Holiday Gift Guide 2012: What the Kids Want Edition

Sometimes, kids can be the worst people to buy for.  Because of their constant exposure to the media and marketing, their desires and wants change from one fad to another almost instantaneously and always at the most inopportune time.  Of course, one can always go the route of buying them clothes (they grow up so fast, don’t they?), but before one resorts to this consider these “kid tested Techerator approved” gift ideas first.

The Wii U (or a Nintendo 3DS)

Nintendo is always a good contender for kids and families alike during the holiday season and this year is no different.  This time around, they have the new Wii U gaming console (with oodles and oodles of new games) as well as their portable 3DS platform for kid gaming on the go.  For a good source of family fun this season, consider getting the Wii U and show your kids how a true Mario fan saves the princess.  For some peace and quiet on the drive back from the holiday celebrations with relatives, consider the Nintendo 3DS instead with its own kid-friendly game offerings.

Kindle Fire (or an iPad mini or a LeapFrog LeapPad)

It is not hard to see that the world is catching on to portable tablets like a moth to a LED-powered flame.  The younger generation is no different.  Granted, there are quite a few options out there to consider this holiday season (each one with their own pros and cons), but here are a few recommendations.

At the low-end of the pricing spectrum is the $99 LeapFrog LeapPad with a simple user interface and plenty of educational apps for the budding minds you are cultivating.  For a mid-range tablet with full access to books, movies, and games, consider the $199 Kindle Fire by Amazon.  And finally, there is always the $329 iPad mini by Apple (if you’re having trouble deciding which table to get for your child, check out our helpful guide.).

Regardless of which one that is bought, the purchase of a tablet this holiday season should provide hours of blissful entertainment and learning (and your kid will like it too).

A Kid-safe digital camera

They come in pink

No matter the age, kids love participating in photographs.  So for this holiday season consider switching places with your child and let them take the pictures instead.  A good camera to look into buying is the Vtech Kidizoom Spin and Smile Digital Camera at $39.99.  It comes with a 2 megapixel camera, 4x zoom, and a plethora of special effects that can be applied to the pictures it takes.


Don’t look now, but the Furbie is back.  Yes, after 14 years the Furbie is being re-released via the folks at Hasbro.  So what has changed this time around?  Well, according to the synopsis on the Amazon product page, the newest version of Furbie “…has A MIND OF ITS OWN.”  You can talk to it, tickle it, pet it, shake it (but not too hard), and play music to it.   Furby responds to all these interactions at first in its own proprietary language, but as time wears on it will start to learn English and respond appropriately (hence the “mind of its own” part).  Currently a Furby is going for $59.99 on Amazon.

Legos (or anything else non-technical)

Legos and Minecraft: a perfect union

So far, this article has presented some technological options for kids.  But what if one wants to remove technology from the equation?  Thankfully, there are plenty of imagination-molding toys and games out there that can provide the same level of engagement that a tablet or gaming console can.  So do your kid a favor and get their creativity flowing by buying them some Legos (and yes, they make Lego sets for girls).   The author recommends the Millenium Falcon Lego set (at $139) due to the fact that he never had one as a kid.


From tablets to Legos, the only reason why you’d have to resort to buying socks and underwear this holiday season for the kids on your list is if they desperately need them.

Images courtesy: faseextra, ohnogc, Gareth Courage, Liz@rt, Apple, Amazon, LeapFrog, and Lego

Holiday Gift Guide 2012: Creativity and Digital Artist Edition

When I am not writing I am an art teacher and an illustrator, and I am always looking for cool toys to help me with my artwork. Here’s a few that I have tried that could make great gifts for the creative person in your family.

Wacom Input Tablets

One of the best investments I ever made was buying a Wacom drawing tablet for my computer. It beats drawing with a mouse or touchpad any day.

Wacom makes a large range of tablets to fit any budget. There are the cheaper Bamboo series tablets (featured above) and the more expensive Intuos tablets. The three main differences in the tablets are: cost, size, and how many levels of pressure sensitivity a device has. The more levels you have the more realistic the pen tool is.

All of the Wacom tablets come with great software bundled with them too. I have tried both lines of tablets, and while there is a definite difference in the more expensive Intuos line, the Bamboo line works great for those on a budget.

Wacom Cintiq

On the same note as above (and if money is no object) you could get the Wacom Cintiq as a present. The Cintiq is a tablet and monitor all rolled into one and starts at $999 for the 12″ model and $1,999 for the 24″ model. Unfortunately, I have yet to own one of these, but I would love to have one. The Cintiq makes drawing with a tablet even more realistic by mimicking the act of drawing on paper. Any digital artist would love this. Imagine a bigger iPad with a touch sensitive display and you have a Cintiq.

Wacom Bamboo Stylus

Speaking of iPads and Wacom, drawing on a tablet like an iPad is a lot of fun. Personally, I think you can achieve better results while using a stylus. Wacom makes the best styluses I have tried with their Bamboo Stylus line. I have tried a bunch and the weight of these styluses with the feel of the drawing nib make the Wacom line my choice. There are several different ones to choose from starting at $29.99. They are a bit pricier than many styluses, but you truly get what you pay for here.

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 6

To go along with that drawing tablet you might want to gift some drawing software. There are a bunch to choose from out there, but my current go to drawing program is Sketchbook Pro 6 by Autodesk. It retails for $59 and is available for the Mac (via the Mac App Store) and Windows.

Sketchbook Pro 6 does a great job of mimicking natural media on the computer and packs a ton of tools and features in one package. With that said, what I really like is that the program is not trying to be more than a drawing and paint program. There are no photo editing tools and no animation tools. It is strictly for drawing and painting on your computer.

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for Mobile

If you want to give a less expensive drawing program but one that is as good as Sketchbook Pro 6 why not give the mobile version of the program? The mobile version leaves off the number and is just Sketchbook Pro. It is available in tablet and phone apps for both Android and iOS. The tablet version is $4.99 and the phone version is $1.99. Both, like the desktop counterpart, are great natural media drawing programs.

I use have both versions and I like being able to use the same program across platforms. It allows for projects to be compatible across devices and the interface, while different, is familiar. You can gift the apps to a person through the corresponding stores, or just buy a gift card for the corresponding App Store (links for both versions on both operating systems can be found at the above link for Pro 6).

A Pencil Sharpener (?)

Here’s one final hard-to-find item. When I say hard to find I mean it. I could only find this in the Great Britain eBay store for about $65 in US currency. When I bought this pencil sharpener – yes, I said pencil sharpener – back in college about twenty years ago I think I paid under $15. However, if you are buying for the person who has everything and don’t mind spending over $60 for a pencil sharpener (hand powered by the way), you might want to look into the Staedtler Mars Rotary Sharpener. It is the best pencil sharpener I have ever used and I still use it to this day.

I remember seeing a classmate using it in art class and I had to have one. It feeds the pencil into the sharpener as you turn the handle and it gives a great sharp point. I know it sounds crazy, but like I said if you need a crazy gift and want to spend the money this is great. Is it worth $60, maybe not, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

So there you have it, my gift guide for the creativity people on your gift list this holiday season. Happy Holidays!


Holiday Gift Guide 2012: Mobile Worker Edition

There’s something about traveling for work that hardens a person and makes them hate their fellow man, at least for the duration of the trip. The stress of getting from point A to B tends to bring out the worst in people and it’s just an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.

 Get out of my way, lady-with-a-stroller. I’m late for my flight and your baby is ugly.

Anything that helps smooth the travel experience is a welcome gift for a frequent traveler. I’ve collected a few items that have made my life easier and would likely please the traveler in your life.

Belkin Mini Surge Protector

Belkin Travel Surge ProtectorThis relatively inexpensive travel accessory has done almost as much to improve traveling as my iPad. It also improves the lives of fellow travelers by changing the conversation from “Give me that outlet or I’ll cut you.” to “Hey, let me plug this in and we can all share.”

The benefit-to-space-consumed/weight ratio is excellent as it’s tiny and easily fits in the side pocket of a backpack. It may seem a bit boring for a gift, but anyone who travels frequently will love it.

Audio Technica Active Noise-Canceling Headphones

Audio Technica Noise Canceling HeadphonesFriends don’t let friends look like tools and wear Beats headphones (Seriously, guy-wearing-giant-purple-headphones, you look like an idiot and you’re a bad person and you should feel bad.)

These Audio Technica’s are perfectly acceptable for an adult to wear and sound great. The noise cancellation works well and drowns out all the annoying children and that shrill, middle-aged woman telling the entire plane and/or coffee shop how much she loves her stupid, little dog.

Planetary Design Travel French Press Mug

Planetary Design French Press MugHotel coffee is for peasants and chumps. It’s low-quality. It’s old and stale. And after listening to Back to Work – Episode 51 I have to assume it falls under the domain of Mann’s Assumption, which is troubling.

Show your favorite, coffee-drinking traveler some love by getting them this French press mug. That way they can be fancy and enjoy their favorite coffee anywhere they go. Actually, it doesn’t matter if they love coffee or not. Just get them this mug and tell them “You like coffee now because I’ll think less of you if you don’t.”

Cloak VPN

Cloak VPNOne of my favorite things to do at airports and coffee shops is fire up a packet sniffer and see what interesting things people are sharing on the public Wi-Fi and then try to match the traffic to the people I see. Bank of America login? Probably that stressed-out business-woman sitting across from me. Grindr login? That old guy over there, sitting next to his wife.

Protect the privacy of your loved ones from jerks like me by giving them the gift of VPN security with a service like Cloak. It will give them a secure tunnel through public Wi-Fi that prevents their web traffic from being intercepted by others sharing the network. I use it on all my devices everywhere I go.

Saddleback Leather Messenger Bag

Saddleback Messenger Bag

“Durable” takes on a new meaning when it comes to travel gear. Most backpacks and luggage labeled as durable last just a few trips and replacing bags isn’t cheap.

That’s one of the reasons I’m pining after this ridiculously durable messenger bag from Saddleback Leather. It’s made by hand out of dead cow and pig, looks like something Indiana Jones would own, and has a 100 year warranty. This is the one item on this list I don’t have and really want. Someone buy it for me for Christmas. I swear, I’ll love you forever.

Holiday Gift Guide 2012: iOS Edition

Some  of the most popular gifts this holiday season will be the iPad, iPad mini, iPod Touch, and the iPhone 5. What if you want to get a cool accessory to go with that iOS device you are giving? Or what if you are giving a gift to someone who already has one of these devices? Sure, you can get them a case, or a screen protector, but what about something different?

Here are a few items you might want to consider ranging from the inexpensive to the not-so-inexpensive.

Toddy Gear Smart Cloth

The Toddy Gear Smart Cloth is one of the best – no, scratch that – the best screen wipe for an iOS device I have tried. I have two of them. iOS screens are constantly being covered in fingerprints and other “gunk” and these cloths are great for cleaning that off the screen.

They are basically a wipe that has one side for cleaning and one side for polishing. No cleaners are needed (I will occasionally dampen mine for a better cleaning). If they get dirty you can throw them in the wash. They start at $9.99 and come in various patterns and sizes. These are well worth the money.

IPEVO PadPillow

Another great gift for the iPad user is the IPEVO PadPillow. What is a Pad Pillow? It is a wedge shape pillow that lets you prop up your iPad like an easel. It can be used on your lap, on the floor, or on a table. I love this pillow and it has changes the way I use my iPad. It comes in a variety of colors and at well worth the $34 it retails for.


If you are like me you are not a fan of cases unless they have a purpose (for example a case that doubles as an easel). I hate the bulk and weight they add to a device, especially my iPad. As a result my current iPad and iPhone do not have cases. Instead of a case they have a Gelaskin on the back to protect it from scratches and give it some decoration at the same time.

Gelaskins are heavy-duty adhesive skins that go on the back of your device (and front in the case of the iPhone, although I only covered the back). You can choose from numerous designs on the website or you can upload a photo and really personalize your skin. The phone version is $14.95 and the price goes up from their as the device gets larger. The iPad version is $29.95. Non-Apple devices are supported also. You even get a wallpaper file emailed to you for your device.


Do you know someone who has a full iPad or iPod and can’t afford to upgrade to the next sized device? You might want to consider getting that person the AirStash (starts at $149.99) by Maxell. The AirStash looks like a USB flash drive and comes with an 8 or 16GB memory card. On the memory card you can store movies, photos, documents, etc that can stream to your iOS device and back through its own wireless network. This works great for streaming video. You use the free AirStash app, and it is compatible with other apps also. It can also stream to multiple devices (think road trip with kids in the back seat and multiple iPods!).

Griffin Cinemaseat

Speaking of road trips, if you know someone who travels with kids in the backseat the Griffin Cinemaseat is a must. It works with the iPad and an iPad mini model is also available now too. It is simply a case with a velcro strap that straps around the headrest of the car seat letting the person behind it watch video on the iPad. This system is less permanent than other headrest systems, is easier to install, and costs less money at $39.99 ($24.99 on Griffin’s website as of this writing).

So there you have it. Five gifts for the iOS user that aren’t something you may have thought of (like that new iPhone case). Happy Holidays!

Holiday Gift Guide 2012: Home Theater Edition

Every household needs decent home theater accessories to go with their TV. This holiday season, get your loved ones the right gifts with these bestselling home theater items. We’ve made it easy for you to find out this year’s must-haves in consumer electronics so you’ll know you’re giving the best.

Apple TV

Average Price: $99

Category: Streaming media player

Apple TV lets you stream all of the movies and TV shows available in the iTunes Store to your HDTV on a rental or purchase basis, with purchases stored in the cloud. Netflix, MLB.TV, Hulu Plus, and a handful of other online media services are available, plus music, videos, and photos can be streamed from iPads, iPods and iPhones using AirPlay. AirPlay Mirroring lets you stream any Web video to the Apple TV, if you have a newer Mac running Mountain Lion.

Those who’ve already invested in iTunes content and Apple hardware will love Apple TV.

Roku 2 XD

Average Price: $65-$79

Category: Streaming media player

This digital media player supports signals up to 1080p and features built-in wireless networking that allows you to stream media to your TV, so you can enjoy your favorite TV shows, movies and more in stunning high-definition. Roku 2 XD offers hundreds of streaming-video and -audio services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, Vudu, Pandora, Mog, Rdio, and MLB.TV. Roku also offers cross-platform search, capable of finding content across major streaming services.

For people who are not Apple fans and want to access Amazon Instant Video this device will suit your needs.

LG BP620 Blu-Ray Player

Average Price: $99

Category: Blu-Ray Player

If you want the best movie content and picture quality on your HDTV, you need a Blu-ray player. LG’s new Blu-ray player, the BP620, is an impressive device for its price. It features built-in Wi-Fi, plenty of online options, and 3D support.The BP620 offers a wide selection of streaming media services and both free and pay apps, accessible through the player’s built-in Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. The Premium services are the most useful, and include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and several other streamed offerings. The LG apps are much less worthwhile, and include a middling selection of downloadable games and e-books.

The LG BP620 is an excellent budget Blu-ray player. It supports 3D, has built-in Wi-Fi, and its price makes it very friendly to budget-minded home theater owners. There are certainly more expensive options out there such as Sony Playstation 3 and Oppo BDP-93.

Logitech Harmony 650

Average Price: $59-79

Category: Universal Remote

The Harmony 650 is a powerful universal remote with easy set up, color LCD screen, surrounded by five contextual buttons; Web programmable via Windows or Mac PCs; excellent button layout and overall design; supports custom sequences/macros. It does only control 5 devices, so if you have more than that you may want to consider a different remote. Eliminate multiple remotes and get this very reasonable universal remote.

Sony HT-CT150 Soundbar

Average Price: $188-200

Category: Home Theater / Soundbar

The sound bar has become an extremely popular add-on purchase when shopping for a TV, especially if you don’t want a space-hogging multi-channel surround system. You shouldn’t have to deal with sound so bad it sours your experience with your gorgeous new display.

This 3D sound bar delivers immersive audio without running wires across the room or setting up extra speakers, so you can complete your 3D home entertainment experience with simple, yet powerful surround sound. The  32″ 3D sound bar home theater system features 3D compatibility and can also be turned into your entertainment hub by utilizing its 3 HDMI video outputs. The downfall is the wired subwoofer limits how far you can place it from the sound bar.

With easy setup and great sound, this is an excellent gift for under $200.

Energy Take Classic 5.1

Average Price: $299

Category: Home Theater / Surround Sound

If you are looking for home theater speakers, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 will leave you pleased with your listening experience.  The collection of high-tech components: satellites, subwoofer, and a center channel. Displayed in high-gloss black cabinets, this system looks as good as it sounds. The 200-watt, 8″ subwoofer provides pounding bass while four satellites and a center channel bring an expansive sound stage to the comfort of your home.

Altogether, the system is one of the best home theater values available.

Sony STR-DN1030 Receiver

Average Price: $449-498

Category: Home Theater / AV Receiver

Sony may not be the first brand you think of in connection with audio/video receivers, but that may be about to change with the STR-DN1030. This receiver is a wireless triple threat with Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity. And all of that is dongle-free.

Wired connectivity includes five HDMI inputs and one output, all on the back panel. There’s also an HD-capable component video output along with two component ins. Composite video switching is limited to two ins and two outs, and there are no S-video jacks. This should be enough to support an average system unless you’re loaded with legacy components. There is a wired Ethernet connection in addition to the built-in Wi-Fi antenna. And if you prefer to connect your iPhone or iPod to the front-panel USB jack.

The STR-DN1030 shows that the company can still make a great AV receiver. It may be slightly behind the Onkyo TX-NR616 in overall value, but it’s a better choice if you want more features built-in.