Nvidia's Shield Tablet
Tablets are a popular gift, and there are a bunch of nice options right now. For me, the best one is easily Nvidia's Shield. This versatile slate has been my go-to Android device since our initial review, and the more I use it, the more I find myself recommending it.
Thanks to a quad-core Tegra K1 processor and 2GB of memory, the Shield Tablet delivers snappy performance even during heavy multitasking. Android 5.0 Lollipop screams on the thing. More importantly, the new OS was pushed out to the Shield Tablet promptly and largely without modifications. Nvidia has a history of keeping its mobile devices on the leading edge of Android updates—and for only embellishing the stock OS with a handful of unobtrusive customizations.
Unlike most premium tablets, the Shield lets users add up to 128GB of storage via Micro SD. The 8" display isn't the best in its class, but the color reproduction looks good to my eyes, and the 1920x1200 resolution delivers crisp visuals. There's also an integrated stylus with a slick painting app.
Gaming? Check. The Tegra K1's Kepler-based GPU has ample horsepower for local games, and Nvidia's software enables streaming from GeForce-equipped PCs and from the company's cloud-based Grid service. The optional gamepad is also excellent—and well worth the $59.99 asking price for serious gamers.
At $299.99 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version, the Shield Tablet isn't exactly a stocking stuffer. Still, it's well-priced given its feature set. If you're feeling even more generous, another $100 buys the 32GB variant, which comes with an unlocked 4G LTE modem and Android ports of Portal, Half-Life 2, and HL2: Episode One.
Any Corsair K70 keyboard
Anyone who spends a lot of time typing deserves a keyboard with quality key switches. The market is flooded with options based on Cherry MX mechanical units, and Corsair's K70 is easily one of the best. I like it so much that actually I bought one as a gift for myself.
Validating that indulgence starts with praising the distinctive industrial design. Corsair mounts the keys to an exposed metal base with a beautiful brushed finish. The key caps appear to float above the surface, and the open layout makes it much easier to clean up accumulated dust, crumbs, and pet hair.
Dedicated media controls complement the mechanical key array. The adjustable backlighting has per-key customization, and there's an RGB version that basically turns the keyboard into a programmable Lite-Brite with a 24-bit palette.
Corsair offers multiple options in the switch department, too. The standard and RGB versions are both available with a choice of MX red switches, which have a light touch and linear stroke; MX browns, which introduce a tactile "bump" at the actuation point; and MX blues, which add an audible click along with the bump. The browns are probably the best all-around choice for PC enthusiasts who split their time between typing and gaming.
Standard versions of the K70 sell for $129.99, and the RGB variants are $40 more. I'd stick with the regular models, whose simpler backlighting can be controlled without the complicated CUE software that comes with the RGB. The RGB also adds support for programmable macros, so it might be a better choice for hard-core gamers.
Google's Chromecast dongle
If I had a dime for every time someone tried to show me a video on their tiny smartphone screen, I'd have enough money to buy them a Chromecast. This affordable, thumb-drive-sized wonder makes it easy to beam music, pictures, videos, and even the entire Android interface to big-screen TVs and pretty much anything else with an HDMI input. The Chromecast accepts feeds from Google's Chrome browser in addition to a growing number of mobile apps and streaming services. iOS devices can participate, too.
Unlike some other techie items, the Chromecast requires minimal support. If Grandma can use a smartphone and television remote, she'll be able to broadcast her Netflix stories. The setup's dead simple, too.
A Chromecast has been my home-theater PC's sidekick for almost a year now. It gets used regularly, and it's quickly become my go-to option for quick hits. Newegg sells the device for just $35, compared to $39 from Google Play.