.

SLIDEFEATURED PRODUCTS
  • Chatlight

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    on Amazon
  • Doctor Who: Dalek Talking Bottle Opener

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    on Amazon
  • VoltNow RiverFi Rechargeable Battery + Bluetooth Speaker

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    on Amazon
  • Million Mile Light 2-Pack

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    on FlipBelt
  • Extra Large Floppy Disk

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    on The Chocolate Vault
  • Ventev Minipro Vent Dashmount

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    on Ventev
  • Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger

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    on Amazon
Computerworld Holiday Gift Guide 2016 Stocking Stuffers $35 or less
Stephen Sauer

Good things come in inexpensive packages

So you’ve got the bulk of your holiday shopping done, but you still need a few little things -- say, something to top up a stocking or give to a co-worker at the office party? Never fear: Part 3 of our gift guide showcases some great tech-related gifts that cost $35 or less.

There's a host of handy chargers to keep all sorts of gadgets going, a dashboard mount that holds large phones securely, a slip-on light for better-looking video chats, a clever device that turns wired headphones into Bluetooth ones, bright wearable lights for runners that use kinetic energy instead of batteries, and much, much more.

We've included prices and shopping links, but be aware that prices fluctuate -- and, as always, be careful of false deals and scams.

If you’re looking for more high-end gifts, don’t miss the rest of our 2016 holiday gift guide, which includes a video highlighting some cool wearables. But for now, check out these great stocking-stuffer possibilities.

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Griffin iTrip Clip
Griffin

Griffin iTrip Clip

There’s been a lot of angst lately over the disappearance of headphone jacks from new devices such as the iPhone 7 and the Moto Z. If your friends or relatives are wondering how to connect up their favorite wired headphones, then just drop an iTrip Clip into each of their stockings.

The iTrip connects to a phone or tablet via Bluetooth -- your friend just has to plug the headphones or earbuds into the gadget’s audio-in jack and voila! Wireless listening. Controls on the front pause and restart the audio, and raise and lower the volume; a clip on the back lets users attach the device easily to a lapel or backpack strap. And if your giftee gets a call, the iTrip announces “Incoming call,” recites the number, and lets him take the call (via a built-in microphone) without having to pull his phone out.

Because it’s Bluetooth, the audio won’t be quite up to the sound one gets via a hardwired connection. But the iTrip will at least keep favorite headphones working with the latest smartphones -- not bad for $20 (vendor price).

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Chatlight
Chatlight
  • Chatlight

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Chatlight

Do you have some folks on your gift list who are always using Skype or FaceTime but who are a bit clueless about lighting? You know the ones -- they set themselves up in front of a brightly lit window so their face is lost in the shadows, or they sit in an extremely dim room so you’re staring at a completely dark screen. Do them (and yourself) a favor by giving them each a Chatlight.

This small, lightweight, LED-powered light slides easily onto any phone, tablet, laptop or monitor with a front-facing camera and shines a bright light onto the person looking into the camera. There are two brightness settings, and the cylindrical light bar rotates so users can project the light onto their face at the most flattering angle. (Hint: It’s all about indirect lighting.)

Measuring 4.5 x 1.5 x 1.8 in., the $30 Chatlight (vendor price) comes in black or silver, and at 3 oz. it won’t weigh down a phone or tablet. Its rechargeable battery lasts 90 minutes on a charge -- more than enough for a typical video chat session or webcast.

-- Valerie Potter

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Zus charger
Nonda

Nonda Zus

For your absent-minded friends who forget to charge their phones and can't remember where they parked their cars, consider the Zus smart car charger. First, it's just what it looks like: a dual USB device charger for your car. Nonda claims that it'll charge devices twice as fast as average car chargers, fully charging two iPhones in less than two hours. One nice touch is that you can plug in the USB cable with either side up.

But where the Zus really shines is in locating a parked car (with the help of an iOS or Android app). The charger automatically stores its location, and your friend or their spouse can use the app later to find the car (so long as it's someplace that can get a GPS signal). It can also keep track of how much time is left on the meter.

-- Jake Widman

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Doctor Who Dalek bottle opener
Underground Toys
  • Doctor Who: Dalek Talking Bottle Opener

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Doctor Who: Dalek Talking Bottle Opener

Yeah, everybody has that friend -- the die-hard Doctor Who fan, the one forever talking up the TV show, trying desperately to get others to watch. If you’ve ever turned a deaf ear to your “Whovian” friend’s pleas, you can make amends by giving her the Dalek Talking Bottle Opener.

The $16 opener (vendor price) not only looks like a Dalek (one of the show’s merciless villains), but also sounds like one, producing the iconic "Exterminate!" sound effect whenever the metal opener meets a metal bottle cap. Your friend will be so delighted with your gift that she’ll forget you’ve never actually gotten around to watching the show.

-- Rick Broida

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 RiverFi battery speaker
VoltNow
  • VoltNow RiverFi Rechargeable Battery + Bluetooth...

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VoltNow RiverFi Rechargeable Battery + Bluetooth Speaker

Bluetooth speakers are a dime a dozen these days -- but unfortunately, the real price usually starts at $50 and goes up into the hundreds. There are a few bargains available, however, and one of them is the nicely designed RiverFi, which not only plays your music, but charges your phone as well -- and all for $35 (vendor price) or less.

The RiverFi is a tidy 3.9-x-3-x-1-in. black device with green highlights and a built-in strap for your wrist or backpack. It is equipped with a 2.5-watt speaker along with a 2,600mAh backup battery that will completely recharge a smaller phone and partially charge a larger. (Handy LEDs down the right side let you know whether the battery is at 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% power.) And while it will play anything you have on your mobile device via a Bluetooth connection, the RiverFi also has a micro-SD card slot for phone-free listening.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Anker PowerPort 4 and 5
Anker

Anker PowerPort 4 / PowerPort 5

The days of needing to charge just one mobile device are over: Smartphones, tablets, headsets, speakers and/or fitness trackers are all vying for power. If you've got friends or relatives with that problem, they'll find there’s no need to play favorites with the Anker PowerPort 4, which turns one AC outlet into four USB-A ports. LEDs provide a visual indicator of whether a device is drained, charging or charged.

Do they need to charge a newer USB-C device? Give them the PowerPort 5, which adds one USB-C port to the four standard USB-A ports. Note that while the $26 (vendor price) PowerPort 4 is more compact, with a built-in foldable plug, the $20 (vendor price) PowerPort 5 doesn’t plug directly into the wall, opting instead for its own power cord.

-- Ken Gagne

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 C.H.I.P. computer
Next Thing

Next Thing C.H.I.P.

The Raspberry Pi, first introduced in 2012, popularized affordable, single-board computers for hackers and educators. Now the C.H.I.P. -- which began as a Kickstarter that raised 40 times its crowdfunding goal -- is aiming to be the next big little thing.

With a 1GHz R8 processor, 4GB of on-board storage, and 512MB of RAM, the C.H.I.P. has more than enough power to run Linux or other open-source software. It also has ports for USB, mini-USB and composite video; adapters add support for VGA and HDMI. Unlike the Pi, the C.H.I.P. has inbuilt support for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which gives it an edge in our wireless world.

At $9, the C.H.I.P. qualifies as an ideal stocking stuffer for the tech enthusiast(s) in your crowd.

-- Ken Gagne

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Million Mile Light
FlipBelt
  • Million Mile Light 2-Pack

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FlipBelt Million Mile Light 2-Pack

Do your runner friends like to hit the road at night or in the gloom of early morning? That’s not particularly safe, what with cars zipping around everywhere. So give the gift of the Million Mile Light 2-Pack, a set of clip-on LEDs -- one with white lights for the front and one with red lights for the back -- designed to make runners more visible when darkness falls. The pack includes a waist strap to clip the lights to.

What’s particularly amazing about these is that they don’t require batteries. Instead, they harness motion, flashing brightly with every step the runner takes. These kinetic wonders are also IPX4-rated, meaning sweat and splashes won’t damage them. Take note, however, that they’re specifically designed for the motion of running; they won’t flash if the wearer is walking, biking or standing still.

-- Rick Broida

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Chocolate Vault extra large floppy disk
The Chocolate Vault
  • Extra Large Floppy Disk

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The Chocolate Vault Extra Large Floppy Disk

Remember floppy disks -- the magnetic media that came along after punch cards, tape and hard drives but before SSDs and thumb drives? Compared to the hundreds of kilobytes a floppy disk packs, there are considerably fewer bites in The Chocolate Vault’s disks -- but we don’t think your giftee will mind.

These 5.25-in. square edible confections (complete with notches for the magnetic ring and the floppy label) hold 5.5 oz. of your choice of milk, dark or white chocolate. While they’re not compatible with your old Apple II, they do go well with the chocolate circuit boards, desktops, mice and flat-screen monitors also found in the Vault.

-- Ken Gagne

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 ThermoPeanut
Sen.se

Sen.se ThermoPeanut

Is your co-worker always worried about whether he forgot to lower his thermostat before he left home? Here's a gift that will get his blood pressure down -- and save you from his complaining.

The first of the company's planned line of SensePeanut wireless sensors, the ThermoPeanut is a Bluetooth sensor (about the size and shape of its namesake) that reads the local temperature of a room and sends it to an iOS or Android device. Unlike more expensive IoT devices, this device is read-only and can't be used to directly set the temperature -- but integration with Nest is coming soon. In the meantime, the ThermoPeanut can use the IFTTT platform to work with a variety of smart devices, responding to predefined criteria by sending email notifications or automatically adjusting a room's fans or lights.

-- Ken Gagne

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Ventev Minipro Vent Dashmount
Ventev
  • Ventev Minipro Vent Dashmount

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Ventev Minipro Vent Dashmount

If you have any friends with plus-sized phones who use magnetic car mounts while driving, you’re no doubt tired of listening to complaints about how the phones keep slipping to the floor. Run, don’t walk, and get them the Ventev Minipro Vent Dashmount.

The Minipro fastens onto a vehicle’s air vent with enough space to allow air to move around; a “foot” hooks onto the bottom of the vent to assure a safe hold during the worst bumps. (If you don’t want to attach the Minipro to your vent, the package includes a flat adhesive mount so you can attach it to your dash or other smooth surface instead.) Adjustable brackets securely clasp small and large phones (for example, the Minipro can comfortably handle a 5.7-in. Nexus 6P) while allowing drivers to rotate their devices to the most comfortable viewing position. There are even two small clips on either side to keep stray cables out of the way.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger
Belkin
  • Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger

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Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger

Anyone who travels knows that, whether they're staying at a hotel or a friend's house, there are rarely enough power outlets for all their devices. If you know somebody with that problem, they might like the Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger.

With three AC outlets and two USB ports, the $30 SurgePlus (vendor price) can power five devices at once -- and it also works as a surge protector, rated at 918 Joules. Its 360-degree swivel base allows it to be oriented either horizontally or vertically plugged into an AC wall outlet. And its damage-resistant housing will keep it working despite the thousand natural shocks that tech is heir to.

-- Ken Gagne