The holiday season approaches and it's time for the gift giving to begin. So what are the best things to find under the tree for the technologically minded?
The Christmas season can be a minefield for the techy. There are so many gadgets and gizmos out there that it's easy to make the wrong gift choice, or receive something useless from a non-tech friend or relative.
In any list there's an element of personal bias, and in this case it's in the Honourable Mentions, where Shaun and I picked something we really really wanted. The rest of the list is full of what we think you'd like. Feel free to share the link with those you will be receiving gifts from.
One final note. By using the term 'Christmas' we are in no way joining the pointless debate currently raging in some quarter of the US over the so-called 'War against Christmas'. Almost every culture celebrates the ending of the year because it means that sunny days are ahead. Let's enjoy it for what it is: a time to share with family and friends.
Shaun Nichols: At last year's Consumer Electronics Show I saw an early demo of the Powermat system and came away impressed, so when the first models started to appear in stores this one was a no-brainer to add to the list.
If you're not familiar with the Powermat system, it is a small mat surface which is used to provide wireless power to up to three devices, either through the bundled Powercube charger device or other handsets equipped with special adaptors.
It's a nice way to save space and reduce tangled messes of power cords, but it's also a pretty cool-looking piece of gear, and who isn't a sucker for that sort of thing? A slick, glowing mat device definitely looks better on a desk or shelf than regular adaptors with the attendant mass of cables.
Iain Thomson: Wireless power is certainly the wave of the future and the Powermat is a very good bit of kit, but it is an interim measure.
To explain. Various manufacturers are using wireless power to charge devices, most notably the Palm Pre. But many of them have recognised that there needs to be a common standard across devices, and are working on this. In the meantime you have the Powermat.
The product neatly gets around the problem by charging a battery and allowing devices to connect to that. It's a good hack for a situation where the mass manufacturing base is playing catch up.
One thing would hold me back from this, however. I'm a nut for power conservation and my understanding is that wireless power is less efficient than its wired counterpart. I'd like to see some hard data on the environmental consequences of this before making a purchase.
Mention: Solar charger
Iain Thomson: Electronics is a mucky business for the planet, and it's nice to know you are doing what you can to put something back.
Manufacturers are at last cottoning on to the fact that people might want to charge their devices by something other than a power socket. You can now buy an array of solar powered chargers which help keep your gadgets topped up with juice.
These range from fold out solar panels that can be put on a sunny spot, to backpacks with the panels built onto the outside that charge the devices you are carrying. At the same time, solar power efficiency is increasing in leaps and bounds, so be on the lookout for new products.
No-one is pretending that you can run all your gadgets off solar power. The amount of juice you collect is tiny, but it all adds up. Fewer recharges from the mains is always useful, and you never know when an extra 10 minutes of battery life can be crucial. Yes, these things cost carbon to produce, but there's such a thing as setting an example.
Shaun Nichols: It used to be that we would have put batteries in this spot on the list, but the times have changed. Not only are more and more manufacturers using rechargeable battery packs, but disposable batteries contain all sorts of nasty materials that can be pretty hazardous to the environment.
To that end, solar chargers are becoming very popular. Taking power from the sun is just about the cleanest way you can generate power for a device, and the falling cost and rising efficiency of solar cells is making the technology accessible to a much wider range of devices and price points.
There's also the economic side. Disposable batteries add up after a short time, and sunlight is more or less plentiful for most locations and free for the entire planet. As Iain noted, we're not quite to the point where you can recharge your smartphone by leaving it on the windowsill for an hour, but that day will come.
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