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2016 Holiday gift guide: Best of the best tech

Tech gear, from the big stuff like notebooks, tablets, and smartphones, to smaller stuff like storage devices and smart bulbs.

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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

This is a gift guide with a difference. Rather than pick gifts for you and yours, I'm looking at the best of the best when it comes to tech that I've had the pleasure of owning, using, and drooling over this year, from the big stuff like notebooks, tablets, and smartphones, to smaller stuff like storage devices and smart bulbs.

There are also a few toys thrown in, along with a few things you didn't even know you wanted or needed, because I'm a big kid at heart!

Along with each entry I'll give you a link, some idea of pricing, and a little bit about why I like it.

Have I missed out your favorite tech gadget? If I have drop me a note in the comments below to let me know!

Herman Miller Aeron chair
2 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Herman Miller Aeron chair

For years I struggled with cheap office chairs, even getting to the point where I'd replace them on a yearly basis. My posture suffered, my back suffered, and as a result my productivity took a nosedive.

Then I bought an Aeron chair. While these were a symbol of the late 90s dot.com extravagances, they really are good chairs. I've had mine for many years, and after hard, almost daily usage, it is still looking and working like new.

The only thing that I've added to my Aeron is a third-party headrest -- check eBay for them -- which helped to make an awesome chair just a little better.

Microsoft Surface Book
3 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Microsoft Surface Book

If you've got deep pockets, then Microsoft's recently refreshed Surface Book is a system well worth taking a look at.

You get everything that you'd expect from a high-end system -- plenty of ports, a claimed 16 hours of battery life, an SD card slot, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M graphics chip powering the graphics.

There's as a stylus and touchscreen display for those who are artistic or just like jabbing at things with their fingers.

But as I've already said it's not cheap -- a 13.5-inch system equipped with a 6th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD will set you back a cool $2,400.

Dell XPS 13
4 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Dell XPS 13

Probably the laptop that most closely resembles the MacBook Pro is Dell's XPS 13. OK, you don't get a Touch Bar, but you do get a couple of things that Apple doesn't offer:

  • - 7th generation "Kaby Lake" Intel Core processors (a generation ahead of what Apple has to offer)
  • - A whole range of ports, from an SD Card slot to USB 3.0 and USB-C ports

I think that it's also fair to say that Dell's XPS 13 is affordable -- a 13.3-inch system running an Intel Core i3 with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD costs $800.

Apple MacBook Pro
5 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Apple MacBook Pro

Without a doubt the best notebook I've ever used. Portable thanks to its light weight and long battery life, it is still powerful enough to take on desktop challenges. This is a real workhorse, and I've thrown heavy photo and video editing at it and it has handled it all without breaking a sweat.

And that Retina display. Wow! Once you've used that, there's no going back to a non-Retina display ever again!

GoPro Hero5 Black
6 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

GoPro Hero5 Black

If you want a camera that you can take with you into the outdoors without fear that you're going to break it, and bring back stunning video, then this is the camera for you. Ultra-portable, fit it anywhere, and immensely robust!

The new GoPro Hero5 Black is not only waterproof (so you don't need to put it into a separate waterproof case) but can also be voice-controlled.

Das Keyboard Prime 13
7 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Das Keyboard Prime 13

I don't like cheap, plasticky keyboards. I'm also no fan of garish gaming keyboards.

This is why I like the Das Keyboard Prime 13. It's a robust keyboard featuring a minimalistic design. Rather than bells and whistles, the focus is on making the keypresses feel as awesome as possible using awesome Cherry MX switches.

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8 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Amazon Echo Dot

I have a love/hate relationship with voice-controlled devices, but the Amazon Echo Dot is an exception. It's small, adorable, easy to use, and very flexible.

Excellent bit of kit, especially for those who are subscribed to Amazon Prime, and it's only $50.

Lenovo Ideapad 100S
9 of 26 CNET

Lenovo Ideapad 100S

If you're looking for a budget notebook, here it is. For $160, the Lenovo Ideapad 100S is about as good as it gets.

  • 11.6-inch HD LED Glossy (1366x768) display
  • Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core CPU
  • Intel HD graphics
  • Up to 2 GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • Dolby Advanced Audio
  • Windows 10
Philips Hue
10 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Philips Hue

Lights that you can control from a smartphone might seem gimmicky, but these are a great way to not only create a mood, but to also help simulate daylight if you're stuck indoors during the dreary winter months.

Be warned though -- as soon as you replace one lightbulb, you'll want more. These things are highly addictive!

Of all the systems I've tested, the Philips Hue systems are the best. Not only is the hardware well made, but there are a variety of different starter packs and kits available to get you going.

NomadKey
11 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

NomadKey

Free yourself from the hassles of carrying around long charging cables by popping this tiny key-sized cable on your keyring.

NomadKey is available for microUSB (Android) and Lightning (iOS).

iFixit $20 Essential Electronics Toolkit
12 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

iFixit $20 Essential Electronics Toolkit

The new iFixit $20 Essential Electronics Toolkit is a compact set of tools that gives you the power to get into a smartphone or tablet or PC to troubleshoot and carry out repairs.

Want to change the cracked display on your smartphone? No problem. Need to swap out the battery in a tablet? Easy. Want to get inside your PC or laptop to add more RAM or upgrade the storage? This kit has you covered.

The kit comes with the following:

  • Magnetized driver handle
  • Angled ESD-safe precision tweezers
  • Spudger
  • Jimmy
  • iFixit opening tool
  • iFixit opening picks (set of 6)
  • Suction handle
  • Easy-to-open magnetized case
  • Lid with built-in sorting tray
  • Sixteen 4mm precision screwdriver bits

The precision screwdriver bits consist of:

  • Phillips: 000, 00, 0, 1, 2
  • Pentalobe: P2, P5
  • Flathead: 1, 2.5, 4 mm
  • Torx: T4, T5
  • Torx Security: TR6, TR8, TR10
  • SIM eject bit

Everything is held in place in a precision-cut foam tray, and the lid is held in place by strategically placed magnets.

iFixit's Pro Tech Toolkit
13 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

iFixit's Pro Tech Toolkit

I'm truly impressed with this kit, especially given the price tag of only $65. It's well thought-out and well made, and unlike most of the cheap toolkits out there it's backed up by a lifetime warranty. This kit is perfect for professionals and amateurs alike. I particularly like the CNC machined bits in the set. Not only do they look gorgeous but also they fit the appropriate fastener perfectly.

If I had to describe the new iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit in one word, that word would be "perfect."

Kit contents:

  • 64 bit driver kit (yeah, it's 64-bit! That amuses me!)
  • Anti-static wrist strap
  • Small suction cup
  • 3x iFixit opening tool
  • iFixit opening picks x6
  • Nylon tipped reverse tweezers
  • Angled ESD tweezers
  • Blunt ESD tweezers
  • 2x spudger
  • Metal spudger
  • Jimmy
  • Magnetic pad
  • Tool roll

Here's a detailed listing of all the bits in the driver kit:

  • Phillips 000, 00, 0, 1, 2
  • Flathead 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4 mm
  • Torx T2, T3, T4, T5
  • Torx Security TR6, TR7, TR8, TR9, TR10, TR15, TR20, TR25
  • Pentalobe P2, P5, P6
  • JIS J000, J00, J0, J1
  • Hex 0.7, 0.9, 1.3, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5 mm
  • Tri-point Y000, Y00, Y0, Y1
  • Nut driver 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5 mm
  • Square 0, 1, 2
  • Gamebit 3.8, 4.5 mm
  • Spanner 4, 6, 8
  • Triangle 2, 3 mm
  • SIM eject bit
  • 1/4" to 4 mm driver adapter
Carista
14 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Carista

Carista is extremely simple to use, with no configuration necessary. Just click "CHECK FAULTS" and Carista will automatically find your OBD adapter and connect to it. No settings, no device configuration, and no menus.

Plus, with version 2.0, they've added support for non-OBD2 (manufacturer-specific) diagnostics, including things like ABS, airbag, navigation, HVAC, etc. This means that beside the "CHECK ENGINE" light, you can also diagnose and reset your airbag light, ABS light, etc. if your vehicle is one of the supported models from BMW, Mini, Toyota, Lexus, Scion, VW, Audi, Seat, or Skoda.

Sony PlayStation 4
15 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Sony PlayStation 4

Both this and the Xbox One is on the list, so whatever your allegiances there's no need to fight!

Gaming on a console is so low drag. No having to dig through system specs or worry that your GPU isn't up to scratch.

Microsoft Xbox One
16 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Microsoft Xbox One

Both this and the PlayStation 4 is on the list, so whatever your allegiances there's no need to fight!

Gaming on a console is so low drag. No having to dig through system specs or worry that your GPU isn't up to scratch.

APC BR1300G battery backup
17 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

APC BR1300G battery backup

Carry on working or playing while others are taken out of the game by power cuts and storms!

There are a lot of different UPS battery backup systems out there (and you need to make sure it has the capacity to power your devices) but I find you can't go wrong with an APC unit such as this APC BR1300G UPS. This is good for a hefty PC, display, and peripherals such as router.

Ring video doorbell
18 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Ring video doorbell

See who's at the door before you get up with a Ring video doorbell that puts whoever is outside your door on your smartphone or tablet.

The perfect high-tech way to keep an eye out for the pizza dude! Also, a great security solution if you're away from home for extended periods.

Askborg ChargeCube 20800mAh Powerbank
19 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Askborg ChargeCube 20800mAh Powerbank

The Askborg ChargeCube 20800mAh Powerbank has enough power to recharge an iPhone 6 about five times, so it can get you out of multiple scrapes.

Too big to fit in a pocket, but this is ideal for a briefcase or to carry in a backpack.

Belkin 12-Outlet Surge Protector with Phone/Coax Protection
20 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Belkin 12-Outlet Surge Protector with Phone/Coax Protection

$50 might seem like a lot to pay for an extension cord, but when you consider that there's no faster way for electronic devices to let out the magic smoke than to be hit by a surge, it really makes sense to invest in tone.

This Belkin 12-outlet unit, which comes with eight feet of cord, should be enough for most tech heads.

MakerBot Replicator Mini
21 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

MakerBot Replicator Mini

The MakerBot Replicator Mini is an easy-to-use, durable 3D printer that's ideal for the home or classroom. There's even a fast and easy one-touch printing features.

Tech specs

  • Technology: FDM
  • Build volume: 100 x 100 x 125 mm
  • Materials: PLA
  • Resolution: 200 microns
  • Price: $1,375
Marshall Mid Bluetooth headphones
22 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Marshall Mid Bluetooth headphones

There are a number of things that I look for in a good pair of Bluetooth headphones:

  • Comfortable
  • Good sound
  • Good battery life
  • Robust design
  • Option to switch to corded use if the battery is low

The Marshall Mid Bluetooth headphones tick all these boxes.

ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Wide-Angle Kit
23 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Wide-Angle Kit

The camera on the iPhone is a great bit of kit, but this wide-angle Zeiss ExoLens takes things to a whole new level.

  • Superior-quality ZEISS Mutar 0.6x Asph T* wide-angle lens (18mm equivalent)
  • ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating
  • Machined aluminum ExoLens bracket to keep the lens securely in place
  • Convenient built-in mount for standard tripods (1/4″-20)
  • Integrated cold-shoe mount for easily attaching lighting, audio, and other accessories
  • Sturdy protective aluminum lens hood
  • Lens cap to prevent smudges and lint build-up
Sherpa 50 solar kit
24 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Sherpa 50 solar kit

Keep your notebooks, smartphones and tablets powered up with this handy solar panel and battery pack. The Sherpa 50 solar kit is perfect for those who want to be off the grid. Just add sun!

Automatic
25 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Automatic

Drive safer and smarter with this little dongle that plugs into the car's diagnostic port.

Not only can Automatic help you save on gas, but it can also be used to summon help in the event of an accident.

Ergotron 3-way LCD wall-mounted arm
26 of 26 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Ergotron 3-way LCD wall-mounted arm

Once you get a decent mount for a PC display you'll wonder how you ever managed with the monitor sitting on your desk.

The Ergotron LX arm, and it is truly awesome as it allows me to put the display exactly where I want it, and move it quickly and easily.

Don't want to drill holes in the wall? No worries, Ergotron also make a version that clamps to the desk.

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