The silly season is well and truly upon us again and with it comes the challenge of selecting a suitable gift for tech-loving friends and family. The options are a little overwhelming, but Gizmag's editorial team has sifted through 2014's most innovative and, in some cases, odd product offerings in an effort to help.
The standing desk was a product that really seemed to find its feet in 2014. With people becoming more aware of the dangers of sitting for extended periods, we saw a number of standing desks aimed at getting desk-bound workers to their feet. While the UpStanding Desk and ZestDesk are easy options for those wanting to convert an existing desk to standing height, and the Hamster Wheel Standing Desk looked like the healthiest option, our two favorites are the StandDesk, which converts from sitting to standing modes at the push of a button and is priced from US$399, and the Varidesk, which provides a very practical standing or sitting workspace for $350.
Much more than the time
The number of smartwatches on the market turned from trickle to flood in 2014, with an accompanying leap in quality and functionality. Apple's foray into the wearables market won't hit wrists until next year and we've already looked in detail at some of the best smartwatches on offer, but for a combination of software, style, battery life and price, we're giving the LG G Watch R the nod as the top smartwatch of 2014 in a close run race.
The LG G Watch R costs $300.
I'm being followed by a drone shadowSince Parrot's original
The Iris+ from 3D Robotics also boasted this capability, but went one better with the ability to autonomously follow a GPS-enabled Android device on the ground. Appropriately, the Iris+ itself followed drones offering similar capabilities, such as the AirDog and Hexo+, but both of these are the subject of (very) successful crowdfunding campaigns and won't be landing under the tree in time for Christmas.
The Iris+, on the other hand, is available now from US$750.
Nothing to lose
The Tile is one of several object tracking systems to emerge over the past 12 months, all with the goal of ensuring you don't lose your stuff. The 37 x 37 x 5.3 mm Tile can be placed in your bag, attached to your keyring or stuck to your laptop or remote control so if any of these items disappear, you can track their location using a smartphone app or trigger an audible alert so that you don't have to pull all the cushions off the sofa. The system also recruits other Tile app users to help with the search when the missing object is beyond Bluetooth range.
Four Tiles cost US$70 and the device is also being incorporated into products like umbrellas in an effort to make them unforgettable.
Not a drop too much
We've only just begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities offered by the Internet of Things, but already we're seeing some very practical (as well as not so practical) examples of cloud-connected everyday objects around the home. One of our favorites to surface this year is the The Droplet, a smart sprinkler that can be programmed to selectively water your plants (i.e. not the driveway, the lawn or the wall of the garage). It draws on weather data and transpiration rates for different plants to further streamline the process and also tracks its own water consumption.
The Droplet is available for US$299.99.
A slot of racing
There's nothing like a toy that appeals to all generations to get a family playing together on Christmas day. One product that should fit the bill, at least for boys, dads and granddads, is a slot car racing set. Scalextric has been producing such sets since the 1950s and in 2014 brought a modern twist to the ever-popular toy with the introduction of the ARC (App Race Control) One system (known as the Race Control System when we previewed it in January). This added a digital powerbase that slotted onto the track and connected to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, allowing racers to change race settings and view live race stats and info on-screen using a companion app. The app's ability to track things such as top speeds, lap times and the leader-board, should mean fewer family arguments on Christmas day. Then again, maybe not.
The ARC One System retails for £99.99 (US$156), while the Powerbase can also be purchased separately for £39.99 (US$63).
What's better than a blanket fort?
If you're looking for a gift to foster the aspirations of any budding young architects in the family – or want to push them in that direction – then Buildies might provide a good foundation. Coming in a kit consisting of cardboard blocks and connectors, Buildies allow youngsters to "build on" that age-old rite of passage that is blanket fort construction and create something a bit sturdier. And if you're looking to keep some separation between family members that don't get along but are forced under the same roof at Christmas, Buildies can also be used to create a makeshift wall between the offending parties.
Buildies retail for US$125.
Wires may be old hat and diminutive may be de rigueur in the world of consumer electronics, but being both wired and bulky hasn't stopped Blue's Mo-Fi over-ear headphones from making our top 10 list. The Mo-Fi headphones have a built-in 240 mW amplifier and 50 mm fiber-reinforced dynamic drivers which have been custom-tuned to match. There are cables, two of them in fact – a 2 m (6.6 ft) cable for lolling around at home and a shorter cable with inline playback control for iOS devices. The folks at Blue are not kidding when they warn that things might get "like, really loud." Lowering your source device volume before you hit play is not just advised, it's an absolute necessity.
The Mo-Fi headphones are available now US$350.
Escape from temptation
Christmas can be a time of overindulgence, leaving us with an overwhelming feeling of guilt, not to mention getting familiar with some new belt holes after working our way through the inevitable leftovers and remaining candy canes over the following days. If your own will power isn't enough to keep you from gorging on those temptations staring you in the face every time you open the fridge, then the Kitchen Safe could be a worthwhile investment. Basically a plastic container measuring 6.25 x 6.25 x 7.5 in (15.8 x 15.8 x 19 cm) topped with a tamper-proof time lock, the Kitchen Safe allows the tantalizing treats to be safely locked away for as little as a minute or as long as 10 days. And there's no need to limit the device to preventing access to just food, with the threat of locking away a favorite toy or mobile device sure to act as a good deterrent to bad behavior over the holiday season.
The Kitchen Safe was the subject of a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2013, and is now available in a variety of colors for US$49.
A petty plaything
And we can't forget our furry friends, can we? Pet owners looking to put something under the tree for their beloved pet might want to take a look at the Petcube. The device itself is an aluminum cube measuring 4 in3 (10 cm3) that packs a 138-degree wide-angle camera to stream 720p video of your pet over the internet via the home Wi-Fi network. It also includes a built-in microphone and speaker so you can tell Fido to stop chewing those slippers via an app for iOS (7.0 or greater) and Android (4.0 and greater) devices. But the Petcube is more than just a Big Brother for Benji and Boots. Thanks to a built-in laser pointer, which the pet owner, or other approved party, can control via the aforementioned app, they can play with the pet from wherever they may be.
The Petcube is available for US$199
While we've narrowed it down to 10 editor's picks (though not without contention), this list could easily run into triple figures given the mountain of new and interesting gear we've covered this year. What have we missed? Let us know what you'll be wrapping this year in the comments section below.
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