OK, we'll admit up front that this Cool Yule Tools category used to be "Miscellaneous", for those items that didn't quite fit into other groupings. But the more we thought about what we're putting in here, the more we realized that these are homey gadgets as well as things that make you more stylish - things you wear.
That said, it is still kind of a random list of products. But randomness is always quite awesome, in our humble opinion.
Note: Products are listed in no particular order or preference. Prices are also rounded-up estimates from either the product's website or Amazon.com. Better deals may be offered online during the holiday season.
There are two types of people in the world: those who make lists, and those who don't. I firmly belong in the second camp - whether it's a to-do list, grocery list or other type of list, my brain isn't wired to write it all down. When I go grocery shopping, I may go in looking for two to three things, but end up with a cart full of groceries - not because I'm buying unnecessary items, but rather because my brain suddenly reminded me that we needed said item.
So getting my head around the SmartShopper Grocery List Organizer was a bit of a challenge. The device has magnets that let you place it on the front or side of a refrigerator, or you can mount it on a wall. The device uses voice activation to let you create a grocery or errands list, and then when you're done, prints out the list via a thermal paper printer.
The device has an internal database more than 2,500 product names or items - some of them are generic like "Green Apples", but others are pretty specific, like "Diet Coke" or "Cocoa Puffs". To create a list, just press the record button, speak the item's name from about 6 inches away, and the system will come up with some possible items (every time I tried it, the device got the item correct). You can then confirm your selection and move on to the next item.
You can help improve the database by having it recognize your voice better for specific items (use this if the device keeps misunderstanding what you're saying). Another advanced feature is the flagging of coupons - if you're super-organized and know that you have a coupon for a particular item, you can flag it with the device and a coupon icon shows up when you print your list. The system keeps two lists in memory - so you can split it between groceries and errands if you wish, or create two separate grocery lists (one for the kids, one for the adults maybe). If you really want to get fancy, you can add a number to the item you're looking to buy - like those times when you need five green apples for a recipe, for example.
On the whole, I think this would be interesting for a person who loves to create lists like this, or for a family that has multiple members who all contribute to the grocery shopping. For example, if Dad runs out of beer and wants to put it on the grocery list, he can just walk by the fridge and enter it into the system.
- Keith Shaw
Newer Technology offers up a pair of winter gloves that include a conductive fiber that is woven into all 10 of the fingertips, which let you operate a smartphone's touch screen (or tablet, if you prefer) without needing to take the gloves off.
The gloves are made from a cotton mix - they're not heavy thick gloves that will keep your hands warm if you need to be outside for a long time, but more like if you're outside waiting for a bus or just walking around the city. The gloves are thin enough where you can wear them as liners with heavier winter gloves if you want, as well.
In my tests, the gloves worked as performed - you can tap, swipe, scroll and even type on a touchscreen with these gloves - just be even more careful of fat finger syndrome - the extra layer does make your fingers bigger.
Since people often give gloves as gifts during the holidays, if you have a person on your gift list that also uses their smartphone or tablet outdoors a lot, get them a pair of these nice gloves. It makes for a great stocking stuffer!
- Keith Shaw
$500 (but local furniture retailers dictate price)
We get a lot of pitches for technology-related products when we're compiling this gift guide, but one of the stranger ones in recent years was this piece of furniture, created by Lane Furniture. The Apollo Universal Wedge Console is aimed to sit between two other pieces of sectional furniture. The unit includes built-in Bluetooth, an iPod docking station, SD card slot, a USB port and auxiliary input jack with two speakers in front and a subwoofer speaker in back. The main purpose of the unit is to allow users to play their music through the console's speakers as part of a larger home entertainment system.
Lane sent us the Apollo to try out, but without the other sectional components (I guess that would have been overkill). We tried it out with some odd-fitting sofas and chairs within our offices to best duplicate how it might look within a home with limited success.
Connecting to the speakers is easy - the console has a control panel with touch-enabled buttons that activate the unit's Bluetooth, iOS device dock (the older 30-pin model, which also recharges the iPhone or iPod touch) or auxiliary jack. In our tests, we used an iPhone to play music through the dock as well as via Bluetooth.
The sound quality was OK, not stellar. The closer you sat to the unit, the more bass-y and muted the music felt. I didn't really feel comfortable with the speakers until I had walked farther away from the console. I'm not sure whether this is the intention of the furniture maker - if you wanted to listen to music in a room with these, you'd likely be sitting down, and that's the worst location for hearing the music.
In the end, if you see this in the furniture store and want to buy a sectional with this as one of the components, feel free to enjoy (the unit has a hidden storage compartment, useful for remote controls). But I'm not sure I would go out of my way to get one of these just because they have embedded speakers inside them.
- Keith Shaw
These winter gloves are touchscreen compatible, allowing you to operate a smartphone or tablet while out and about during the holidays (or just plain cold winter). Three of the glove's fingers can operate the screen - the thumb, index finger and middle finger - you're out of luck if you're a pinky or ring finger user.
The gloves are much warmer than the wool version I also tested (the NuGloves from Newer Technology) - I feel like I could go skiing with these gloves, or use them to snowblow my driveway and then answer a phone call.
I do have one issue with the gloves, however - while the size fit my hand, on each finger I came up about a half-inch too short (meaning the glove's finger wasn't as tight as with the wool gloves). This made touching the screen to get it to activate much tougher. If you're trying these on for yourself, you need to make sure that it's a very tight fit for your fingers.
Isotoner makes a variety of smart gloves - not just the nylon matrix ones we tested - so I'd suggest trying some other styles as well to find the right fit (and comfort level) for you.
- Keith Shaw
The Stem Time Command Mini is a cool concept, it is an alarm clock that pairs with an app to provide more functionality than the typical dock. While the app is not required for use, it is the app that makes the $60 price tag a little more reasonable.
First off, the device is small and lightweight. It is advertised as good for traveling, but in the days of baggage fees, I don’t know that you’d want to pack in the clock and the power cord, which combine to take up a decent amount of room if you’re trying to travel light. The Time Command Mini is best for an iPhone or iPod, as I worried about leaving an iPad balanced on top and then knocking it over in an effort to turn off the alarm (though it does support it upright easily, which I was skeptical about considering the size and weight).
Without the installed app, there isn’t anything terribly special about this alarm clock. The display is nice and the sound quality is better than expected, considering the size of the speakers. It charges whatever device is plugged in without having to remove the case, which is a nice touch. However, with only a few buttons on top, setting the clock without the app is a multi-step process. Using the app cuts down on this considerably. The app allows you to customize alarms, dim the display on your device, wake up to your own music, and more. It has soothing sleep aids like nature noises, which are nice especially if you end up in a hotel room next to the elevator!
Realistically, this is a great option if your primary device is an iPhone or iPod Touch. The balancing issue with iPads, and the fact that many iPod models haven’t allowed for installing apps, means that not everyone will be able to benefit from the main selling point of this device. Without the app, this is simply not worth $60. However, when you add in the functionality that the app provides, combined with the impressive sound from such a small device, suddenly this becomes a cool little device far ahead of other basic docks.
- Claire Kiely