We've already given you two hardware-oriented buyer's guides: one aimed at the DiY'er building a new machine and another for the folks who'd rather not open up their boxes. But we're in a financial downturn, and a lot of those products were pretty pricey. That's why we've put together a little last-minute guide with gifts that won't break the bank. We tried to steer clear of junk and cheap mass-market goodies and looked more for interesting and unusual stuff with compelling looks or design features. Whether that means an all-wooden keyboard, a vacuum-tube clock, a miniature TV satellite dish, a fuel-cell powered vehicle, a chess computer, a classy alarm clock, a programmable robot, an LCD monitor, a record player for your PC, or a Ducati-themed USB drive, you’ll surely find something noteworthy in this list for any technophiles on your gift list.
It’s still not too late to go out and pick something up, as long as you get going right away!
Lego-Shaped USB Drive
Here’s an unusual USB Flash drive shaped like a Lego block. You can find one from the Australian maker ZipZIP in a 4GB version for about $40 (they come in red, yellow, blue, green, and black). Never mind the Google logos--that's just one example of the corporate branding ZipZIP makes available for large orders.
PCB Christmas Tree
Those in search of something a bit untraditional might consider acquiring this tree cut out of motherboards bedecked with LEDs, which get their juice from a standard 9V battery. This Christmas tree might even look nice in your boss’s office (depending on where you work). It costs only $12 from Fredflare.
ID Card Camera
James Bond could make good use of this ID card with a built-in digital camera, if “Q” were to make an appearence in the next 007 film. A CMOS sensor with a fixed-aperture lens shoots photos at 1280x1024 resolution, or you can activate video mode on your next reconnaissance mission to grab 15 frames per second at 352x288 resolution. Either way, you have 1 GB of flash RAM to store your images. Available at various outlets for around $100, for example at SurprisingGift.com.
These lamps make a striking impression. Built by Japanese artist Hironao Tsuboi in homage to post-war Japanese art icon Noguchhi, they are equally appropriate for home and office use. Including wire stand (in black or white) the lamps from HHStyle cost $132 at the Japan Trend Shop.
Hydrogen Cell Car
Here’s a nice toy for grown-ups, especially those who still remember their childhoods or student years fondly. It’s a small mobile vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells known as the Hydrocar, model FCJJ-20, lit from within by cool blue LEDs. It’s available from Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies for $85 (plus shipping and handling).
Digital Clock Radio
Today, the return of clock radios from the 80s is hard to miss on nightstands everywhere. The big difference, of course, between then and now is a significant boost in capability. The AgfaPhoto AC8130D bundles an alarm clock with calendar, temperature, and time displays, along with a 960x240 3" digital photo frame. It even plays your favorite photos when the alarm goes off (but only if you want it to). This gadget goes for about $150 at Amazon UK.
1TB External Hard Drive
Many old IT hands will recognize the Iomega brand name. This vendor offers lots of attractive and stylish external USB drives. The 1 TB E-GO makes a handsome buy, and costs around $135 from Dell Small Business.
Ducati-Themed USB Drive
Well-known Italian motorcycle maker Ducati builds unimistakeable, charismatic two-wheelers. Fans of this brand who are friends to hipster gear are bound to fall in love with the Ducati USB drives from SanDisk at first sight. You can pick up a 4GB model for about $65 from Amazon.com.
It numbers among the smaller satellite dishes around the world: with a radius of only 18" (46 cm), the portable Winegard RD-9046 dish is quick and easy to assemble, install, and put to work. Works with Direct TV, Dish Network, and other North American providers (note: HDTV reception is bound to decline during severe weather). Grab one at Amazon for $128.
The RCA RCR612 universal remote is a rare bird among remotes: it’s inexpensive, capable, and relatively easy to learn and use. Although you can pick one up at Beach Audio for only $12, and it handles "only" 35 different presets (enough for most home entertainment systems), it also works with the vast majority of home entertainment components. You could spend a lot more, and do a lot worse, with other universal remotes.