Cool stuff: Your 2011 holiday tech gift guide

From tablets and smartphones to HDTVs and a few surprises, we've rounded up the best tech gear to give and get this year.

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More great gifts

Hang on, we're not finished yet. As we do every year, we've gathered one last batch of fun and useful products that fall outside our main categories but make excellent -- and in some cases quite affordable -- holiday gifts for techies.

House of Marley Exodus headphones

There are a lot of good headphones out there -- so many that if you're trying to find a gift for an audiophile, it can be really hard to choose. If you're looking for a nice balance of audio quality and great style (with a pinch of ecological awareness for flavor), you might want to check out The House of Marley's line of headphones. Ranging from the $59.99 Positive Vibrations model to the high-end $299.99 Destiny TTR, these headphones feature an organic look using wood, recycled plastics and leather accents.

I tried on a pair of the mid-range Exodus headphones ($149.99) at a trade show recently and was surprised at how comfortable and lightweight they felt. The sound quality was also fine -- and Inner|Fidelity reviewer Tyll Hertsens agrees:

The sound quality is shockingly good. I'd say right up with best of $150 sealed on-ear headphones --- especially when viewed from the perspective of the intended audience. I auditioned them comparing with the V-Moda V-80, Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators, Quincy Jones Q460, and Beats Solo. To my ears they fairly easily bested all but the V-Moda, and there it was surprisingly close. (Read the full review.)
House of Marley Exodus headphones

House of Marley Exodus headphones

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If you're looking for something a bit smaller or less expensive, House of Marley also offers a range of earbuds from $29.99 to $99.99 that offer the same interesting styles and attention to audio excellence.

You might also like: dB Logic's HP-100 Headphones ($49.95)  and EP-100 Earphones ($34.95) limit sound pressure to 85 decibels based on OSHA guidelines to help users avoid damaging their hearing while still enjoying their music.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Exodus headphones from The House of Marley

Street price: $130 - $150

Tech specs  |  Phone: (888) 251-1076

Summary: House of Marley's Exodus headphones combine an attractive style, eco-conscious materials and great audio.


It's a universal affliction: No matter how neat and tidy you try to keep the earphone cords for your phone, music player, tablet or other device, they always end up in a tangled mess in the bottom of your bag.


The Sinch

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The Sinch is a startlingly simple solution to that problem. In fact, it's so simple -- consisting of nothing more than a half-inch-wide strip of slightly elastic silicone with two strategically placed magnets inside and a hole at one end -- that you might elicit a "huh?" reaction when your loved one pulls it from her stocking.

The Sinch's reinforced hole fits snugly over a standard 3.5mm earphone plug, and the whole thing hangs down unobtrusively behind the phone or other device while the earphones are in use. Then you just wrap the cord around the device and the Sinch together, and lift the magnetized bottom end of the Sinch up to meet its other magnet near the top. The Sinch holds the cord neatly in place even when the device is tossed in a bag.

To store the headphone cord separately from the device, just slide the wrapped-and-Sinched cord off the end of the device, or else wrap the cord around your fingers and the Sinch together. Either way, the Sinch will hold the cord in a tidy, tangle-free coil until it's needed again.

When you want to use the earphones again, simply give them a little tug to release the cord from the Sinch. It really couldn't be easier -- in fact, it's far simpler to use than to describe. Available in black or white, the Sinch is pricy at $16, but it beats out other cord-management gadgets with its good looks, ease of use and quick release.

You might also like: If the Sinch's $16 price tag seems too steep, consider a cheaper cord-management option such as Quirky's Wrapster. It's less elegant than the Sinch, but it can be found for about $5 online.

-- Valerie Potter

Sinch from Dune Road Design, LLC

Price: $16

Instructions  |  Product video

Summary: Keep earphone cords tidy and tangle-free with the clever Sinch.

Ful Powerbag

You've been out of the office all day and need to check in, so you pull out your smartphone. Oops! You forgot to turn off the GPS, the battery drained and now you've got maybe five minutes left before you're out of power. What do you do?


A Powerbag messenger bag

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Well, if you're using a Powerbag backpack or messenger bag, all you do is hook it up to your phone and stop worrying. Powerbags include their own rechargeable batteries (3000mAh or 6000mAh, depending on model) plus four separate hookups: an Apple connector, micro- and mini-USB connectors and a USB port (so that you can connect any devices that have specialized connectors).

You just put your device in the charging pocket at the front of the bag, connect them, and go. You can use the bag for emergency charges, or just to keep your devices topped up when you're not using them.

An on/off button in the Powerbag's logo makes sure that you're not wasting battery power when you're not charging any of your devices. (You can also use the button to check the battery level.) When you're back home, simply attach the included A/C adapter to a charging port on the side of the bag to recharge the Powerbag's battery.

The Powerbags come in a variety of colors and styles, including messenger bags, backpacks, slings and wheeled briefcases; prices on the Powerbag site range from $139.99 to $249.99. Unfortunately, they currently can't power laptops, but for those who can't leave home without their tablets, smartphones or cameras, these are the perfect power insurance policy.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Powerbag from Ful

Street price: $86 - $250

Tech specs  |  Product video  |  Where to buy  |  Phone: (888) 251-2026

Summary: Powerbags are the perfect gift for electronic gadget fans who often find themselves in need of a power supply.

Doctor Who Cell Phone Alert Charms
Doctor Who Tardis Cell Phone Alert Charm

Doctor Who Tardis Cell Phone Alert Charm

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Some of us aren't ashamed of being Doctor Who fans. In fact, we flaunt it, decorating our homes with models of the Tardis, arguing about which companion we like the best, and loudly proclaiming that fezzes are cool. If, however, you have friends who want to show their dedication to Time Lord lore in a more practical way, give them a Doctor Who Cell Phone Alert Charm.

These handy little devices are a mere 1.75 in. tall so they can hang from a backpack, keychain or zipper. They alert you to an incoming phone call by spinning madly around -- you get a choice of a spinning Tardis, Cyberman or Dalek -- and flashing tiny lights at the base. What could be more useful when you're fighting Daleks and can't hear your smartphone above the screams of "Ex-ter-mi-nate!!"

There is a catch, unfortunately: The charms only work with phones that are on an 800-1600MHz GSM network. But if your friends have phones and service providers that can handle GSM (such as AT&T and T-Mobile), then these snazzy trinkets can ensure they don't miss those important calls while traveling through time.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Doctor Who Cell Phone Alert Charms from ThinkGeek

Price: $9.99

Tech specs  |  Phone: (888) GEEKSTUFF

Summary: Doctor Who Cell Phone Alert Charms are a great way for Time Lords and their fans to avoid missing calls.

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS digital camera

A compact megazoom camera makes an excellent holiday gift for beginning photographers; these cameras can be had for less than $300, and they offer features and image quality that can't be matched by the built-in camera on a phone. They're also appealing for people who already have a high-end digital SLR camera but want a small, inexpensive second camera that they can take everywhere.

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS digital camera

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS digital camera

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There are a number of strong contenders in this space, but our pick is the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. This 12-megapixel camera features a 14X-optical-zoom lens with superb image stabilization, a sharp and colorful LCD screen with easy-to-navigate menus, and a large array of both automatic settings and manual controls. This year's model adds 1080p video capture, high-speed shooting and limited in-camera GPS features.

PC World reviewer Tim Moynihan sums it up:

Canon consistently makes some of the best-performing point-and-shoot cameras in our tests, and the PowerShot SX230 HS is no exception. Its image quality puts it among the top tier of 2011's pocket-megazoom class, and the camera can be as easy to use or as manual-oriented as you want it to be. (Read the full review.)

What's more, it's currently a steal, available at a number of online merchants for around $200 -- more than a third off the $330 list price.

You might also like: Offering an 18X zoom lens and full automation, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 (widely available for around $270 or less) is an outstanding compact megazoom for casual photographers who want the camera to do most of the work for them but still get great shots. Another great option is the $300 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V, which offers top-notch video quality and an array of fun and innovative features.

-- Valerie Potter

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS from Canon U.S.A. Inc.

Street price: $197 - $350

Tech specs  |  Product video  |  Where to buy  |  Phone: (800) 652-2666

Summary: The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS delivers 14X zoom and excellent image quality in a compact, affordable package.

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