Computerworld's holiday gift guide 2016: Top-notch tech for $150 or more

Part 1 of our annual holiday gift extravaganza rounds up premium tech gear your family and friends will love, from great-sounding audio equipment to the latest wearable devices and more.

SLIDEFEATURED PRODUCTS
  • DxO One

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    on Amazon
  • iMCO CoWatch, Black

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    on Amazon
  • SCOTTeVEST Women's OTG Jacket

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    on Amazon
  • Plox Death Star Levitating Speaker

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    on Plox
Computerworld Holiday Gift Guide 2016 Top-Notch Tech $150 and up
Stephen Sauer

Find the perfect tech gift

We all love buying tech toys for ourselves, but it can be even more fun to pick out the perfect device for a friend or family member, then watch their eyes light up when they open the package.

Part 1 of our holiday gift guide focuses on high-end gear -- gadgets that cost $150 or more. We present sleek smartwatches, a top-quality camera that uses an iPhone's display as a viewfinder, a Bluetooth speaker that actually levitates, a Chromebook that runs Android apps, and a whole lot more. There's even a cozy winter jacket made especially for gadget lovers.

We've included prices and shopping links, but be aware that prices often fluctuate, especially during the holiday shopping season. As always, be careful of false deals and scams; you know what they say about deals that sound too good to be true.

In the coming weeks we'll be rolling out two more slideshows with midrange and low-priced tech gifts. And we've also got a video highlighting some of this year's coolest wearables. You'll find all that at our main holiday gift guide page.

Meanwhile, enjoy our selection of $150-and-over gift ideas.

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 DxO One camera
DxO
  • DxO One

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    on Amazon

DxO One

If you have loved ones who enjoy taking photos, the DxO One camera system for the iPhone can help elevate the quality of their shots. The DxO is a small, lightweight camera that plugs into an iPhone's Lightning connector and then uses the iPhone's display as a viewfinder.

The DxO One packs a lot into a small package. At just 3.8 oz. and less than 3 in. tall, it features a large 1-in. sensor and a 6-element lens with f/1.8 max aperture for capturing high-res 20.2-megapixel photos in JPEG, RAW or Super RAW format. This camera especially excels at low-light photography. At $499 (vendor price), the DxO One camera is a great device that will surely help to inspire budding photographers.

-- Michael deAgonia

Computerworld Holiday Gift Guide 2016 Ultimate Ears UE Boom 2
Ultimate Ears

Ultimate Ears UE Boom 2

For the person who likes to have music wherever they go, the UE Boom 2 from Ultimate Ears is bound to hit the right note. Its two active drivers and two passive radiators spread sound a full 360 degrees, and the volume and frequency range are impressive for such a compact (slightly over 7-in. tall) blaster. It comes in several colors to suit a variety of tastes.

The Boom 2's rechargeable battery lasts for up to 15 hours, and it's IPX7-rated waterproof. At $200 (vendor price), it also offers a wide range of listening options: You can pair it with up to eight Bluetooth devices and connect to two devices at the same time, and you can stream to two speakers from the same device to fill multiple rooms with music. The UE Boom app (iOS and Android) ups that total to 50 speakers and adds voice control.

-- Jake Widman

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 iMCO CoWatch
iMCO
  • iMCO CoWatch, Black

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    on Amazon

iMCO CoWatch

After an extended period of hype, enthusiasm for smartwatches seems to have fizzled as of late. But maybe a fresh take on the concept is just what the gadget-lover in your life needs to rekindle her romance with the wrist computer.

The CoWatch is sleek, attractive, and all the things you'd want a wearable gadget to be. But it's what's inside that sets it apart from the pack: The device is controlled not by the typical Apple or Google software but by Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa. Beneath that, it runs an alternate Android-derived operating system known as Chronologic OS.

While it may not be the most polished product out there, it's certainly interesting. And if you're shopping for someone who loves Amazon and is already using one of the company's Echo home assistants, it could be a fun new toy to open up and try this holiday season.

-- JR Raphael

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Apple Watch Series 2
Apple

Apple Watch Series 2

The Apple Watch Series 2 has been redesigned with fitness in mind, so if you know someone who's looking for that extra motivation, it's worth checking out. The second-generation Watch offers a host of improvements over the original model, including better performance (twice as fast and responsive as the first generation); a display that's much easier to read in sunlight; enhanced water-resistance; built-in GPS; profiles for more activities, such as swimming; and support for wheelchair users. It features a built-in heart-rate sensor, as well as instruments designed to count steps and track daily activity.

The Watch 2, which starts at $369 (vendor price) works with a vast library of first- and third-party apps that allow all sorts of functionality from its owner's wrist, from message notifications to fitness- and sleep-tracking. There are also apps to start their car, toggle on/off lights and appliances, purchase items in stores with Apple Pay, control their iPhone's camera or music, control their Apple TV, check the weather, look up stocks, check reminders, unlock their home... oh, and the Apple Watch 2 also tells time.

-- Michael deAgonia

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 ScotteVest OTG Jacket
SCOTTeVEST
  • SCOTTeVEST Women's OTG Jacket

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    on Amazon
  • SCOTTeVEST Men's OTG Jacket

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    on Amazon

SCOTTeVEST OTG Jacket

Have you been hearing complaints about overstuffed backpacks? SCOTTeVEST has the answer: Its OTG (Off the Grid) Jacket, available for both women and men, has a total of 29 pockets for almost anything you can imagine -- including an entire laptop.

Two large outer pockets on either side of the zipper are meant to handle a smallish laptop -- and in fact, I was able to fit an 11.6-in. Samsung Chromebook into one (but wasn't as successful with a 13-in. MacBook Pro). The OTG Jacket for women does tend to run small -- and the rigidity of a computer can make it hard to zip up the jacket.

But who really wants to schlep around a laptop in their jacket, anyway? Where this ingenious garment really shines is in its thoughtfully designed storage for the other devices (and non-tech items) your giftee is likely to carry around. For example, there's a see-through internal pocket that lets folks use a smartphone without taking it out; storage for earbuds; a place for a tablet; a secure pocket for a wallet, a clip for keys -- and way more.

The machine-washable OTG Jacket for women costs $215 (vendor price) and comes in black and plum in sizes XS to XXL; the men's jacket, also $215 (vendor price), comes in black and midnight blue, sizes S to XXXL.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Jaybird Freedom Jabra Sport Pulse
Jaybird / Jabra

Jaybird Freedom / Jabra Sport Pulse

Bluetooth earbuds are getting better with every product cycle. That's well-timed, because smartphones without headphone jacks are starting to appear.

The Jaybird Freedom is ridiculously light (0.49 oz.) and small, with buds that easily fit under bike or board helmets. The battery runs about four hours -- twice that, if you leave on the tiny external battery pack that contains the USB charging port. It comes with a lot of eartip options and an app that allows audiophiles to tweak highs and lows to their hearts' content.

Jabra's Sport Pulse is nearly as light (0.56 oz.), but includes an unusual in-ear heart-rate sensor. Because of the sensor, presumably, the buds themselves are pretty large and best suited for the gym or running. Paired with its Sport Life app, the Sport Pulse can give your giftees regular updates on their workouts. The Sport Pulse runs for four hours on a single charge; the USB charging port is built in.

The Jaybird Freedom is $180 (vendor price), while the Jabra Sport Pulse is $160 (vendor price). Either makes a great gift for music lovers who want to listen on the go.

-- Dan Rosenbaum

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Plox Death Star levitating speaker
Plox
  • Plox Death Star Levitating Speaker

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    on Plox

Plox Death Star Levitating Speaker

These days, Bluetooth speakers are a dime a dozen. And let's be honest: It's often hard to tell one from the other. Plox's Death Star levitating speaker is a definite exception. The product pretty much speaks for itself: It's a speaker shaped like the Death Star, with the silver-colored orb floating eerily above a magnetic base.

The Death Star speaker promises 360-degree sound and up to five hours of continuous playback via Bluetooth. That's all fine and dandy, but the Star Wars fanatic in your life is far more likely to be impressed by the fact that it's, you know, a levitating Death Star, for Darth's sake.

-- JR Raphael

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Asus Chromebook Flip
Asus

Asus Chromebook Flip

Know someone who could use a simple and versatile device for around-the-house computing or on-the-go connectivity? Consider the Asus Chromebook Flip, one of the first Chrome OS devices to sport the ability to run Android apps in a desktop setting. The ultra-portable Flip functions as a full-fledged laptop for typing-oriented tasks and then flips around 180 degrees to become a tablet for more passive types of use. Your giftee can seamlessly move between web apps and Android apps to get everything done in whichever form makes the most sense.

It's a best-of-all-worlds scenario that opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities. A Flip owner could type out a document in a desktop-class web browser one minute, for instance, and then use a phone-centric app like Skype or Snapchat the next -- all on the same 10-in. screen. This isn't your average laptop, in other words -- and it certainly won't be an ordinary gift.

You can get a Chromebook Flip with just 2GB of RAM, but do your gift recipient a favor and get the 4GB model, which costs $279 (vendor price).

-- JR Raphael

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

The iPhone 7 Plus is an easy recommendation for any generous gift-giver looking for a sure-fire hit for an Apple fan. The iPhone 7 Plus features industry-leading performance with its custom A10 Fusion 64-bit chipset, up to 256GB of internal storage, 3GB of system memory, a sharp 5.5-in. Retina HD 1080p display (at 401 ppi), new stereo speakers and a waterproof housing.

But the real standout feature (available only with the iPhone 7 Plus, not its smaller iPhone 7 sibling) is a new dual-lens camera system with both wide and 2x optical zoom views. In a new feature called Portrait Mode, the dual-camera system calculates depth and adds a layered blur to enhance the foreground subject, similar to the effect produced by high-end SLR cameras. (For more details about the iPhone 7 Plus and its camera system, see our review.) There's no doubt this gift will be well-used and well-loved.

-- Michael deAgonia

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 LG V20
LG

LG V20

It's been a really good year for Android smartphones (if your name isn't Samsung). There have been a bunch of excellent innovative designs hitting the market, with plenty of consideration for what people actually want to do with a mobile device.

That so many vendors came up with so many different good answers made it incredibly hard to pick a recommendation for the best smartphone gift. We finally picked the LG V20, not so much for its signature replaceable battery as for everything else that's great about it: astonishing sound recording and playback, the ability to obsessively control still and video recording with its dual main cameras, and the customizability of its interface. (See our review for more standout features.)

The V20 is far from the prettiest phone, and at $672 to $829 (carrier prices), it sure isn't the cheapest. But it's available for any major carrier and you're going to love the quality of the holiday pictures and videos that your giftees will take as soon as they unbox it.

-- Dan Rosenbaum

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Qwerkytoys Qwerkywriter
Qwerkytoys

Qwerkytoys Qwerkywriter

Modern keyboards often lack the audible and tactile feedback of old-school word processing, disconnecting writers from their craft. Enter the Qwerkywriter, a Bluetooth keyboard that employs mechanical typewriter keys housed in an aluminum-metal alloy case.

Each keypress provides a satisfying click, and the attached carriage return lever isn't just a skeuomorphism -- it's a working return key that doubles as a programmable macro, capable of recording up to five characters. The Qwerkywriter connects to any Bluetooth smartphone or tablet, and doubles as a stand for devices as large as the 12.9-in. iPad Pro. A micro-USB port is used to charge the battery, which lasts one to three months per charge.

At 2.8 lb. and $299 (vendor price), what the Qwerkywriter lacks in portability and affordability, it makes up for in elegance and substance.

-- Ken Gagne

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 GoPro Hero5 Black camera
GoPro

GoPro Hero5 Black

For the daredevils or adrenaline junkies on your gift list, there is no better present than a way to show off their adventures. GoPro is synonymous with action cameras, and the Hero5 Black is its new flagship. The camera features many improvements over previous generations, including a rugged new case that's waterproof to 33 feet without needing a bulky housing, a built-in LCD touchscreen for framing and reviewing shots, optical stabilization for smoother videos, and even voice control.

Measuring 1.8 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. and weighing just 4.2 oz., this tiny camera shoots 4K video and 12MP photos, records stereo audio, and even captures GPS information. The Hero5 Black costs $400 (vendor price), and there are are plenty of first- and third-party accessories for mounting and framing.

-- Michael deAgonia

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 Blue Microphones Raspberry mic
Blue Microphones

Blue Microphones Raspberry

For podcasters, budding YouTube stars or voiceover artists, the Raspberry mic from Blue Microphones will let them sound their best. It connects to PCs or Macs via USB or to iOS devices via Lightning cables (included) and captures full 24-bit audio from 20Hz up to 20kHz. Its integrated stand provides shock absorption to keep vibrations from ruining your recordings; it also has a quarter-inch thread mount for connecting to cameras or tripods. A headphone jack enables real-time monitoring of your recording.

Inside, the microphone features an Internal Acoustic Diffuser to dampen the sound of the room so that a voice or instrument will stand out from background noise. Costing $200 (vendor price), the Raspberry weighs just under 6 oz. (less than 10 oz. with the stand) and stands about 5 in. tall, which -- with the included carrying pouch -- makes it easy to take on location.

-- Jake Widman

Computerworld holiday gift guide 2016 XYZprinting da Vinci Mini
XYZprinting

XYZprinting da Vinci Mini

For that special someone who has a mix of creative right-brain and technical left-brain abilities, a 3D printer might be the perfect gift. However, finding a 3D printer that won't break the bank but still offers quality technology isn't easy.

XYZprinting, however, is one company that has made its bones on inexpensive machines, and its latest desktop model -- the da Vinci Mini -- is both inexpensive and the best-quality printer around for the money.

For $290 (vendor price), a hobbyist, school teacher or entrepreneur will get a no-frills machine that's intuitive to use and able to produce mostly accurate, good-quality objects -- even multiple builds at the same time.

-- Lucas Mearian