11 fantastic tech gift ideas for under $40

David Pogue
Tech Critic

Enjoy this holiday preview from the writers of Yahoo Tech, which opens for real in January! See all of our holiday articles here, and like us on Facebook for more.

Technology gifts usually aren’t cheap. So when you give a tablet or phone or TV to your spouse or parent or kid, it’s a big deal. It’s the Major Gift – “You shouldn’t have!” – the one you open last.

On the other hand, gifts usually aren’t cheap. Are you really going to buy a tablet for your teacher, boss, or mailman?

No, the world needs gifts that won’t set you back a month’s salary: tech goodies for the slightly less important people in your life.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Google Chromecast, $30


Google’s Chromecast gizmo looks like a flash drive and costs $30. You plug it into an HDMI jack on your TV and connect to your home WiFi network, and suddenly you can watch videos from YouTube, Netflix and Google Play store on your big screen.

You use a phone or tablet (Apple or Android) as a remote control. In fact, that’s how you find what you want to watch. On your touchscreen, you open YouTube, Netflix, Google Play, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, or Pandora. Call up the video or music video you want to play. Tap a special icon at the edge of the touchscreen, and boom: that video is now playing on your TV.

You can also broadcast Web pages to your TV from your Mac or PC. Just fire up the Chrome browser, open the site you want, and click that little Chromecast icon on the toolbar. The Web page now appears on your TV, complete with whatever videos you’d like t play.

What an inexpensive, nonthreatening way to introduce somebody to the concept of Internet on your TV.

(More info here)

2. Vista Explorer Tripod, $20





Anyone with a camera—even a phone camera—should, really, own a tripod. Because it holds the camera still during long exposures, a tripod lets even a cheapo camera capture a whole new realm of photos: low-light, slow-shutter, moving taillights, and so on.

But normal people don’t own tripods. Tripods seem big, heavy, expensive, complicated, overkill.

This graceful, sturdy, basic tripod is all aluminum, so it’s incredibly light. It packs up small, stretches out tall, and comes with a carrying bag. And it’s $20. Amazing.

(More info here)

3. Lifelink Charger, $19

It’s a charging cable for your phone or camera. The twist is that it’s incredibly tiny. It can tuck easily into a wallet, onto a keychain, or even into your phone’s case. It’s the length of a credit card, but its halves snap apart to become a seven-inch “cable.” One end goes into a USB jack (on a computer or wall charger, for example); the other goes into your iPhone, iPad, or Android gadget. You buy the LifeLink in the proper model: Android (Micro USB), recent iPhone (Lightning), or older iPhone (30-pin).

And then never, ever again be caught without a charging cable.

(More info here)

4. Shutterball, $25

Looks like a toy, and sort of is one: It’s a cheap, easy remote control for your phone’s shutter button. It’s born for selfies, group shots, photos where you don’t want to touch the phone for fear of jiggling it, photos where you don’t want the subject to know it’s being photographed (i.e., a cat). The Shutterball has exactly one button—the shutter button—plus Bluetooth circuitry that works from up to 35 feet away. (The button can also start or stop video recording.)

$25 is a great price, but beware: the Shutterball requires that you use its own special camera app, which isn’t as good as the iPhone/Android phone’s own camera app. But read on.

(More info here)

5. Muku Remote, $40

For a little more money, you can get this nicer, more professional-looking, more useful remote trigger for your phone. This one uses your phone’s built-in Camera app. Once again, you can trigger either a still or a video recording over Bluetooth. Rock solid.

With a keychain loop for added convenience.

(More info here)

6. TriggerTrap, $30

Speaking of photography: This absolutely remarkable cable joins your smartphone to an SLR camera, like a Canon Rebel or whatever (you specify which brand you have when you buy it).

Once they’re connected, you can use the phone to operate the camera in all kinds of fancy ways. You can trigger the shutter with a sound (like a clap—you set the decibel threshold); with motion (like a passing animal or a burglar); with vibration (say, a passing train). There’s also a group-shot mode, in which the camera fires only when a certain number of faces are visible in the frame.

The Trigger Trap also makes it easy to take time-lapse pictures (you specify the duration and the interval between frames); distance lapse (snaps a frame periodically as you drive or bike); and star trails (time-lapse in which each exposure is, say, a minute long).

In short, this simple cable harnesses the brains of your phone in the name of infinitely greater camera flexibility.

(More info here)

7. Snuglet, $20

If you have a recent Apple laptop, your life may change with the purchase of this tiny, tiny adapter. It’s a metal liner for your magnetic power-cord jack—completely invisible once it’s in there—that amplifies the magnetism of the MagSafe power-cord connector so that it doesn’t fall out all the time. It’s the ultimate one-trick pony, but it’s a trick that completely eliminates one huge frustration point for Apple laptops.

(More info here)

8. 32-gigabyte SD card, $30

That’s right: a 32-gigabyte memory card for your camera, now $30. Only a few years ago, a card that size would have cost more than the camera. And the lens. And the flight to Hawaii.

It’s a good one, too—a SanDisk Extreme. And 32 gigs is huge. That’s probably enough space to videotape the whole school play. Anyone with a camera will be thrilled to get this as a gift.

(And if you don’t like the person that much, a 16-gig card is only $18.)

(More info here)

9. Mik Sound Case, $20

As a phone, the power and quality of the iPhone’s speaker is—well, let’s just say it doesn’t shatter a lot of wine glasses.

The Mik Sound Case looks like any other soft silicone protective case for an iPhone, but it performs a nifty trick: It blocks the phone’s speaker grille, forcing the sound up through a channel and out through perforations on the back. Somehow, this rerouting amplifies the sound by 20 decibels (a lot) and makes it noticeably clearer and sharper.

All without batteries, electronics or any hard components at all. This is ingenuity, people.

(More info here)

10. Brother P-Touch PT-1280SR, $16

These things have been around for years, but that doesn’t mean they’re not the greatest. You know the deal: You type out something on the little keyboard, and it prints out your label on a strip of sticky white tape.

Use it to label drawers, bins, cabinets, file folders. Label power cords so you know what’s what when you’re behind your TV. Label your kids’ lunchboxes, calculators, and notebooks for school. Claim your leftovers in the fridge. All that good stuff.

(More info here)

11. Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse, $39

This is the coolest travel mouse to come down the pike in awhile. It starts out flat, like a tongue or something. To turn it on (it’s cordless), you bend it—click it—into an arch. Now it’s not only turned on, but also perfectly shaped for your hand.

It has a touchpad between the two buttons for scrolling. It somehow works on any surface, even glass-topped tables. It comes with a tiny little USB receiver that nearly disappears into your laptops’ USB port; you can stow it in the mouse magnetically, too. A home run for the mobile-computing era.

(More info here)

We have more to preview for you! Read all of our holiday articles here, and like us on Facebook for more.