Computerworld's holiday gift guide 2015: Nifty tech from $35 to $150

Part 2 of our annual cornucopia of gift ideas showcases cool tech that won't break the bank, from tangle-free earbuds and stylish gear bags to clever notification devices and chargers.


Great gifts for great prices

Think you have to spend a fortune to buy cool tech gifts for your family and friends? Think again: Part 2 of our holiday gift guide features an array of fun and useful tech gear that costs less than $150.

How about a Bluetooth speaker that's waterproof and dirt-proof, comes in wild colors and serves up great sound? Or a cute clutch purse that doubles as a phone charger? There's a rugged action cam with surprisingly sophisticated features, a handy portable keyboard that folds down to the size of a pencil box, a hands-on computer kit to spark kids' interest in technology and a whole lot more.

As always, we've included a range of prices as offered by various retailers, but be aware that prices fluctuate. And watch out for false deals and scams, okay?

Don't forget to check out the rest of our holiday gift guide. Meanwhile, here are our suggestions for mid-priced tech gadgets to give (or perhaps to get?) this year.

Ultimate Ears UE Roll
Ultimate Ears

Ultimate Ears UE Roll

[Note: This product was replaced by the Ultimate Ears UE Roll 2]]

The new UE Roll is an ideal speaker for anyone who likes listening to music on the go. The device is small, light and shaped like a 1950s UFO, making it perfect to toss in a bag on the way to a picnic or the pool. Speaking of which, it's waterproof (IPX7-rated) and dirt-proof, too, so there's no need to worry when taking it out into the elements. (It even comes with a "marine-grade" bungee cord for attaching to gear.)

It comes in an array of bright colors and patterns, and most important, the UE Roll sounds great, with audio that pumps out in all directions for a true 360-degree listening experience. And with a nine-hour battery life, it's made to last through even the most insane backyard parties.

Direct price: $100
Retail price: $70 - $99 (Amazon price)

-- JR Raphael

Logitech K380 keyboard

Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard

Got someone on your gift list who's always jumping from computer to smartphone to tablet and back again? Logitech's K380 could be the perfect keyboard for them, pairing with up to three devices at a time and weighing a travel-friendly 15 oz.

It measures just under 11 in. across, so although the keys are a bit closer together than a full-size keyboard's, they should be comfortable enough to allow for touch-typing. What's more, the keyboard can run for up to two years -- that's years, not months -- on a pair of AAA batteries.

In addition to portability and longevity, the K380 offers versatility: It can quickly switch among three different devices -- say, phone, tablet and PC -- regardless of operating system. It's compatible with Windows, OS X, Android, iOS and Chrome OS -- just the thing for your OS-agnostic friends and colleagues.

Direct price: $40
Retail price: $30 (Amazon price)

-- Rick Broida

Activeon CX camera

Activeon CX

If you know an outdoor enthusiast who'd love to have a rugged action cam but you can't afford to shell out $500 for a top-of-the-line 4K shooter, consider this low-cost alternative. The Activeon CX costs about the same as competing entry-level action cameras but offers features generally found on more expensive models, such as a 2-in. LCD, a removable waterproof housing and a removable battery. It's also got built-in Wi-Fi plus iOS and Android apps for controlling the camera from a phone.

The tiny camera has an F/2.4 glass lens and shoots very respectable 1080p (at 30fps) or 720p (at 60fps) video. It offers a variety of shooting options, including time-lapse, burst and self-timer modes; sports, underwater and night modes; several color filters; four viewing angle widths and up to 4x digital zoom. The camera can be worn on the body or attached to bikes, surfboards, helmets, cars, walls, tripods and more; the company sells an array of mounts and straps to make it all possible.

Whether your giftee is into bombing down ski slopes or taking leisurely bike rides through the countryside, the Activeon CX provides an affordable way to capture the action.

Direct price: $120
Retail price: $100 (Amazon price)

-- Valerie Potter

Zipbuds Slide

Zipbuds Slide

[Note: This product has been replaced by the Zipbuds Slide Sport]

Are your friends constantly getting their earbuds in a tangle? Then consider getting them the Zipbuds Slide -- earbuds that sound good and don't have to be unknotted every time you want to use them.

The Slide avoids snarls (and breakage) in two ways: Its cables are slightly thicker than usual with a square (rather than round) periphery to help keep things straight. But even more important, it has a zipper-like slider that starts where the cable splits. Zip the cable up when you're not using it and then, when you want your music, just zip it back down again -- no fuss, no muss and no tangles.

In addition, the Slide includes angled ear tips that offer a secure but comfortable fit, a good-quality inline microphone for phone calls (with a volume control) and audio that is quite satisfactory for earbuds. And it comes in several color combinations: orange/purple, turquoise/black, white/black and all black.

Want to buy a pair for those friends? Zipbuds Slide is priced at $80 on the company website; you're better off at Amazon, where it goes for a more reasonable $50.

Direct price: $80
Retail price: $50 (Amazon price)

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Chic Buds Clutchette Power
Chic Buds

Chic Buds Clutchette Power

Portable battery chargers come in all shapes and sizes, but this might be the cleverest yet: a clutch purse with a 2600mAh battery pack hidden inside.

Available in 16 colors, the Clutchette Power has a soft "vegan leather" exterior and a fun polka-dotted satin interior. The slim USB-rechargeable battery and the phone's charging cord stay out of sight in zippered pockets, while strategically placed slits allow the cords to snake through behind the scenes.

There's also room enough inside to carry a smartphone (even a plus-sized model), credit cards, cash, lipstick and a comb -- but not much else. For that friend who's always forgetting to charge her phone, the Clutchette Power makes a stylish and very useful gift.

Direct price: $50
Retail price: $29 - $50 (Amazon price)

-- Valerie Potter

Bellroy Phone Pocket

Bellroy Elements Phone Pocket / Elements Phone Pocket Plus

[Note: These products are no longer on sale; there are other Bellroy Phone Pockets available on the company's website.]]

If a clutch purse isn't your giftee's style, what about an elegant leather wallet that keeps a phone safe too? Bellroy's Elements Phone Pockets hold not only smartphones of various sizes, but also cash and credit cards; there are even tiny pockets for a key and a SIM card. The wallets are weather-resistant, come in three colors and are backed by a three-year warranty.

The smaller version, called the Elements Phone Pocket for iPhone 5, is large enough for phones measuring up to 125mm x 70mm x 10mm (4.92 x 2.76 x 0.39 in.). The next size up, called the Elements Phone Pocket for iPhone 6, fits phones up to 140 x 70 x 10mm (2.76 x 5.51 x 0.39 in.). For plus-sized phones like the iPhone 6S Plus or the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, there's the Elements Phone Pocket Plus, which fits phones up to 160mm x 82mm x 10mm (3.22 x 6.29 x 0.39 in.).

Direct price: $80 for small phones; $100 for midsized phones; $120 for large phones
Retail price: $80/$100 for small/midsize (Amazon price); $120 for large (Amazon price

-- Valerie Potter

Simple Matters Ditto
Simple Matters

Simple Matters Ditto

It's happened to us all: You're trying to call a friend or relative, and you keep getting shunted to voicemail. It turns out that they left the phone in another room or that it was deep within a bag or backpack -- and therefore, not audible.

Well, we've got the perfect gift for them.

The Ditto is a smooth oblong object with a built-in clip that's about the size of a checker piece; it comes in black, white or clear plastic. You pair the unit to your phone via Bluetooth using the free app (available for iOS or Android). Then just put the Ditto in your pocket, clip it to a piece of clothing or wear it using the included wrist band -- and it will gently vibrate in a series of short bursts to alert you to an incoming call, text or email.

The device vibrates in different patterns for each type of communication; you can also schedule an alarm or assign a pattern to a specific person (so you'll know when your boss is calling). A tether feature will alert you if your phone and the Ditto are separated, and you can set a "Do Not Disturb" time period when it won't vibrate at all.

Now the only excuse your friends will have for not taking your call is if they've forgotten their Ditto.

Direct price: $40
Retail price: $30 (Amazon price)

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Kano Computer Kit

Kano computer kit

If you know any future IT stars, then this is the perfect present for them -- or anyone who likes to fool with hardware and software.

The Kano computer kit, aimed at kids aged 6 to 12, is based on the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, the latest model of Pi that was released in February 2015. Your budding tech whiz just snaps together the included processor, keyboard, trackpad, speakers, Wi-Fi transceiver, SD card, and HDMI and power cables. Once they're done, connect it to an HD display (not included). The result is a Linux-based computer complete with Web browser, word processor and parental controls.

But that's only the beginning. The Kano OS uses Pong, Snake and Minecraft to teach gamified coding exercises in such languages as Python and Scratch. For more fun and learning, your giftee can visit Kano World, a website where over 13,000 community creations have been shared, including games, media viewers and FTP clients.

Direct price: $150
Retail price: $150 (Amazon price)

-- Ken Gagne

Zagg Pocket Keyboard

Zagg Pocket Keyboard

It's likely that most people you know have a smartphone or tablet. For those who like to work on a mobile device, consider the Zagg Pocket Keyboard, an eminently portable wireless keyboard for smartphones and tablets (up to 8 in.).

When folded, the Zagg looks like an old-fashioned pencil box; at 8.8 x 2.2 x 0.6 in., it can be easily popped into a bag or even a jacket pocket. Unfolded, it's a useful Bluetooth keyboard that includes a supporting ledge for an iOS or Android mobile device. As you open it, the keyboard turns on by itself and immediately connects wirelessly to the device with no fuss or bother. (Note: You do have to pair it manually the first time, but it is a quick and simple process.)

Even more surprising, the keyboard itself is reasonably comfortable to type on. Although it does feel a bit cramped (because it is smaller than a standard keyboard), the keys have a good feel to them and a touch typist can still hit a reasonable speed -- which makes it a great gift for anyone who needs more than an onscreen keypad.

Direct price: $70
Retail price: $45 (Amazon price)

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Timbuk2 Custom Prospect Laptop Backpack

Timbuk2 Custom Prospect Laptop Backpack

Backpacks have become more than drab carry-alls. When you're commuting to and from work, or wandering during the weekend, they can also be fashion statements. And what better way to make a statement than with a design-your-own backpack from Timbuk2?

The Custom Prospect Laptop Backpack is a snazzy weatherproof backpack that comes with a tricot-lined pocket for a 15-in. laptop, a separate tablet pocket and a large main compartment with an internal organizer. You can add a reflective strip for another $10 and a water-bottle pocket for $5.

But best of all, you can build the backpack from scratch, mixing and matching materials (Cordura nylon, water-resistant waxed canvas, wool, twill or faux leather) and colors (crimson, aquamarine, charcoal, midnight and dozens of others). Choose whatever you want for the top, flap, body, boot (bottom), side, binding and even the logo. Select one-color conservative, two-color chic, or go nuts and pick a different color for each section.

Just keep in mind that with Timbuk2's lifetime warranty, the person you design this backpack for is probably going to be using it for a long, long time.

Direct price: $134

-- Barbara Krasnoff


Witti Dotti

If you've got co-workers who spend their days sitting in their cubicles and staring at a monitor, give them something else to look at -- and play with. Give them a Dotti.

The Dotti is a small, square white box, 2.4 x 2.4 x 1.3 in., that flashes an icon when you get an incoming call, calendar alert or other notification (from Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, etc.) on your phone. The icons it displays are simple -- they exhibit on an 8 x 8 grid of color LEDs -- and are controlled (via Bluetooth) by a smartphone app (iOS or Android).

In addition to notification alerts, the Dotti can act as a clock and also offers several "just for fun" icons and animations (Space Invaders, anyone?) that can be customized via the app. And Witti maintains a library of other icons, which your colleagues can play with and share with friends.

And if an eight-LED square isn't enough, they can control up to four Dottis at once and even gang them together to create a 16 x 16 display. Which may not be subtle, but will make for a great desk decoration.

Direct price: $70
Retail price: $63 (Amazon price)

-- Dan Rosenbaum

Mohu Leafe 50 HDTV Antenna

Mohu Leaf 50 HDTV Antenna

Have friends who have cut the cord but are sad because they can no longer get local TV programming? Here's the perfect gift for them -- the Leaf antenna can provide easy access to dozens of free broadcast television stations on the air within 50 miles of their home.

Just connect the included 16-ft. coaxial cable to the HDTV's antenna port and then attach the Leaf to a window, bookcase or any non-metallic surface. The Leaf, which measures 11.5 x 9.0 x 0.04 in., has one white side and one black side; either can be exposed to match your decor. Because it's powered via the television's USB port, the antenna is activated only when the TV is on -- a model in electricity efficiency.

Direct price: $70
Retail price: $70 (Amazon price)

-- Ken Gagne

iHome K2

iHome K2 Clock Radio

The iHome K2 clock radio (model iKN105) is two -- or really, five -- gifts in one. To start with, it's a dual-alarm clock radio; that's two right there. It's Bluetooth-enabled, so it functions as a wireless speaker as well as letting your giftee wake up to the music of their choice. It's also got a microphone, so it can act as a speakerphone for the mobile device it's paired with.

But what really makes it a great gift is the removable K-Cell battery. The battery charges while it's sitting in the radio (or via its micro USB port from a computer or AC outlet), after which it can be taken out and used as a portable backup battery pack. Put it back in the radio at night, and it'll be ready to go again the next morning.

Direct price: $80
Retail price: $62 (Amazon price)

-- Jake Widman

Nixplay Seed

Nixplay Seed

Digital photo frames have matured a lot in recent years, evolving from chunky, hard-to-use slabs of screen into slim, pretty decorations that can automatically slurp up photos from Facebook, Instagram, email and other sources.

So it is with the Nixplay Seed, a Wi-Fi connected photo frame that's available in three sizes -- 7 in., 8 in. and 10-in. -- and four colors: black, blue, mango and mulberry. Your giftees can spruce up their décor with a never-ending slideshow of pictures from friends, family members and their own photo libraries.

Each Seed has a 4:3 aspect ratio, an IPS screen and a "Hu-Motion" sensor that will dim the screen until someone enters the room. It comes with its own, customizable email address and can also link to all the major social networks. It is, quite literally, the gift that keeps on giving (photos).

Direct price: $100 / $130 / $170 for 7-in. / 8-in. / 10-in.
Retail price: $100 / $130 / $170 for 7-in. / 8-in. / 10-in. (Amazon prices)

-- Rick Broida

Zolt Laptop Charger Plus

Zolt Laptop Charger Plus

[[Note: This product is no longer available.]]

One of the big annoyances of traveling is juggling charging cables and adapters for a bunch of devices -- not to mention fighting for outlet space. Anyone on your gift list will appreciate the Zolt Laptop Charger Plus, which can power a laptop plus two mobile devices (from phones to cameras to portable speakers) at the same time from a single outlet.

It comes with a six-foot charging cable with an assortment of tips to fit different laptops (cables with Mac connectors sold separately); mobile devices can plug in with their own USB charging cords. The Zolt rotates so its USB ports are at the most accessible angle, and its prongs fold in for easy portability. The best part? It's only 3.7 in. long and weighs just 3.5 oz., making it an ideal travel accessory.

Direct price: $100
Retail price: $81 (Amazon price)

-- Jake Widman

For a lively look at some of the other products that are in Part 1 and Part 3 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.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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