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Oh My Tech!: Consider these gadget stocking stuffers for the holidays

Published November 14, 2013 7:30 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This week I wrote a story about some of the big electronic items that will be big sellers this holiday season. They range from laptops to gaming consoles and tablets. But what about smaller and less expensive gadgets?

Here's a few stocking stuffers you might want to consider for that electronics lover in your family.

Chromecast ($35) • Google recently released this small dongle the size of a flash drive that plugs into your television's HDMI port and unlocks myriad streaming possibilities.

It has a built-in Wi-Fi receiver and can stream video and music straight from your mobile device to your television. All you need to do is install a third-party app to your phone or tablet that supports Chromecast, and you'll see an icon that can send the signal to your TV.

So far, the number of apps that work with it are few, but they do include YouTube, Netflix and the music service Pandora. For $35, it's a great deal and can add a lot of functionality to your TV, especially when more apps support it.

Roku (starting at $49) • Then there's Roku, the popular video streaming box that does what the Chromecast does and more. It's a small box that you plug into your television that streams video channels via Wi-Fi.

The difference over Chromecast, however, is that there are hundreds of video apps available for Roku, including ones for specialty movies, news outlets and music-only channels. There are four different boxes to choose from ranging from $49 to $99.

Fitbit (starting at $59) • You don't have to be a fitness fanatic to use this helpful gadget, which can monitor how many steps you take, calories you've burned and more. It syncs with your mobile phone and supports third-party apps. It also can sync up with other Fitbit users in the community so you can challenge others to do more physical activity.

The Fitbit has four models that you can either carry in your pocket or wear as a wristband.

Nest Thermostat ($249) • OK, this isn't necessarily an inexpensive item, but it's small, cool and I really want one. If there's a particularly wealthy and insanely generous reader out there, you know what to get me for the holidays.

The Nest thermostat is just that, a thermostat. But it's one that learns your schedule and raises and lowers the temperature in your home based on when you leave. It also can be controlled from your mobile phone. For example, when you come back from vacation, you can set the thermostat remotely so your home is nice and comfortable for when you arrive.

The company claims that if you train the Nest well, it can save your heating and electric bills by as much as 20 percent, so in theory, it could pay for itself.

Pebble Watch ($150) • Wearable technology is all the rage now with devices such as this electronic watch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear watch. Until the iWatch is introduced by Apple, the Pebble Watch is probably the best example of wearable computing.

It syncs with your mobile phone and can send you texts, notifications, alarms and more. It also works with third-party apps to give it more functionality. It's waterproof, has a 5- to 7-day battery life, and it has a backlight for seeing in the dark.

This is the cutting edge of technology right now.

ZAGGkeys Folio ($99) • There are many portable keyboard/covers available for the iPad, but I like the ones produced by the local Salt Lake County company, ZAGG. That's because the keys feel natural and comfortable on their Bluetooth keyboards, and the newer models now have backlit keys.

They just introduced the ZAGGkeys Folio, a full-body case and keyboard, for the iPad Air.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/Topics/ohmytech.