You already know that high-tech products dominate holiday gift-giving. This year, the world’s stockings will be stuffed with an awful lot of the obvious ones: Amazon Echos, Chromecast Audios, Surface Pros, iPads, and so on.
But there’s more to life than the big names. Every year, the market overflows with new and obscure products, all scheduled to come out just in time for the holidays. And in there, buried among the boring and the doomed, are some genuinely great ideas for holiday gift-giving.
And so, as a service to you, the busy person with better things to do, I’ve winnowed down all those products to just seven, ranging in price from $2 to $300, that are beautifully done, non-obvious, and sure to please the lucky recipients.
Ready? Let the grab bag opening begin!
These crazy, self-sticking pages look exactly like Post-it notes, but there’s a big difference: They don’t use adhesive. Instead, they adhere with static cling.
To anything: glass, stone, plastic, wood, metal — anything. And since there’s no gumminess, you can pull them off and stick them back on over and over again.
(They came about from a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.)
They come in a crazy number of sizes, styles, and colors — including transparent, which is something you won’t find in regular Post-it notes. They also come in large, very large, and super-large sizes — so big, they’re like portable wipe-off boards that you can stick anywhere.
(The pages stick equally well front or back. The front has the color; the back is shiny white plastic, which you can use as a “white board” with wipe-off marker.)
Everyone who sees these things thinks of another idea for them. “Put the big ones on the walls and let the kids draw on them!” “Put one inside your windshield to leave a note!” “They’d be great for family Dictionary!”
Staples will carry them eventually; for now, you can order them from the company’s site.
Send these guys a photo (using the Yoshirt app, if you like), and they send you back the coolest T-shirt ($40). It features your photo or design, covering the fabric completely, front and back.
This is no iron-on. They actually print the color of your design directly onto the sections of the garment and then sew them together into a shirt.
I sent them this picture of my cat Wilbur (left), and this is what they sent me back:
I’ve had four people ask where they can get my cool cat T-shirt. Guess what? They can’t. I have the only one!
A Yoshirt makes a spectacular gift, one that won’t wind up forgotten in some gadget drawer. Just be aware that these shirts are made by hand — so if you want your shirt for sure delivered in time for Christmas, place your order in the next couple of days.
Plenty of people like to fall asleep to music, podcasts, or audio books — or would like to, anyway. But how are you going to do that? Not with hard plastic earbuds, that’s for sure — they’d kill your ears after a while (if you don’t get strangled by the cord first). Not with traditional headphones, either; they’ll come off if you turn onto your side.
Here’s the ingenious solution: SleepPhones. It’s an incredibly soft, fleece headband that contains soft, flexible, flat speakers aligned with your ears and a soft, flat, rubber control panel in the front. Whoever’s next to you in bed won’t be disturbed by your own private audioscape.
There’s a $30 model with a cord that plugs into your phone or whatever audio source you have. But the real magic is the wireless Bluetooth model ($90 on Amazon). It lets you drift off to music with your head in any position on the pillow, without feeling any lumps or getting tangled in any cords.
You have to recharge the little control pod daily, and getting it in and out of the headband can be a struggle. But at least you can take the speakers and control pod out when you want to wash the headband.
It’s the smallest, lightest laptop charger in the world, according to the company.
Well, I can tell you for sure that it’s much smaller and lighter than my MacBook Air’s traditional charger, which I no longer carry.
Despite consuming so much less space and weight in my bag, the Zolt charger (a) has two additional USB jacks for charging phones and things simultaneously, (b) has only two prongs, not three, so it fits into more outlets, and © has rotating prongs, so you can make your charging cables sprout in the right direction from a crowded power strip.
It comes with tips for every conceivable brand of Windows laptop, and for $20, you can get a MagSafe 2 cable for Mac laptops. (The Zolt Website is wrong when it says the charger isn’t compatible with larger Mac laptops, like the 15-inch MacBook Pro. It is — it just doesn’t charge them as fast as the Apple charger.)
Withings Activité watch
Fitness bands are great and all. But in general, they’re ugly, especially compared with the other kind of gadgets we’ve been wearing on our wrists for hundreds of years: watches.
This year, it occurred to a few companies that they could put fitness-tracking guts into actual wristwatches. D’OH!
This one is fantastic. It’s the Withings Activité, with a special dial dedicated to showing how close you’ve come to your daily step count.
It also tracks your sleep pretty well (and can wake you with a silent vibrating alarm). All of this health data shows up on your phone in handsome, well-organized graphs.
The best parts: The watch is truly waterproof. You can shower with it, no problem — in fact, it’s a great swimming tracker. And the button battery lasts eight months. Let’s see you do that, Fitbit!
What’s crazy is that you can make the hands of the watch spin around fast — when the time zone changes, for example, or when you double-tap the watch to check the alarm time. The hands fly around, pause at the alarm time to show you, and then fly back into place at the current time. So cool.
The watch models range from the Activité Pop ($100 on Amazon, choice of colors) to the Activité Steel shown in the video above ($170) to the Activité (Swiss-made, calf-leather band, $450). I miss having a heart-rate monitor, but waterproofness and an eight-month battery are pretty sweet consolations.
Blaze Laserlight bike light
Here’s another Kickstarter success story: A great-looking, waterproof, rechargeable, 13-hour, aluminum-clad bike light.
I thought $200 was a lot for a bike light, but every biker I know who saw this thing went nuts. They loved both the very bright, 300-lumen LED light (choice of brightness; blinking or continuous) — and, in particular, the picture of a bicycle projected 15 feet ahead of you by a green laser. The idea is to let cars and people know that you’re coming while there’s still time to react. (The company says that 79 percent of biking accidents happen when cars maneuver into a bike’s path.)
The light itself pops off of the handlebar bracket with a quick trigger pull so that thieves can’t make away with your $200 light. The laser doesn’t operate when the light is off its bracket, for safety.
Here’s a surefire way to make a beloved bike rider in your life very, very happy.
Bose QuietComfort 25
Bose dominates the noise-canceling headphones market for one simple reason: Nobody else has managed to duplicate the effectiveness of its noise cancellation. I’ve tested several dozen pairs (looking truly absurd on long flights during testing), and Bose’s are simply the quietest.
But Bose knows that it’s the 800-pound gorilla. That’s why it can get away with charging $300 for these babies.
Anyway, the QuietComfort 25 headphones are new, and they’re a big step forward. They sound better than their predecessors. They don’t give some people the uncomfortable sensation of — what’s the word? — ear vacuum, as the QC 15s did.
And unlike previous Bose models, these work as headphones for music even when they’re not turned on or the battery’s dead.
Finally, the 25s fold up smaller into a more compact case.
Truly, if you spend much time on planes or trains, or your loved one does, you’ll have a hard time finding a better designed noise-canceling headphone.
There you have it — seven ideas you probably didn’t think of yourself. May your days be merry, your family gatherings harmonious, and your battery life exceptional.
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David Pogue is the founder of Yahoo Tech; here’s how to get his columns by email. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s email@example.com. He welcomes non-toxic comments in the comments below.