Have you noticed how Christmas slowly infiltrates your consciousness at this time of year? First there’s the TV adverts; just one or two initially, and then, a couple of weeks later, they’re all Christmas adverts. Plastic Christmas trees start going up in offices and shops; everyday food products come wrapped in unusual festive variants of their normal packaging; family members start rummaging in the loft for the ‘decorations box’ and then thoughts start to turn to gift ideas…
For tech and gadget lovers, Christmas is pretty interesting as this is the time of year when a lot of eagerly-awaited new products come to the market. As a result, buying for tech and gadget lovers is not really very difficult – there’s always a new blockbuster computer game, console, tablet or smartphone model out there which seduces the shopper with its shiny promise of something so much more exciting than the previous model.
Sometimes however, we’re simply buying the same thing as before – albeit with some slight minor update in hardware which many users are not even really likely to notice much benefit from. So, this year, I’m producing a gift guide for gadget lovers which avoids the most obvious product categories and instead focuses on items which are a bit more unusual, unexpected, and hopefully, more likely to genuinely inspire, surprise, and delight the receiver. Read on to find out more…
For the creative budding engineer, DIY enthusiast, or programmer
For people who like to get creative and actually make things, there are some great little devices out there designed to stimulate learning about technology, computing and engineering which can be used to fashion all kinds of custom gadgets and toys. Two very accessible and cheap starters are the Raspberry Pi and Arduino board.
1. Raspberry Pi
A British-designed, credit-card sized computer for £30 which can be used to teach children programming, build media stations for your television, control household appliances, make custom GPS systems and about a thousand other things. The Raspberry Pi is a major achievement of computer engineering, granting huge versatility at a ridiculously low price, which encourages a creative approach to technology rather than a more simply passive one – ideal for people who like to know how things work.
Another little marvel, this time even cheaper at around £20 – an Arduino board is another versatile delight with many possible applications. Most people use Arduinos as an interface between analogue sensors and digital devices. Possible applications are numerous (check this list for over a hundred interesting examples) but my personal favourite is connecting a noise sensor to the Arduino and then programming it to automatically turn on a music player when the noise sensor picks up excessive volumes.
The point? Well, when neighbours get noisy with their music, this gadget automatically blasts loud music back at them…
For the fitness enthusiast
The major advance in terms of fitness gadgets in the past year has been in wearable technology which collects data about your body and delivers it directly to your smartphone. So, whether you’re looking to lose weight, improve your sleeping, get fitter – or are even just simply curious to learn more about how your body works, there is a great range of toys out there for you. Here are two personal favourites:
A comfortable and wearable wristband that collects data about your sleeping patterns (with an intelligent alarm that wakes you up at optimal point in your sleep cycle), activity levels (with inbuilt pedometer), calorie intake and mood tracker. Simply plug into your iPhone or Android device to then display all of this data in a clear and effective manner with the Up dedicated iOS/Android app. There are a number of these kinds of wristbands available out there but the Up band is in my view the best in terms of functionality and value-for-money.
The Wahoo Heart Rate Monitor is a comfortable and easily wearable real-time heart rate and calorie monitor which can be massively beneficial for any athlete trying to improve on their performance in a systematic, data-led manner. The major advantage of the Wahoo monitor is that it integrates with all third party leading sports and fitness apps so that you can simply input this extra data into the apps you already use (the downside is that it is iOS only).
For the photographer, video blogger, or filmmaker
This is an area where people really are very spoiled for choice when it comes to interesting and affordable gadgets that allow users to produce content of a quality that couldn’t have been dreamed of only a few years ago. Top picks include:
Shoot stunning quality HD footage from these ultra-lightweight and very portable cameras starting from under £200. The selling point of the GoPro is the sheer range of amazing accessories which mean that you can attach the camera to a flying mini helicopter, your ski helmet, skateboard wheel, the end of your surfboard or a hundred other places which enable the production of some amazing shots – all available to the hobbyist because of the GoPro’s affordability and ease-of-use.
There are loads of great iPhone accessories out there which enable you to take some seriously cool photos. The Olloclip is one of the best, offering a clip-on 4-way lens (combining a fish-eye, wide-angle, and 2 macro lenses all rolled into one). Moreover, it’s robust and stylish meaning that it’s the perfect all rounder for expanding the camera functionality of an iPhone.
Another cracking smartphone accessory – the Sony Smart Lens is basically an attachable lens which clips onto a smartphone to offer a massively expanded photo and video functionality that goes way beyond what a smartphone can normally do. In fact, the smart lens doesn’t even need to be clipped into the smartphone to work – it can be placed nearby and controlled wirelessly from the smartphone.
Two excellent smartphone accessories that allow you to shoot high-quality 360-degree video and images. The dot is the smaller of the two devices but is iPhone only (while the BubblePix is more widely compatible).
For the Gardening enthusiast
This last one is quite fun – a plant sensor from Koubachi which goes into your flowerpots and provides up to date humidity and soil data to your smartphone, informing you when to water and nourish your plants so that they stay healthy and happy!
That’s all for now – feel free to share your own suggestions and discoveries below!