Most of us go to great lengths to watch our budgets during the holidays. But if you’re anything like me, all those fancy catalogs and store windows lead you to participate in a little retail fantasy. What if I could afford the $500 necklace in that store’s display window? Man, that $5,000 piece of art would look great in my mom’s living room. Wow, imagine how quickly my brother would scarf down these artisan Belgian chocolates. As a tech journalist who’s constantly on the web and being pitched products, I have dreams of giving (and owning) expensive and beautiful gadgets as well.
So I’ve rounded up all the gorgeous stuff I’d give in an ideal world where my pocket was bottomless and my cat could talk to me. Below, some of the year’s most beautiful tech products.
Sonos has always made sleek speakers that sound great. And though the Sonos Play is definitely not the cheapest portable wireless speaker, it sure is a pretty one. It comes with a tweeter and a mid-woofer to ensure hi-fi sound, but even better, it’s controlled by an all-in-one app that connects to more than 100,000 free radio stations and pretty much every music app in existence. It’s humidity resistant, so you can play it in the bathroom while you shower. Plus, if you add any other Sonos product to the mix, you can connect the speakers together for an instant surround-sound experience.
Sculpted by Grovemade, an artist-populated workshop in Portland, Oregon, this keyboard nook is as precious as they come. Designed to fit Apple’s wireless keyboard, the hand-crafted tray comes in walnut and maple and features slots for business cards, batteries, and all the other miscellaneous crap that messes up your desk’s feng shui. And, if you really want to twee out your desk, you can throw in a wrist pad of the same grain.
The Powerslayer is a smart charger that can charge your gadget faster and minimize power use when it’s not charging. The gadget was created by the husband-and-wife co-owners of Velvetwire in Santa Cruz, California. They took a two-year trip by sailboat and came back with a realization that energy is precious. Their experience is reflected not only in the Powerslayer Blu’s function, but also in its nautical design. It all comes with an iOS app that’ll help your monitor your energy use, too. For the best gift, be sure to get the felt carrying case and fabric-covered USB cable to go with it.
Nobody needs a skull lamp, but one glance at Nir Chehanowski’s LED creation might have you revising your wish list. The gadget, which originally started in a simpler form on Kickstarter, is actually comprised of just a flat acrylic glass sheet engraved with dozens of intricate lines. Once inserted into the LED-equipped birch stand, the pane of glass lights up. The result is the illusion of a floating 3D image in your bedroom or living room. Though the skull is clearly the most rock ’n’ roll product in the collection, other options include a light bulb, tunnel, spiral, galaxy, mountain, balloons, and — most importantly — a teddy bear. Who says your kid doesn’t deserve his very own light illusion, too?
(This Is Ground)
Many an earbud set has fallen victim to my relentless, wire-munching bag, which tends to separate and destroy even the most durable headsets. Why don’t I use whatever case the headphones come with? Because they’re ugly, and sometimes they encourage nasty tangles. But not the Cord Taco, a case from the LA-based design studio This Is Ground. It forces you to fold your earbuds up neatly and then secure them in a durable leather flap. You can buy one for $20, or get stocking stuffers in three- or five-packs for anywhere from $29 to $39. For extra delicious fun, imagine that your earbuds are pulled pork.
Sadly, the effective $250 Sonic Wine Decanter I reviewed earlier this year won’t start shipping until May 2015. But the the Vinturi Wine Aerator is an elegant and much cheaper alternative. The six-inch funnel is meant to be held over your wine glass and, via a special vacuum system, it speeds up the wine-decanting process (therefore improving elements of the wine like mouthfeel). Though you should keep it away from your expensive, already-aged bottles, it’s a great way to make an OK $10 bottle a little more palatable. Plus it’s pretty gorgeous.
Maybe part of the reason we all hate waking up has to do with the fact that most of us use a smartphone as an alarm. All that buzzing, ringing, and pawing for your phone in an irritable morning haze is a pretty crappy way to start your day. The sturdy Trivoli Model Three is a pleasant upgrade. Not only does its natural wood frame make it an attractive room accessory, but it also sounds great, so you can wake up to the voice of NPR’s Terry Gross in crystal-clear audio. Or if you’d rather connect a device via audio jack or Bluetooth, that’s an option too. It comes in four different finishes.
If a modern-day Mary Poppins existed, she’d carry Brunton’s power knife in her purse. This genius gadget is the Swiss Army knife for the 21th century, packing in the charging connectors for most Android phones, older Apple i-gadget models, the latest Lightning connector, and a USB. Pop this sucker into a computer or wall plug, and you’ll have sweet, sweet power running through your gadgets in no time. If only it transferred info!
O, green glowing orb beside me, pray tell: How did I sleep? You don’t have to talk to Hello’s smart sleep tracker, Sense, that way, but it couldn’t hurt. The adorable bedside device monitors the activity in your bedroom by recording noise, light, temperature, humidity, and air particles. Then an iOS app will evaluate the factors in your bedroom that influenced the quality of your sleep. Plus, it evaluates your sleep cycles to determine the least-disruptive time to wake you up (similar to a feature in fitness trackers like the Jawbone UP). But a word of warning: The Sense — originally a Kickstarter project — won’t ship until February.
Unless you’re a deep-sea diver or construction worker, your iPad probably doesn’t need a case that’s insanely durable or waterproof. Just something that’s solid enough to protect it from the keys in your briefcase. Enter the Octovo iPad Sleeve. Cut from vegetable re-tanned leather, lined with velvety Nubuck, and equipped with a discreet magnet closure, this sleeve is as classy as they come. You can get it in black, brown, gray, or chestnut.
(Plant and Moss)
As Office Space has taught us, nothing can come between a man and his prized desk accessories. And this concrete, spun brass and copper number by London-based design studio Plant and Moss may be even more precious than that prized shiny, red stapler. Just don’t be surprised if it makes all the other accessories on a desk look lame.
Perhaps there’s someone on your gift list who’s exhausted or confused by all the superfluous apps and buttons that come with gadgets these days. I mean, who doesn’t miss the succinctly constructed tech of the olden days? Crosley — a company that specializes in nostalgic audio equipment — has you covered with a line of historically themed radios. The Companion reproduces the rich sound of 1930s radio, an era marked by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signature “Fireside Chats.” And guess what? No Bluetooth necessary.
This sleek metal knob from Griffin Technology is basically a really pretty, pimped-out scroll wheel. The wireless device connects to your Mac via Bluetooth and allows you to control all the basic functions of your computer with the the slight turn or click of the platform. You can adjust the volume of your speakers, scroll through documents or lists, and tab through applications, all based on settings that are adjustable to your preferences. Plus, you can pick it up and use it for presentations, or faraway couch-potato-ing.
This cable, a product of design studio Native Union, solves two common problems for people who charge their phones on their bedside tables. First, its extended length of about 10 feet allows you to look at your phone with ease, rather than yank or bend whatever cable came with it. And, second, its adjustable weighted knot anchors your phone onto whatever surface you’ve decided to precariously balance it on. So you can charge your gadget without it accidentally crashing to the floor. Buy it in micro-USB or Apple Lightning cord form.
Sure, mainstream movies and TV shows haven’t quite caught up with the technology of 4K or “ultra HD” TV. But the few things I’ve seen play on this beast of a screen have been so incredibly vivid that I thought, for a fourth of a second, that it was actually real. That might not be so great for watching CNN, but once action movies hop on board, it could very well change the way humans (at least very rich ones) experience entertainment. Other perks include a single One Connect box to streamline all your connections, a built in camera for Skypeing, smart TV capabilities, and a touch pad remote control. We can dream, can’t we?