Cool Yule Tools: Best techie gifts for 2014

The National Santa Agency has a handle on what everyone wants.

Sonos Play:1 $199
This portable speaker lets you experience the joy of the Sonos Music system without the additional equipment (a wireless bridge, for example) needed with other parts of their gear. Control music through the wonderful Sonos app on your phone or tablet and you’ll be hearing lovely music all season long.

KEF X300A Wireless Digital Hi-Fi Speaker System $799.99
When you think of wireless speakers, you think of smaller, Bluetooth-enabled devices (such as the Jambox Jawbone, or the Sonos Play:1, etc.), aimed a providing some good sound for music stored on tablets, phones, etc. These speakers are not like those systems.

The KEF X300A speakers are huge speakers – they look more like giant audio system speakers you’d have connected to your older audio system (if you still had a receiver, record player, cassette deck, etc.) They’re very heavy – when you get these, decide quickly where you want them and keep them there – portable speakers these are not.

iHome iDL100 – Triple Charging FM Clock Radio Stereo System $149.99
With the integration of alarm clock functions (clock, alarm, snooze button, etc.), you’ll most likely want to have this unit sitting on your nightstand. The Lightning Connector dock at the top lets you place your iPhone 5/5S (or the new 6 models) as well as your iPad to recharge it. If you’re so motivated, you can even set your alarm clock to wake up to a favorite song instead of an annoying buzzer or beep.

But leaving this on a bedroom nightstand isn’t the only thing you’ll want to do with the iDL100 – The system allows for three devices to be recharged (the two Lightning-based devices at the top, as well as a USB charging port in the back), and the speakers are good enough to place in a kitchen or other small room for additional audio entertainment. If you have a video that you’d like to watch on your phone or tablet, for example, the system provides excellent audio to accompany the video. An AUX in jack lets you connect any other older audio device (or an old iPod that doesn’t have the Lightning connector).

Pure Evoke F4 with Bluetooth $220
Pure continues to impress us with its Internet-radio-themed devices – this Evoke F4 is a very old-school, classic look-and-feel device that can access a variety of different music streaming sources from around the world. But also realizing that customers may already have a bunch of music either stored on computers, storage devices or even phones/tablets, they’ve added Bluetooth connectivity to play music from those devices to the Evoke F4 system.

In addition to the Internet radio services (connecting through Pure’s Connect service), the Evoke F4 can connect to Sirius XM satellite radio (a separate subscription would be required) and FM radio (hence the old-school metal antenna). Connecting to the Internet is done through Wi-Fi (interestingly, no Ethernet port on the unit). Volume control and menu control are handled through nice metal dials, but there’s also some touch-enabled buttons on the display for making other menu choices.

Star Wars Street by 50 on-ear wired headphones (SMS Audio) $199.95
If you’re a Star Wars fan and you love music, and – more importantly – you want others to know about your love of the movie, then these headphones are ones that you’ll want to sport when you’re out and about. These high-performance headphones provide pretty good sound quality for your music, movies or if you want to use when video gaming, and come in different Star Wars themes and colors (we tried the white Stormtrooper model, but there’s also some other cool colors/themes such as Rebel Alliance, Boba Fett and Galactic Empire). The on-ear wired headphones include 40mm drivers, passive noise cancellation (non-powered) and can fold up for putting into your travel bag.

Icon Q Boundless E1 Bluetooth earphones $65
These small and light earbuds/earphones will wirelessly connect you with your music device (phone, MP3 player, tablet) without a tangled cord getting in the way. This can be good if you want to use these while working out (although I prefer the Plantronics BackBeat Fit earbuds for that purpose), or if you just don’t like the extra bulk of a connection cord. The earbuds provide good, but not stellar, sound for your music or movies -you are using Bluetooth, after all. Pairing can be done via Bluetooth (an in-ear prompt helps you determine whether the earphones are powered on or off, or whether you’re in pairing mode), or NFC if you have an NFC-compatible phone or tablet.

Polk Audio Ultrafocus 8000LE noise cancelling headphones $250
For comfort and sound quality, these noise-cancelling headphones are pretty impressive. We’ve tried other brands and they always felt heavy and clunky on the head. They were the kind where your wife says, “You’re not really going out of the house wearing those are you?”

The Ultrafocus 800LE is Star-Wars-white plastic on the outside and chocolate brown on the inside – which means the ear cups themselves are brown along with the padding on the inside of the headband. On the outside of the left ear cup is the battery cover for the two AAA batteries you need to run the headphones. On the outside of the right is a circular control panel.

Plantronics BackBeat Fit headphones $129.99
These super comfortable, around-the-ear earbuds use Bluetooth wireless to connect to your phone/music player, and provide an outstanding listening experience for when you’re jogging, running or generally working out and building up a sweat. The headphones are sweatproof and have a long-lasting battery, so the tunes won’t cut out on Heartbreak Hill.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro headphones $249.99
These over-the-head headphones include active noise cancellation and a superior battery life, making it a great gift for anyone looking for great-sounding music and quiet while they’re in a noisy environment (aka planes, room full of kids, etc.) Additional features, such as multipoint connections (connecting to a phone and tablet, for example), an “OpenMic” button that reduces the volume so you can hear outside noise without removing the headphones, and a nice comfortable fit make this an excellent choice to give or receive as a gift this year.

iHome iBN26 Bluetooth speaker/speaker phone $79.99
If you’re looking for a small and stylish wireless speaker for casual use around the house, iHome’s iBN26 should be on your list. This compact system can connect to your mobile device using Bluetooth or NFC. After pairing, all you have to do is start playing music on your mobile device and your songs will be streamed wirelessly to the iBN26. Sound quality is good, albeit light on bass and a little muddy on higher notes. But for the price, it’s more than enough to fill a room with whatever tunes you fancy.

Boom Swap headphones $69.99
Hey kids, having a hard time deciding whether you want on-ear or over-the-ear headphones? Can’t decide what color to make your headband or earcups? Then check out The Boom Swap headphones, a modular headphone system that allows you to make changes depending on your mood and situation. It’s like a “build your own headphone” system! The headphones are made out of a flexible plastic and come with several components, including two foam over-the-ear earcups that you can easily slide onto the on-ear parts. The flexible headband can be removed and replaced with a second one of a different color (ours came with black and blue headbands). On the outside of the earcups, another two options for colors. The headphones come with three color options (black/blue, white/black and mint/orange), but unfortunately you can’t buy different colored headbands or earcaps separately.

Polk Audio Hinge headphones $97 (Newegg) to $129 (Best Buy and Nordstrom)
These headphones have an old-school, over-the-ear style, but in a compact form that’s also more comfortable. The aluminum frame make them lightweight, yet still very sturdy, adding the additional comfort.

These were a lot more comfortable than most on-ear sets we’ve tried – there’s a good seal, but not a lot of tight pressure. Music quality was surprisingly good bass and treble for headphone sin this price range – it gave out some nice deep and clear tones.

REPORT 3: Office gadgets and other work gear
Why should your family members have all the cool gifts at home? Here are some picks of some great technology gift ideas that will make you more productive when you’re working in your cubicle or office.

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December 2014
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