2014 holiday tech gift guide: Smartphones, tablets, speakers, headphones and more

Posted On Monday, 05 January 2015 19:00 Written by
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We’re now officially in the holiday season; aka the time many people stock up on the latest tech gifts and gadgets being released for themselves and/or family and friends. 

Smartphones, tablets, and much more are on many people’s minds this time of year, as folks embark on their shopping sprees.

Here is a roundup of some of the tech items of note available this year if you are looking for a tech-themed gift.

Verizon Wireless
Motorola is back with its latest flagship phone on Verizon Wireless, the Motorola Droid Turbo, which boasts some impressive specs as well as faster charging than its rivals in the smartphone business (up to 8 hours of battery life after just 15 minutes of charging).
Among the specs highlights are:
-- An impressive 21 megapixel camera that takes extra-clear photos, among the best I've seen on a smartphone
-- 2.7 GHz quad-core processor
-- a bright 5.2" Quad HD Super AMOLED screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display and a 2560 x 1440 resolution (565 pixels per inch)
-- Android 4.4 Kitkat operating system
-- Non-removable 3900 mAH Battery (would be better if the battery was removable and you could carry a spare, but with the faster charging it's less of an issue)

I spent some time with the Droid Turbo recently and found it to be one of the better offerings Verizon customers have when choosing a smartphone. There is some stiff competition of course -- particularly from Samsung's Galaxy S5 on the Android side, and the latest iPhones always present a challenge for people not sure yet what OS they prefer.

But the Droid Turbo hits the target in all the right areas; Physically it's sharp looking and has a beautiful, large screen. It runs super fast. The operating system is easy to use and customizable, the camera is super-sharp, and the quick battery recharge may be a tipping point for folks on the go a lot.

I don't expect it to be a runaway hit (that's hard to do with any phone these days with so much competition), but Verizon should sell quite a few of these Turbos this holiday season and beyond -- as there is a lot there to like.
For more information, visit verizonwireless.com or Verizon Wireless stores.

Sprout Channel Cubby tablet
As soon as kids become toddlers, they are becoming computer-savvy these days -- zipping around smartphones better than some adults can.

Kids who are fans of the Sprout TV channel might have an interest in the Sprout Channel Cubby Kids 7" Tablet. Characters from the network's various programs are featured (Caillou, Chica, Bob the Builder, etc.) and the tablet features the Android operating system and Wi-FI.
Coloring, reading and much more are on the menu, and the recommended age is 2 to 6.

Specs include: 1.2GHz Quad-Core processor, WiFi and Bluetooth, Back 2MP webcam and front 2MP webcam, HDMI port, up to 8 hours of runtime on a full charge. It's not a fancy tablet; it's a basic one for kids, as it should be.

There are many free games installed, and you can set parental controls so your child doesn't play the tablet all day (time limits, limits on what games can be played). If you want to venture into the Google Play store to buy more apps, parental approval is needed (via password).

The Sprout Cubby is available at Walmart and online, and costs $99.99.


Here are some accessories being offered by AT&T this holiday season:
-- Braven speakers: Made for outdoor enthusiasts, the Braven BRV-1 is waterproof, shock-absorbent and lightweight. The palm-sized speaker provides 12 hours of continuous playtime, and you can stream music and calls over Bluetooth.$99
-- LG Tone Pro headset: The LG Tone Pro is an around-the-neck headset with quick access controls that allows you to stream music while on-the-go. Available in black, white, and pink. $69.99.
-- Ion Party Starter: This is a wireless speaker that has a party light on top which bounces to the beat of the music. Connect your Bluetooth-enabled music player or smartphone to Party Starter, crank up the volume, and let the light show begin. $49
-- HTC RE: HTC RE has a grip sensor that turns it on when you pick it up, and a single button takes photo with a tap and videos with a press. A wide-angle lens replaces the need for a viewfinder, and waterproof construction replaces the need for a case. It connects using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Through Jan. 8, 2015, $50 off HTC RE when you buy a HTC Desire EYE or HTC One M8 smartphone – Retail price: $200
-- Plantronics Backbeat Fit: Unique design allows you to listen to your favorite beats while you do your favorite activities. $129
-- iFrogz GoLite 2.0: A 3000mAh lithium-ion battery that can power any smartphone quickly and easily. It’s slim design easily fits in a purse or bag. The GoLite 2.0 also includes a brilliant LED that comes in handy when a little light provides a lot of help. $29

Visit www.att.com or AT&T stores for more details.

Energizer lights with Light Fusion Technology 
For the home, garage and workshop…and any projects that keep you burning the midnight oil. The Energizer LED 2 in 1 light and Energizer LED Tripod light are handy multipurpose tools that deliver vibrant light where you need it most. The Energizer LED lanterns are ideal for indoor projects, as well as hiking, camping and weekend trips. Energizer headlights are lightweight and comfortable so you can keep your hands free wherever you go.
Visit www.energizer.com for more information

-- Ultra HD TVs: The new Sharp AQUOS Ultra HD TVs are THX 4K Certified and feature a new Rich Color Display, which boasts a 21% wider color spectrum than conventional LED HDTVs. Each frame is recreated with more realistic landscapes, lush nature scenes and natural skin tones.
Sharp is also the only brand to offer Wallpaper Mode, turning your TV into a 4K photo frame while your TV is powered off. Any photo 8MP or higher can be seen at full 4K UHD resolution.
60-inch model runs $3,199.99 and 70-inch screen costs $4,399.99.
Visit www.sharpusa.com for more information.

iRobot Roomba
The Roomba, from iRobot, is perhaps the most well-known robotic vacuum, a little helper around the house to clean up the floors while you carry on with your day. iRobot also offers a robot that will mop your floors.

The Roomba is programmable, so you can schedule when it will go to work. It can be used to clean in one spot, or chart its own way around a room. Due to its sensors, you don’t have to worry about the Roomba falling down the stairs. It will for the most part avoid knocking into things, as the sensors help it avoid obstacles. But, to be safe, you might want to move the fancy stuff if you’re not going to be in the room while it’s cleaning.

I recently tested out a Roomba, and in my experience I found it did a solid job cleaning up wood flooring and tiles, but for more in-depth cleaning of carpets I still needed to haul out the big vacuum. Regular maintenance/cleaning of the Roomba is key for maximum cleaning power, and overall it can be a very helpful tool if used in the right situation.

Think of the Roomba not as a do-it-all vacuum, but one that can take care of the smaller cleanup jobs between the big cleans. I would also recommend it only for people who have larger homes; as it’s high price and common logic dictate that it’s not really an option that makes sense for people with small homes.

As far as pricing, there are a handful of Roomba models that vary in price from $349.99 to $699.99.

For more information on the various Roomba models, visit www.irobot.com.

-- Chromebook 2: This new addition to Samsung’s Chromebook line features latest performance technology and more durable design for an affordable $249.99. This is a portable (2.6 pounds) PC for web browsing. Features an 11.6-inch, HD (1366x768) display. High-powered speakers, along with enhanced low range round and high definition audio. The Chromebook 2 offers up to nine hours of battery life

-- Samsung S590C Curved Monitor: For games or entertainment buffs, this monitor delivers an immersive viewing experience. Stereo speakers built directly into the monitor’s curve complete the package with high-quality surround sound, while a specialized mode optimizes the monitor for gaming with just one click. MSRP is $429.99.

Visit www.samsung.com for more information.

Phorce Pro bag
Phorce, creators of the world's first interactive smart bag, has announced the worldwide availability of Phorce Pro: a tool for business travelers that powers devices on-the-go, transforms shape to seamlessly fit any environment and wirelessly communicates with smartphones and tablets. The Phorce Pro is much more than a bag that powers all mobile devices. It adjusts to the environment and needs of the user. The Phorce Pro can transform into a briefcase, messenger bag or backpack. It also communicates wirelessly with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth, tells you how many times you can charge your devices and sends you an alert if you've left your Phorce Pro behind. Phorce Pro charges laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other devices with its 3 high-speed USB power ports, 26,000mAH battery and 90W laptop charging port. It wirelessly communicates with the Phorce app (iOS and Android) via Bluetooth, enabling users to remotely monitor their bag. Its groundbreaking design packs 3 bags in a minimalist form factor that can transform shape to fit the need of the user. Phorce Pro is available for PC and Mac in red and black. Phorce for PC ($649) has 3 high-speed USB power ports to charge smartphones, tablets and other USB devices and includes a universal charging cable for PC laptops. Phorce for Mac ($699) has 3 high-speed USB power ports and includes a Magsafe charging cable for MacBooks.
To learn more, visit www.phorce.com.


HP Stream 13 (price starts at $299.99)
New cloud-connected Windows PC built for cloud computing on-the-go. Features a 13.3-inch HD display, DTS Studio Sound and quad speakers.

HP ENVY x2 (starts at $949.99)
Notebook that shifts seamlessly into a tablet, featuring BeatsAudio sound. The first detachable in the HP ENVY line features a fabric covered, backlit Bluetooth keyboard for flexibility.

14-inch HP Chromebook (starts at $299.99)
The 14-inch HP Chromebook offers a full-sized 14-inch HD screen. NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor. Equipped with Google Chromecast and third-party apps, the best of streaming is at the users’ fingertips for all of you entertaining need during the holidays.
For more information, visit www.hp.com

RHA headphones
From across the pond, British headphone maker RHA offers some high-quality music-listening devices -- including their MA750i model headphones.

Build with quality materials (303F-grade stainless steel) that are made to last, the MA750i in-ear headphones offer impressive quality you could expect from more expensive headphones.
The materials do make them a bit heavy, but the sound quality is worth it. you also get a nice case to carry them around in. There is also a lengthy (over four feet) cord, which is nice.

MSRP is $129.95, but you can find them for under $100 online. For the sound quality you get, that is pretty impressive. Highs, lows and mids all sound strong -- and even bass-heavy tracks don’t sound muddled as is often the case with bigger-name (and more expensive) headphones.

Noise isolation is a term often thrown around but not always delivered -- but this time RHA comes through.

If you are the type of person who likes to drown out the world and truly enjoy your music, the MA750i are one of the best in-ear headphone models I’ve experienced.

And, equally important to the sound, they fit comfortably in the ears, even for extended periods of time, without causing discomfort.

For more information on the MA750i, http://www.rha-audio.com/

-- Encore 2 tablet: Toshiba’s Encore 2 Tablets (8-inch and 10-inch) come loaded with complete versions of Windows 8.1 and have 1280 x 800 native resolution displays. Available for as low as $169.99 at select retailers.
-- Toshiba Canvio AeroMobile Wireless SSD : Stream music, photos and videos to your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone and share your favorite media with up to eight devices simultaneously; Available for as low as $129.99, this pocket-sized device incorporates integrated wireless functionality and a rechargeable battery, making it a good option for anyone who needs access to their content on-the-go. Visit www.toshiba.com for more information.


Bose recently announced two additions to the SoundLink line of mobile audio solutions: the SoundLink Color Bluetooth speaker, the most affordable SoundLink speaker from Bose, and the SoundLink Bluetooth on-ear headphones, the first on-ear Bluetooth headphones from Bose.
-- SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker: Weighs just 1.25 pounds, and measures 5” wide, 2.1” deep and 5.3” high for portability. It connects wirelessly to a smartphone, tablet or other Bluetooth enabled device, and uses voice prompts -- available in several languages -- to simplify setup, and identify which source is connected. It remembers the last eight devices paired when powered back on. It then automatically connects to the two most recently used. Using a lithium-ion battery, it can last for up to eight hours of unplugged play time, and fully recharges in as little as three hours.

-- SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones: Deliver all the audio performance of a Bose wired headphone, without the wires. A new two-microphone system rejects distractions like wind, so callers can hear what you’re saying more, and the sounds around you less. Adaptive Audio Adjustment technology automatically changes volume based on speech level and ambient noise. Use rugged, impact-resistant materials, glass-filled nylon, and non-corrosive stainless steel -- yet weigh only 5.5 ounces. The SoundLink Bluetooth headphones come in Black or White, and charge easily with an included USB cable for up to 15 hours of listening, or up to two hours after a 15-minute charge.

Jackery Leaf phone charger
So you want to charge your phone on the go? That’s where companies like Jackery come into play. The Jackery Leaf, one of their products, is a snap-on battery case that works with the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, charging the phone while you’re on the go (of course, the Leaf itself has to be charged first, but instead of being charged while it’s in the wall, your phone is charged via the Leaf while you’re on the go). The charging still has to happen, but it can happen without you being tethered to the wall, so this is helpful for people on the go.
For more information, visit www.jackery.com

Among the offerings from home entertainment company iHome are:
-- iPL22 clock radio: The iPL22 unit features a FM clock radio with a lightning dock connector for iPhone/iPod. You can listen to music from your iPhone or iPod while you charge it, and you can wake up to the music you choose. For a small device, the sound is impressive. And you can leave your phone here to charge at night. $69.99

-- iBN10 Bluetooth speaker: This speaker lets everyone hear what you are hearing on your phone or other device, nice and loud -- wirelessly. A nice feature is NFC connectivity, so you can easily connect the device just by touching the speaker with an NFC-capable device. Stream wireless digital audio via Bluetooth from your smartphone, tablet or other device. USB port included on the speaker to charge devices, plus an aux line-in jack for playing almost any audio device if you need to be wired. $119.99

Visit www.ihomeaudio.com for more information.

Venue 7 tablet : Starting at $149.99
A 7-inch tablet based on the Android operating system. People can access thousands of apps, music and movies through Google Play.

Dell XPS 13 laptop: Starting at $1199.99
The XPS 13 boasts a 13.3-inch edge-to-edge display that fits into a footprint similar to an 11-inch laptop. The notebook is razor thin and light, starting at 2.99 pounds. It is now even faster and has a longer battery life targeting up to 10.5 hours for the mobile professional who values a sleek design, responsiveness and mobility.

XPS 18 Portable All-in-One Desktop– Starting at $749.99
The world’s thinnest and lightest portable all-in-one can be used by everyone in the family anywhere, anytime. Stream your favorite tunes, review reports in your home office or connect with friends on the couch. At just 5 pounds, with up to 5 hours of battery life, the XPS 18 can be used in every room of the house.

Alienware 13 Gaming Laptop -- Starting at $999.00
Engineered for high-performance gaming anywhere, the Alienware 13 combines stunningly powerful performance and incredibly mobile design. Pair the Alienware 13 with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier for desktop power performance in the home.

Alienware Area-51 -- Starting at $1699.00
With unprecedented gaming power and iconic, innovative design, the new Alienware Area-51 is the next evolution of high-performance desktop gaming.
For more information, visit www.dell.com

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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