Can you believe it’s gift-guide time again already? Seems like it was just yesterday that I was staying up until all hours of the morning putting together the gift guide for last year. It also makes me seriously wonder how Grace and all of the editors do this sort of thing every day. I still remember years ago watching Grace work and thinking, “That’s gotta be pretty easy — all you do is surf the web and link to pictures of things that you like.” So when I first said I’d write a gift guide for how to shop for your boyfriend/husband who may not be as excited about textile design as you are, I really had no idea what I was getting into.
I spent a couple of hours surfing the web researching and found about four or five things that seemed good enough to write about. Grace looked over at my laptop and said, “That’s all you’ve got? You need to find like 20 more things.” During those same two hours, I think she’d written about three days worth of content.
The point of this story? There is no point. I’m pretty much just babbling now. Maybe it’s time I just started talking about gifts.
Before I do, let’s just get a few things out of the way. Here are three gadgets all guys should have if they don’t already:
- A video game console like the Xbox360, PS3 or Wii — he just should. Believe me, we all work hard enough in our lives that it’s nice to have a device in the house whose sole purpose is to provide fun. I use all three, but if I could only have one, I would choose the Xbox360.
- A GPS device. Forget about printing out directions or trying to use Google Maps on your phone; it’s way better to just have a thing that knows where you are at all times and can tell you how to get where you want to go. It’s pretty amazing to be able to get in the car and literally do ZERO advance thinking about what route you’re going to take to drive somewhere. This should also eliminate a large percentage of in-car arguments* about the best way to get somewhere. Let’s put it this way — Grace and I own one and we don’t even have a car. That’s how great it is. I like the TomTom with traffic updates (although the user interface takes some getting used to), but the Garmin Nuvi is great, too.
- A good smartphone. Which one? I don’t know. I’m an iPhone person, so I’ll basically just have the newest one at any given time. It’s not that they’re the best; it’s just that I’m a sucker. A new one comes out and my mind basically goes like this: “Wait, the new iPhone lets you both answer AND hang up calls? How could I not buy that???” Anyway, the iPhone may not be his thing, and there are a lot of good ones out there — Android, Blackberry, Windows 7 — they all look cool. If you have no idea where to start, just find out what phone his best friends have, and get the newest version of that one. This will hopefully have the secondary benefit of him having a slightly newer and cooler version than his friends, and you getting the credit for it. Not only does he have a better phone than them, but also a better wife/girlfriend — it’s a win–win!!
*But not all of them‚ especially if you have a wife who’s an obsessive iPhone Googler and enjoys trying to second-guess computers, satellites and other advanced technology and saying things like “That doesn’t seem right . . .”
Also, these three gifts have already been so overhyped this year that there’s not much left to say about them:
- The iPad. What else is there to say besides “get one”? It’s amazing, and I love it more each day. Is there going to be a new one next year that’s better? Certainly. Welcome to the world of being an Apple customer. You now own a product that’s about to get much better in the next generation. Also, please don’t try to justify an iPad as something that’s for anything other than being an amazing toy. Yes, you can do work on it and be productive and all that but really, it’s a toy.
- eReaders. I’ve been suggesting the Kindle for the last few gift guides, and now it has finally gotten to a really good price point. There are also some strong competitors out there, such as the Nook and a few others, but I still think Amazon makes the best eReader on the market. (Side note: If he already has a Kindle, it’s ok to get him an iPad, but if he already has an iPad, you probably don’t need to get him a Kindle.) The Kindle is great for actual book readers, not just gadget hounds. It’s a great device to travel with, and it’s easy and fun to hold for reading books.
- Motion-based gaming accessories. In particular, the Kinect (for Xbox360) and the Move (for PS3). Believe it or not, I’m not rushing out to buy either of these. From what I can tell, the technology is really great, but the library of available games isn’t quite there yet. I’m sure there are fun things you can do with them, but I’m waiting until there are more cool games available for them, which will probably be next year. So stay tuned for the 2011 gift guide when I’ll recommend all the hot technology from 2010!
CLICK HERE for the full guide (50+ ideas) after the jump, including ideas for gadgets, accessories, food, books, TV, music and more!
So we covered the iPad (3) and the GPS (1) already, but we didn’t cover one of my favorites, which is the MiFi (2). Basically, it’s a portable Internet hotspot that gives you Wi-Fi wherever you are. It can support up to five devices at once (laptops, phones, iPads, Kindles, whatever), and it has the added value of letting you get Wi-Fi-only versions of other products like iPads and Kindles. If I were getting one today, I’d go with the new one from Virgin Mobile which has no contract and a reasonable monthly rate, and you can start and stop your plan as you go, which is pretty cool. Another device that I’ve been eyeing is this Universal Remote (4). And when I say eyeing, I’m not kidding, I’ve basically just been on my laptop on the couch staring at pictures of it. Then I look over at our two dirty, busted-up remotes, and I scowl in disgust. By this point, I usually start talking to them, saying, “Why can’t you be more like him?!?” as I point to the picture of the nice remote on my laptop. Now it’s time for Grace to walk into the room and say, “Who are you talking to?” I think it’s best if we end the story there. Lastly, the new iPod Nano (5) is great for a guy who works out (or keeps claiming he’s going to). And apparently someday, you’ll be able to turn it into a fancy watch.
Maybe it’s all the Sons of Anarchy that Grace and I have been watching, but it seems hard for me to believe that a guy’s wardrobe is really complete without a leather jacket (1) (Warning: this link autoplays sound). They’re comfortable, fun to wear and they give you (and sometimes other people) the illusion that you are a bad-ass. In my case, I probably need more than just the jacket to accomplish the full effect, which is why I’d need to add these gadget-friendly gloves (3) into the mix, as well. They’re the kind of gloves that frankly seemed like a complete joke to me two years ago and now seem like a great idea. You can also never really go wrong with nice versions of the basics like a wallet (6), watch (5), money clip (3), or Dopp kit (2). I really like the Dopp kit because it’s made to be ready to handle the inevitable spills/leaks of shaving cream/contact solution or whatever else you carry — the leather absorbs the liquid and just looks cooler afterward. I’m a fan of any object that can transform my natural messiness into something stylish. Frankly, I didn’t know that was possible. I’m also loving this Embassy Pen (last photo in the group above), which was designed for the State Department. It’s heavy, it writes well (it uses the same cartridges as the Fischer Space pen, also a nice gift), and I think I could probably rob a bank with it if I wanted to. Who’s going to argue with a guy wearing a leather jacket and gadget gloves who’s wielding a screw-top pen?!?
After a hard day of whatever it is guys do all day, we definitely need something to eat. My personal solution to this problem is a special strategy I like to call, “Wait until I’m starving and cranky and then start bothering Grace by asking her what we have to eat in the house.” It worked out pretty well until she developed a counter-strategy called, “I already asked you what you wanted when I was ordering groceries and you said ‘whatever,’ so find your own food, dumbass.” After a few rounds of this, we joined forces to create a new, more cooperative strategy called, “Is it your turn to order delivery, or is it mine?” Really effective stuff.
But I’ve heard rumors that there are guys out there who enjoy preparing their own food, so here’s some ideas for them. A molecular gastronomy starter kit (1) for guys who want to be the next Wiley Dufresne (and if they do, I want to eat in their restaurant!). Obviously they’ll also need a really sharp knife (4). Little known fact: a chef’s knife is excellent for cutting the plastic-wrap off a microwave dinner. A meat smoker (2) is great for having parties featuring an assortment of smoked meat (or in my case, for going to parties thrown by other guys who have smokers). If the guy in your life really looks forward to his espresso each day, he may get into having a cool-looking machine (4) that will let him make his own. Or he may prefer a homebrew kit to help him make his own beer. For me, I’m liking these Scotch Bars (3), the perfect combination of candy and whisky, which are two of the most overlooked food groups, as far as I can tell.
And what meal would be complete without something to watch on TV? As I mentioned, our big find this year was Sons of Anarchy, which was going into its third season. We’re pretty good at discovering great “new” TV shows that have been on for years and then telling everyone about how great they are. Last year our big find was Dexter, a show that had only been on the air for about three years. Design*Sponge, bringing you hit television recommendations from 2006! In any case, I still find watching TV in full season packages to be the best (although the full SERIES is better still). In fact, I’d prefer that all new shows I like didn’t air every week, but instead just put out the full season of episodes all at once in a complete package. How has anyone not done this yet?
Some shows he may enjoy:
- The Pacific (especially if he liked Band of Brothers)
- Sons of Anarchy (seasons 1 & 2 available now)
- 30 for 30 (a great collection of sports documentaries)
If he missed them the first time around, you can also get him the full series of these highly addictive shows:
Here’s another pro tip for gifts for TV (and movie) fans - think about what his favorite shows are, and go to IMDB and find out who is/was the head writer/creator of the show to see what else they’ve written. For example, if he liked the West Wing, he’ll probably like Sports Night, which was also written by Aaron Sorkin. (He probably won’t like Studio 60, but what can you do…). Sons of Anarchy led me and Grace to The Shield, because we wanted to see more of what Kurt Sutter had written.
Speaking of TV shows that are actually new, did you know that The Walking Dead (a.k.a., the official Zombie TV show of Design*Sponge) is based on a comic book? And that a lot of cool movies from the past few years including 300, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Sin City and a lot more were also based on comic books? And that if you get him one or more of these he’ll probably be happy about it?
Yes, I know that From Hell was not a cool movie, but it is a cool comic book (same guy who did Watchmen), and it’s the true story of the Jack the Ripper investigation.
There are some very cool new products that came out this year for the guy who loves both television and gadgets. Now I know it may be hard to find a guy like that in your life, but if you do know one, I’d recommend one of these guys:
- Roku — Let’s you play almost anything that’s available on the Internet (which by now is most things), and anything that’s on your computer. It also supports Netflix, Pandora, Hulu Plus and Amazon Video on Demand, plus a lot more.
- Boxee — This one is also gaining interest from some of my techie friends. There are tons of new apps, a fun interface and the device itself is really cool looking. It’s newer on the market and seems like it is evolving very quickly. It also supports Netflix, Pandora and Hulu Plus (but not Amazon). I’ve downloaded the software to my computer and have been enjoying playing on it for a while. Fun stuff.
- Apple TV — This one is for the guy who wants to have Apple in every area of his life — it integrates well with your iTunes library and it supports Netflix. It doesn’t integrate with much else, but it is small, cheap and it works really well (at the few things it tries to do).
One thing you’ll notice I kept mentioning in the TV gadgets section was Netflix. It’s one of my favorite things, as they’ve expanded into practically every device around (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Xbox360, PS3, Wii, laptops, desktops and Windows 7 — plus I’m sure they’ll be on Android soon enough). I use it all the time, and they keep growing their catalog of stuff that’s available to stream (some of their stuff is DVD only). You can give a streaming-only subscription for like 8 bucks a month, and there’s no limit to how many shows or movies you can stream. Pretty great.
I’m a fan of subscriptions in general. Anything that comes to your house every month that you don’t have to think about it is a-ok with me. (For those of you playing at home, yes, I’m lazy.) There are LOTS of cool “of the month” clubs for all tastes (a quick Google search will show you just how many). Grace’s Mom got me the Beer of the Month (1) club for my birthday one year, and now I don’t remember that year at all — thanks Elaine! Threadless offers a monthly t-shirt club (2), which seems pretty cool. And for the gamers, GameFly (3) is a great option that can help him keep his video-game budget under control. It’s like Netflix for video games, and it lets you test out all the new games without having to buy them. He can keep them as long as he wants, or purchase them directly from GameFly (for a discount).
Also, if you notice that he tends to buy certain magazines only at airports, that’s usually a good sign that he’d like a subscription. He’ll never get it for himself, but he’ll be psyched to have it. Random idea that combines tech and magazines: complete magazine libraries on hard drives. Great for the National Geographic or New Yorker lover in your life.
Even though I’m mostly converted to digital books on the Kindle or the iPad, I still enjoy actual books, too. Here are a few from the last year or so that I’d recommend:
- The Big Short — A fascinating look into a few people who saw the financial collapse coming before almost everyone else. From the author of The Blind Side.
- The War for Late Night — This is a behind-the-scenes look at what really happened with Leno, Conan and NBC. Bill Carter is a great writer and he does a great job at giving a full picture of what went on.
- LZ – ’75 — On the road with Led Zeppelin in 1975, from the author of Hammer of the Gods. I’m not saying there’s debauchery and gossip. Why would I say that?
- Take Your Eye Off the Ball — This book is great for casual or serious football fans. It provides a ton of insight into the strategy behind what’s going on on-field, which can, quite frankly, be confusing.
- Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records — Another personal favorite. I’ve been listening to Superchunk for (gulp) 17 years, and I was glad to finally get Grace on board this year. These guys have run the best label in indie rock, and they remain truly independent. Also, some of the great indie bands of the last few years are all on Merge (such as Spoon and The Arcade Fire).
Music Box Sets
Speaking of indie rock, there are a couple great collections by two of the best names in indie rock from the past few years, Merge and Matador. If he likes classic rock, there is also a cool collection of rare AC/DC called Backtracks and a new one of Bruce Springsteen about the making of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” — one of his classics. Besides rocking, all of these collections attain the out-of-touch trifecta of an outmoded audio format, old music and gratuitous packaging for storage. Design*Sponge, bringing you the cutting edge technology of 1982!
If you’re going to get him one of those box sets (and you should), he’ll definitely need something to listen to it on. My personal, top-of-the-line, no-joke recommendation are these amazing speakers by Joey Roth (1). The sound is just unbelievably good, and they are seriously powerful. They were a ridiculously generous surprise anniversary gift I got from Grace this year, and I love listening to them every day while I work. Also great, and not as expensive, are the Harman Kardons (2), which sound great and as an added bonus, they look like they’re from the future.
The Koostik (3) is another cool option, which unfortunately is for iPhones only, but it was too good to pass up. It’s a wooden storage device that turns an iPhone into a desktop (or dresser-top) speaker. And it sounds good, too.
If his idea of a good time involves blasting obnoxiously loud music or video games, he will likely not turn down a nice pair of headphones. A cool, new player on the market this year was from Marshall (2), which made a set specifically designed to both sound great and feel good after hours of listening (a feature most manufacturers seem to forget about). If he prefers a smaller and more mobile option, he can go with the in-ear headphones offered by Thinksound (1). Very affordable and very cool. And if he’s a video game nerd like me, who also happens to enjoy great sound (which means that he likes to play his video games loudly through great speakers), it probably means you spend a lot of time listening to gunshots, battles, engines or sports games — loudly. If so, it’s worth getting him a pair of hi-definition video game headphones (3). Frankly, the sound is probably better than his speakers (unless he has a sick 7.1 surround-sound system), and they are compatible with all gaming systems. They’re amazing.
Did someone mention video games? Well, it’s about time. There really aren’t many jokes I can make about video games, since I play so many of them. Basically, the joke is on me. Here’s what’s good this year:
For Xbox360, PS3 & Wii:
For Xbox360 & PS3:
Of all these games, Heavy Rain was easily my favorite. It was like a movie: a dark and twisted psychological thriller/whodunnit that you really lived inside in a way that was totally new. It was the most creative video game of the year.
As I mentioned last year at the VERY bottom of the gift guide, gifts that are about experiences are some of the very best. The big three were Lessons, Tickets, and Time. They remain sure-fire favorites.
Well, this year I found out about a few places that specialize in these types of gifts. In particular,
These guys will let you give a guy a helicopter tour, a NASCAR drive, a kayaking lesson and a LOT more. Very cool stuff here.
I wish you the best of luck shopping this year. Happy holidays and a happy new year!