Gifts That Keep On Giving: Offbeat Gadgets, Toys and Tech

When you have a taste for tech, there are many shiny toys that come through your life, but there are always the special ones. The ones that end up well worn, and much loved.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Before I tell you about my favorite offbeat tech-flavored goodies and culty gadgets of the season, let me tell you that as is true for all good technophiles, I am a hoarder. Like a squirrel preparing for acorn-geddon, my apartment has enough discarded electronics stashed in nooks and crannies to start a dubious resale business.

Sadly, some of the phones, cameras, GPS devices and odd Franken-tronics are barely warm when they are force-retired from active duty status (AKA living in my purse and traveling the world).

It isn't always this way. When you have a taste for tech, there are many shiny toys that come through your life, but there are always the special ones. The ones that end up well worn, and much loved.

The problem is, tech toys like that are one in a million.

It's like that one point and shoot camera you took everywhere with you last Summer. Or that one phone you held on to after newer ones came out because you just loved the damn thing so much.

You regard your prized, trusty little gadget and think it must have been made by a deranged, over-caffeinated pirate army of feral designers and developers who actually cared. Anomaly!

This gift guide, from cameras to lifestyle accessories and green tech to offbeat books, is all about smart and nerdy gifts that are primed to stay in heavy rotation.

Image via Cheezburger Network.

Next: Parrot AR Drone -->

Parrot AR Drone

For one second you'll feel bad for the cats when they scamper and hide; you'll feel bad for two seconds when you hog the controls from the kids. These feeling pass and are soon forgotten when you get the iPad, iPod and iPhone controlled Parrot AR Drone up in the air.

It is a frivolous, aggressive toy. But it is a frivolous, aggressive toy for the smarty-pants in your life.

If the smarty-pants is you, and I suspect it is if you're on this site, defending your adult folly should come naturally. For instance, can tell people how the Parrot is a Wi-Fi enabled quadrocopter, that not only flies around indoors or out, but can be flown on a network where you can engage with other players - like a video game.

You can also explain during your wild battles with invisible enemies throughout the house that the on-board camera shows real time video on your screen and how amazing it is.

Make sure you tell people these things while wearing your World War I Flying Ace uniform and making the appropriate flying, crashing and combat noises. I find this is the best way to keep said people far, far away from my toy.

That's how is it with the Parrot Drone ("The flying video game"). Fun, addictive, engaging: in my opinion, this is the tech family gift of the year.

Remote controlled toys are my favorites, but this one takes the cake with the ability to play with and against others. It's like a totally different kind of MMORPG. The Parrot Drone community is vibrant and you can find thousands of videos from enthusiasts.

One of the best parts, besides executing killer moves and making my bratty nephews jealous? The software is open source and there is a full repair guide with video tutorials for my "oopsie" moments.

You don't really need a Parrot AR Drone. Which is all the more reason to get one.

MSRP: $299.99 (Amazon.com)

Pointing and Shooting: Lumix DMC-LX5 10.1 MP and Lumix DMC-TS2 12.1 MP Waterproof »

Pointing and Shooting: Lumix DMC-LX5 10.1 MP and Lumix DMC-TS2 12.1 MP Waterproof

Not many people know this, but I go through point and shoot cameras like hell on high heels. They need to be reliable, easy to use, rugged like Norris and smart like Hawking, have a battery I don’t ever need to think about, and take great low-light images.

You must love the camera, and it must love you back. Don't miss our point and shoot gallery of favorites among this year's top brands. However, my last favorite camera was a workhorse that gave me gorgeous pictures, from the redwoods to the nightclubs.

One night involved costumed dancing girls, loud live music, hours of shooting video and stills while moving, and several gallons of melted butter – which led to at least one buttery slip.

The media came out great, the camera survived a smack on the dance floor – it was my trusty Lumix.

I bought others, but it was never the same. Until the Lumix DMC-LX5 ($406.00, Amazon.com) came out. This beauty performs. It comes in black or stylish white, has an ultra wide-angle lens (24mm, Leica).

The lens is twice as bright as the standard, and it's combined with new image processing software created to deliver pro quality images in low light. It deserves all its 5-star reviews, and there are many.

The travel version is Lumix's DMC-TS2 Waterproof – it's shockproof, waterproof, dust proof and freeze proof, you know, just in case you find yourself in the frozen tundra and have your camera stolen by a polar bear.

What is the crazy blogger lady talking about? Seriously: I discovered the DMC-TS2 when I saw this video of a guy who had his camera stolen by an octopus, which made a great film, and I had to know what the camera was.

Lumix DMC-TS2 14.1 MP Waterproof Digital Camera MSRP: $349.95 (Amazon.com)

Green Tech: Hydros Water Bottle »

Green Tech: Hydros Water Bottle

Water bottle -- you're the one. I never thought I'd sing the praises of a tall drink of cool water, but the Hydros Water Bottle changed all that.

I'm not looking back – and I'm never attending a conference or staying in hotels without my Hydros ever again. It's the first reusable filtered water bottle: put the filter on, put it under a water source, fill it up and go.

The new filter technology works faster than a pitcher – it fills in 20 seconds, practically as fast as the water comes out of the tap. Filters last for three months or around 150 uses.

I love it because I always forget about making sure I have water, and I hate spending money on bottled water. Sexy bottle, totally convenient: Hydros is a no-brainer for my inner blonde. Like, totally.

But my fondness grew by leaps when I found out that Hydros takes its green tech seriously. They recycle the filters, and have been accepted into the Green Business Network, but it goes further than that.

Hydros has a mission. Hydros is American made, yet aim to reduce the global water crisis: nearly 1 billion people don’t have clean water. Part of the proceeds from each Hydros Bottle goes towards rural water infrastructure projects (they partnered with Engineers Without Borders).

The first and current Hydros project is building a sustainable and free clean water system for the village of Gundom, Cameroon (Africa).

Hydros customers can follow the project's progress on the Gundom page; when this is complete they are looking for a new location to start a clean water project.

It's not like shockwaves are going through water bottle communities at the news that Hydros is a socially responsible water bottle superstar. However, I can think of ten favorite tech conference buddies I'm getting these for because I know my nerdiest friends are going to fall hard: the Hydros is geek love at first sip.

MSRP: $24.99-29.99 (Amazon.com)

Color Nook »

Color Nook

You probably thought I was going to put an iPad on this list. Or that I would be Kindle-ing the night away. Don’t get me wrong: Kindle is a great device, and the iPad is a much-loved fetish item.

However, have you ever actually talked to a Nook owner? Mention the Nook and their eyes glaze over, a long fishing-line filament of drool pours off the lower lip, and you wonder if the damn thing came with a special kind of Kool-Aid.

The Color Nook has just made the Nook-ers (Nooklets? Nookies?) more frothy about the Barnes and Noble e-reader. Kindle needs to look out. It came out on the 16th, and the Nook itself is only just over a year old, going from clunky to a gorgeous design by Yves Behar to make it a sleek and stylish tablet-y device. They have a sizable 20% share of the e-reader market and growing.

It's a reader, it multi-tasks, plays music (there is a Pandora app), you can read .PDFs so if you're old school on e-books, you're all set. It also reads Microsoft Office documents, and feels a lot like an Android tablet. With the wireless off it runs for an astonishing 10 days.

The contextual menu to look up words with dictionary, Google or Wikipedia is neat, as is the instant quotes or what you're reading sharing option for email, Twitter or Facebook.

What's more, a software update is currently being rolled out to Nooks everywhere. Reports from Nook owners confirm that page turning is now twice as fast (as is everything else), and people love the new shelf organizing systems. Whispers around the campfire say that jailbroken Nooks are updating with no problems whatsoever.

Turns, out the Black Friday price for the original unit is worth the wait.

Nook Color MSRP: $249.99 (Barnes & Noble)

Deal and Steal original Nook Wi-Fi price: $99.00 at Best Buy

Khlip Nail Trimmers »

Khlip Nail Trimmers

Wait – what? Nail trimmers on a love-my-gadget list? Oh yes. Khlip Nail Trimmers are made of pure WANT. Okay, it's actually surgical steel, but you know what I mean.

We are nothing if not fastidious about our ability to type out rants railing on annoying yuppie startups and hippie Burning Man tech scene gadflies and how Facebook sucks.

Which is all valid, of course. And if you have been shopping for nail trimmers lately, you know it's about as fun as the moment you realize that FarmVille is basically a game about running errands all day.

Buy nail trimmers, and you never want to be bothered to buy them again. But you will because most nail trimmers out there are crap. You'll buy lots of nail trimmers and throw them away because they are typically made badly. You need your fingertips in perfect shape for Angry Birds, dammit.

Khlip nail trimmers are the gold standard for your technophile digits. Ergonomically reverse-engineered so you put pressure on the front end, they're easy to hold and effortless to press.

Clippings stay on board thanks to a snazzy design, instead of flying off into your tenth cup of coffee. Machined surgical steel means they're so sharp you don’t need to use a file. Really.

They are expensive. Pack them in your suitcase, not your carry-on.

MSRP: $50.00 (Khlip.com)

Text, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll »

Text, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll

Actually this section is more about text and not at all about inebriants or the Devil's music, but with at least one of these selections I guarantee you could probably laugh until you're so high you see LOLcats and one of them is willfully hellish. All of them are destined to go on the "much loved" list.

This season, books are being paired with e-readers. Not all books belong on them, or will ever see e-ink in their lives. Paula M. Block and Trek series writer Dorothy “D. C.” Fontana's Star Trek Original Series 365 ($29.95) coffee-table book is one of those.

Combine Trekkie love, 1960s and 70s sci-fi style (clothes, design, "future tech"), Shatner, space and science, alien babes and mad science monsters into one glossy tome and you've got the new book by Abrams. Cool stories by cast and crew pepper rare pictures and colorful stills from the first series, making this a collectible and a conversation piece.

Feed your head with brains! One of the central books to the zombie renaissance was World War Z by Max Brooks, the most popular book on the living dead to date. This novel paired fiction with a historical account storytelling style to create a hell of a layered story that was told in small, bite-sized installments.

The book is old and widely read, so you're wondering, what then? If you haven't heard the World War Z Audio Book ($15.95), than that's what. Not only did the book lend itself perfectly to reading aloud, it makes the perfect travel companion - and a great way of initiating your loved ones into the cult.

Tokyo: oh how you fascinate us. Many of us tech and sci-fi dweebs always dreamed of going to Tokyo, and then when we went for the first time were utterly overwhelmed and unprepared for what we found.

Think of Blade Runner on meth with a side of utter chaos, and so much cool stuff you feel like your eyes are not big enough to see it all, and you get an idea of what I mean. At the end, it's addictive, and you know you'll be back.

The best way to prepare for a geek's trip to Tokyo is picking up a copy of the new book by Brian Flynn and Joshua Bernard, Tokyo Underground 2 ($19.95). This fab little book fits in your daypack and is the outsiders' guide to having a blast in Tokyo.

Tokyo Underground 2 is focused on making the perfect trip for the toy collector. It starts with advice in what to pack and dispels common myths, and tells you where to eat, where to shop for ultra-cool items (toys, magazines, clothes), how to get around on the subway, terms and phrases, and tours through neighborhoods.

If you haven't fully been able to explain to Grandma what a LOLcat is, maybe it's time you got your nan a set ofThink Geek's LOLMagnetz($19.99). 265 words come in a metal box, plus a primer on LOLspeak for the uninitiated.

Instead of calling you every few days for technical support because she can't find her email, she'll spend hours in front of the refrigerator re-arranging LOLMagnetz captions on photos of you and your demanding infants until she feels she's gotten revenge for letting you talk her into making a Facebook account.

They're fun for the whole family, I'm telling you.

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