Cool Yule Tools: Best techie gifts for 2014
The National Santa Agency has a handle on what everyone wants.
Our motto: “He Sees You When You’re Sleeping, He Knows When You’re Awake…”
After months of investigations, cups of coffee and several arm-twisting interrogation tactics, the Cool Yule Tools staff of writers and editors has discovered a shocking truth. The government group that has allegedly been spying on us, known as the “NSA”, is actually a cover group for a little-known organization with headquarters near the North Pole. Yes, we are speaking of the National Santa Agency. (See full writeups on these products.)
Thanks to our “Special Agents” who contributed reviews: Keith Shaw, Craig Mathias, Neal Weinberg, Abigail Weinberg, Ken Mingis and Tom Lupien.
Phones, computers and other mobile goodies
A large majority of the subjects we were monitoring were VERY interested in acquiring a new mobile device, whether it was a new laptop, phone or tablet. But we think they’ll be quite happy with these reviewed devices.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus
$299 for the 16GB model with 2-year contract; $749, contract-free
The iPhone 6 Plus represents the epitome of Apple’s phone line, but if you’re thinking of getting one as a gift, make sure your gift recipient can handle it. Literally. With a 5.5-in. “Retina HD” screen, this is one big phone — the biggest Apple’s ever made and its first foray into the phablet market.
As you’d expect from an Apple device, the design and engineering are top rate, and the screen is pixel packed, with 401 pixels per inch. That means everything is razor sharp, colorful and bright. It’s easily the best iPhone display Apple has produced.
Kyocera Brigadier smartphone
Price: $49.99 with two-year agreement, plus data plan
The Brigadier by Kyocera runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and can take any kind of abuse you can dish out. We dunked it in water, dropped it on a hardwood floor, scraped the screen with a sharp knife. And nothing, not even a scratch.
Lenovo Horizon 2 Tabletop PC
$1,500 (our test unit, available via Best Buy)
When you lay this giant 27-inch computer flat on a table, the first thing people may think is that you somehow got your hands on the iPhone 7 Plus (a really really really big phablet). But in reality, it’s still a Windows 8.1 PC, but one with a touchscreen that multiple people can interact with. The Aura interface that overlays the Windows PC to provide the tabletop mode lets multiple people pinch, expand, shrink and move objects around on the touchscreen. While you can collaborate with co-workers via this method (looking at photos, or watching videos, for example), the majority of your time spent with this machine will be spent playing games.
Logitech k480 Multi-Device Keyboard
You’re most likely to need/want a Bluetooth external keyboard when you acquire a tablet, but plenty of other devices (such as your smartphone and notebook) have Bluetooth as well, so it’s nice to have a single keyboard that can connect to multiple devices.
Logitech achieves this with its k480, a small, portable keyboard that includes a dial that switches between up to three devices, across multiple operating systems. If you want to connect a Windows PC, Android smartphone and Apple iPad, just turn the dial associated with each of those devices (it’s up to you to remember which device goes with each setting on your dial). The keyboard quickly and easily makes the Bluetooth connection to those devices. (See full review here).
Starts at $1,089
I’ve been in the Mac camp for about three years now, about the same amount of time that Windows 8 has been out. But if I were ever considering coming back to the world of Windows, it would definitely be with this machine – the Lenovo Y50. The latest systems include fourth-generation Intel Core processors, a brilliant 15.6-inch full HD displays (touch-enabled, too), JBL speakers and a very cool backlit keyboard. I’m even coming around on Windows 8.1, if only a little bit (the return of the Start menu and easier access to the desktop definitely helps). (See full review here).
Lenovo N20p Chromebook
$329.99 (as tested)
Chromebooks have been out for a few years now, so the rough edges from earlier models have smoothed out, and Google seems to be doing a pretty good job at filling in the blanks of things that were missing from the operating system (remember, Chromebooks don’t use a traditional operating system like Windows or MacOS). You have to be invested in the Google universe, which means email will be done through Gmail, your browser will be Google Chrome, your productivity applications will be done through Google Drive (Docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.), and your music will be located on Google Play Music, etc. In fact, you might want to ask your friend, family or co-worker how comfortable they are with all of these Google offerings – if so, then it’s a definite recommend. (See full review here.)
Macally Quick Switch Bluetooth Keyboard
It may seem like overkill to think that you would need one keyboard that quickly switches for use with five different devices, but you could find yourself in a scenario with two computers, a phone, a tablet and then you’re already up to four right there. Even if you don’t need five devices, it’s still a very cool option to have this functionality. In fact, you can connect a sixth device via the included USB cable, which is like Spinal Tap going to 11.
The keyboard itself is a full-sized keyboard with a very light touch and feel – it’s so light that you could carry it with you if you had a big enough laptop bag (it’s the width, not the weight that would be limiting).
REPORT #2: Audio Entertainment (Headphones, Music, Speakers)
After mobile devices, the next most popular item on holiday wish lists focus around musical entertainment. Whether speakers or headphones, we think these items will look great under the tree (or on your head).
Blue Mo-Fi headphones
At first glance, the Mo-Fi headphones from Blue appear to be so large you’d never want to be seen in public with them. The headphones are big – very big compared with other headphones we’ve seen. They’re heavier, too. But the reasons for that will likely cause you to veto any concerns you may have. The extra weight and design are due to a built in audiophile amplifier and “ultra-premium drivers”, which give high-fidelity sounds to multiple devices – whether you’re listening on your phone, tablet, computer or even higher end A/V systems. Sure, this adds some extra weight, and you might get some odd looks while wearing these on your flight. But deal with it, you’ll enjoy the awesome sound compared to your seatmates listening on other headphones.
(See a full writeup of this product.)
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