Gadgets and electronics have become such a huge part of our lives that it's hard to imagine a Christmas morning in any family where they aren't included in the pile of gifts under the tree. Every year the envelope gets pushed further as more features and power are packed in. This has also led to an explosion of apps, making phones and tablets even more powerful.Steve Jobs passed away this year, and the emotional reaction from millions of people indicates his ability to create gadgets that impacted our lives by entertaining us and making us more productive. The iPhone remains the ultimate gadget, and Apple delivered another hit with the iPhone 4S. Many were hoping for a big leap forward with the iPhone 5, but Jobs tabled that effort and instead focused in the 4S which offered significant improvements to the iPhone 4. It was a good decision as Jeff Morgan explained. The camera has been upgraded and Siri has become a sensation. Also, the new iCloud service syncs your contacts, photos and more automatically. Take a picture on your iPhone, and minutes later you can access it from your computer without connecting your phone. It's all available in the cloud.
Apple products are obvious choices so we're not uncovering hidden gems here, but at this time you just can't go wrong with these products. A number of companies tried to join the tablet revolution this past year but most of them stumbled badly. With his death and the subsequent book by Walter Isaacson, we're learning more about Steve Jobs's attention to detail and his obsession with integrating hardware and software. For that reason, most of the other tablets fell flat as other tech companies just couldn't match the user experience offered by the iPad.That said, the iPad is expensive, so you can look at other tablets if you're on a budget. The Kindle Fire from Amazon has generated a ton of buzz and it sells for only $199. You get access to the Amazon store so it's very convenient and it's on the Android platform so you know that there will be hundreds of apps available. Yet the reviews have been mixed and it might be worth waiting for the 2.0 version. The prices on tablets should plummet for years to come so it doesn't make much sense to spend more than $200 unless you're going with the iPad. On-the-go juice for your electronics is crucial these days, but different circumstances require different types of portable power. The Portable Charging Station from AViiQ makes it possible to charge up to four USB devices at once using a single wall outlet. Just plug the 15w wall charger in, then plug your phones and tablets into the 3+1 USB charging hub and bask in the simplicity. The station comes in a handy zip-up nylon bag so you can keep all of your cords in one spot to ensure you have all the on-the-go power you need when you leave home. And with one slot in the USB charging hub reserved for power synching, the AViiQ Portable Charging Station is the busy traveler's best friend. But what if you're in need of a charge and you don't have access to an outlet? The goBAT from Scosche is a 5000mAh li-ion rechargeable battery that can charge two USB devices at once. Simply ensure that your goBAT is fully charged before leaving the house, then plug in your smartphone, tablet and/or MP3 player for truly portable power. The goBAT is capable of charging a standard device two to three times on a full charge, but will only charge an iPad up to 55% before running out of juice. Still, this sleek portable charger would be a must on long trips when power may be hard to come by.. Who knew setting up a wireless HiFi music system could be so easy and affordable? Granted, the Sonos Play:3 and Play:5 aren't exactly cheap, but it's money very well spent for those looking to make their entire music collection accessible from anywhere in the house. In about 15 minutes of set-up time, your Play:3 or Play:5 will be cranking tunes from your computer, Pandora, Spotify Premium, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, Rhapsody and countless other services. You can also stream live radio from all over the world, set up custom Sonos playlists, and access your existing playlists from iTunes, Spotify and others. To top it all off, your Sonos system can be controlled from a PC or Mac using the Sonos Desktop Controller, from your smartphone or tablet with the free app, or with the optional dedicated Sonos Controller. And expansion is as simple as adding another Play:3 or Play:5 to your system, allowing you to play different music in different rooms, all with the same controller. Best of all, the speakers sound great with true room-filling sound and impressive acoustics. No wonder we instantly fell in love with the Sonos Play:3. You'll be amazed when you plug this tiny gadget into your MP3 player or phone and turn on some music. Of all the gadgets we've tested recently, the WOWee ONE Slim Portable Speaker is one of our favorites. It's about the size of a deck of cards and easily plugs into any device with an audio jack. All of a sudden you can have a party. The WOWee turns flat, solid surfaces like tables, counters, bumpers, hoods and truck beds into bass-filled sound systems using patented gel technology. The sound changes depending on the type of surface and you can really feel the base on some surfaces. It's perfect for events like tailgates as it provides about 10 hours of tunes and can turn your grill/cooler/hood into a high-end sound system for the whole parking lot. It's also great for impromptu parties as it can fit in your pocket, computer bag or glove compartment. Take it on a trip and have parties in your hotel room or by the pool. The possibilities are endless and kids will love it as well. It seems like everyone listens to music alone these days with their headphones, so the WOWee makes it easier for everyone to share and enjoy music. A compact speaker and charging dock for the iPod, iPhone and iPad, the Soma Stand from XtremeMac packs quite an impressive punch. When not in use, the Soma Stand folds up for easy storage and portability, but with three quick steps, your favorite piece of Apple hardware will be charging while pumping your music through the dual ported speaker legs for a genuine stereo sound. The Soma Stand can be plugged into a wall or, for truly portable use, slide four AA batteries in for up to six hours of playback. We love the sound this little thing produces, and we also love the auxiliary-in jack so non-Apple users (is there such a thing these days?) can plug in their MP3 players and join the party. Some may prefer a wireless option but the ability to grab a quick charge while listening to some music is pretty handy. Wireless is all the rage, and for good reason, but if you don't want to plunk down the money for something like the Sonos Play:3 or Play:5, XtremeMac offers an easy way to turn your existing stereo into a Bluetooth system. Simply plug the InCharge Home BT into the wall, connect it to your stereo using the included 3.5mm cable, and pair it with your iPod, iPhone or iPad device. Done. You can also use the InCharge Home BT to charge your iOS device using the included USB cable, a useful add-on that makes this an even cooler gift to give or receive. Just be sure the stereo that you're planning on using the InCharge Home BT with has an auxiliary jack. XtremeMac also offers the InCharge Auto BT for use in your car. It's amazing how good cameras are getting these days, and now they capture incredible video in HD as well. This Canon is smaller and lighter than their professional models but has all of the features most shooters would need along with an 18-megapixel CMOS senor. It's also great if you're into video as it takes full-size 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. It's also compatible with all of Canon's lenses, so the days of needed a heavy duty camera along with a separate camcorder are over. It's listed at a reasonable $899 but you can find it for less so keep it in mind for the creative person on your list. This line of notebooks is built to deliver great sound with Beats Audio™. HP partnered with Dr. Dre to create a superior audio system featuring a redesigned headphone jack to reduce ground noise, a discrete amplifier for more power, a dedicated audio Island to minimize fan noise interference and a Function + B to engage Beats Audio. The laptops also have aggressive styling with a brushed aluminum cover, soft-touch surfaces, and a red backlit keyboard and they are powered with the Intel® Core™ i5 processor2 with Turbo Boost Technology6. It's amazing how useful a thin piece of plastic can be. Actually, the AViiQ Portable Laptop Stand is made of Hylite, a German-made material comprised of sheets of aluminum bonded to a polypropylene (plastic) core. It may sound complicated but this laptop stand is beautifully simplistic. When in use, it improves visibility and reduces screen glare while reducing strain on your wrists and elbows and improving airflow underneath your laptop by propping the computer up at an ideal angle. Spend two minutes with the stand and you'll wonder how you ever used your laptop without one. When you're done with the stand, simply fold it up and slide it into your bag for instant portability. At less than 1/4" thick, 12 3/4" long and 2 3/4" wide when folded and weighing only 5.5 ounces, the AViiQ Portable Laptop Stand will easily fit into most bags, which sets it apart from its much bulkier competitors. And in case you're worried about its durability, you'll probably be as surprised as we were by how sturdy and yet somehow flexible this stand is. It's no wonder it was a 2010 International CES Innovations award winner. Let's face it -- typing anything longer than a quick email on your iPad or iPhone can be a hassle. That's when you pull this Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard out of its carrying case, unfold the unit and get to work. Perfect for students and regular travelers looking to turn their tablet or phone into a temporary work station, the keyboard pairs easily via bluetooth with a range of up to 30 feet. And when you're done, fold the keyboard up, slide it back into its case and tuck it away in your bag until you need it again. The button configuration is admittedly a little awkward in certain areas to accommodate the unit's foldability, but it doesn't take long to get used to. And as a nice little bonus, the keyboard features a "home" button, which works just like the "home" button on your iPad or iPhone, and the media console allows you to control your device's music library with an array of buttons along the left side of the unit. There is no shortage of iPad 2 cases on the market these days, but the booqpad is the first to come with a notepad and space to store a stylus, pen, business cards and other small items. This folio-style case from booq is a solid everyday solution for business types looking to combine today's top technology with the old school convenience of pen and paper, and its symmetrical design makes it accessible for both left- and right-handed users. Available in leather with five interior/exterior color combinations to fit just about anybody's tastes, the stylish booqpad also provides in-case access to all of the iPad's buttons and ports and can be snapped shut for easy portability. E-readers have become very popular so you ought to consider one for many people on your shopping list. As we mentioned above, the Kindle Fire is very inexpensive for a tablet at $199 but you might want to wait for the 2.0 version as they improve the device. But if you're looking for a simple e-reader as opposed to a tablet computer, you can't go wrong with the less expensive Kindles. The Nook is a solid e-reader as well, but with the Kindle Fire, Amazon has demonstrated it's going to be aggressive in the tablet area as well. Over time you know that the Amazon ecosystem will always be there and will continue to expand. Amazon seems committed to take on Apple so you can always add one of their tablets later and it will sync perfectly with the simpler Kindle. There are so many different headphones on the market these days – especially when every rapper who's ever had a hit single has to have his own line – that it's hard to tell one from the other, but V-MODA has been in the game long enough that you can feel safe knowing you're investing in a quality product. Though they may not be as stylish as some of the other premium headphones, the Crossfade M-80 has a streamlined look, with military-level durability and the option to custom engrave the metal shields on either earcup. They're also extremely comfortable thanks to an ergonomic steelflex headband that bends and twists to your every demand, as well as some really soft ear cushions that allow for long sessions without any of the usual discomfort. We're hardly experts when it comes to sound quality, but the M-80 delivers a satisfying and robust listening experience that makes its price tag a little easier to swallow for audiophiles who refuse to compromise quality just to save a few bucks. Anyone who's ever used email to migrate files from one computer to another will love the iTwin USB device. Looking like a double-sided flash drive, the iTwin is a revolutionary product that allows you to upload, access and edit your local files from any internet-connected computer on the planet. Simply plug one end of the iTwin into your home computer, drag and drop the files you want to make remotely available, synch the device, and then take one end of the iTwin with you, leaving the other end plugged into your home computer. When it comes time to access your files, just plug the remote half of your iTwin into another internet-connected computer and get to work. Compatible with (and between) both PCs and Macs, the iTwin has no capacity limit, which gives it a huge advantage over standard flash drives, and the device provides AES-256 encryption for secure access along with a remote disabling feature for added protection. Installation is simple, and the iTwin also can be used to remotely backup information from one computer onto another. We wish it came with caps for the USB plugs, but that's about the only quibble we have with this cool little gadget. We've all had power strips that either don't fit in the space we have available or don't offer enough room to plug in your various charger, adapters and cords. Quirky's Pivot Power solves both problems by giving you a way to plug large adapters into each of its six outlets while also offering the ability to pivot around furniture and into hard-to-reach places. The Pivot Power offers 672 Joules of surge protection and boasts a convenient six-foot power cord, which makes it darn near impossible to find a place that the Pivot Power can't reach and adapt to.
For more gadget gift ideas, check out our Going Geek Back to School Gadget Guide from Jeff Morgan.