Five cheap, mobile-minded, hopelessly nerdy gifts you'll probably just buy for yourself

Affordable and very useful mobile-minded things you can ask for this holiday season, but can also just buy yourself.

There are two things I think the typical "Gift Guide for Geeks" gets wrong:

  • They tend toward provide impressive, stylish, "crazy," or very of-the-moment items, because they benefit from, or altogether require, high-resolution images from the companies dishing them out.

  • They imply that somebody other than yourself, somebody with much less knowledge of your "geek" setup and tastes, will be buying this gift, when you are the one who will be clicking "Add to Cart" late in the afternoon on Christmas, or after making returns.

Both of these points are very unfortunate, because the holidays are a great time for those who are lucky enough to receive gifts to acquire great edge-case items. You don't really need a dual-port universal USB wall-charger to work, travel, and nerd out around your house, but it's very nice and convenient. Just like there's nothing wrong with packing the standard cords your phone came with into your laptop bag or suitcase, but they do get annoyingly tangled.

Anticipating another holiday season filled with high-resolution shots of iPad Mini accessories and solar-powered caffeinated seltzer infusers, I set out to make a short list of five nerdy and entirely non-glamarous things that you'll probably have to buy for yourself. Luckily, they're all rather inexpensive—not cheap, just not extravagant.

Cables that eliminate any and all projector crises

Cheap monitor and projector solutions

Have you ever seen a projector with a DisplayPort plug? If the answer is yes, I almost want you to stop reading. But since I'm now trapped in this rhetorical construct, I will point out that Apple charges $29.99 for a DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter, which is basically a mandatory item for any modern laptop owner who intends to show anything from their computer on anything except an Apple TV or CinemaDisplay monitor.

Many laptops have taken a cue from Apple and installed DisplayPort plugs on their thinner laptops. If you have such a laptop, with a DisplayPort or MiniDisplayPort plug, you should bookmark Monoprice's catalog of adapters. The very suitable 3-foot MiniDisplayPort to VGA cable is about half the price of Apple's cable, and it works fine.

Charge any USB-powered device from a wall

Charger that works with basically any USB-charged device

The PowerGen Dual Port USB wall charger is black, round, and almost entirely brand-less. It has two plugs: one that works for almost every device that can charge through a USB plug, and one for almost every device, plus newer iPads. One is labeled "A," presumably for "Apple," the other "NA" for "Non-Apple." Weird, but that is kind of the way the gadget world looks right now.

You plug it into a wall, look for the blue LED light, and then use the cables you already have to plug in your devices and charge them. Because you have two plugs, you can come across as a really nice person at airports and conferences by offering to charge other people's gear, too. Also, it is $10, which seems just about perfect.

Three bag-friendly cables for just about every device

Miniature cables for every USB-charge-ready device

Griffin's USB Mini-Cable Kit is a $11 deal that seems weird until you've had them for a little while. There are a few cases where, yes, you would actually like more than one or two inches of cable between a device and the thing that's charging or connecting it. But in most cases, longer cables just sit coiled on surfaces, or tangled inside your bag or pocket. Griffin's cables are tiny, flexible, and you get an Apple, a mini-USB, and a micro-USB, which covers a lot of ground.

Combined with the PowerGen wall charger (noted just above), you are basically now a human conduit of USB connectivity. Owners of brand-new iPhone 5 or fifth-generation iPads or iPad Minis are out of luck, for the time being.

No more tangled headphones forever

Headphone wraps that work for any headphone

Headphones get tangled. It almost seems like that has been the guiding principle of their design, enforced by an unseen madness.

Young and impassioned electrical engineer: Boss! I've found a way to nearly triple the low-frequency response of these headphones, using an inexpensive routing of the listener's own motion energy!

Veteran headphone manufacturing boss: Yes, Whitson, but let me ask you this: will that routing prevent our headphones from bunching, tangling, and knotting together into a marvelous kinetic sculpture that sings of the suffuse charms of modern entropy?

Young, suddenly sullen engineer: I'm quitting, effective today, and going into social media marketing.

Sumajin Smartwraps work with anything that resembles a headphone, and they cost $12.95 for a pack of three (black, white, and clear). That is somewhat pricey for three small pieces of rubber, but they have lasted me for at least four years and running, and they do one thing, well, that will save you time over the long run.

Gloves so you don't miss smartphone calls when you're outside

Smartphone gloves that work and are pretty warm

Living in Buffalo, NY, I can lay claim to having some expert opinions on at least one niche of the smartphone industry: gloves that claim they work with touchscreen devices. AGloves? Stylish, and conductive, but far too light for any winters except those presumably experienced in North Carolina (although I have not tried the "Heavy Duty" variety). Boiled wool Echo Touch gloves? I like mine well enough, but they're not especially attractive, and apparently now close to $40 each, if you can even find them in stock, which is nuts.

I tried on MUJI's unisex touchscreen gloves, along with the slightly heavier-duty neoprene touchscreen gloves at the MUJI airport store in JFK, and they're a nice mid-point. No matter what, you're giving up a small area of warmth around the index finger and thumb, because the physics of electrical conduct cannot be cheated. But the gloves are warm enough for most winters, and the conductivity is there to slide to answer a call, tap out a short message, or open your email.

There you have it: five boring but mildly life-improving gifts that you'll probably end up buying for yourself, because somebody else will buy an incorrect variant. What are the hopelessly nerdy and mobile-minded gifts on your own holiday gift list?

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