Lifestyle

Holiday gift guide: 7 last-minute gifts for techies

last-minute gifts
Image Credit: Photo Illustration: Eric Blattberg

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, that special techie in your life deserves something awesome.

Oh, you haven’t gotten anything yet?

Look, it’s no big deal: You’ve been busy, or maybe you just forgot. But even if you only have a few hours (or minutes) to spare, a ton of readily available gifts are out there that your tech-savvy chums will adore — although some terrible choices are also lurking.

We know you don’t have much time for research, so we’ve done the hard work for you. Here are seven last-minute gift ideas that (hopefully) won’t disappoint.

Spotify Premium

Spotify gift cards

Spotify: You know it, and you love it, but you probably don’t pay for it. But a premium upgrade brings a host of benefits.

Subscribers can listen to any of Spotify’s 20 million songs without suffering through ads every few minutes. Premium also enables you to download playlists to your desktop or mobile device so you can listen to them offline, making Spotify exponentially better on the subway (or anywhere else with a spotty online connection).

Subscribers get higher audio quality, too. While most folks are content with Spotify’s regular streaming quality, audiophiles will appreciate Spotify Premium’s doubled bitrate (from 160 kbps to 320 kbps). 

Spotify gift cards are at retailers like Target, Walmart, and Staples, but you can also buy Spotify e-cards online. Spotify Premium costs $10 per month.

An e-book subscription service

Oyster now offers an iPad appNow you can binge on books the same way you gorged on House of Cards.

While some folks will always prefer paper and ink, e-book services are becoming increasingly enticing now that they’re embracing Netflix-style subscription models. The two frontrunners are Oyster Books and Scribd’s e-book service.

Oyster, which has intuitive and attractive apps for iPhone and iPad, offers more than 100,000 books to subscribers. It’s signed up publishers like HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Workman, and Perseus. Highlights include a social media connection that shares what you’re reading with your friends (and vice versa) as well as some nifty viewing options that go beyond just text size. The service costs $10 a month.

Scribd, meanwhile, supports iOS, Android, and web browsers, making it the clear choice if your gift recipient isn’t an Apple person. At $9 a month, it’s also a bit cheaper, and it just signed a major deal with indie publisher Smashwords on Dec. 19, adding 225,000 additional tomes. Scribd now offers more than 325,000 books to subscribers, with participation from publishers like HarperCollins, Rosetta Books, Workman, and Sourcebooks. It also has social-sharing options, though its font selection, pagination, and other customization options aren’t as great as those on other services.

Ultimately, either would make a great gift, offering readers a new way to browse, discover, and consume one of the oldest forms of media.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime gift

Amazon Prime is a gift for people who like to buy stuff.

Ideal Prime recipients don’t want some thoughtfully acquired, predetermined object; they want fast, free shipping for all the other crap they plan to purchase in 2014. A Prime subscription ($79/year) also provides access to one Kindle book per month from Amazon’s “Lending Library” as well as thousands of streaming movies and TV shows through Prime Instant Video. (You know you want to rewatch Galaxy Quest.)

Go to the next page for four more last-minute techie holiday gifts >>>

Apps

app store

You know those app things? You can gift those! Some really superb mobile games came out this year, from heavy-hitters like Infinity Blade III ($7) to excellent indie fare including Impossible Road ($2), Ridiculous Fishing ($3), and Year Walk ($4). You might want to consider social “board” games like Pandemic: The Board Game ($7) and Small World 2 ($10) as well. For those not into games, you might consider snagging a subscription to a digital magazine or newspaper (or, you know, any other app).

PlayStation Vita

PS Vita Tearaway

While the next-generation game consoles are selling as fast as stores can stock them, the PlayStation Vita is unlikely to sell out — and it may finally be worth picking up.

Sony‘s newest handheld gaming machine has spent the last 18 months overshadowed by Nintendo’s 3DS, but there’s still hope for the PS Vita. The device is finally starting to get some great games, like the charming Tearaway from Media Molecule [above]. It also has some nifty connectivity features with other PlayStation consoles, including second-screen functionality with the PS4 and a cross-buy feature, which means you can buy games like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale for either the PS3 or PS Vita and download them across both systems at no additional cost. You can also stream Netflix and other video services. And you just can’t beat the Vita’s slick OLED screen, graphical horsepower, and dual-analog control.

The PS Vita is available at most major game and electronics retailers for $199 (or more depending on the bundle or if it comes with 3G).

Google Chromecast

Chromecast

Chromecast is a great, affordable gadget for the media fans in your life.

Unlike Google TV, which didn’t pan out as planned, the tech giant’s $35 Chromecast device is a hit. It’s a little HDMI gizmo that plugs into your TV and enables video streaming from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. With Chromecast, it’s easy to throw music, movies, TV shows, and random Internet videos on the big screen. It currently works with Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Chrome, with more developers working to update their apps for Chromecast streaming.

Chromecast is available at retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, Staples, and Amazon.

Bitcoin

Stacks of Bitcoin

What better way is there to show your affection than to introduce a friend or family member to the shadowy, legally gray world of virtual currency? If you don’t mind Bitcoin’s massive carbon footprint or its connection to questionable marketplaces (and don’t think the recipient will either), perhaps you should buy some cryptocurrency and give it to a loved one this holiday season.

You could buy physical Bitcoins — though not from Casascius, which was shut down by the U.S. Treasury Department last week — or use a service like Coincow or Coinapult to send Bitcoins to any email address. If you’re worried about security (and you really should be), use Brainwallet to generate a new private/public key pair and send it to the given address (the recipient will need the private key to recover the Bitcoins).

“It’ll be like a pet rock or a share in Sears: Cool and fun this season; worthless and quaint — but still amusing — in years to come,” says VentureBeat editor-in-chief Dylan Tweney.