Computerworld's holiday gift guide 2014: Nifty tech for $30 to $150

Part 2 of our annual holiday gift guide offers innovative keyboards, useful chargers, a hovering mini-drone and a plethora of other great gadgets to give or get.

Computerworld Holiday Gift Guide 2014 - $30 to $150

Just-right tech gifts

Remember the children's tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? The first bowl of porridge was too hot, the second was too cold, and the third was just right.

Well, in Part 2 of our holiday gift guide, we hope to help you find that same perfect compromise in a financial sense -- something that isn't too cheap or too expensive, but just right. These tech gadgets all fall in the sweet spot between $30 and $150, where you should be able to find something useful, interesting or just plain fun for family, friends and colleagues.

As always, we've included a range of prices as offered by various retailers, but be aware that prices fluctuate. And we don't have to tell you to be careful of false deals and scams, right?

If you want to get something a little pricier for that special someone, or just need some low-cost stocking stuffers, check out our complete holiday gift guide 2014, which features a searchable, sortable list of more than 45 gift ideas.

So here they are: Our suggestions for mid-priced tech gadgets to give (and even, possibly, get).

Tylt Vu wireless charging stand

Tylt Vü wireless charging stand

Wireless charging may be more of a luxury than a necessity -- but boy, is it a nice luxury to have. And the Tylt Vü wireless charging stand (which works with Qi-compatible devices) is one of the most stylish and functional wireless chargers around.

What makes the Tylt Vü so special is its design: The charger -- available in black, blue, green or red -- doesn't look like an ugly electronic apparatus; it looks like a sleek and simple stand. The Vü holds tablets and phones at a 45-degree angle, which makes it perfect for both active use -- such as watching a video or checking your email -- and passive displays -- like using the screen to show photo slideshows, weather info or even a virtual calendar. And it keeps the device charged the whole time it's in contact, without the need for any messy wires.

The Tylt Vü is the kind of device you might not only give as a gift, but be tempted to splurge on for yourself.

Direct price: $70
Retail price: $55-$70

-- JR Raphael

Parrot Rolling Spider mini-drone

Parrot Rolling Spider mini-drone

Radio-controlled quadcopters can be challenging to fly, but Parrot's tiny version of its popular AR.Drone simplifies taking to the skies -- or at least to the ceilings. Just toss it up from your hand and built-in sensors kick the four blades into gear. From there it hovers, as if on a string, until you start piloting it with your iOS or Android phone or tablet. (The company says a Windows Phone app is coming soon.)

The Rolling Spider takes its name from the oversized plastic wheels that attach to either side. These not only protect the blades from walls, legs and other obstacles, but also let the drone roll along floors, walls, ceilings and other surfaces. Consider buying at least one spare battery ($20) to go with it, though, because the included cell is good for only about eight minutes of flight time -- and it takes 90 minutes to recharge.

Retail price: $46 - $75 (Amazon price)

-- Rick Broida

Knomo Knomad Mini and Air mobile tech organizers

Knomo Knomad mobile tech organizers

Editor's note: The Knomad Mini is no longer available.

If "a place for everything and everything in its place" is the mantra of a tablet owner on your holiday gift list, consider the Knomad line of organizers.

Suitable for both men and women, these nicely designed cases go beyond standard tablet sleeves by incorporating various-sized pockets and loops for holding a phone, credit cards, passport, battery pack, cords and cables, thumb drives or other small items. It all folds up into a slim, understated folio that can be tucked under an arm or slipped into a larger bag.

When folded up, the Knomad Mini measures approximately 10 x 7.5 x 1 in. and fits most tablets with up to 8-in. displays. The Knomad Air houses larger tablets with up to 10-in. screens; it's about 11.5 x 8.5 x 1 in.

Both Knomads are available in two styles. A coated canvas twill version comes in black, sand, blue and olive, while a more expensive leather version is available in black, blue and red for the Knomad Mini and in black, blue and green for the Knomad Air. A few of these colors were not in stock at press time, but a company representative said that all colors would be available by mid-December.

Like all Knomo bags, the Knomad organizers have a unique tracker code and Knomo's phone number printed on the inside. If someone finds a lost bag, they can contact Knomo, which will help the owner get it back.

Knomad Air:
Direct price: $79 - $149
Retail price: $30 - $35 (Amazon price)

-- Valerie Potter

D-Link Wi Fi AC750 portable router and charger

D-Link Wi Fi AC750 portable router and charger

Editor's note: This product is no longer available.

A good travel router can be a godsend for anyone who travels with multiple devices, and the D-Link Wi Fi AC750 (model DIR-510L) is a very good travel router indeed.

This 5.4-oz. device can share a single Internet connection from a wired or wireless source among five wireless devices. Powered by an AC adapter or the internal 4,000mAh battery, it features easy setup and support for all the major Wi-Fi standards (including 802.11ac for speedy throughput) as well as simultaneous dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) frequencies. Its internal battery lasts up to 8 hours on a charge.

The Wi Fi AC750 has three USB 2.0 ports for charging mobile devices or sharing files via an external drive, or doing both at the same time. The onboard DLNA media server streams music, photos and videos from any attached hard drive. One of the USB outlets supports 1A output for charging a tablet when the unit is switched to charger-only mode.

While some travel routers neglect security entirely, the Wi Fi AC750 offers Wi-Fi Protected Setup and other network security features (but only if you remember to configure them via a Web browser or the Android or iOS app).

If you've got frequent travelers on your gift list, do them a favor by getting them the D-Link Wi Fi AC750.

Retail price: $72-$143

-- Michael deAgonia

FreshETech All-Terrain Sound rugged Bluetooth speaker

FreshETech All-Terrain Sound rugged Bluetooth speaker

This item is for people on your gift list who bike, kayak, hike, camp or just need a rugged, reliable speaker. Designed for durability, the All-Terrain Sound speaker is weather-, dust- and waterproof. According to the manufacturer, it's capable of being dropped from a height of 10 feet onto concrete without missing a beat.

Its strong clip lets you securely attach the snazzy-looking speaker to a backpack, bike, tent or tree, and there's a detachable suction cup for sticking it to windows or walls.

The rechargeable battery reaches full capacity after a 90-minute charge and promises 12 hours of continuous use. The built-in microphone allows for speakerphone conversations, and the speaker can connect to your audio source either wirelessly (using Bluetooth 4.0) or wired (via a 3.5mm stereo input).

In short, it's a nifty gift for those who like to play their music everywhere, in all kinds of conditions.

Direct price: $80
Retail price: $70

-- Michael deAgonia

Logitech Keys-To-Go portable Bluetooth keyboard

Logitech Keys-To-Go portable Bluetooth keyboard

A Bluetooth keyboard can seriously amp up mobile productivity, but where's the law that says it has to be shoehorned into a case? Logitech's freestanding Keys-To-Go pairs with an iPhone or iPad (sorry, Android users), but doesn't force it to join at the hip. In other words, it takes full advantage of Bluetooth by letting you place the keyboard wherever and however you want it, and then do likewise with the screen.

The 6-oz. keyboard measures just a quarter-inch thick and comes in three colors: black, blue and red. It's covered in a washable fabric-like skin that can withstand dust, crumbs, spilled coffee and other work-related messes. This is almost too practical to be a gift, but that won't stop it from appearing on many a wish list.

Direct price: $70
Retail price: $35

-- Rick Broida

Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480

Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480

What, another Bluetooth keyboard from Logitech? Yes, but this one has a whole different purpose than the more portable Keys-To-Go.

"One keyboard to rule them all" is the idea behind the Logitech K480, which pairs with up to three devices at once and includes a toggle dial for quickly switching among them. That makes it ideal for someone who likes to, say, text on a smartphone, type documents on a PC, and post to social media on a tablet, pretty much simultaneously. The K480 also sports an integrated cradle designed to prop up nearly any smartphone or tablet at a comfortable viewing angle.

As for the keyboard itself, it measures nearly 12 in. across, so it's roughly the same width as a standard laptop keyboard. And it can run for up to two years -- not months, years -- on a pair of AAA batteries. The K480 can pair with just about any operating system, including Android, Chrome, iOS, OS X and Windows.

Direct price: $50
Retail price: $40-$56

-- Rick Broida

Cobra JumPack portable charger/car jump-starter

Cobra JumPack portable charger / car jump-starter

Batteries are always running down unexpectedly, but there are two battery-run devices that you really want to keep powered: your phone and your car. People who own both of these -- probably most of the adults you know -- will appreciate the JumPack, which addresses both needs in a single pocket-sized gadget.

For recharging a phone or other mobile device, the JumPack's USB port accesses a 7,500mAh battery that supplies 2.1 amps -- enough to charge a tablet and more than enough for a phone. Attach the included jumper cables instead and the JumPack provides a 200-amp jolt (400 peak); according to Cobra, that's sufficient power to jumpstart most cars and even SUVs, and do so several times on a single charge.

For other emergency situations, the JumPack also has a built-in flashlight with a strobe function for on-road warnings. Besides the jumper cables, it comes with both a wall charger and a 12V charger (a "cigarette lighter" plug) for charging it in your car.

Retail price: $132

-- Jake Widman

Kimera Bigshot digital camera kit

Kimera Bigshot digital camera kit

Ever wonder what makes a digital camera tick? The Bigshot camera kit helps the curious-minded (ages 8 and up) find out firsthand: Like a complex puzzle, this digital camera must be assembled before use.

The kit includes all the components the camera requires, as well as the tools needed to put them all together. Detailed instructions on the website illustrate each step in the assembly process, with supplemental materials explaining fundamental concepts in optics, mechanics, electromagnetism, electronics and image processing.

When assembled, the camera takes 3-megapixel photos and features a rotatable lens wheel that offers a choice between regular, panoramic and stereo shooting modes (anaglyph 3D glasses and image processing software for OS X and Windows included). You never have to worry about running out of power because the camera features a hand crank that charges the internal lithium polymer battery. (It can also be charged via USB.)

And Bigshot is the gift that keeps on giving: The company uses part of its sales income to donate Bigshots to kids in underserved communities around the world.

Direct price: $89

-- Michael deAgonia

Velvetwire Powerslayer USB wall charger

Velvetwire Powerslayer energy-saving USB wall charger

Admittedly, there are a lot of wall chargers available for mobile phones and tablets. What sets the Powerslayer apart -- besides its stylish appearance -- is its microprocessor, which turns the charger off when the phone or tablet is fully charged.

Many modern devices have circuits in them to prevent the battery from overcharging, but your battery's life can still be shortened if you leave it plugged in longer than it needs to be. The Powerslayer (which also supplies surge protection) automatically stops supplying power when your device is fully charged; an LED glows orange when your device is charging and green when it's done.

And the Powerslayer doesn't "leak" power when there's no device attached, putting an end to "vampire power," the small trickle of wattage that a plugged-in charger draws even when it's not actually charging something.

Retail price: $39

-- Jake Widman

Automatic smart driving assistant

Automatic smart driving assistant

Data nerds, your car is about to become a lot sexier. The Automatic dongle plugs into the OBD-II data port of just about any gas-powered vehicle sold in the U.S. since 1996, then cranks out a Nate Silver's worth of stats.

It provides real-time feedback on braking, acceleration and speed habits to an iOS or Android phone, with audio cues designed to help you save gas and reduce wear-and-tear. It records your trips, tracks your miles per gallon and supplies a wealth of engine diagnostics. It even has an accelerometer that can detect serious crashes, then notify both the authorities and designated family members.

This is all cool stuff, but here's the best part: Automatic requires no monthly subscription. Because the last thing a gift should do is put the recipient on the hook for extra fees.

Direct price: $80

-- Rick Broida

Corsair Gaming Sabre Laser RGB gaming mouse
Corsair Gaming

Corsair Gaming Sabre Laser RGB gaming mouse

PC gamers know that using the right mouse can make all the difference in fast-paced games. Corsair Gaming's new Sabre Laser RGB mouse features a 1,000-Hz refresh rate and an 8200-DPI (dots per inch) sensor for fast and accurate tracking, which should help your favorite gaming fan keep up with the on-screen action. (There's also a 6400-DPI optical version of the Sabre RGB available exclusively at Best Buy.)

The mouse is suitable for many grip styles, and the super lightweight (3.5-oz.) aluminum body means less wrist and hand fatigue over long sessions. The eight programmable buttons offer enough options for key actions in most games.

You can also customize the DPI and sensitivity settings for various tasks -- you can, for example, switch from long-range sniping to close-up action with the flick of a finger. The mouse's four backlight zones can be configured to any of 16.8 million supported colors and brightness levels, and even customized to different color patterns based on personal DPI settings.

The Sabre RGB works with computers running Windows 8, 7 or Vista.

Direct price: $50

-- Michael deAgonia

Imation Link Power Drive charger / external storage

Imation Link Power Drive charger / external storage

While iPhones and iPads have a lot of excellent qualities, one thing they don't have is an easy way to access additional local storage -- there are no USB ports or SD card slots.

Make your iPhone-owning friends' lives easier with the Imation Link Power Drive, a mobile external drive that connects to an iDevice through the Lightning connector and shows up in the associated iOS app as accessible storage. You can copy files to the drive, or view photos and video that are preloaded onto it from a computer via the included USB connector.

The Link supports the various models of the iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPads -- you can even use it with a fifth-generation iPod Touch -- as long as the device has iOS 7 or higher. Available in 16MB, 32MB or 64GB capacities, the drive also has a 3,000mAh battery that lets it serve as a backup power source for an iPhone.

Retail price: $35 (64GB)

-- Jake Widman

Next: Stocking stuffers for $30 or less

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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