Computerworld's holiday gift guide 2014: Stocking stuffers for $30 or less

Part 3 of our annual holiday gift roundup highlights a group of inexpensive but seriously cool gadgets that will make any tech enthusiast a happy camper.

Holiday Gift Guide 2014 -  Stocking Stuffers

Tech gifts for all

Okay, it's getting close to the wire now -- the holidays are almost upon us, and there are still a bunch of unchecked names on your gift list. What to do?

Don't panic. Just check out some of the suggestions in Part 3 of our holiday gift guide. We offer a range of fun and useful stocking stuffers for $30 and under that should satisfy any taste, including weather enthusiasts, do-it-yourselfers and science geeks (and, of course, anybody who carries around a mobile device).

As with all our gift guides, we've included a range of prices as offered by various retailers. Be aware that prices fluctuate -- and, as always, be careful of false deals and scams.

And if you're still searching for high-end gifts for family and friends, don't despair: See our complete 2014 holiday gift guide for a searchable, sortable list of all our tech gift suggestions for 2014.

Feel better? Good. Now go ahead and take a look at some of these great stocking-stuffer possibilities.

Android Mini Collectibles
Dead Zebra

Dead Zebra Android Mini Collectibles

Android power rules! Help your favorite Android fans express their love for the platform with a small-sized version of Google's lovable robot mascot. Artist Andrew Bell's Android Mini Collectibles have become a favorite symbol of affection in the enthusiast community, and it's no surprise: The small figurines are fun, cleverly crafted and always evolving with fresh and creative new designs.

The current crop of Collectibles includes everything from a classic green robot to a corporate executive Android, a bear bot and a series of Asian-themed "Lucky Cat" creatures. They make great desk companions -- whether your gift recipient is a devoted collector or a first-time figurine owner, he or she is bound to have room for more.

Direct price: $7.50-$10

-- JR Raphael

Scosche reVolt 12W + 12W

Scosche reVolt 12W + 12W USB car charger

[Note: This product has been replaced by the reVolt Dual]

This one's a no-brainer for friends who spend a lot of time in the car and need to keep their mobile devices charged: a USB charger that plugs into the dashboard cigarette lighter. But you don't want to give them just any car charger. You want something that's powerful and practical, like the Scosche reVolt 12W + 12W charger.

With its compact size and understated design, it's an unobtrusive addition to any dashboard. And it's much more powerful than many car chargers: The two 2.4-amp/12-Watt ports deliver enough energy to charge two tablets at once, a great improvement over the usual 1-amp or 2.1-amp slowpokes.

Direct price: $25
Retail price: $15-$31

-- Valerie Potter

Toddy Gear Smart Cloth and Whoosh Screen Shine
Toddy Gear / Whoosh

Toddy Gear Smart Cloth / Whoosh Screen Shine screen cleaners

Anyone who owns a smartphone or a tablet knows that, sooner or later, they're going to be squinting at the display through a miasma of dust, finger oils and grease from that last slice of pizza. So do your friends a favor: Get them a screen cleaner that really works.

The Toddy Gear Smart Cloth is a microfiber cloth that not only cleans screens quickly and effectively, but also comes in a variety of attractive colors and patterns. The antimicrobial, machine-washable cloths are dual-sided: There's a plush side to clean your screen and a silky side to give it an extra polish. You can get a 5-x-7-in. version for $10 or, for laptops and other larger screens, a 9-x-9-in. version for $15.

If your friends tend to really mess up their displays -- or if they have young children who like to borrow the household tech -- you may want to opt for Whoosh Screen Shine. Spray on the ammonia- and alcohol-free mist and use the included antimicrobial microfiber cloth to clean and polish that dirty screen; the spray will also protect from additional dust, fingerprints and smudges.

You can get a 0.3-oz. pocket-sized bottle for $6 or a 1-oz. bottle for $10 (both come with a cloth); a package with a 3.4 oz. and a 0.3 oz. bottle, along with two cloths, costs $20.

Toddy Gear Smart Cloth:
Direct price: $6-$10 (5 x 7 in.); $15 (9 x 9 in.)
Retail price: $6-$14 (5 x 7 in.); $10-$15 (9 x 9 in.)

Whoosh Screen Shine:
Direct price: $6 (0.3 oz.); $10 (1 oz.); $20 (0.3 oz. + 3.4 oz.)
Retail price: $9 (0.3 oz.); $13 (1 oz.); $23 (0.3 oz. + 3.4 oz.)

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Power Castle and MimoPowerTub portable chargers
Intocircuit / Mimoco

Intocircuit Power Castle / Mimoco MimoPowerTube portable battery chargers

If there's one thing everyone needs at some point, it's extra power for a dying device. Give the gift of peace of mind with a portable battery pack capable of providing any smartphone or tablet with a jolt of juice when its charge drops dangerously low.

Intocircuit's Power Castle is the portable battery pack to beat. The aluminum-encased device holds a whopping 11,200mAh of power -- enough to recharge most phones four or more times without needing to be topped off. It can simultaneously charge two devices at full speed, too, making it ideal for anyone who does a lot of traveling.

The Power Castle even has an LED status bar that shows its current power level. All in all, it's the Swiss Army knife of portable battery packs and the perfect present for any mobile road warrior.

For something less powerful but more fun to carry around, the MimoPowerTube brings a "designer" take to the portable battery pack concept: Instead of a drab rectangle, it puts 2600mAh of power into a pocketable cylinder with a playful design. The themes range from owls to robots and even smiling sticks of dynamite. The MimoPowerTube holds enough electricity to give most standard-sized phones one full recharge (or close to it).

Power Castle:
Direct price: $27 (via Amazon)

Direct price: $30
Retail price: $20

-- JR Raphael

Radioactive Elements Glowing Coaster Set

ThinkGeek Radioactive Elements Glowing Coaster Set

A coaster that just sits there and protects the table from your glass? Slacker. The folks at ThinkGeek engineered a way cooler solution in the form of the Radioactive Elements Glowing Coaster Set. Each of the four coasters is emblazoned with a Periodic Table symbol, and each lights up red, blue, green or orange when you set your drink down.

Think of this as the gift for the geek who has everything -- except light-up coasters.

Direct price: $20 (set of four)

-- Rick Broida

Panasonic RP-TCM125 in-ear headphones

Panasonic RP-TCM125 in-ear headphones

Inexpensive earbuds make ideal stocking stuffers -- they're small, cheap and very useful. Even if your gift recipients already own one or two pairs of earphones or earbuds, they can always use more. With one stashed in every bag, purse and jacket, they'll have a set handy wherever they are.

But while most cheap earphones sound awful, the Panasonic RP-TCM125 buds are notable exceptions. CNET named them this year's best cheap earbuds, and The Wirecutter declared, "They sound better than headphones three times their price."

Available in five colors, they include a one-button remote for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices and a built-in mic for making voice calls; the package comes with three sets of silicone tips for getting a good fit.

Direct price: $20
Retail price: $14-$24

-- Valerie Potter

Kenu Airframe and Airframe+ smartphone car mounts

Kenu Airframe / Airframe+ smartphone car mounts

When you're driving, it's just not practical to leave your phone in your lap or on the seat beside you, especially if you're using it to navigate roads or control a playlist. For safety and convenience alike, it should rest closer to eye level. The Airframe is a smartphone car mount that clips onto virtually any dashboard air vent, thus keeping your screen within arm's reach and eyes' comfort, without the wobble of a windshield mount.

The mount can hold a phone in portrait or landscape orientation (no need to remove the phone's case), and it doubles as a stand when you're not in the car. The standard model grips phones up to five inches in its spring-loaded jaw; if you're giving it to someone with a larger phone, opt for the Airframe+.

Direct price: $24 (Airframe); $30 (Airframe+)
Retail price: $24 (Airframe); $30 (Airframe+)

-- Rick Broida


Nomad NomadKey sync / charge cable

For anyone in your life who subscribes to the Boy Scout motto "Be prepared," there's the NomadKey -- a sync/charge cable that looks just like a key and is designed to ride shotgun on a keychain. The idea is that with the NomadKey ever-present on your keychain, you'll never have to remember to bring a charging cable anywhere.

It's available with either a micro USB or a Lightning connector, so be sure to get the right one for Android/Windows Phone/BlackBerry or iDevice users, respectively. At $29 per "key," it's a little pricier than the average sync cable, but it's hard to fathom a better addition to a smartphone owner's stocking.

Direct price: $29

-- Rick Broida

Rutherford-Bohr Model Atom Earrings and Necklace

ThinkGeek Rutherford-Bohr Model Atom Earrings / Necklace

[Note: These products are no longer available.]

For your favorite science geek, consider these clever earrings inspired by Niels Bohr's 1913 model of the atom, with a few splashes of color thrown in. If your giftee is more the necklace-wearing type, there's a small pendant in the same design. Who knew quantum theory could be so pretty?

The necklace's 16-in. microball chain is made of nickel-free sterling silver. Its pendant is made of nickel-free, rhodium-plated brass sheet, as are the earrings.

Direct price: $25 (earrings), $26 (necklace)

-- Valerie Potter

Sync Stand smartphone charging dock

Sinjimoru Sync Stand smartphone charging dock

There are loads of fancy smartphone stands out there, but many of them are limited to a specific model, manufacturer or charging technology. If you want to give your friends a useful gift, but don't know exactly which smartphone they have, don't fret: Take a look at the Sinjimoru Sync Stand.

The Sync Stand is a small, elegantly designed charging cradle that works with either Android devices (or any phones that use a micro-USB cable) or iPhones (those that use a Lightning cable). The stand is available in black or silver, and it's designed to be used with or without a case on your phone.

The one-time setup is not difficult, especially if you follow Sinjimoru's online instructions: Insert the (included) cable into the appropriate holder, thread it into the cradle and you're set.

Now you can just slip your phone onto the charger and the stand will hold it at a comfortable angle for viewing or working. And if you want to watch a movie, the Sync Stand will hold the phone just as easily in landscape mode (although it won't charge it).

Direct price: $24 for Android version or iPhone version (via Amazon)

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Repair Square and Sugru
47 Innovation / FormFormForm

47 Innovation Repair Square / FormFormForm Sugru repair materials

Kids, pets, commuters and frequent travelers can be hard on electronics cables. Sure, you could use an ugly, ill-fitting piece of duct tape to patch up a frayed headphone cord or sync cable -- or you could wrap it in a Repair Square, which is like an Ace bandage for electronics: It sticks only to itself. It's available in black, white or red, and a mere $3 buys a pack of two, so it's ideally suited to stocking-stuffer duty.

For both cable repairs and more advanced lifehacking projects, look to Sugru, a space-age polymer that molds to pretty much any shape, then hardens into a flexible silicone rubber. This "moldable glue" comes in 10 colors and can be used to create just about anything, from custom-fit earbuds to tablet wall-mounts to universal cable holders. All it takes is 24 hours of "baking" at room temperature to become permanently shaped and bonded.

Repair Square:
Direct price: $3

Direct price: $12 for three; $22 for eight

-- Rick Broida

Weather@Home Thermo Bluetooth thermometer
Oregon Scientific

Oregon Scientific Weather@Home Thermo Bluetooth thermometer

For some of us, just looking out the window or checking the temperature on our smartphones is enough. But if you know somebody who is a real weather enthusiast, there is no better gift than one of Oregon Scientific's weather stations.

For all the basics, look to the $30 Weather@Home Thermo, a small Bluetooth-enabled weather station with an outdoor temperature sensor. It lets you check the indoor temperature, outdoor temperature and 7-day weather history, either by reading the station itself or using the free iOS or Android app. It also features ice alerts so you'll know what's coming before you drive to work.

(If you don't mind spending a bit more, you might want to check out the $40 Weather@Home Thermo Plus, which adds a 12-hour weather forecast with pressure trends and humidity readings, or the $70 Weather@Home, which also adds the history of daily temperature highs and lows, the moon phase and weather warning messages.)

Direct price: $30
Retail price: $30

-- Barbara Krasnoff

MOS Magnetic Organization System
Sewell Development

Sewell Development MOS Magnetic Organization System

How annoying is it when you unplug your device and the cable immediately slips off your desk and falls to the floor? Wouldn't your friends welcome a nifty item that solves that problem? The MOS is a simple triangular base with magnets inside that hold most cables in place. It includes three magnetic cable ties to wrap around cables that aren't magnetized.

A layer of non-sticky padding on the bottom of the base uses microscopic air pockets to suction the MOS to a desk or table and keep it from sliding around. Alternatively, you can use the included double-sided 3M adhesive patch to stick it to a wall or the side of a desk.

The MOS comes in black or white polycarbonate. (There's also an anodized aluminum version that doubles the price to $40, but right now you can find that aluminum model online for $20.)

Direct price: $20
Retail price: $11-$25

-- Valerie Potter

Don't forget to check out our complete 2014 holiday gift guide for more great tech gifts.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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