Go Go Gadget
The season's best tech toys
Let's face it: The best gifts have an electronic pulse. You know it, the kids know it, and retailers count on it. Sure, there's room on the wish list for the odd DVD box set, a couple of books. But the item at the top of that list? It probably comes with an on switch and – if you're 10 years old or just have a Peter Pan complex – a remote control with a telescoping antennae.
ThinkGeek.com sells inexpensive radio-control toys for land and air, young and old. The Black Stealth 3-Channel R/C Copter will impress the kid next door or annoy the co-worker one cube over. Thanks to dual, counter-rotating blades, it's billed as the easiest to fly R/C copter available ($30). Or if you just want to freak people out, try the MicroFly Tiny R/C Hovering UFO ($20), or get the mother ship, the Micro R/C 4-Channel Flying Saucer ($80).
In the event of a copter-UFO duel, you'll need some battle hymns. Queue up "Ride of the Valkyries" on the Tivoli Audio SongBook ($200, www.tivoliaudio.com) as you lie in ambush. A clock radio sporting an iPod hookup may sound like an uninspired gift, but when you hear the warmth of the audio coming from this Bible-sized radio, you'll understand why it belongs in a design museum. Its splash-proof rubber exterior has weathered years of my own abuse and still sounds great in snow, sleet, or rain. It can run at top volume all day, and it has AC power for when the batteries run out. Perfect for kicking out jock jams at kickball games or playing the Deliverance soundtrack while tubing down the Guadalupe.
A remote control of a different frequency, the TV-B-Gone, comes disguised as a simple key fob, which can turn any TV on or off and comes in handy whenever your cousin insists on watching the A Christmas Story marathon. Again. A bulkier, more powerful model comes disguised as an iPhone ($20 and $50, www.tvbgone.com). And while the iPhone buzz has cooled, Apple's speedy new MacBook laptops are hot off the press, where they were cut from a single block of aluminum for maximum sturdiness, if you want to get all big ticket (starting at $1,300, www.apple.com).
For anyone who asks for something "practical," the solar-powered, rechargeable flashlight from New York's Museum of Modern Art ($30, www.momastore.org) aims to please even the most die-hard Maglite loyalist. Or you could go over-the-top and get the world's brightest flashlight, the Torch. At 4,100 lumens, it's capable of frying an egg in two minutes and lighting paper on fire within seconds ($300, www.wickedlasers.com). With that, you'll definitely be able to find those RC toys when that one neighbor kid loses them in the weeds after dark.
And what about that gift exchange? Whether its secret Santa or white elephant style, Hammacher Schlemmer specializes in the unexpected. Its cordless Best Nose Hair Trimmer and Only Rechargeable Heated Insoles make good yet practical gag gifts (www.hammacher.com, $25 and $100). Get yourself the Flip MinoHD camcorder ($230, www.theflip.com) for the reaction shots. It's small enough to conceal in a shirt pocket and has a flip-out USB arm, allowing you to shoot high-quality video of Uncle Jimmy playing with the nose-hair trimmer and upload it to YouTube before the blood even dries. Then go buy some Band-Aids (available wherever batteries are sold).