Google's Nexus 7 tablet
Tablets are sure to be a hot commodity this holiday season. Most of my favorites ring in at $400 or more, which is a little on the pricey side for a single gift. Fortunately, Google's Nexus 7 provides a budget alternative that's truly compelling. This seven-incher combines a decent-looking IPS panel with Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor and the very latest version of Google's Android OS. Asking price: $200 for the 16GB version and 50 bucks more for the 32GB.
Budget tablets are usually fraught with compromises, but the Nexus 7 gets the important things right. The quad-core Tegra SoC combines with the "Project Butter" responsiveness enhancements built into Android 4.1 to provide a silky smooth user experience. It probably helps that the Tegra processor is clocked only a little bit slower than versions the chip that power much more expensive tablets, but most of the credit goes to the Jelly Bean OS. And, because this is a Nexus device, users should benefit from a steady stream of OS updates. Our own Nexus 7 has already been bumped up to Android 4.2.1, which adds multi-user support and lock-screen widgets, among other perks.
Retina display snobs may scoff at the Nexus 7's relatively low resolution, but 1280x800 is a good fit for the 7" panel. The smaller screen also makes the tablet easier to hold with one hand, at least when compared with larger alternatives. Throw in excellent battery life and a body that doesn't feel cheap, and you've got the best budget tablet around. If anyone you know has the 7" Kindle Fire HD on their list, you're better off getting them the Nexus 7 instead. I also prefer the Nexus 7 to the iPad Mini, which has a lower pixel density and a much higher price. Be careful when making that kind of substitution, though; you just might ignite a religious debate.
Cyborg Gaming's Rat 7 mouse
Cyborg Gaming's Rat 7 gaming mouse might be my favorite PC peripheral of all time. I've had one connected to my primary desktop for over two years, and it's definitely the finest mouse I've ever used. The first thing you'll notice is the radical body, which looks like what might happen if the Dark Knight's Tumbler mated with one of the Insecticons. This is form following function rather than the other way around. The funky design is simply an artifact of the Rat's adjustable nature.
While most high-end mice offer tweakable sensitivity and removable weights, the Rat 7 goes much further. The shape of the mouse can be adjusted in three dimensions to perfectly suit your hand. Individual panels can also be swapped depending on whether you prefer a smooth or textured surface. There's no provision for lefties, but that's the only real catch.
As is fashionable these days, the Rat 7 is loaded with buttons and backed by powerful macro software. I'm particularly fond of the thumb wheel, which can be configured for horizontal scrolling in Windows or programmed to perform all sorts of other tasks in games. Thanks largely to the horizontal scrolling capability, the Rat 7 transitions between work and play more smoothly than any other mouse I've used. The ability to switch profiles on the fly certainly helps, too.
The Rat 7 is selling for as little as $86, and it's worth every penny in my book. Wireless types will want to consider the Rat 9, which cuts the cord but is quite a bit pricier, at $127 online. Just make sure to avoid the cheaper Rat 5 and Rat 3, which look similar but don't boast the full range of adjustment options.
SolarFocus' SolarMio Pro charger
While some think it sacrilegious to take technology products into the wild, I have a habit of doing just that. Tablets, smartphones, and digital cameras have accompanied me on numerous backpacking, snowshoeing, and kayaking trips into the wilderness. They've become indispensable companions for my outdoor excursions, not just to snap photos and provide evening reading material, but also to direct my journeys via GPS. Thing is, battery life can be a bit of a problem on longer trips.
I've been looking at solar-charging solutions for a while now, and I've settled on the one I want: the SolarFocus SolarMio Pro. This puppy combines solar panels with a separate battery pack, allowing devices to be charged even after the sun has retreated from the sky. There are some limitations, of course. All charging is done through the battery, so you can't juice devices directly from the solar cells. Additionally, the battery's output is limited to a USB jack that pumps 5V at a maximum of 2A. That should suffice for most mobile devices, and the SolarFocus rep I spoke to at Computex assured me there's enough power to charge an iPad. The SolarMio Pro also comes with multiple adapters, including one that can charge the removable batteries for my DSLR and waterproof cameras.
For me, the most attractive thing about the SolarMio Pro is the fact that it's relatively compact and weighs less than a pound. Those are important considerations for something I'll be hauling up mountains and stuffing into kayak hatches. Even if Santa doesn't come through, I'll be picking up this solar charger for the epic kayaking trip my girlfriend and I have planned for the summer. It costs only $135, which seems like a bargain given the potential convenience. I'll be sure to let you know how it works out.