Despite the rise of machine-learning and other artificial-intelligence tools, it only seems to get harder and harder to find just the right gifts for the nerd in your life. We on the TR staff know just how hard to both pick gifts for our favorite techies and to have gifts picked out for us. That's why we're continuing our annual tradition of compiling the unusual, the useful, and the delightful items that we've used in the past year. Whatever your budget, we've got something for the nerd in your life.
Our gift guide is sponsored by Newegg. We'll be using links to their product pages throughout the guide, though we reserve the right to link to other retailers as needed if Newegg doesn't stock something we want to recommend. Support The Tech Report by purchasing your gifts through these links. Our thanks to Newegg for their continued support.
Without further ado, here's what's on our staff's lists of recommendations for 2016.
We may still be waiting on the VR revolution to really take off, but if you're interested in taking the plunge this holiday season, there's no better way to go right now than HTC's Vive, created in partnership with the mad scientists at Valve.
The Vive's killer out-of-the-box room-scale experience, its included hand controllers, and an open software platform that fosters innovation all combine to create a VR experience that lives up to the hype. Put on the Vive, and it transports you to new worlds that you can walk around in and directly manipulate. Yes, the screens inside could do with more resolution, and the headset itself could be a little lighter, but those are minor complaints when every person who's put on the Vive in my presence has had a visceral reaction to how neat it is. We can't say the same about Oculus' Rift.
Oculus' Touch controllers may bring the Rift closer to what the Vive can do when they arrive soon, but we're still waiting to see just how Rift developers will take advantage of those new tools. The Vive has had full room-scale support from day one, and we already know it's great—plus it'll be somewhat cheaper than a room-scale-ready Rift. If you have the space for the Vive's room-scale setup and the PC to drive it, we think it's the best VR experience available today.
Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones
I've flown all over the world this past year to cover various conventions and hardware launches, and I gotta say: airports and aircraft are not fun places to spend any length of time. They're often inescapably crowded and noisy, and as someone who needs his peace and quiet, the crushing humanity in those places can be hard to deal with.
I was able to claw back some solitude on the go with Bose's QuietComfort 25 noise-canceling headphones. Yes, these cans are expensive at $270, and they won't impress any audiophiles. The reason behind their dear price tag: flip a switch, and the sound of the outside world goes away. Bose's noise-canceling mojo works especially well with lower-frequency noise, like plane engines and road hum, but they can make almost any room much quieter. Their audio quality is just good enough, but let's be honest: that's all you really need in otherwise rowdy environments.
If you or someone you know is a frequent traveler, you can grab a big part of the business-class experience by putting on a pair of these QuietComforts. The wired QC25s I have are nice enough, but Bose recently introduced a set of wireless QC35s that operate over Bluetooth (with a cabled fall-back mode). Get either pair in their blacked-out form and enjoy a slice of travel bliss.
As a member of the tech press, it can be tough balancing my cooking hobby with tight deadlines. Short of turning to Soylent, it's difficult for me to get a good dinner made on some nights. The Instant Pot—an electric pressure cooker—is a lifesaver. I just picked up one of these gadgets over Thanksgiving weekend, and it's already changing the way I think about home cooking.
For certain kinds of dishes that require long braises, like chilis or stews, the appeal of the Instant Pot is that it cuts down the time required to cook those delicious winter staples to just an hour or so. Compare that to the three to four hours of careful babysitting it might take in order to really tenderize a good cut of beef for chili, for example, and lovers of slow-cooked food should already be taking notes.
For example, this chicken-and-green-chili recipe from Serious Eats requires just about 18 minutes under pressure in the Instant Pot to produce an absolutely delicious meal with minimal effort (aside from some brief vegetable prep and some post-cook chicken-shredding). Just dump all the ingredients in, close the lid, dial in the time and pressure settings, and walk away. The Instant Pot does the rest. Dredge out the chicken, puree the remaining chilis with an immersion blender, add your shredded chicken, and you're done.
Like any respectable kitchen gadget these days, the Instant Pot has a million functions that probably aren't required to really enjoy the advantages of pressure cooking, but hey—they're there if you need them. Thankfully, this gadget does the basics just fine without much fuss, too. If you have an impatient cook in your life, one of these babies would be a great gift.