Since I’m in the gear business, I pay attention to the many End of the year Gift Guides that pop up now. Most of these collections are filled with stuff that doesn’t interest me. For some reason editors, and maybe consumers, are entranced by gear that looks cool. You know, very design-y. These fashionable objects don’t work better, and often work worse, than what is already out there. As utility objects they are junk. Most often the editors haven’t even handled, let alone used, the object they are listing. It’s inclusion is simply based on the clever look and concept. And what is not fashionable, is electronic. Most holiday lists are full of all kinds of the latest cell phone/camera/DVD player/PDA and so on. As far as I can tell these items are selected for their features — as listed on the product’s spec sheet — and not by any trial or use. Their supposed advantage in reality has a half-life of about 3 months, as their feature list is topped by the next model.
There are a few seasonal lists that don’t get sucked in by these temptations and actually try hard to uncover new cool tools. Here are a few that I find have a high ratio of hits to junk. The primary quality they share is that the reviews have used the thing and demonstrate some passion and intelligence for it.
Uncle Mark 2007 Gift Guide & Almanac
Mark Hurst runs the Gel Conference in NYC and every year writes up his personal recommendations of what you should get — along with some other tips. He offers this advice in a very smart, succinct and well-crafted PDF, which is a joy to read.
It’s a lot more work than you’d think, but Wired actually tests the contenders in two dozen gadget catagories and comes up with clear suggestions of the best gear to get. You’ll get the magazine-like issue if you subscribe. If you don’t, you can get the web version for free here.
NPR’s Great Gadgets
NPR’s daily All Things Considered program has a small segment where gadget experts rave about their own favorites. Called “Great Gadgets” it lets various gadget aficionados rave about their favorite things. You can listen to those segments online. [Thanks to Gregg Lewis for the suggestion.]
2006 Street Tech Holiday Gift Guide
Gareth Branwyn collects the best of the stuff he had seen in a year of reviewing gear for his online site Street Tech and distills the best for the year. It is a personal selection, of (mostly) stuff that he uses, which gives the recommendations some clout.