Holiday Gift Guide: Inspiring Tech Toys to Kick Start Your New Year

A version of this post appeared in The Huffington Post.

The holiday season is officially here, which can only mean one thing — a sense of unaccomplishment as another calendar year comes to an end. Are you finding yourself asking, where did 2012 go? I should have traveled more, taken more pictures, gotten back into reading, finished my dream project, started my dream life.

One of my favorite things about technology is that it can serve as an extension of our everyday lives and be used to reach our goals. From speakers that have qualified as modern art to cameras for the 007 in all of us, the following tech gear is not just something to brag about, it’s a way to inspire a new kind of life.

Soundsticks by Harman/Kardon: Music is the key to inspiration. And how cool is it to be able to say that you have a piece of installation art in your living room? With the Soundsticks you can say exactly that. This innovative speaker system by Karman/Hardon got on permanent display at New York’s MoMA after making a splash in the art and tech worlds with its unforgettable one-of-a-kind look (pictured above).

And this speaker system’s otherworldly design actually works towards creating magical soundscapes that fill up any room. Even with the subwoofer turned on high, the bass never clutters the crisp sound quality. The newly-updated Soundsticks now come Bluetooth-equipped.

MiC by Apogee: I once had to interview Kim Catrall and Naya Rivera on a glamorous red carpet event using what my on-site colleague referred to as “the ghettoest mic ever.” It had a nasty raggedy moss green foam top that made me squirm just looking at it, let alone totally uncomfortable shoving that in a starlets’ faces.

Now with Apogee’s MiC I am sure never to have that problem again. The slick metal MiC is iPhone and iPad-enabled so I can quickly plug it to take with me on the red carpet. The MiC is an inexpensive but quality choice for amateur filmmakers, avid documentarian-style concertgoers and at-home podcasters. And if it’s good enough for Beyonce’s back-up singers (watch the video above) then it’s good enough for pretty much anyone.

EXP8 by Ematic: I am currently boycotting acquiring any more Apple devices and I’ve never been a big fan of Amazon. But for someone who reads web publications and/or on social media pretty much 24/7 it was definitely time to get a tablet. Luckily the  market is booming this holiday season, and there are plenty of affordable options that won’t make you succumb to the will of tech juggernauts.

The new 9-inch EXP8 is lightweight (pictured above) and comes equipped with dual cameras and the Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. Even though it’s an Android tablet, however, it doesn’t have the Google Play store for Android apps and other media. The only disappointment… Fortunately the app market is also undergoing explosive growth and there are infinite, independent ways to get your fingers on nifty little Android apps. My favorites are AndroidDrawer which lets you know the latest version of the app you are looking for and SideMe which has its own marketplace app. For more noted apps like Tumblr, Skype and Instagram, you can even conduct a quick Google search on the EXP8 web browser. Just make sure you are downloading the .apk file.

GoPro: One of my New Years resolutions is trying to be a little more adventurous. Not that I am making room in my top drawer for surfing medals or anything, but living in California makes me feel like I should be taking advantage of the waves, the mountains and every adrenaline-inducing nature spot in between. Of course, if I’m going out into the wilderness, I’m going to want to have proof.

The GoPro is an incredible camera — waterproof, mountable, high definition. Take it kayaking, skiing, surfing, scuba diving, sky diving, hang gliding, even just hiking and the GoPro will certainly make a breathtaking video out of your experience. It’s really no surprise that so many extreme athletes and outdoor junkies are creating and posting their own GoPro videos for the rest of the world to see (watch the video above).

Cube by NuForce: The Soundsticks may be perfect for impressing your guests during a house party, but sometimes you need a speaker that is more portable and easier to tuck in unexpected alcoves. That’s where the Cube comes in. This cute, colorful speaker by NuForce has been my most recent music buddy when taking showers. With its small size and wireless capabilities, it can be hidden pretty much anywhere, even inside the shower (pictured above), without fear of water damage, or worse… electrocution!

Although small, the Cube doesn’t need batteries, but is instead rechargeable via a USB port connected to a computer. You can also purchase an accessory to attach an iPod nano to the side, so it becomes its own mini-music center and the perfect playlist companion for a day out in Dolores Park. I am so in love with this little — but loud — sound machine that we’re giving one away!

Wii U: Perhaps I am getting old for video games, but I was not made aware that the ever-inventive folks at Nintendo had another trick up their sleeves this holiday season. The Wii U is the highly-anticipated reinvention of the original game-changer, the still-popular Wii.

But whereas the Wii made great use of the simple, ergonomic controller design, the Wii U jam-packs the controller with a decent-sized screen and controls for gameplay, TV and the internet. Basically this new controller is its own portable playing device (watch the video above). This interconnected dual-screen experience literally opens up a new window of opportunities for game-makers. It’s brilliant, if simply because it really makes seem like you are getting your $300′s worth.

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