Gift Guide 2013: Extras and Accessories

Gift Guide 2013: Extras and Accessories

Our annual holiday gift guide always ends up with devices and gadgets that we just can't fit into the other buckets. But rather than not consider them, we create a "miscellaneous" bucket. If you're an artist, creative type or are just looking for something to keep track of your keys, check out some of these gift ideas / suggestions:

[HAPPY HOLIDAYS:See a listing of all the products of Network World's holiday gift guide]

Product: IKlip 2 Multimedia iPad/iPad Mini StandsCompany: IK MultimediaPrice: $40 direct; also for iPhone as iKlip Mini (not tested) - same price $30 direct; also available for iPad Mini, same price; $70 direct; also available for iPad Mini, same priceBuy this for: Musicians or other production types who need to attach an iPad on a tripod-like unit (or a microphone stand) in a much easier way.

Along with physical keyboards of various forms, the most popular accessories for iPads are cases, again, of wide variety. But there are many times when a case is simply inappropriate -- sure, they're great for travel, protecting the device, as well as making a fashion statement, but often impractical in applications where the device needs to be easily and constantly available and usable, but also secured and held in a position suitable for operation. For example, I use my iPads both as video monitors (monitoring CNBC and other stations while working at my desk) and in recording and other studio production settings. I need, then, a stand for the iPad.

And I've tried many of these, most of which don't securely hold the iPad or otherwise even reliably mount to a desktop. They were constantly moving in operation as poked or swiped, with the iPad itself falling off the stand or the stand even falling off the back of the desk -- no damage done so far, fortunately, but with accompanying bad language nonetheless.

IK Multimedia has now solved this problem with a line of iPad stands for a broad range of applications. The iKlip 2 (the original iKlip is for the original iPad) mounts your iPad to a pole, like a microphone stand. This is, of course, great for a musician on stage or in the studio, but also for recording podcasts and other casual applications. Using a mic stand isolates the microphone from the desk it would otherwise be sitting on (or the person it would be clipped to), resulting much better audio quality with less extraneous noise. The iKlip 2 lets the iPad be conveniently positioned no matter what the user might require.

The iKlip Studio is a desk stand for any version of the iPad. It works in both portrait and landscape, and the angle is adjustable. And it really is universal, as the tablet just rests in the unit, so it will work with most other tablets, e-readers, and similar devices. Perhaps most importantly, the rubber feet keep the unit stable and stationary on desktops. If you're looking for even a bit more adjustability, the iKlip Stand will likely fill the bill. This unit is essentially an iKlip2 with both desktop and clamp riser mountings that holds the iPad off the disk, freeing up space, allowing the device to be positioned higher up, and providing a broad range of adjustability for, again, essentially any application.

All of these are also available for the iPad Mini. These are among the very best of their class, and your giftee will be impressed -- and wondering how they lived before without such convenience.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias


Product: Proximo Bluetooth TrackersCompany: KensingtonPrice: $25 for Tag, $35 for key fob, or $60 for bundle; free app.Buy this for: Anyone who's always misplacing their keys, or wants to make sure they never leave their phone when they go somewhere.

The Proximo key fobs and tags are a couple of devices that team up with the Proximo app (free for iOS and Android users) to make sure that you never misplace items again. The devices (either a keyfob or a tag that also can be placed on a keychain) use Bluetooth to communicate with the app on the smartphone. When the devices are within range of each other, you can hit a "Find" button on the phone and the key fob or tag will start beeping to help you find it (there's also a "radar" indicator that tells you if you're getting close to the device.

Likewise, if you have your key fob (which can be on your keychain) and you can't find your phone, there's a button on it that you can press and your phone will sound. In addition, an Alarm function gives you an alert should the fob and the phone be separated by the length of the Bluetooth range. For example, if you get into your car and leave the phone in the house, the key fob will alert you. The alarm is best used for situations where you don't want to be separated from your phone (or whatever item the tag/key fob is attached to), such as in an airport, taxicab, etc. Fortunately, you can adjust the sensitivity settings on the alarm and disable it completely if you just want to use the app to help find things instead of being alerted when they are not near each other.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw

---------Product: Touch USB LED lampCompany: SatechiPrice: $25Buy this for: A hipster friend who enjoys an eclectic decorating style, or someone who needs a lamp near their computer and only has empty bottles.

This device legitimately doesn't have a setup manual. It's so basic that it just has a picture on the box. Put the lamp into or on top of an empty bottle (pretty much any bottle of your choosing), plug it into your computer via a USB cord, and touch the on button -- ta da! It's working. It creates a soft glow and it's pretty.

I was hoping that the USB cable would charge a battery on the lamp, so you could create these "bottle lamps" and place them anywhere. Sadly, you have to keep the USB cable plugged in at all times. The cord ruins the sleekness of the lamp a bit for me. Also, the part that inserts into the bottle is longer than the unit's "lamp shade", so I'd recommend using a tinted bottle.

The lamp throws enough light to read by, but wouldn't necessarily bother a sleeping roommate. The Satechi website says the LED light can last for about 50,000 hours.

It's a neat idea and can be handy in several situations, but only if you're near a USB charging port (either on your computer or a power adapter).

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Jennifer Finn


Product: iRig PRO Universal Audio-MIDI InterfaceCompany: IK MultimediaPrice: $150 (direct)Buy this for: Any musician, podcaster or audio-recording enthusiast looking for better audio from their iOS or Mac OS devices.

While both iOS and Mac OS devices can record audio and provision a variety of other functions of use to both musicians and those who want to record audio for other purposes, the built-in microphones provided by Apple just aren't good enough for many. What's needed is a decent interface -- and the iRig PRO from IK Multimedia fills the bill quite well here.

First of all, this is a universal audio interface. Included with the unit are 30-pin, Lightning, and USB (this one for the Mac) cables, and sources can be XLR (balanced) or 1/4" (unbalanced). This means you can directly hook up even professional-class microphones (as I do in our studio here), including those that require 48-volt phantom power (that's built-in as well), or even musical instruments -- essentially any audio source. There's also a MIDI-in port (although this requires a special cable, which is also included) so you can use an external MIDI controller, like a keyboard, with the iRig Pro. There's a great big preamp gain knob right on top, so setting levels is simple and convenient. And it's small -- pocket-sized, in fact, and it runs on a single 9-volt battery.

There's lot of software included as well, although the specifics vary by platform (iOS or Mac). There are free versions of Amplitube, and guitar-effects package, as well as VocalLive for voice processing, SampleTank (for sampling audio), and iGrand Piano, which is a pretty-nice-sounding piano if there ever was one. The Mac software set includes T-RackS audio-production software.

If that special person on your gift list is a musician, a podcaster, an audio-recording enthusiast (a bird watcher, perhaps?), this convenient interface should fill the bill nicely. Hours (make that days) of fun, and at a very reasonable price considering the audio quality and range of function provided.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias


Product: iRig MIC Cast and iRIG Mic MicrophonesCompany: IK MultimediaPrice: $60 (iRig  microphones); $40 (iRig MicCast)Buy this for: The beginner audio enthusiast who needs to connect microphones to an iOS or Android device.

There are several simple and inexpensive ways to connect a microphone to an iOS or Android device. IK Multimedia has many products in this space, and for those looking for simplicity and flexibility, as well as a low price, the iRig Mic really fills the bill. This product is configured as a (metal, by the way) standard handheld mic, which means it will also fit on a standard mic stand. Flexible? Yes, absolutely.

The iRig Mic itself is a unidirectional electret-condenser design, with a three-level gain switch for coarse-grained gain setting. The connector, which plugs into the audio and not the USB or similar jack, has a jack for a headset that allows easy and convenient monitoring. Free versions of apps for vocalists, musicians (recording an acoustic guitar, for example), and recording are included, and the device will likely work with apps from other vendors as well.

If you're looking for something a bit more compact, the iRig Mic Cast is a very small microphone that plugs into the audio port on mobile devices. There's a two-position switch for doing that coarse-grained gain setting, and it comes with voice processing and recording (but not musical instrument) software. It also comes with a very nice folding stand for handsets, and some very useful software: iRig Recorder and VocalLive (vocal processing) for iOS, and iRig Recorder for Android. The iRig Mic comes with the same software, plus AmpliTube for musicians (as the iRig mic can also be used to record acoustic instruments).

Yes, the built-in mic on a handset or tablet isn't bad -- until you try these, anyway. Anyone involved in audio recording will be your new BFF when presented with either of these.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias


Product: iRig HD Digital Guitar InterfaceCompany: IK MultimediaPrice: $100 (direct)Buy this for: The guitarist looking to connect their guitars to a smartphone or tablet.

In the good old days, electric guitarists would typically have all manner of dedicated foot-pedal and/or rack-mount effects units for such functions as distortion, time delay, modulation (chorusing and flanging, the "jet-plane" sound), and reverb. These then moved into the computer, so why not put them into the computers we all carry with us -- the smartphone and the tablet? IK Multimedia has been a leader in this trend with their AmpliTube software product line, and has also spearheaded the required hardware interfaces that allow you to plug your axe into your smartphone and similar devices. The iRig HD, the latest hardware unit, is a 24-bit box (OK, it's really more round than that), featuring 44.1 and 48 KHz. sampling. It has a ¼" jack on one end for your electric guitar or bass (there's a preamp gain control wheel to get the levels just right, and it can thus be used with line-level inputs as well), and cables for Lightning, 30-pin, and USB (for the Mac) included. No batteries are required; it's powered by what it's connected to.

AmpliTube is actually a fairly large family of software products for iOS and the Mac. Included with the iRig Pro are the free versions of Amplitube, Amplitube Custom (to build your own personal array of amps and effects), and a variety of virtual equipment based on what artists like Slash and Jimi Hendrix use (or used -- man, I miss Hendrix). Multi-track recording is also available as an upgrade. It's all very expandable -- clever marketing, of course, but there's a wide array of function here and quite literally something for every guitarist.

It's much easier to use the various software tools on an iPad (or a Mac; the software is a little different but still very useful here) given the larger screen context, but they do work on an iPhone. Note, though that you're really buying into an ecosystem here, with in-app upgrades and lots more software to buy. This could really, then, be the gift that keeps on giving, with more function at every turn, um, download -- assuming that you or your giftee are willing to keep on buying.

IK Multimedia's reputation is intact -- the iRig HD is the latest flagship in a long and robust line of products that will make any musician on your list very happy indeed.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias


Product: Planet Waves NS Micro Tuner Guitar TunerCompany: D'AddarioPrice: $10 (Amazon)Buy this for: The guitarist on your list who doesn't have a golden ear.

It's amazing how many people working in tech are also musicians, so I know you have at least one guitarist (or player of another stringed instrument) on your list. Well, one thing all of these folks have in common is the need to tune their weapon of choice. This, as it turns out is more complex than it might seem. While some players do indeed have a golden ear, the rest of us need mechanical assistance. And it's not unusual for electronic tuners to cost $100 and up.

Recent years have seen the introduction of a bunch of clip-on tuners that use the mechanical vibrations of the instrument to drive an electronic tuner with an LCD display. Unfortunately, many of these are so big as to be intrusive, and expensive to boot. Enter the Planet Waves (a well-known brand is musical circles, in case you were wondering) NS Micro Tuner, the first clip-on tuner that essentially disappears. It's configured as a clip that attaches to the headstock (where the tuning key are, for you non-players out there), but with the display actually behind the headstock where the musician can easily see it but the audience cannot.

This thing is tiny but very readable. There are a small number of buttons that control power and allow the display to be flipped for right- or left-handed use. The tuner is chromatic allowing any tuning you'd like, and the A tuning reference can be set from 410 to 480 Hz. And it can be set as a visual metronome as well. And it's very sensitive, although you may need to move it a little to find the sweet spot for your particular instrument. Red and green display colors are used intuitively to obvious benefit.

The NS Micro Tuner uses a common CR2032 coin cell, and will automatically power off after 10 minutes. Is there anything not to like here? Well, it only displays in sharps, so you have to transpose in your head if you want flats. If you can't do that, though, you don't need that feature of this product. But if you or your giftee play acoustic or electric guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, or perhaps even the domra, you do. In fact, get two - they're cheap!

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias


Product: Sensu Solo artist brushCompany: SensuPrice: $25Buy this for: Any serious artist who wants better control over their art- or sketch-based apps for their iPad or iPhone.

Painting and drawing on an iPad has always been irritating if you're using your finger - you can't get the same control that you get with a pen or even a modified stylus. The Sensu Solo is a nice inexpensive paintbrush that also acts as a very nice accessory for your iPad. The brush hairs are so realistic that you might make the mistake of dipping it into paint - but please don't - as that would ruin it.

The brush works with any capacitive touch-screen device, including iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Kindle Fire, Surface, Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Barnes & Noble Nook, BlackBerry Playbook, etc. In theory you could even use this with your touch-screen enabled Windows 8 device if you wanted to paint on a very large screen. The Sensu website has some great suggestions on iOS apps to use with the brush, giving you some other ideas on apps you could gift as well as the pen.

For your favorite artist, get them one of these and watch the drawings get much better!

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw


Product: eVic Vapor Intelligent CigaretteCompany: JoyetechPrice: About $100, depending on the resellerBuy this for: The cigarette smoker on your gift list who wants a new way of trying to quit.

Smoking electronic cigarettes -- or, more accurately, "vaping" -- is a newly popular method of weaning off of traditional smokes. It's a relatively simple principle -- you heat the juice (a mixture of artificial flavoring, nicotine and a couple of food-grade chemicals called propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin) with an electrical coil instead of burning dried tobacco leaves.

And if you use the Joyetech eVic, you gain a great deal of control over the process. The eVic is a flexible system that can automatically gauge a coil's resistance, lets you adjust voltage and wattage on the fly, and even tracks your vaping patterns -- average puff length, puffs per day, and so forth -- when connected to a PC via USB.

To be clear, it's probably not for beginners -- even if you want variable voltage and wattage, far cheaper systems are available -- but the technical sophistication and slick design certainly make it an attractive stocking stuffer for the vaping enthusiast. It fits both eGo and 510-threaded atomizers (the vaper in your life will know what this means) and the twist-wheel controller works admirably, though it does take some getting used to.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Jon Gold

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