Having trouble keeping up with the onslaught of new gadget tech these days? You’re not alone. Even for someone like me, who loves gadgets and who keeps track of all this stuff every day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So let me simplify things for you: Here’s a list of gadgets that anyone would love to receive as a gift. There’s no need to worry about specs and such — these are all devices that work without much fuss, even if the recipient isn’t very tech-savvy.
Google Chromecast: The simplest way to stream media to your TV
Google didn’t have much luck trying to reinvent television with its unloved Google TV project, but the company finally found a media hit with the Chromecast ($35), a tiny gadget that plugs into your TV and streams media from your iPhone or Android device or laptop. You can use it to throw YouTube videos from your phone, tablet, or laptop right onto your TV, for example. Other developers are quickly updating their apps to support Chromecast streaming. Perhaps best of all, it’s cheap enough to deploy across all of the TVs in your house.
Jawbone Up24: A glamorous fitness tracker
Fitness gadgets are trendy, and Jawbone’s third version of its Up health band is its best yet. The Up24 ($149) can track your steps and sleep patterns, and you can also follow your eating habits in its accompanying apps. The company stuck with the Up’s attractive, bracelet-like design and finally added wireless synchronizing capabilities, so you can view the steps you’ve taken without even thinking about it. I’m a fan of Jawbone’s focus on simplicity. The Up24 resembles jewelry more than a high-tech gadget, and it offers plenty of ways to visualize all of the data it collects about you. (And I guarantee you that it will help you get a better night’s rest).
Alternative: Fitbit’s Force wrist activity tracker is slightly cheaper and has a small display, which means you can use it as a watch (and, soon, incoming notifications from your phone).
Logitech UE Boom: A durable wireless speaker
Over the past few years, wireless speakers have gone from an expensive and niche gadget category to a must-have for anyone with a smartphone who likes music. Logitech’s $200 UE Boom speaker is one of the best around right now, with great (and loud) music quality as well as 15-hour battery life and a water-resistant skin. You can send music to it over Bluetooth from your smartphone, tablet, or computer or use a standard line-in jack to play back music from older sources. The UE Boom begs to go outside — but it’s just as useful in the house for music and podcast listening.
Alternative: If you want something even more portable, check out Jawbone’s revamped Mini Jambox.
Nexus 7: A cheap and powerful tablet
If you know someone who needs a tablet, Google’s second-generation Nexus 7 (starting at $229) is the one to get. It’s a fast and portable Android tablet that doesn’t feel at all like a “budget” product. Android is also quickly growing to be a great tablet operating system, with better apps and an overall more consistent interface. Alternative: Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX is the same price and offers a simpler interface for novices. But you’ll pay for that simplicity: The tradeoff is that it doesn’t support all Android apps, just those in Amazon’s store.
Nintendo 3DS XL: Portable gaming glory
Nintendo’s 3DS portable console got off to a rough start a few years ago, but with its larger cousin, the 3DS XL, Nintendo did just about everything right. At $200, it’s far cheaper than the original 3DS, and there’s now a healthy selection of games to choose from (I recommend picking this up with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds). The console’s 3D effect is also far better on a larger screen.
Alternative: Sony’s PlayStation Vita (starting at $200 without a memory card) is a technically superior portable console, but its library of games isn’t as strong. It may be a better choice for a PlayStation fan, though.
Pebble smartwatch: A glimpse into the smartwatch future
It may only sport a black-and-white screen, but the Pebble smartwatch ($150) offers the clearest glimpse yet at how wearable gadgets will become as essential as smartphones. The Pebble can alert you of incoming calls, texts, e-mail, and other notifications. The company has also opened up the watch’s software so that other developers can build their own Pebble apps. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch may have a far prettier color LCD screen as well as many more features, but it’s twice the price and doesn’t do nearly as much as the Pebble.
RavPower Element battery: All the gadget juice you need
You can never have enough battery life. RavPower’s Element external battery is cheap (just $33 on Amazon), light (it weighs just 8 ounces), and fully of extra power. It packs in a 10,000 mAh battery, which is enough to charge a typical iPhone around five times or almost fully recharge an iPad. Given just how much we all rely on our smartphones and tablets these days, it’s always a good idea to have some extra power on hand. And at this price, you can give it to just about anyone.