It's pretty hard to come up with a holiday gift guide list, at least as a gadget reviewer who spends most of his time playing with toys for a living.
I feel like I make recommendations all year round, trying to fill you in on the best tablets, smartphones and other gizmos. So, in some ways, I've already told you what's best and what to buy. That said, I take great joy in creating a list that's a bit outside of my wheelhouse, one that includes some of the more fun gadgets and toys that, in some cases, I wish I myself owned.
I see plenty of stuff all year round and unfortunately, as much as I'd like, we can't always cover everything. This is my chance to finally do that – to finally put some pretty darn cool gadgets in the spotlight. Here's my Holiday Gift Guide for 2014. It covers the expensive, the affordable, and some of the in-between.
And Mom, if you're reading this. The electric skateboard. Please.
Money is No Object
Samsung UHD 4K S9V Series Frameless Smart TV
Normally Sean starts off his list with an obscenely priced television, but this year since he "opted to go for one that is far more within the realm of reason for most folks," I decided I'd carry the torch. Sorry Sean, one of us has to splurge.
So, naturally, I picked one of the most expensive TVs I could find, and one that I've gazed upon at some of the electronic shows throughout the year. It's totally ridiculous, reserved for the Donald Trumps of the world. But maybe Donald reads TechnoBuffalo, too, so we have to include this kind of stuff. Right, Mr. Trump?
The Samsung UN85S9V Framless 85-inch TV has, as its name explains, a massive 85-inch display, one that surely wouldn't be able to fit in my apartment. It packs a 4K Ultra HD resolution, its own quad-core processor, Smart TV software, built-in Wi-Fi, an ultra slim form factor, Dolby Digital Plus audio and more.
Sadly, $40,000 doesn't get you more than four HDMI ports, but that's still more than enough for most folks. The major attraction here, for me, is the sheer size and the resolution that's available for that sort of expansive panel. Maybe someday it will come down in price, so for now this is simply a dream for me, but a reality for kings, queens and titans of industry around the globe.
Oh, and did I mention it has free shipping? What a deal!
Gifts Under $2,000
Evolve 2-in-1 Carbon Series Electric Skateboard
I used to kick around on a skateboard more as a kid. Then I got older, a bit lazier, and upgraded to a longboard. Then I got even older and, well, my body just doesn't move as well as it did when I was a teenager on a skateboard.
That's why I have my eye on the Evolve 2-in-1 Carbon Series Electric Skateboard. It lets you swap out the setup so that you can cruise on streets with more standard longboard wheels, or toss on some huge all-terrain wheels for hitting some bumps without worrying about a gnarly face plant.
Sure, it's expensive, but I see this as more of a vehicle than a means for pure recreation. It goes up to 24 miles per hour, is quiet, and has a range of 18 and 20 miles on a single charge. That's much further than I can kick-push myself on a regular skateboard. It's also much less than a Tesla.
Gifts Under $500
Smart Things Smarter Home Starter Kit
There are so many amazing new smart home technologies hitting the market now that it's hard to keep track of them all. The only problem, however, is that with products like Nest, or some of the Bluetooth keylocks and more permanent fixtures out there, is you can't really use them in a home you don't own.
I live in an apartment, for example, and have largely missed out on the smart home opportunities because I can't just put a hole in the wall or swap out my door's lock. Thankfully, there are awesome products like the Smart Things Smarter Home Starter Kit.
The Smarter Home Starter Kit includes everything you need to get started with a smart home set-up, and none of it is intrusive. It includes the SmartThings Hub, which is the brains of the operation that connects wirelessly to your smartphone, an open/close sensor that lets you know when a window or door is opened, a presence sensor for keeping track of movement of a pet or another family member, a motion sensor and a single smart power outlet – so you can turn on the lights before you get home.
You can always add to the Home Starter Kit with additional purchases, but this sounds like a pretty awesome setup.
2014 Mac Mini
Apple introduced a brand new 2014 Mac Mini in October, finally refreshing the most affordable Mac in its family. It packs fourth generation Intel Core processors, 802.11 ac Wi-Fi, improved Intel Iris graphics and two Thunderbolt 2 ports. Most importantly, however, Apple actually dropped the price of the Mac Mini down to $499, which is pretty incredible considering that entry-level model ships with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and more.
For anyone who wants to take full advantage of OS X Yosemite, particularly its new Continuity and Handoff features with iOS devices, the Mac Mini is an amazing entry-level device into the whole ecosystem. I'm still considering pulling the trigger on this one, but maybe old Saint Nick will bring me one over the holidays.
Gifts Under $250
Seek Thermal for iOS or Android
I recently met with the CEO of Seek Thermal, a company that's doing some amazing work with consumer-based thermal imaging products. The firm just released a product under the same name, Seek Thermal, that works with either Android or iOS devices. Basically, you can use it to view real-time thermal images of the world around you. That means, using the small adapter for your iPhone or Android device, you can scan the woods around you for bears or other objects that emit heat, like a lingering campfire. It also means you can scan your walls to make sure that pipes are performing properly and that hot water isn't leaking somewhere. It's truly incredible.
The Seek Thermal is an amazing little gadget that, at $199, seems like something out of a spy movie. There are tons of other things you can do with it, too, like measure temperatures of various surfaces – perfect for checking what might be a hot stove – and more.
Herschel Little America Backpack
I'm always looking for new laptop bags and, unfortunately, a lot of them are clunky and ugly looking.
Fellow TechnoBuffalo editor Brandon Russell introduced me to Herschel two years ago and, since then, I haven't looked back. They're comfortable and lightweight bags that also look pretty cool thanks to unique patterns on the inside and stylish touches on the outer surface. I have my eye on the Herschel Little America Backpack next – it's pretty affordable at $89.99 and comes in 34 different color schemes.
It sports a fully padded 15-inch laptop sleeve, an internal media pocket for holding extra gadgets, ventilated back padding, a cinch top closure and more. Plus, I kind of dig those leather straps running down the edges. If you don't like that look, check out Hershel's other bags – I definitely recommend the brand.
Gifts Under $50
The problem with most of the fitness trackers I've used is, honestly, most of them all do the same thing. At the end of the day, you're keeping track of how many steps you've taken, though really it's more of an electronic educated guess than a reality, and then translating that into how many calories you've burned. Until some real hardcore fitness trackers hit the market, you probably shouldn't drop a ton of dough on these gadgets.
That's why I like the Misfit Flash. It's simple and to the point: a $49.99 wearable that measures your steps and sleep and syncs with your smartphone.
It's also waterproof and offers 6 months of battery life, more than you can say for almost all other fitness trackers out there, most of which cost two to three times as much as the Misfit Flash. Better yet, it works with Android and iOS, with Windows Phone support coming soon, and is available in several colors.
Anker A7908 Portable Bluetooth 4.0 Speaker
Bluetooth speakers are awesome and it's high time to own one if you don't already.
I keep them around my house, near my kitchen, in the bathroom and even one in my backpack that makes its way with me wherever I go on the weekends. I've long been a fan of the Anker brand, the company makes great external batteries, and I'm intrigued by its A7908 Portable Bluetooth speaker.
It promises up to 20 hours of battery life, more than enough juice for a day at the beach, has a range of up to 33-feet, and supports both Bluetooth 2.1+ and non-Bluetooth devices thanks to a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack. Best of all, it's affordable at just $50, and small, measuring just 3.2 x 3.2 x 2.4 inches.