A staggering array of gadgetry gets posted to Boing Boing every year, which makes picking just some of the stuff seem like a big job. But it's easy when you just ask yourself: what made our lives better? What looks fun? Here's a few dozen tech toys that generated laughs, light and lovely smoothies.
Most of the links here include Amazon Affiliate codes; this helps us make ends meet at Boing Boing, the world's greatest neurozine. Don't miss our favorite books and toys from 2016, too
I bought this illuminated handheld magnifier on Amazon for $3 (free shipping) last year and I use it a lot. It's a great splinter and lice checker. I've gotten my $3 of value from it just looking at tiny bugs and skin abnormalities. It has two built in LEDs and uses two AA batteries.
Squatty Potty is a $28 footstool that slides away under your toilet; you use it to bring your knees up to a squatting position while you poop, which makes pooping much, much easier. The product was launched with the best viral ad campaign of all time, which threaded the seemingly impossible needle of making an ad about a poop-assistance product; I bought one and (without getting into detail) I can personally testify to its efficacy.
Nintendo NES Classic Edition
What’s Christmas without price gouging on the hottest geek gift of the year! Don’t fret. Soon, the rationing will cease and a $60 NES Classic Edition will be just a click away. And then, Mario my old friend, we will ALL be playing with power.
Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor
The latest model of the best food processor for people who are serious about broadening their happy foodie horizons. Shove entire fruits and veggies into the giant feed tube. Listen to the 720-watt motor fill a 14-cup work bowl with steel slicing and shredding discs. It still comes with a free recipe book.
Beautiful 1-bit graphics in your wallet! Arduboy is an open-source platform to create and share games and the hardware is made to the dimensions of a business card. Best of all, this tiny toy is only $50. Want more? The PocketChip, at $70
, plays Pico-8 games with a dazzling 16 colors; the dev community is more mature and there are countless games already.
A Parker 51 Fountain Pen
There is one Parker 51 available on Amazon, seems to be a re-issue with an Empire State cap. While the Parker 51 is my favorite pen ever, I do not know whom in New York I love enough to pay the near-patriotic price of $1775 to gift them one.
Star Wars tiki mugs
Six 14 oz Star Wars tiki mugs, standing 6.5"-7.5" tall, with contrast-glazed interiors. They're $15 each or $73 for the set of six. They're not microwave- or dishwasher-safe.
Invented in 1967, the Stylophone is a small analog synthesizer that you play with a stylus. The curious, inexpensive synth has been used by Kraftwerk, They Might Be Giants, Pulp, and the late great David Bowie who played it to great effect on “Space Oddity.”
Ease your bay area commute with a Sikorsky UH-34D
Put this former Vietnam veteran to work! Available for a mere $80k this Skirorsky UH34D is a steal… imagine you, Face and BA riding in the back while Murdock pilots her. Typically, I’m pretty fixated on a G-21 Super Goose as the ultimate, practical gettin’ around town vehicle, but Platinum Fighters keeps turning my head.
Apple iPhone 7s
Still my entire creative studio and almost everything I need to do my work: it replaces my fancy camera, my audio gear and everything else I had to lug around. This thing really is everything. I go big on screen size and storage capacity, with that in mind: the Plus, and 128 GB.
LED headlamp with hands-free switch for $10
The OxyLED LED Headlamp ($10 on Amazon) is a great deal for the price. The lamp is very bright (you can dim it, or make it strobe) and you can point the beam up or down. It's also got a motion activated switch so you don't gave to fumble for the button - just wave your hand in front of the beam to activate or deactivate it.
iPad Pro 9.7"
The larger, pencil-equipped models are as close to being fit for heavy creative duty as tablets get, but the 12.9" model is so large it suffers by comparison to Apple's splendidly tiny 12" MacBook (and Microsoft's tablet PCs, to be plainly honest) for many tasks. But the 9.7" model is just perfect: big enough to paint on, small enough to not feel like you're carrying around a computer, but with all the power offered by its big sister.
Black & Decker CHV1410L 16-volt Lithium Cordless Dust Buster Hand Vac
Still the best selling hand vac for keeping your office, home, workshop or hackerspace tidy. CHV1410L has strong suction, and a bagless dirt bowl that's easy to see and empty. Holds a charge for up to 18 months when it's off the charger. High efficiency Lithium ion chargers protect it by automatically shutting off when the battery is charged, so you can store it on the charger.
Onzow Zerodust Stylus Cleaner
Every vinyl collector needs this but just doesn’t know it. Dipping your stylus into this firm, gelatinous lump removes any dust or dirt without damaging the needle. It’s very satisfying. The plastic lid is a magnifier for a before and after view. Imported from Japan, complete with kanji on the packaging.
The best convertible tablet PC by a mile, Microsoft's Surface is beautiful, powerful and well-designed, especially the balance between keyboard and display. RAM is limited to 16GB, and the custom GPU from NVidia really isn't up to snuff for gaming, but it's the second-best tool for fat-walleted artists wanting to move on from Wacom. (The best is the Surface Studio Desktop
, but they're not shipping until the new year)
Hand-crank LED lantern
This nifty collapsable lantern has a built-in lithium battery. You can charge it with a USB cable or by turning the crank. The manufacturer says you can also charge your phone in an emergency by turning the crank.
Polaroid ZIP Mobile Printer
This pocket-size mobile printer connects to your iOS or Android device via Bluetooth and spits out 2 x 3” color prints. There are no ink cartridges to run out. Each print using the Polaroid ZINK photo paper runs about 50 cents and has a peelable sticker backing. No need to shake the prints when they come out either because, well, that never did anything anyway.
I bought my first Aeropress in 2010; since then, I've been an out-and-out evangelist for them. Nothing makes a better cup of coffee, and you can literally buy a hundred of these for the cost of a midrange espresso machine. Every Aeropress cup I've ever made has been perfect. I keep one in my suitcase. I buy spare ones to keep at the houses of people I stay with on the road. I gave one to my parents. If you want to give a gift to a coffee-lover, give that person an Aeropress. Seriously.
Brondell O2+ Balance Air Purifier
I bought the Brondell Source in 2015 and it alleviated allergy symptoms; here's the latest model, adding a touchscreen, remote control and an adjustable air quality sensor. Rids the air of dust and dander and tiny particles you don’t need to be breathing—but also filters volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Three-stage advanced purifier system includes certified True HEPA and Granulated Carbon technology. Glowing light indicator tells you when it’s working. One time my dog farted a particularly noxious plume and this thing kicked into high gear with an emergency red glow. That’s when I knew I’d be giving it a five star recommendation in our gift guide.
8Bitdo's Desktop Arcade Joy Stick
This is the single most gorgeous example of practical retromania I've seen all year, a weird and wonderful mashing together of American decades. Sadly, it's not clear if it's a product yet or just a prototype; rich players can drop creators 8bitdo a line and see what's possible in time for Christmas. For the rest of us, their other clever retro recreations
are quite inexpensive.
Suck UK Bell Jar Light
There is literally nothing in the world that isn't made cooler by being displayed in a bell-jar, and the addition of a diffused white LED base to the traditional jar in the Suck UK jar is a genius move that is obvious in retrospect.
Arduino clone project kit loaded with components
The Elegoo UNO Project Super Starter Kit comes with a bunch of different components, including sensors, a servo motor, a stepper motor, a joystick, a breadboard, and lots more. Most of the reviewers say that the Elegoo UNO is a good Arduino Uno clone. The one thing people have complained about is the tutorials. They say they are poorly written. That's not a problem because there are lots of great Arduino books, and I have a video class on getting started with Arduino on Skillshare
that is highly rated. At $32, the components alone are worth the price.
Shark Rocket Ultra-Light Upright
Last year I recommended the larger, cheaper traditional upright, but the Shark Rocket is more compact and manoeverable. The wide, motorized head means it can handle a whole room, but it's a great gift that can be stashed in a desk drawer and whipped out for some vacuuming fun whenever the need arises.
All-New Kindle E-reader
For $50, the All-New Kindle E-reader (the entry-level unit) is priced right, and comes in black or white! This model has a 6” display and the battery lasts for ages between charges. If you want to get fancy, go for the Kindle Paperweight with a built-in reading light so you don't bug bedmates. Load it with free classic books from Project Gutenberg before gifting!
Real Wax Flameless Candles w/Auto Timer
Warm, comforting, light flickers from these ombre flameless candles--now available in gold and
rose gold, to go with your gadgets. Set up an auto-timer with the flick of a button, and they turn on and off automatically every day at the same time from that day on. Better than actual candles for three reasons: a thousand hours glow time per battery pair, you don’t have to go around your house and light each one, and you don't have to worry about accidentally burning your house down. Each wax candle has a soft ombre design that fades from dark to light. They smell faintly of vanilla, in the nicest way.
Japanese NES Classic MiniThe
gift of 2016, Nintendo's reboot of its classic gaming console (complete with dozens of games) is hard to find at a decent price. Here's the Japanese model, which runs off USB power, looks awesome, and is a relatively reasonable $140.
Teenage Engineering Arcade Pocket Operator P0-20
The Pocket Operators are fantastically simple, absolutely delightful, and quite powerful synthesizer modules and sequencers in the form factor of (you guessed it) a pocket calculator. The PO-20 model is all about creating the bleepy, bloopy beats you’d hear in a videogame arcade of yore.
Clear plastic padlock and a set of lock picking tools John Edgar Park introduced
me to the gentle art of recreational lock-picking. It's fun and potentially useful to know how to tickle tumblers in the right way to open door locks and padlocks. This $17 set comes with a clear plastic padlock and a set of lock picking tools so you can see the effects of your probing and prodding. Once you get started on lock picking, you might become hooked.
1 oz Calavera and Oracle coins
The Calaveras Coin sports a pile of skulls on one side, and a grinning skeleton in a sombrero on the other. The Oracle Coin features a "YES" on one side, and a "NO" on the other, and "has the uncanny ability to answer any yes/no question with remarkable (50%) accuracy."
Raspberry Pi 3
The best $35 you can spend on a tony yet straightforward and accessible barebones computer, Raspberry's Pi is now in its third generation and lives atop a vast and growing ecosystem of accessories, cases and general craziness to have fun with. The latest flagchip model has a 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core CPU with twice the Pi 2's performance, integrated WiFi and Bluetooth, and backward compatibility with earlier models.
Fermentation Crock with weights
A fantastic gift for the budding home fermentor! This 5L crock comes with a set of fitted weights to hold your kraut, or other fermentables, under the brine, and is designed to move condensed water away from the ferment, to help minimize badness. Give the gift of probiotics!
The terrible name and the awful branding notwithstanding, this revolutionary sex-toy has changed the lives of many women since it was launched. Oh Joy Sex Toy's Erica Moen said
"it forces your clit to get a raging erection without the usual arousal lead up, it's the closest I've ever empathized with having a spontaneous teenage boner." I wrote about it in November 2015 and have received many emails since from women who were delighted with their purchase and wanted to say thanks for my calling their attention to it.
The best automotive battery tender
Hands down the best battery tenders I’ve ever had. I rotate two through my small fleet, and it keeps us spry. This pulsing, desulfating charger keeps the batteries in top share, and performing for years longer than normal use normally provides.
I've been using my FryDaddy electric deep fryer ($22 on Amazon) like crazy after buying it earlier this year. I fill it with coconut oil and fry Brussels sprout leaves, sweet potato slices, and butternut squash fries.
Lately I've been frying thinly cut slices of butternut squash. It's a bit tricky, because for five minutes it doesn't look like anything is happening, then suddenly the slices begin to brown, and about a minute later, they start to burn. There's a 30-second window where they are perfectly browned and on the edge of being crispy and chewy. With a little salt, they are one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten.
RFID Blocking Leather Slim Wallet
I bought this leather wallet for $6 from Amazon a month ago. I liked it right away, and after having taken about eight flights since then, I have come to appreciate how great it is to be able to slide my driver license out of the clear plastic pocket (which has a hole so you can remove the card by sliding it with your thumb) and hand it to the friendly TSA officer at the security checkpoint.
The wallet shows no signs of wear, and the cards and cash are held tightly in the three different pockets (in addition to the driver license pocket) so they don't fall out. It's probably my favorite wallet, and the least expensive.
One of the pockets is advertised as RFID-blocking. I haven't tested it, nor am I concerned about it.
Raindrop Essential Oil Diffuser
This nebulizer/diffuser remains my pick as the best way to get scent from essential oils into the air, and the 2017 model now has a touch-sensor for controlling it with a swipe. Pure oils, no water needed: fantastic aromas throughout 800 sq. ft., with personal controls and timed cycles. Most diffusers are made of cheap plastic. This is glass and wood and looks beautiful.
USB microphones are a maturing genre, and the Rasberry excels on several fronts: the audio quality is excellent in its class, it's much smaller than similarly good models such as the Rode NT-USB and Blue's own Spark, and it is absolutely zero-fuss, coming with a monitoring jack, mute button, detachable stand and even a lightning adapter for use with Apple mobiles.
Fagor LUX Multi Cooker, 6 quart
I use my Fagor every day now, at least a couple times a day. This device is my primary cooking tool. Oats in the morning, beans or grains or veggie stew in maybe 10 minutes from scratch for lunch or dinner. Brisket, ribs, a whole chicken, whatever: total prep and cooking time for each under 30 minutes. Paleo bone broth in an hour or less. Experiment with molecular gastronomy techniques, rev up your Maillard reaction. Cook perfect rice. It's fantastic for travel or hot weather cooking, perhaps a student or someone who's moving (you don't have to heat up your kitchen, or have a kitchen at all).
Audio Technica AT-LP60
Forget those vinyl-destroying, vintage-inspired all-in-one units. They're all crap. The Audio Technica AT-LP60 is a fantastic beginner (or revivalist) turntable for the price. Its built-in pre-amp means all you need to do is plug it any powered speakers with an audio input.You won't find a better turntable than this for under $100 unless you hit the second-hand market.
Datamancer Sojourner Keyboard
Though Richard "Datamancer" Nagy died unexpectedly in 2013, his business partner and family continue to fabricate the extraordinary steampunk designs he pioneered.
Among the creations still available is his classic Sojourner keyboard, machined from brass and elegantly designed. I own one like this (bought from Richard himself around 2008) and wrote two novels on it -- For the Win and Rapture of the Nerds -- and it's a delight to write upon.
Magnetic phone mount
I started using a magnetic phone mount for my car over a year ago, and I think it is the best way to secure my phone to the dashboard. I've tried lots of other kinds of mounts, and this is the most convenient. The only downside is that you have to apply a thin metal plate to the back of your phone or phone case so it will stick to the the magnet on the mount. But the plate is very thin and it's not a bother.
The magnetic mount attaches to an air vent on your car. This could be another downside, but since I live in Los Angeles, I'm almost always running the air conditioning so it keeps my phone from overheating when the sun is on it. That makes the air vent mount an upside for me. (With other mounts, the phone would get so hot that the safety shutdown would sometimes activate to prevent damage to the phone.)
Vintage Teasmade and Alarm Clock
The iconic UK Teasmade alarm-clocks (which automatically brew a cup of tea using an improbable, Wallace-and-Grommity/Heath Robinson set of mechanical actions) have been reissued in a model that runs on US current.
The Teasmade reboot sells for $80, and scores top marks with reviewers. The company kept the classic styling of one of the late-original models -- I'm sure I saw one that looked practically identical at the Victoria and Albert Museum -- and designed it for bedside use, so you don't even have to stagger into the kitchen to get your first readymade cup.
Elf ear earbuds
Taobao offers prosthetic pointed ears with built-in earbuds, for elves who can't quit their record collection even for a moment. Sadly only available in lily white. They're cheap, at $15, but good luck figuring out ordering a pair from China!
This little blade-less multitool called the Shard is TSA safe (depending on the mood of the TSA behavior detection officer who is inspecting your baggage and scanning your brainwaves). It's got a pry bar (for opening paint cans and the like), a wire stripper, two flat blade screwdrivers, and one Phillips head screwdriver. And it's only $5, so if the TSA behavior detection officer determines you plan to use it to pry open the airplane window, crawl out, and unscrew the engines from the wing while the plane is aloft, he can take it from you without much damage to your net worth.
Who will get the Evel Knievel stunt cycle?
How can you expect your kid to enjoy life without having had their very own Evel Knievel stunt cycle? There must be one awesome parent out there that knows the suspicious price of $419.99 is nothing compared to the AWESOME you’d introduce into your child’s development.
Smith Knowledge Turbo Fan OTG Goggles
As someone who wears glasses -- and not contacts -- there always comes a point at which I have to choose between being able to see and being warm. Whether it's having my nose/cheeks covered with my scarf (which blows my breath up over my goggles) or having my hat low over my forehead (which blocks the vents), I end up being miserable and half-blind. It's not just uncomfortable, either -- it's dangerous. Skiing without being able to see isn't a thrill, it's a terror.
I've tried every conceivable anti-fog solution, from waxes to sprays to special coatings to cloths, and none of them can deal with the brutal reality of subzero temperatures and my warm, foggy breath.
Finally, this year, I broke down and bought goggles with the dumbest-imaginable gimmick: a little fan built into them.
It actually worked. Really, really worked. The fan, which you turn on before you leave for the day and turn off when you get back, and which has a "turbo" mode for bad fog -- runs on a pair of AAA batteries that lasted for eight full days of skiing without flagging.
The iRING turns your mobile phone into jewelry. Sort of. It’s an ingenious little gadget for keeping your device secure in your hand. And it doubles as a stand for video viewing. This is a perfect little gift for clumsy people, especially those (like me) who have accidentally dropped their phone in the toilet.
Portable wind, sun, and rain shelter that's easy to set up. Can you open an umbrella? Can you drive a couple stakes into the ground? You got this, then. Haul it to the beach, outdoor gatherings or events, camping, sports, and you feel like you have a little private room outdoors. Comes in 6 different colors. Provides UPF 50+ shade. Opens to 9 feet wide, has a metallic undercoating for additional sun protection, internal pockets for stakes, valuables, and gear, plus top wind vents and side zippered windows for efficient airflow. Water resistant, weighs only 11.5 pounds. I first saw someone else on our local beach use it, and asked them where they bought it. Amazonned one for myself. Now I use it nearly every weekend, and love it.
Make sous vide an every day technique with the ChefSteps Joule
Sous vide is an amazing cooking technique, precisely cooking foods though immersion in a controlle temperature water bath. The results are always stellar, and ChefSteps Joule is thouhgtfully engineered to fit into even the smallest kitchen. With its brilliant-in-its-simplicity magnetic mount, and use of your smartphone or tablet as a display, this compact unit is the must have sous vide circulator.
Waring Pro WPM28 Kettle Popcorn Maker
My 7-year-old daughter is addicted to popcorn and this miniature movie theater-style popcorn maker was her favorite gift during the last holiday season. It makes perfect popcorn every single time. We still use it several times a week, in part because it’s super-easy and quick to clean. Popcorn pro tip from my daughter: Mix in a handful of M&Ms
Little Black Gun earrings
Enreverie's $20 "Little Black Gun" earrings are studs made from shells have have been fired, affixed to surgical steel posts, nickel-plated and set with Swarovski crystals.
iPhone SE / Xperia X Compact
Small is beautiful. Apple's iPhone SE is its cheapest current model, the camera's almost as good as what you get on the twice-the-price iPhone 7s, and the custom chipset means impeccably smooth performance. The equivalent Android is Sony's gorgeous Xperia X Compact
; reviewers warn, though, that for all that's great about it, the camera app is slow to start.
Micron pens for drawing
My daughter introduced me to Micron pens. I loved using them. The ink is very dark and was perfect for practicing cross-hatching and the other rendering techniques. They are inexpensive, too. A set of six Micron Pens, with line widths ranging from 0.20mm to 0.50mm, costs $7 on Amazon.
A classic. Switch it on and it immediately switches itself off. That's all it does. And somehow, it's incredibly compelling. Build your own with this satisfying kit.
Hydro Flask Insulated Wide Mouth Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Don't drink from plastic bottles or disposable cups. You're ingesting who knows what chemicals with who knows what effect, over time. Carry your own water, tea, coffee, or whatever warm or cool or icy cold beverage you like in this BPA-free insulated metal bottle. Everyone on your list could use one, and they come in a bunch of nice colors, or brushed metal. Powder-coated matte finish exterior that never sweats. Lifetime warranty.
Dell XPS 13 & 15
Put simply, Dell's XPS 13 and 15 are the most interesting and capable laptops going, the first to really make Apple's models look tired. Almost as sleek, but lighter and more powerful, the real joy is Dell's absolutely stunning edge-to-edge 4k display. The XPS 13 is somewhat limited performance-wise (somewhere between the 12" MacBook and the 13" MacBook Pro) but the 15 is beefier than anything Apple offers and is good for gaming too. And both are much cheaper.