As the holidays roll around, or birthdays, or anniversaries (or any excuse to spend some money, really), many techies look to buy the best presents for their loved ones. As techies, we know just what to get—we know what works, what doesn’t, what’s advertised versus what’s to be expected, and what it will take to make a good tech gift run correctly. When I buy something tech-oriented for a friend or family member, I always allot a little time to make sure they can get the thing up and running, and I try to make sure that I know what it takes to get something up and running, which is why I don’t buy people Fibre-channel SAN servers as presents. You settle in, you create a budget, and you go out looking for the best tech gifts you can afford within that budget.
B&H is a great place to start. There’s a boatload of tech gifts available for almost every person out there, from grandma to your colleagues at work to your significant other. And for around $200, we’ve picked out some real winners that you should consider.
Does Your Wi-Fi Fly?
You know what makes a great tech gift? Something that brings some long-lasting value to the table, something that will increase productivity while still being functional and fun. You know how geeky I am? I think a router fills that bill, that’s how geeky. Routers are a great gift for someone who always says, “You know what I need? A home network, and someone who can show me how to use it,” or “My router is so old I think I get UHF on it.” When looking at routers, the ASUS RT-AC86U will show up on a lot of “best of” lists, even though it is more than a year old. What makes this a top pick? It’s an 802.11ac-capable dual-band router with five Ethernet ports and both a USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 port. It’s three-antenna setup makes for great reach and it includes five Ethernet ports. But it is simply one of the best routers I’ve ever tested, with stable throughput speeds and stable connectivity. Even the updated (and more expensive) ASUS RT-AC3200 Tri-Band router doesn’t match up to this. Router as a gift? This is the one.
There are tablets, and there are tablets. Doesn’t sound very technical, I know, but the point is, if you’re looking to keep it under $200, you’re going to have to settle. A tablet like an Apple iPad Air or a Microsoft Surface is going to set you back a lot more than two Benjamins, but you get more tablet for the price. Or do you? Consider the Lenovo Tab 2 A10. It has a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, a 10.1" IPS Full HD display with native 1920 x 1200 resolution, and 16GB of onboard storage. Thankfully, it has a microSDXC slot so you can add up to 64GB of additional storage. This tablet is a great first tablet for non-techies, with a powerful enough CPU to handle basic tasks like email, Web searching, and movie watching. Playing light games or working Android apps (it runs KitKat 4.4) is also smooth and glitch free for the most part (individual experiences may vary). It’s one of the best-rated sub-$200 tablets around, and is sure to be enjoyed by all who receive one as a gift (including me—hint, hint).
You usually don’t think about security or surveillance products as gifts, but you probably know someone who wants to feel a little more secure at home, in their dorm room, or at work. The D-Link Wireless Day/Night Home Network Camera is a great start, and it’s also a two-pack, so you can cover a lot more area. With a 1/5" CMOS sensor, built-in infrared and 4 IR LEDs for night vision, these cameras can be used for day or night surveillance. They also connect via your home or business network, and you can monitor via the Web or Android/iOS device. It also includes a built-in PIR (passive infrared) motion detector, so you only catch triggered events. The resolution is pretty good for cameras at this price, 640 x 480 at 30 fps, and the camera has a 3.15mm fixed lens with a 4x digital zoom. You can record directly to your NAS device, or to microSD cards (not included). Is this the most appropriate gift for someone you met two days ago? Probably not. But will it be welcomed by your family if you’re away on long business trips? Definitely.
In the Stream of Things
Another thoughtful gift for a non-tech friend or relative (okay, this one can be given to someone you met two days ago) is a streaming media device. Everyone loves the convenience of watching streaming movies or listening to streaming music from their laptop or tablet, but a dedicated streaming device hooked up to an HDTV is the real deal; you get so much more in a media player than you would with watching this on a small screen. The new Roku 4 Streaming Player is one of the best, and one of the priciest, but for good reason. First of all, you get to choose from Roku’s vast and growing library of streaming channels, with the ability to customize channels to your tastes (want only BBC programming? Cheerio, mate, you’ve got it). This new box is also one of the first to support 4K-resolution content via HDMI, so if you’re fortunate enough to have a 4K HDTV and 4K content, you’re in luck. It also supports voice search and motion control, along with tablet and smartphone mirroring. With its built in quad-core processor and USB 3.0 port and microSD card slot for expansion options, and the ability to connect in dorm or hotel rooms, this is the best gift for the cinephile in your home.
Ears to You, Gamers
Cheap gaming headsets are everywhere. You can pick up gaming headsets at your local grocery chain now, but just because you saved a couple of bucks doesn’t mean your experience will be the same as if you went primo. This headset is primo. Sennheiser, long known for its audio prowess, decided to get into the gaming arena, and went full force. The G4ME Zero closed-design headsets just squeak in under the $200 mark, but they’re worth every penny. It’s not just the quality build, with leatherette memory-foam ear pads, custom-made painted steel ear cup grids or noise-canceling microphone, it’s about the engineering and technology that went into these. These feature Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement technology, which was developed at Sennheiser’s labs in Germany, and basically they keep every footstep, trigger click, and panting enemy so crystal clear they will sound as if they are happening right next to you by channeling signals directly into your ear. The memory foam, which is shaped larger at the base, ensures that your ears are completely enveloped, keeping any ambient noise away from your game. I’ve used a pair for review, and have never forgotten the experience. Have a gamer on your holiday list? This is the one item they will thank you for.
Game of Drones
Everyone wants into the drone game this year. They look like a lot of fun, they run from fairly affordable to ridiculously expensive, and if you’ve got the filmmaking bug, they’ll enhance your skills. But where to start when looking for an affordable drone? For under $200, there’s not a great deal. We like the Blade 180 QX HD Quadcopter. It comes with a 720p HD Flight Camera, includes a pre-bound transmitter and has a 5-10 minute flight time. While not the best in class, for this price this is a fairly popular model. As with any drone, this one has a definite learning curve, so only gift this to someone responsible enough (and patient enough) to handle it. Thankfully, it has pre-set flight modes that serve the beginner, intermediate, and expert pilot. It will even let you know when the battery is running out in-flight so you can land your drone safely.
Do You Hear an Echo?
We’re getting so used to communicating with our devices that now we want voice activation on all of our smart appliances. But with that great power comes great responsibility, and a smart device can only be as smart as you tell it to be. Say hello to the Amazon Echo, a smart device that can inform you of sport scores, breaking news, traffic reports and more. Want to hear your favorite playlist? Ask Alexa (the voice behind the Echo). Alexa and the Echo can also set alarms for you, read your audible collection to you, or access your Google calendar. You would do all these things as you get ready each morning, except you would do them on your laptop, PC, or smartphone. The Echo merely combines all of those things into one portal. It may seem gimmicky, but in practice, this thing kind of rocks. It’s a great gift for your parents, who will “ooh” and “aaahhh” and then probably be too afraid to speak out loud in the kitchen again, for fear of Alexa addressing them. No worries—this is not an invasive device. It is one that learns as you progress, though, so it picks up on your voice cadence and speech patterns and responds accordingly and with increasing accuracy. This is the tech gift to get someone who you want to impress with your tech prowess.
Chrome Is Where the Heart Is
Chromebooks are the rage right now; you know how you can tell? Because they are slowly moving out of the comfort zone of affordability and creeping into higher-end devices (like the very expensive Chromebook Pixel C). Fear not—there are Chromebooks for less than $200 still available. They may not be the highest-powered laptops around, but they do their best with the tools they have. Take, for instance, the C201PA-DS01 11.6" Chromebook from ASUS. The 1.8GHz ARM-Cortex A17 quad core processor is probably on par with the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 we mentioned earlier, and the resolution on this is mid-range (HD 1366 x 768 resolution), but it does perform the functions of a Chromebook well. At this price, you still get a solid 11.6" notebook, with expandable storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Chrome OS. Great for younger non-techies who want something to ease them into the big wide world of laptops, this is the perfect starter Chromebook.
Another great gift for non-techies that they didn’t know they needed is a long-term storage device. Without having to explain NAS servers to them (you could always point them to this article), you should gently remind them that everyone needs reliable storage. Then throw the word “cloud” in there to really impress them. The WD 4TB My Cloud Personal Storage drive is both of those things: a long-term storage device that will give you your own cloud storage. You can access this device from anywhere with an Internet connection, and even manage and download from your smartphone or mobile device. It has a dual-core processor and one Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 port so you can connect and expand. Store all of your movies and music here, and then watch from your tablet, laptop, or phone. It’s simple to set up and easy to maintain, so you can gift this, unbox it, and have it running before the turkey is finished. And it’s a good way to keep data safe, which your recipient will surely appreciate.
Just My Typist
So, someone with more disposable income than you got your intended a nice, expensive iPad mini this holiday. Doesn’t mean you can’t horn in on the action with this great accessory. The ClamCase Pro for iPad mini & iPad mini with Retina Display is a Bluetooth keyboard and case in one with a polycarbonate shell and aluminum enclosure, so it looks just as Apple-esque as the iPad mini. It also functions like the aesthetically pleasing Surface, with a 360-degree hinge that allows you to flip the keyboard all the way back behind the mini. Auto wake and sleep functions will help you to keep the iPad mini battery in check, and you’ll get months of use out of the rechargeable base. It’s a full QWERTY keyboard with island-style keys, so you can eke out just as much productivity as you do fun with your device. It’s a great accessory gift for a mini owner.
So there you have it; ten gifts for less than $200 that prove two things—you know a good bargain when you see one, and you’re tech enough to impress your non-techie friends and relatives. Gifts on this list are subject to change in price, so grab them as soon as you can, and hope that someone out there is looking for the ultimate techie gift for you.