What do you give someone who seems to have everything—including his or her own business? How about a tile that beeps, a tube that responds to voice commands, or maybe a selfie camera that actually takes great selfies? And that's just for starters.
As a small business owner and an avowed tech weenie, I've tried some of the following products myself. In the cases where I haven't, I've included comments from other reviewers. So without further ado, I present to you:
The Top 10 Tech Gifts for Small Business
1. MacBook Air 13-Inch
Want to get a little extravagant? Splurge on a 13-inch MacBook Air. It weighs slightly less than 3 pounds, has a battery that Apple says lasts up to 12 hours, features a backlit keyboard, and starts at $999 for 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
The MacBook Air
Tip: You can't upgrade a MacBook Air's memory later, so I recommend buying a customized Air with 8GB of RAM for an additional $100. I've owned a lot of laptops in my day, both Windows and Macs—including the 11.6-inch MacBook Air. The 13-inch Air is by far my all-time favorite.
2. MacBook Air Skinny Sleeve
That shiny MacBook Air is vulnerable to scratches and needs a protective covering or a sleeve. San Francisco-based Acme Made makes a thin but fully padded Skinny Sleeve ($40) with a strap that holds the Air in place. Available for both MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the sleeve comes in various screen sizes and in different colors. (My favorite: The blue sleeve with the gray strap.)
3. HP Stream
A second laptop for Web surfing and basic productivity can make for a good gift, and in this department, HP offers the Stream. Hoping to compete against low-priced Chromebooks, HP's new Stream laptop line starts at a shockingly low $200 for the 11-inch model. A 13-inch screen model starts at $230, while a 14-incher is $300. Each model uses Windows 8.
Before you roll your eyes, consider this: The Wall Street Journal gave the Stream a largely positive review, calling the 11-inch model a "$200 Windows laptop that's worth the price." Its main drawback, not surprisingly, is its somewhat sluggish performance.
PCWorld added that the Stream "should be just fine for anyone who wants a basic and small computer. Its battery life is good (it lasted 6hr 17min in our video rundown test), its screen isn't glossy (though it does look a little dull), and the overall build and feel of the unit is not cheap (despite the price). Performance was good for the most part, but did get a little sluggish at times (understandable since it's a Celeron)."
I've tried a lot of activity trackers, and the Fitbit line remains my favorite. Fitbit's app and website are easy to use and their devices are easy to set up. Having used one or another Fitbit device since November 2012, I've also convinced half a dozen good friends to get one. We compete against each another on the Fitbit leaderboard—which is extremely motivating.
Fitbit wearable technology.
Fitbit devices range from the $60 Zip to the $250 Surge. Fitbit One ($99) is a great choice for those who don't want to wear a Fitbit on their wrist. It tucks easily into a pocket or hooks onto a bra strap, and it tracks steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, and your sleep. Downside: Several of my friends have lost their Ones, some more than once.
The new Fitbit wristband models—Charge, Charge HR, and Surge—do everything the One does and more. Surge ($250) is the top-of-the-line model, with GPS tracking, continuous heart rate monitoring, notifications from your connected smartphone, and music control. It's the fitness watch for those who aren't interested in an Apple Watch.
Downside: Charge HR and Surge won't be available until early next year. In the meantime, I've used Charge ($130), available now, and recommend it for those who don't care about heart rate tracking, GPS, or lots of smartphone notifications. (Charge does display caller ID from your connected smartphone, which is a nice feature—especially if you have a big phone in your pocket.)
5. Amazon Echo
Amazon's Echo could make for a cool holiday gift, especially for early adopters and true gadget freaks.
Echo is a tube-shaped Bluetooth speaker with a Siri-like voice interface and a Google-like brain. The always-listening device responds to commands that begin with the word "Alexa" or "Amazon." You can ask Echo questions such as "How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?"; make commands, such as "Play music by Taylor Swift"; ask for the weather forecast; add items to a to-do list; and so on.
Echo will cost $199 or $99 to early purchasers who have an Amazon Prime account ($99/year). The bad news: Echo isn't available yet. So if you give it as a gift, you'll have to wrap up a picture of it with a promissory note. Or buy it on eBay, where recent listings sold for $250 to $390.
Also, CNET appears to have reviewed Echo first and gave it only three out of five stars. "The Amazon Echo shows promise and is a bargain at its introductory price point of $99 for select Prime members," CNET's reviewer wrote. "But it's too much of a work in progress to enthusiastically recommend at its full list price."
Nonetheless, I'm on the "invite" list to get an Echo as soon as they're available.
6. Whispersync for Voice Meets Immersion Reading & Kindle Fire HDX
Amazon has a killer feature for audiobook and ebook lovers called Whispersync for Voice. If you buy a book in both its audiobook and ebook formats from Amazon, and the book supports Amazon's Whispersync for Voice feature, you can listen to the audiobook while you're out walking or taking a drive. Then, once you're ensconced on the living room sofa, you can read the ebook—picking up exactly where you left off in the audiobook, or vice versa.
Even better: With Amazon's immersion reading feature, you can read the ebook while listening to the professional narration, with the spoken words highlighted in real-time.
To get the immersion reading experience, you need a Kindle tablet or the Kindle Android app. It's a good excuse to pick up a Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch Tablet ($200 for 16 GB), which is an ideal size for ebook reading. Also, if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can download certain movies and TV episodes for free to watch on your Kindle tablet.
7. Samsung Mini NX Camera
Everyone wants to take selfies. But in terms of image quality, most smartphone front-facing cameras can't compete against digital cameras. Samsung figured out a compromise: the NX Mini, a digital point-and-shoot with a 3-inch LCD that pops up, letting you aim the camera at yourself and compose the shot on the screen. The camera takes sharp, crisp photos, too, and does a decent job in low-lighting conditions without a flash. I bought the black model with a 9-27mm lens (the NX Mini uses interchangeable lenses). The camera currently sells on Amazon for $417.
8. Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480
Logitech's Bluetooth keyboard ($50) makes for a cool, and practical, replacement for a desktop computer keyboard. You can use it with a Windows or Mac computer or with an Android or iOS device. To switch between connected devices, just turn a knob.
This isn't designed to be a mobile keyboard, however. It weighs 1.81 pounds, and it's noisy. Start clacking away on it in a cafe and you're sure to annoy your neighbors. For a solid mobile keyboard, consider Microsoft's Universal Mobile Keyboard ($80, but available for less on other sites), which weighs less than 13 ounces and works with iOS and Android devices and Windows tablets.
9. Tylt Energi 2K
Though smartphone and tablet batteries are getting better, a busy day can still drain them. You'll find lots of portable power options out there, but Tylt's Energi 2K ($40) is one of the more stylish.
Tylt Energi 2K Smart Travel Charger.
Plug it into the wall, and plug your smartphone or tablet into its USB port. Tylt will recharge the connected device first before it recharges itself. When you're rushing out the door, unplug Tylt, fold down its wall charger plug, and you've got an 2200mAh battery pack to keep your devices juiced. Energi 2K comes in four colors, too.
It's not that we're forgetful. It's just that we have a lot on our minds. (That's what I tell myself, anyway.) That means we sometimes forget where we put our keys, bag, and other stuff. Enter Tile, a Bluetooth device that's roughly the size of a chocolate square (only thicker).
You can easily attach a Tile to your keychain or stick it to an object. If you misplace the item later, the Tile iOS app (and soon Android) helps you locate it on a map. Also, the Tile device plays a little ditty, which helps you hunt for the lost object using your ears.
Because it uses Bluetooth and not GPS, you can only locate objects within about 100 feet of your smartphone or tablet. However, Tile records the last place your mobile device connected with it, which may help you find the lost object if it's more than 100 feet away. There's also a Tile community, so you can crowdsource the search for your lost object.
A single Tile costs $25; you can buy in bulk at a discount. You don't have to recharge Tiles or replace their batteries. The bad news: Tiles last only for about one year.
James A. Martin writes about mobile technology and is an SEO and content marketing consultant. Follow him on Twitter, @james_a_martin.
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