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The 2012 holiday gift guide

The 2012 holiday gift guide

A heaped helping of cool and useful gadgets, along with some stylish accessories

Gadgets, gizmos and other great gifts

Sure, tablets and HDTVs are always welcome gifts, but that's not all our readers want to give and get this year. The No. 5 most popular tech gift in our 2012 reader poll was "Tech toys/gizmos", so we're serving up a heaped helping of cool and useful gadgets, along with some stylish accessories -- and even an old-fashioned paper book that geeks will love.

NOTE: all prices are in $US __________________________________________

Plantronics BackBeat Go wireless earbuds

Audiophiles who want to listen to their music on the go -- and who want to use their smartphones as both audio players and phones -- have a hard choice to make. Do you use a Bluetooth headset that lets you also listen to audio, but only pipes it into one ear? Or do you get a great set of wired earphones that keep you inconveniently connected to your phone (and, let's face it, looks pretty dorky on the street)?

Plantronics has come up with a solution: the BackBeat Go wireless earbuds, which offer solid sound for both ears along with a Bluetooth wireless connection to your phone. If you get a call while you're listening, just hit the button on the inline controls and your music will pause (streaming audio will mute) while you talk, and then resume when you're finished.

I tried the BackBeat Go last April and was impressed by both its usefulness and the quality of the sound:

Once the BackBeat Go was completely charged (which took about 2.5 hours), I had no trouble pairing it with a Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The sound was excellent for Bluetooth earbuds; I especially noticed that the bass, which is usually over-emphasized on many lower-cost headsets, was reasonably modulated here. (Read the full review)

Mind you, the $100 BackBeat Go isn't going to be as good as a pair of $500 headphones, the battery life isn't great (you can expect 4 to 5 hours) and it takes a bit of practice to become comfortable with the inline controls. But it's unobtrusive, lightweight and an excellent way to listen to your music without missing your calls.

You might also like: BlueAnt's Ribbon stereo Bluetooth streamer ($69 pre-ordered) is an ingenious gadget that lets you use a non-Bluetooth listening device with your mobile Bluetooth-capable player. (It's also great for pairing your new iPhone 5 with your iPhone 4-specific speakers). And for something a bit wackier, the Boombot1 ($45 - $55) from Boombotix is an entry-level speaker that clips onto your backpack or pocket and offers loud sound in some of the most creative cases out there.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

BackBeat Go from Plantronics

Street price: $55 - $112

Tech specs | Where to buy |

Summary: A great choice for audiophiles who want to listen in stereo using a lightweight Bluetooth headset. __________________________________________

Worx Toys

Got an inquisitive young mind in your household? Worx Toys, founded by three fathers, may have just the ticket. The company's toy vehicles, aimed at 6- to 9-year-olds, have a see-through shell so that kids (and non-mechanically inclined adults) can learn how the working parts inside operate.

There's a racecar, a fire truck and a police helicopter, each accompanied by a storybook. As they read through the story, kids activate each of the vehicle's parts with lights and sounds by entering a shape code (triangle, square, circle, etc.) using buttons on a remote or on the toys themselves.

Meanwhile, the book explains how each part works as its hero goes on a vehicle-based adventure. The toys also have a Play mode for unstructured fun.

The racecar and police copter can both be found at various online retailers for about $30 each. The fire truck, which has more functions and more moving parts, is also widely available online but costs about $50 - $60. Two more models, a motorcycle and a space shuttle, are shown on the Worx website and will be available in the spring.

-- Valerie Potter

Worx Toys from Worx Toys

Street price: $26 - $60

Phone: (888) WORX-TOYS

Summary: Who says STEM skills are hard to teach? Worx Toys are fun to play with and sneak in some surprisingly sophisticated education on the side. __________________________________________

Canon PowerShot G15 digital camera

I wouldn't choose a high-end digital SLR camera for someone without knowing their gear preferences any more than I'd pick running shoes for a marathoner. But in this era of 8-megapixel smartphone cams, you don't want to go too cheap and small. The happy medium for gift giving is a compact digicam that performs markedly better than a phone camera.

That's why I recommend the Canon Powershot G15 as a camera any photographer would be happy to receive -- from someone who just wants a capable point-and-shoot to a serious photographer who'd like a smaller, second camera for times when they don't want to schlep their high-end gear.

One of the G15's most notable features is its f/1.8 lens (zoomed out to its widest angle), designed to shoot in low light -- especially when combined with the camera's ISO settings of up to 12800. The G15 can also rapid-shoot up to 10 frames, boosting the odds of getting a good photo when photographing action at, say, a wedding or sports event.

This is a camera a beginner can grow with and a prosumer won't be frustrated by. It's responsive and not sluggish, and offers a good balance between robust features and ease of use. The G15 is loaded with options, from an exposure compensation dial and DSLR-like front dial to a dual-axis electronic level that helps you keep the camera straight. You can tweak metering, white balance, focus and more, although it's also pretty capable when left on auto.

Unlike many non-SLR cameras, it's even got an optical viewfinder. That means you can frame photos in bright light or turn off the LCD when shooting in dim light (where a bright screen would annoy others). And those who like maximum editing flexibility can shoot in RAW as well as JPG. It also shoots HD video: 1920 x 1080 at 24 frames/sec. and 1280 x 720 at 30 frames/sec.

Who isn't this camera for? Someone who values smallness, sleekness and lightness over robust capabilities. While you can probably pop the G15 into a coat pocket or decent-sized purse, it's not for most pants pockets. It's also not for people who'll be intimidated by a lot of buttons and dials. (You don't need to know how to use them all in order to get good photos from this camera, but there are likely people on your gift list -- you know who they are -- who get anxious or frustrated by the mere sight of gadgetry.)

The zoom goes to 5x optical, which works well for what I'd use a compact for, especially since 12mp images can be cropped a fair amount if I can't zoom in quite as tight as I'd like. But if your recipient wants to take many close-ups of far-off subjects, a more powerful zoom may be more to their liking.

All that said, the PowerShot G15 is a great choice for someone seeking an easy-to-carry (if not featherweight) camera that performs well in most general-purpose situations -- and far exceeds a smartphone, especially when shooting moving subjects or in low light.

You might also like: If your recipient cares more about pocketability than features, or $500 doesn't fit your budget, consider the smaller and somewhat less expensive Canon PowerShot S95 (about $400) or the newer S100 (currently $250 at Amazon). For a considerably lower price tag (and size), the Panasonic Lumix SZ7 is highly rated on several retailers' sites; with 10X optical zoom it currently costs less than $130 at Amazon and about $170 at B&H Photo. (Note that of these three, I've tested only the S95.)

-- Sharon Machlis

PowerShot G15 from Canon

Street price: $450 - $560

Phone: (800) 385-2155

Summary: A good all-around performer in a portable package that will exceed a phone camera's image quality, especially for moving subjects or in low light. __________________________________________

Livescribe Sky Wifi Smartpen

Livescribe's Smartpen series has always been interesting for those who take written notes. (Remember writing? It was used before there were keyboards.) The innovative digital pen records both your pen strokes and any audio -- such as, say, a lecturer's voice -- and then plays back the audio later any time you touch your pen to the specific note.

However, since we last covered Livescribe's device back in our 2009 holiday gift guide, there have been some major feature enhancements. The latest iteration, the Sky Wifi Smartpen, adds Wi-Fi functionality that allows you to automatically upload your written notes, along with the accompanying audio, to the Evernote online note-taking service.

A quick and easy setup (it took me maybe 10 minutes) lets you register your Smartpen, connect it to your Wi-Fi network and associate it with an existing or new Evernote account (a basic account is free). Using control symbols included on the covers of your notebook, you can start and stop the audio recording; you can also listen to the recording using the pen's own audio speaker. (If you want, you can just record notes without any audio.)

Livescribe automatically creates a new folder where it stores a copy of the audio and a link to a Web page. Click on the link, and you're taken to an online reproduction of your notes; as you listen to the audio, what you were writing at the time is highlighted. So, for example, you can draw a diagram to illustrate an idea you hear at a lecture and then, later, hear what was being said while you drew it -- or see exactly which doodle you were working on at that moment.

With its new functionality, Livescribe's latest Smartpen has become a must-have tool for students, journalists and others who depend on written notes. It comes with 2GB, 4GB or 8GB of onboard storage for $150, $200 or $250, respectively. The first two models let you upload an extra 500MB to Evernote each month (for smartpen notes and audio). The 8GB model includes that plus a one-year subscription to Evernote Premium and a portfolio case for carrying notepads and your pen.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Sky Wifi Smartpen from Livescribe

Price: $150 (2GB), $200 (4GB), $250 (8GB)

Tech specs | Video | Store locator | Phone: (877) 727-4239

Summary: Livescribe's Sky Wifi Smartpen easily transfers written notes (with audio) to an Evernote account. __________________________________________

Logitech Washable Keyboard K310

Sticky-fingered toddlers, marauding cats and snacking teenagers can make a computer keyboard an all-too-frequent victim of spills and general yuckiness. If you know someone who lives with those hazards -- or who's kind of clumsy themselves -- give them this $40 washable keyboard from Logitech.

It's got drainage holes that not only make it easy to wash but let it dry quickly. (Hand wash it with mild soap in warm water; it's not dishwasher-safe.) The keys are laser-etched and coated to make sure the letters don't wash off. It even comes with a little brush for whisking away food particles.

The K310 is also a full-featured USB keyboard in its own right. The Function keys provide shortcuts for accessing email, controlling media and performing other standard tasks. One thing, though: The specs say it works only with Windows XP, Vista and 7. Windows 8 users may need to wait for updated drivers to use those extra functions and Mac users may be out of luck altogether.

You might also like: For a really offbeat keyboard, check out the USB Typewriter ($799) from Uncommon Goods. This hybrid of old- and new-school technology turns a real mechanical typewriter into a keyboard that works with any USB device -- even an iPad, which can sit above the keys where the paper used to go. Ideal for your steampunk friends, the typewriter has the extra keys (Ctrl, Alt, etc.) you need for modern input.

-- Jake Widman

Washable Keyboard K310 from Logitech

Street price: $20 - $47

Tech specs | Video | Phone: (800) 231-7717

Summary: A fully washable keyboard for your friends who live with careless toddlers or clumsy cats. __________________________________________

Eton FRX3 emergency radio/charger/flashlight

After Hurricane Sandy, disaster preparedness is on a lot of people's minds. The photos of people wandering the streets of Manhattan in search of electric outlets brought home how much our ability to communicate -- and our sense of safety -- depends on power.

Give your loved ones an emergency backup in the form of the Eton FRX3 radio, phone charger and flashlight. It runs on three AAA batteries, and when those run out, they can switch to the internal battery, which can be recharged in any of three ways: via the built-in solar cell, through a USB connection to a computer (one with power, obviously) or with the hand-cranked dynamo.

According to Eton, 90 seconds of cranking will operate the radio for about 5 minutes or provide about 20 minutes of illumination from the built-in LED flashlight. The solar panel can recharge the battery in about 10 hours.

A fully charged battery will keep the radio going for up to four hours. (Besides AM and FM, the radio has presets for the seven NOAA weather station frequencies.) In addition to all that, the FRX3 can also charge a smartphone via its USB out port.

-- Jake Widman

FRX3 from Eton

Street price: $48 - $75

Tech specs (PDF) | Video | Phone: (800) 872-2228

Summary: Ideal for anyone who might undergo an extended power outage (in other words, pretty much everyone), the Eton FRX3 provides radio, flashlight and mobile phone charging in an emergency. __________________________________________

Nintendo Wii U video game system

Nintendo's new Wii U system marries console/TV gaming and tablet gaming. Its new handheld controller, called the GamePad, features a touch-based 6.2-in. screen as well as traditional button and joystick controls. While the console feeds the main action to the television, the GamePad's handheld display can be used to show additional game data as a window into the virtual world, or to move the gameplay from the TV to your hands.

But the most compelling use is for "asymmetrical gameplay." In multiplayer games, four players use the classic motion-based Wii Remote controllers (sold separately for $40 each) and view the television while a fifth player is offered a unique experience via data shown only on the GamePad, such as seeing a map or radar by which he can assist his teammates -- or hunt them down.

The Wii U also offers streaming video via Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Amazon Instant Video apps. It's the only console on which to find games such as Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros. U and ZombiU, and it's also compatible with all previous Wii games and peripherals.

The system is available in two models: the $300 white Basic Set that has 8GB of internal storage and the $350 black Deluxe Set that includes 32GB of storage, the Nintendo Land game and a few other extras. The Wii U has been in scarce supply since its Nov. 18 launch; we found it available at a number of online retailers, though some are taking advantage of its scarcity by jacking up the price.

You might also like: Microsoft's Xbox 360 console with Kinect motion sensor is cheaper ($250 for a holiday bundle that includes two games) and has a massive software library of original and hardcore titles. For handheld gaming fans, there's the new $200 Nintendo 3DS XL. Like the Wii U, it offers dual screens (one 4.9-in. and 4.2-in.) and a touch interface.

-- Ken Gagne

Nintendo Wii U from Nintendo

Street price: $300 - $400 (8GB Basic Set), $350 - $500 (32GB Deluxe Set)

Tech specs | Where to buy (scroll down) | Wii U demo kiosk locator | Phone: (800) 255-3700

Summary: Nintendo's new video game console is an all-in-one media hub that features innovative asymmetrical gameplay for up to five players. __________________________________________

New Balance GPS Runner sports watch

Got a running enthusiast on your holiday shopping list? The New Balance GPS Runner, which retails for about $100, might be just the gift.

It tracks a runner's pace, speed, distance and calories burned, so it's a nice step up from a typical stopwatch. Yet it's a simpler and less expensive alternative to higher-end GPS sports watches that allow runners to transfer workout data to a computer.

The ease of use makes it a winner. Ready to go for a run? With the GPS Runner, it's as simple as putting the watch in Run mode (where it searches for GPS satellites), pressing the Start button, and putting one foot in front of the other.

The battery lasts for about eight hours of continuous GPS use, and much longer when it's used as a traditional watch. What's especially nice is the display size, which is large enough to read while you're running (that's the point, right?). Note that the watch comes with a USB charging cable, but it doesn't transfer data to your computer. Instead, the watch itself stores data on your 100 most recent runs, so you can compare times and distances of previous workouts.

No bells and whistles here: The GPS Runner is the sports watch for the runner who simply wants to know, "How far did I go, and how fast?"

Note: Although the New Balance site says the GPS runner is temporarily out of stock, it's widely available at other online retailers.

You might also like: The Timex Marathon GPS and Soleus GPS 1.0 sports watches also retail for about $100 and offer basically the same functionality as New Balance GPS Runner, but with slightly different display options and colors. Or take a step up to the Garmin Forerunner 210 (around $250), which allows runners to check their pace on interval training runs and, with some models, track indoor runs and monitor heart rate.

-- Ellen Fanning

New Balance GPS Runner from New Balance

Street price: $100 - $110

Tech specs | Store locator

Summary: An easy-to-use, affordable GPS sports watch for tracking running speed, distance and pace. __________________________________________

Fitbit One activity monitor

If you've got an elite athlete on your gift list, you can safely skip this item. This general activity monitor is for athletic wannabes: people who are trying to become more active by venturing off the couch and away from the junk food, but aren't ready to start Ironman training just yet.

For the newly active or those returning to a healthy lifestyle, this type of monitor can serve nicely. Just clip the tiny device on your waistband and it'll track your activity throughout the day.

By counting -- more like approximating -- steps taken, stairs climbed, distance gone, calories burned and some other data, the $100 Fitbit One helps you compete with yourself and others, and share your milestones via Facebook if you choose.

For this audience, knowing exactly how many steps are taken each day isn't quite as important as taking those steps in the first place, or understanding that 5,000 steps is healthier than 500, regardless of how accurate the measurement. Its most important function just might be to remind you to get off that couch in the first place.

The Fitbit One also monitors sleep patterns, automatically syncs to your computer or iOS device and, via the website, allows you to track what you eat each day. It will give you suggestions about cutting caloric intake if weight loss is a goal. There's also a free smartphone app (for iOS devices only; Android is "coming soon") so you can check your progress while, say, power-walking those holiday gifts to the post office.

You might also like: Other good activity monitors include the smaller Fitbit Zip clip ($60) and the stylish Nike+ FuelBand wristband ($149). Neither tracks sleep or food eaten, but they monitor calories expended and steps taken as well as tell the time. They also assign an overall fitness score each day that's based on a proprietary algorithm.

-- Johanna Ambrosio

Fitbit One from Fitbit

Price: $100

Tech specs

Summary: A great fitness-motivation tool for people who are competitive and love real-time data. __________________________________________

Philips Wake-up Light

For your friend (or spouse) who hates to get up in the morning, consider this interesting clock radio-lamp combo. Instead of using a jarring alarm sound, it gently wakes up users by increasing the light level in their room.

The light starts getting brighter 30 minutes before the time the alarm is set for, which Philips claims "increases the level of energy in your body" and gets you ready to wake up. The company cites research showing that 80% of Wake-up Light users say they found it easier to get out of bed, and user reviews at both the Philips site and Amazon are overwhelmingly positive, despite the $100 price tag.

The intensity of the light can be varied up to 250 lux -- about the level of standard office lighting, or somewhere between a dark day and sunrise. That makes it bright enough to read by, so the Wake-up Light can also be used as a going-to-sleep light. Besides the replaceable halogen lamp, users can also choose to wake up to the FM radio or to the sound of chirping birds, both of which also start out quietly and ramp up to full volume.

-- Jake Widman

Wake-up Light from Philips Electronics

Street price: $75 - $93

Tech specs | Phone: (800) 555-0050

Summary: The Wake-up Light makes the process of getting out of bed easier and more pleasant by rousing the sleeper with slowly increasing light. __________________________________________

Blue Microphones Tiki USB microphone

Person-to-person online conversations via services such as Skype and Google+ Hangouts have become increasingly popular -- not only for meetings with remote employees or organization members, but also for chatting among friends and relatives, not to mention impromptu online get-togethers. However, the microphones built into most computers tend to be... not great, to put it charitably. In fact, unless you have your own headset/mike, the quality of your verbal output is probably pretty pitiful.

If someone on your gift list likes live chat but doesn't relish the idea of a headset, consider giving them Blue Microphones' Tiki USB microphone. This lightweight, compact device plugs into a USB port on a Windows or OS X computer and enhances the audio that it's sending over the net while minimizing background noise.

I tried the Tiki on a low-end Asus netbook, conducting a Skype session with and without the mike. The person I was chatting with reported a definite difference. With the Tiki plugged in, my voice was clearer and less tinny; when I had music playing in the background, the Tiki muted it to the point where she hardly noticed it.

Tiki has an alternate mode called Natural Recording for times when its user doesn't want to mute background noise -- for example, while creating a podcast. I recorded a short voice segment in this mode, and while the volume was slightly softer than with the netbook's mike, it was clearer, and the Tiki effectively filtered out the sound of the computer's fan.

The Tiki isn't really meant for professional podcasts or other high-end audio recording. But somebody who spends a lot of time online chatting with friends or meeting with associates will find the Tiki a great way to make a better impression.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Tiki from Blue Microphones

Street price: $49 - $73 or $60 direct from Blue Microphones

Tech specs | Audio comparison demos | Where to buy

Summary: Blue Microphones' Tiki USB microphone enhances voice quality for all those Skype calls and Google+ Hangouts. __________________________________________

The Art of the Data Center by Douglas Alger

It's not often you see the phrases "coffee-table book" and "data center" in the same sentence. But its softcover notwithstanding, this 368-page tome comes as close as I've ever seen. (There's also an e-book version for those who prefer that format.)

Douglas Alger, newspaper reporter turned data center manager, knows -- and clearly loves -- his subject matter. The Art of the Data Center: A Look Inside the World's Most Innovative and Compelling Computing Environments (Prentice Hall/InformIT/Pearson Education, 2012) pays homage to 18 of the world's most interesting data centers, including a former chapel at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center and the server headquarters of Yahoo, eBay, IBM, Citi, Intel, Terremark, NetApp and others.

My personal favorite: Bahnhof's way-cool "James Bond" data center, situated mostly underground in Stockholm and complete with saltwater aquarium, artificial daylight and greenhouses. No piranha, though.

But this book goes far beyond the requisite beautiful photos. Alger interviewed the architects and engineers responsible for the buildings and asked them questions -- many detailed questions -- about their choices for energy efficiency, the site itself, project management, their use of cooling techniques and pretty much anything else a data center maven would want to know. Readers are bound to get great ideas for their own pieces of paradise.

A minor quibble: There are no page numbers in the table of contents, so unless you're reading cover-to-cover, you need to scan to find what you want to read, chapter-wise. Nevertheless, with both beauty and brains, this book represents geek love at its finest.

-- Johanna Ambrosio

The Art of the Data Center: A Look Inside the World's Most Innovative and Compelling Computing Environments from Prentice Hall/InformIT, a division of Pearson Education

Street price at Amazon: $48 - $73 for paperback or $32 for Kindle e-book; also available from publisher: $76 for paperback/e-book bundle

Summary: Gorgeous photos and in-depth interviews about what makes 18 of the world's coolest data centers tick. __________________________________________

Bluelounge Eco-Friendly Bags

For the environmentally conscious on your gift list, consider Bluelounge's Eco-Friendly Bags for laptops, tablets and more. Available in rust or black, the bags are made out of recycled PET plastic bottles that are shredded, melted and extruded into filaments. The result is a tough material that feels more like cloth than plastic. Bluelounge further applies a water-resistant coating to the fabric, both interior and exterior.

The company doesn't skimp on construction, either. The shoulder straps have custom aluminum buckles with quick-release levers that make it easy to find a comfortable fit. The bags have multiple extra pockets for chargers, phones and so on, and some have carabiners to hang water bottles and such off the outside.

Prices start at $45 for a sleeve to fit an iPad (the sleeve is also available for 13-, 15-, and 17-in. laptops) and range up to $159 for a backpack that can hold a 17-in. laptop along with lots of books and papers; it also has a zippered security pocket on the side that lies against your back.

You might also like: Bold thieves are prepared to cut your laptop bag's straps or slice it open to get at the goodies inside. Travelon's Anti-Theft React bags ($50 - $110 for a range of styles) feature chain-link mesh in the body and cut-proof shoulder straps to foil such attempts.

-- Jake Widman

Eco-Friendly Bags from Bluelounge

Price: $45 - $159 (click each style to see its price)

Store locator

Summary: Well-designed and made from recycled plastic bottles, the Eco-Friendly Bags from Bluelounge meet aesthetic, practical and moral imperatives. __________________________________________

Speck CandyShell Flip case for iPhone 5

Friend's got a new iPhone 5? Help them keep it safe with the CandyShell Flip case from longtime iPod and iPhone case manufacturer Speck. The CandyShell Flip is a two-layer case, with a shock-absorbing inner layer covered with a shiny hard shell.

The rubbery inside layer covers the phone's buttons (there are holes in the outer case so you can still press the buttons), and it projects slightly around the screen to keep the glass away from scratchy surfaces. Depending on the model, the inside layer and the hard-shell cover are different colors, providing a pleasant two-tone effect.

But the real kicker is the reason for the word "Flip" in the name. The case has cutouts on the bottom for the headphone jack and Lightning connector, of course. But it's also hinged at the back, letting you move it out of the way completely to place the phone on a dock. There aren't many iPhone 5 docks available yet, but your friend will be prepared -- and grateful -- when there are.

The CandyShell Flip lists for $35 but sells for as little $20 from online retailers.

You might also like: Available in four colors, Kensington's Portafolio Duo Wallet for iPhone 5 ($40) holds all the necessities: credit cards, ID, cash and, of course, that precious iPhone 5. It even folds into a stand that holds the phone in vertical or landscape mode.

-- Jake Widman

CandyShell Flip for iPhone 5 from Speck

Street price: $20 - $40

Where to buy | Phone: (888) 872-4445

Summary: The CandyShell Flip case provides colorful protection for the new iPhone 5 and is ready for docking. __________________________________________

CaseCrown Bold Standby Case for Nexus 7, iPad Mini and more

Bet you know someone who's getting a 7-in. tablet this year. CaseCrown's Bold Standby line of tablet cases offers a clean, professional look as well as strong protection for the shiny new device. The cases are designed specifically for the Google Nexus 7, the Apple iPad Mini, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7-in. and several other devices.

Each case has synthetic leather outside and a soft, lined pocket; the tablet is secured inside with a velcro flap. The pocket has cutouts that provide access to all the device's ports and other features. The case wakes up the tablet upon opening, and it folds back to make a horizontal viewing stand.

The Bold Standby case is available in a variety of colors ranging from sober black to festive pink and lime green. It lists for around $40, but is currently on sale for $26 to $31, depending on the model, and can be found at online outlets for considerably less.

You might also like: ReAuthored tablet cases ($49 - $59) cleverly combine a secure place for a tablet or e-reader with the tactile satisfaction of paper and fabric, by carving out a space for the device within the pages of an actual book.

-- Jake Widman

Bold Standby Case for Nexus 7 and others from CaseCrown

Street price: $10 - $30 (for Nexus 7), $14 - $20 (for iPad Mini), $10 - $15 (for 7-in. Kindle Fire HD) or shop for other models at CaseCrown

Tech specs

Summary: The Bold Standby tablet cases provide solid, versatile protection for specific devices in colors from sober to festive.


StarTech Portable eSATA USB to SATA Standalone HDD Hard Drive Duplicator Dock HDD

There's no software to install: All you need to do is plug the duplicator into your computer's USB port or into the SATA connection of any hard drive or solid state drive. Then plug it into the SATA connection of the target hard drive or SSD, and it duplicates the drive -- OS and all. Drop the new drive into your computer and away you go. It's the best path to a drive upgrade I've ever experienced.

The single drive duplicator retails for $69, but it can be had for about $40 from various online retailers.

-- Lucas Mearian

Portable eSATA USB to SATA Standalone HDD Hard Drive Duplicator Dock HDD from

Street price: $42 - $64

Tech specs | Where to buy | Phone: (800) 265-1844

Summary: DIY geeks will love this highly portable drive duplicator, which makes disk cloning a snap.

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