The InfoWorld 2014 geek gadget gift guide

While others dream of sugarplums, here are a dozen gadgets that the true geek is hoping to see under the Christmas tree this year

The InfoWorld 2014 geek gadget gift guide

10 cool gifts sure to please the techies in your life

The gift-giving holidays are fast approaching, and geeks across the world are dreaming about techno toys. In the spirit of spreading holiday cheer of the gadget variety, InfoWorld presents our picks for the coolest gadgets for Christmas 2014 (or whatever holiday you celebrate) for that special geek in your life.

Some you'll find at a big-box retailer, whereas others are gems not so widely available and thus are likely to be a welcome surprise.

Want more ideas? Check out the cool gift ideas from our recent gift guides: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009

Zoomer Dino

Zoomer Dino

You’ve probably seen this remote-controlled dinosaur on wheels on TV, as it’s prominently featured in Target ads. It's both adorable and cool -- and available in several colors. It could be fun for your kids or a playmate for a fearless pet.

The Zoomer Dino costs $100 and is available only from Target.

X-Wing Knife Block

X-Wing knife block

"Star Wars" fans will appreciate the design of this knife block, which mimics the X-wing starfighter design. But even nonfans will appreciate the slick, modern look of this plastic knife holder, which comes with five matching (metal) kitchen knives.

The X-Wing knife block costs $100.

Motorola Keylink

Motorola Keylink

With this key fob, if you misplace your keys, your Bluetooth Low Energy-compatible iPhone or Android smartphone can find it. Using Bluetooth’s roughly 100-foot range, the mobile device can send a signal to this key fob to ring an alarm and lead you to the missing item.

OK, other Bluetooth key fobs can do the same. But the Keylink also works in reverse: Press its button to have your smartphone ring out its location, in case you misplaced the phone but have the key fob.

If you have a compatible Android smartphone running the new Lollipop OS, you can set the fob as a trusted device, which automatically unlocks your device when in range of the fob. That makes it easier to use your phone but lets password protection do what it's supposed to: keep other people out.

The Motorola Keylink costs $25.

HooToo TripMate Elite TM04

HooToo TripMate Elite TM04

We’ve recommended travel routers before, but the HooToo TripMate Elite TM04 adds twists that made it easy to revisit the category for 2014. Like others, it lets you repurpose a single hotel Wi-Fi connection for use with multiple devices and can be a very portable wireless router for a wired Ethernet connection.

But it also has a rechargeable battery, so it can juice your smartphone or tablet. It acts as a wall charger, so you can connect as many as four USB devices to it while it is plugged into an outlet. Finally, it can act as a wireless drive, making a connected USB memory stick or USB hard drive accessible over Wi-Fi to other devices, whether for personal cloud storage or media streaming. It’s the Swiss Army knife of travel routers!

The TripMate Elite TM04 costs $100.

TravelCard

TravelCard

Portable phone chargers are a commonplace item these days, but because the TravelCard can fit in a wallet, it’s one you’re more likely to have at the ready when needed. It’s available in both a Lightning version for recent Apple devices and a MicroUSB version for many Android devices.

The TravelCard costs $39. Be sure to order the right version for your device, as well as the desired color: black, red, silver, or blue.

Skymaster UFO Flying Ball

Skymaster UFO Flying Ball

Think of it as a microdrone: This 7-inch-diameter sphere has a miniature drone inside it, so it can fly around your house or your backyard, controlled via separate radio controller.

Also sold as the Robotic UFO, the Skymaster UFO costs $29.

Mycestro

Mycestro

Pronounced “maestro,” this odd device is a mouse you wear. That’s right -- wear. Designed for airplane travelers whose trays can’t hold a laptop and a mouse or when the trackpad is too hard to use given how close it is to your body, the device is worn on a finger as a ring.

Tap a button to activate the mouse, then move your hand in space to move the mouse on screen, and use the other buttons for click and selection actions. The motions are awkward at first compared to using a regular mouse or trackpad, but they begin to feel natural over time as your hand-eye coordination adjusts.

Yes, you’ll look possessed while using it. But you’ll also get work done on that six-hour flight. Mycestro is currently available only for right-handed users, and the device requires a radio dongle to be inserted into a USB port. Settings apps are available for both Windows and OS X.

Mycestro costs $149.

Phaser Remote Control

Phaser Remote Control

You might say this remote control is a stunner ... because it’s in the guise of a “Star Trek: The Original Series” phaser gun. The Type 1 phase unit (the handheld detachable unit) is the main remote control, using its buttons and dials to send the proper codes via infrared beams for controlling TVs, stereos, and the like. The Type 2 unit (the pistol-like base) that the Type 1 rests in offers additional programmable controls. (Yes, you need to be a Trekkie to get all of this.)

You can of course program various phaser sounds to go along with your remote-control functions, and you can get vibration feedback as you phaser your TV. The device has a rechargeable battery and comes with a USB charging cable.

The Phaser Remote Control costs $150.

Smart Home Kit

Smart Home Kit

A friend calls this the Erector set for millennials. An apt description: It’s a snap-together set of controllers, servos, and sensors you can use to build your own Internet of things devices at home, to control your own objects.

But be clear: You’ll need McGyver or Maker skills to create these contraptions. The Home Kit part may be Lego-like in its simple snap-together design, but how you apply IoT components to real-world objects will require real engineering effort -- perfect for folks who don’t fear soldering irons or splicing.

The Smart Home Kit costs $249 and is promised to ship before Christmas.

Wind-up Salt and Pepper Robots

Wind-up salt and pepper robots

The wind-up salt and pepper robots are a fun way to bring robots into your life -- replica robots, anyhow. These shakers do what any salt and pepper shakers do -- store and sprinkle -- but they also can skitter across your table after you wind them up. “Pass the salt” may never be the same!

The wind-up salt and pepper robots cost $20 for the pair.

Books:

Books: "The Martian," "Spam Nation," and "Alan Turing: The Enigma"

In addition to gadgets, that special geek in your life likely will appreciate a good book. Here are our three recommendations for tech readers this year:

"The Martian," a taut survival story by Andy Weir of a stranded Martian astronaut that blends suspense and technical realism. Paper | Kindle | iBooks

"Spam Nation," an eye-opening investigation by Brian Krebs into organized crime's pervasive Internet activities. Paper | Kindle

"Alan Turing: The Enigma," a compelling biography by Andrew Hodges of the code-breaker who may very well have saved Europe and Britain from Nazi domination. Originally released in 1983, an updated version is now available as a tie-in to the movie based on the book. Paper | Kindle | iBooks

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More on InfoWorld: Gadgets Galore

Practical or zany, chances are another InfoWorld gadget roundup has something that will appeal to you for use at home or at the office: