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While others dream of sugarplums, here are a dozen gadgets that the true geek is hoping to see under the Christmas tree this year
A dozen techno-toys and devices to wish for
Christmas and the other winter holidays are fast approaching, and shorter days have geeks across the world dreaming even more about techno-toys. In the spirit of spreading holiday cheer of the gadget variety, InfoWorld.com presents its 12 picks for the coolest gadgets for Christmas 2012 for that special geek in your life.
Our guide includes a few "crown jewel" items that may already be on your list or already in your loved one's possession. The rest are gifts you won't likely find at a Best Buy, so you know they're special.
Apple iPad Mini
Although long-rumored, the Apple iPad Mini is the surprise of the year, with far superior entertainment capabilities compared to a Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, or Nook HD; plus, it works extremely well as a "regular" tablet. We recommend you get at a model with at least 32GB of storage.
Product: Apple iPad Mini
Price: $329 to $659, depending on capacity and cellular options
Suggested accessory: iPad Mini Smart Cover ($39)
Leap Motion Leap
We're taking, er, a leap of faith here, but the Leap's concept is simply too geeky cool to not give it a shot. The Leap is a USB-connected small box that lets you use hand motions to control your OS X, Windows 7, or Windows 8 computer. Essentially, it watches your hand, finger, and pen movements anywhere in a 8-cubic-foot space and interprets them as commands. (App developers define what the gestures mean, and the company expects to see uses such as 3D manipulation for games, modeling, and industrial control systems). If you're intrigued by the "Star Trek" holosuite or "Minority Report" consoles, you simply gotta try this.
Product: Leap Motion Leap
Price: $70 (ships in early 2013)
New Potato Technologies TuneLink Home
The Apple TV is great for streaming audio and video, but only from Apple devices. DLNA-compatible Android streaming is likewise proprietary. New Potato Technologies' TuneLink Home takes Bluetooth audio streams from both iOS and Android, even auto-connecting multiple devices. But avoid the car version -- it's unreliable.
Plus, the integrated IR blaster lets its companion remote-control app for iOS manage other entertainment devices, such as DVD players -- if you can get get a good line of sight to your devices and still have the included patch or optical cable reach your stereo.
Product: New Potato Technologies TuneLink Home
Price: $100, with free iOS app; Android app planned
At the office, in a bedroom, in the park, on a picnic, or even at a campsite, it's nice to have music playing. But you want a small, portable, and rechargeable option that emits good audio quality and lets you take music from your and your friends' mobile devices. The iDM8 fits the bill, in a cool-looking red or black sphere. It supports Bluetooth audio streaming, as well as standard line-in cables, for playback from iOS, Android, and other mobile devices. You can even charge it from your computer via its MicroUSB cable.
Product: iHome iDM8
Really Simple Software Simple.TV
More and more of us are ditching high-priced cable and satellite TV services for Internet-based services such as iTunes, Amazon.com, Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu Plus. But the truth is you typically lose consistent access to the major networks' shows as a result. If that's your dilemma, consider the Simple.TV, a TV tuner that sends the local broadcast stations' signals (as well as unencrypted ClearQAM HDTV signals) to your computer, tablet, smartphone, or other screen over the network. Attach a hard drive, and you have a videorecorder for delayed viewing. The optional Premier service also allows remote viewing when on the go.
Product: Really Simple Software Simple.TV
Price: $199 to $299, depending on service options
Samsung Galaxy Camera
Smartphones and tablets are quickly becoming cameras, but sometimes you need a real camera with a real lens. Samsung has released the Galaxy Camera to satisfy that need. This isn't an Android smartphone with a decent lens -- it's a pro-level camera that has a photo-retouching app and responds to voice commands such as "zoom in." You can share photos through Samsung's sharing service via Wi-Fi or cellular (AT&T provides offers a data plan for it in the United States), or you can send photos directly to other people whose mobile devices support the Wi-Fi Direct protocol. Oh, and the Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" OS runs your Android apps.
Product: Samsung Galaxy Camera
Veho Muvi HD NPNG Special Edition
Video cameras are everywhere these days, even in your smartphone. But if you're looking to capture the action when you yourself are in action, most don't do the trick. The Muvi HD does, with an hour's recording capacity. It's a tiny video camera you can wear in a helmet or underwater for a personal POV hard to create with other camcorders. The "No Pain No Gain" (NPNG) Special Edition includes the mounting gear to embark on such special shoots.
Product: Veho Muvi HD NPNG Special Edition
Nest Labs Nest Learning Thermostat
Who'd have thunk a thermostat could be cool? One of the iPod's inventors, that's who. His startup has created the beautifully simple and simply beautiful Nest Learning Thermostat, which monitors your comings and goings and temperature preferences to both automate your heating and cooling and to reduce energy consumption. As you'd expect, you can manage and monitor it from your iPhone or other iOS device or from an Android device via Wi-Fi, as well as directly by turning its casing.
Product: Nest Labs Nest Learning Thermostat, Second Generation
Price: $249, with free iOS app or free Android app
When you're on the go, you likely carry multiple devices. But many hotels charge separate Wi-Fi access fees per device, and some still have just wired Ethernet ports in the rooms rather than Wi-Fi service -- a common issue in conference rooms and conference stages as well. The Kanex MySpot is an ultraportable Wi-Fi router powered via USB, and it makes a wired Ethernet connection available to all your Wi-Fi-capable mobile devices. Yes, you can password-protect your wireless LAN.
(Kanex also makes a lot of cool mobile and Apple-related connectivity aids, including the $59 ATV Pro connector so that Apple TVs can output to VGA monitors.)
Product: Kanex MySpot
Improv Electronics Boogie Board
Why kill trees to leave notes? The Boogie Board 8.5-inch LCD panels take the place of a noteboard, letting you write notes and zap them when no longer needed, freeing the board for more notes. The Boogie Board is available in a variety of colors, and a stylus is included, though you can also write with a finger.
Product: Improv Electronics Boogie Board
Lantronix xPrintServer Home Edition
As we do more and more on mobile devices, printing is often unavailable because only some printers can work directly with iOS's AirPrint capability. (In the Android world, printing is rarely an option.) Lantronix's small wireless print router solves that issue, AirPrint-enabling almost any network- or USB-attached printer. It's set and forget, though there's a management tool for small-office setups where you'd want to choose which printers to make public.
Product: Lantronix xPrintServer Home Edition
Related products: Network Edition ($150) for LAN subnets in an office, and Office Edition ($200) for large networks and Active Directory management
Logitech Touchpad T650
Although we can't in good conscience recommend Windows 8, if you get Microsoft's newest operating system, do yourself a big favor and pick up the Touchpad T650 trackpad to go with it. That way, you're not uncomfortably reaching out to the screen in front of you -- a possible ergonomic risk. Instead, you use Windows 8's gestures on a desk surface, where your hands already are planted for the keyboard and mouse, similar to how a Mac user would use Apple's $69 Magic Trackpad.
Product: Logitech Touchpad T650
Tech books from InfoWorld authors
Bob Lewis: "Leading IT: Still the Toughest Job in the World" ($20 paperback, $10 Kindle).
J. Peter Bruzzese: "Using Windows 8" ($25 paperback) | "Conversational Geek" by ($3 Kindle).
Woody Leonhard: "Windows 8 All-in-One for Dummies" ($35 paperback, $22 Kindle, $23 iBooks).
Galen Gruman: "OS X Mountain Lion Bible" ($40 paperback, $22 Kindle, $26 iBooks) | "Exploring iPad for Dummies" ($15 paperback, $10 iBooks) | "iBooks Author for Dummies" ($17 paperback, $10 Kindle, $10 iBooks) | "Exploring Windows 8 for Dummies" ($15 paperback)