Paul Berberian, CEO of Boulder s Orbotix, does a test run with a Sphero ball last year.
Paul Berberian, CEO of Boulder s Orbotix, does a test run with a Sphero ball last year. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )
About Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor has been enthused about gadgets since the first Walkman appeared from Sony oh so many years ago. You can find his tech product reviews and much more at AskDaveTaylor.com and you can also find his monthly column here in Business Plus.

When it's close enough to Christmas that children are starting to open the little doors on their advent calendars, you know it's time to get your act together and purchase whatever presents you plan on giving to friends, family and loved ones.

Whether it's your dog or the mailman, this time of year involves a lot of purchases -- and a lot of people hoping that they know someone else well enough to correctly identify something that's going to be greatly appreciated by the recipient.

To help out, here's my short of list of some of the best, coolest gadgets available on the market today, along with some thoughts about for whom they'd be the ideal gift.

Sphero

Made by a local Boulder startup, the Sphero is a remote controlled ball about the size of a softball. But wait, it's way more fun than that makes it sound, because the remote device is a smartphone like an Android or iPhone, and controlling the ball involves carefully balancing the phone and keeping it just barely off level to direct the Sphero where you'd like it to go.

Set up an obstacle course. Or, better, enjoy how your dog or cat interacts with the mysterious sphere as it seems to defy logic with a mind of its own.

There are a bunch of different smartphone and tablet games included with the Sphero, too, so if an obstacle course doesn't sound that enticing, check those options out, too.

Info: Sphero, from gosphero.com, is $129.99 for the basic kit

iPad Mini

Apple’s iPad Mini
Apple's iPad Mini

When Apple introduced a smaller iPad to compete directly with the Kindle and other 7-inch (diagonal) tablets, I was a bit skeptical. I already had a Kindle Fire HD that has essentially the same screen size, but for 30 percent lower cost. The difference? The software.

Not only is the iPad operating system (iOS 6) a far easier and more elegant experience for a user than either an Android tablet or Kindle, but there are zillions of apps for the iPad, all of which will run just fine on the iPad Mini.

This means that whether you're looking for a challenging puzzle game, a productivity app to help you manage expense reports at work, a compilation of thousands of the best recipes online or just an engaging interactive storybook to keep the kids entertained, there are already thousands of options.

In fact, there are more than 275,000 applications available, and they all work just fine on the smaller screen.

Info: iPad Mini, from apple.com, is $329 for a basic configuration in black or white

Nike+ Fuelband

For people on your list who are either athletes or just enjoy a nice hike in the hills, there are a million pedometers that can track steps taken and, in many cases, location, heart rate and more. In fact, there are some slick applications available on smart phones, too, apps that take advantage of the GPS built into modern cellphones.

Problem is, they're all clunky and there are also plenty of times you don't want to be lugging along your cellphone, however much the new iPhone 5 might be smaller and lighter.

Nike+ Fuelband
Nike+ Fuelband

Enter the slim, stylish Nike+ Fuelband. A device that's not much bigger than a friendship bracelet, it not only tracks your motion with an accelerometer, but connects to your smartphone or computer after your workout to download all your stats, so you can keep track of the evolution and progress of your exercise regimen.

You can also set a daily fitness goal and the fuelband will show progress towards that goal throughout the day.

Info: Nike+Fuelband, from store.nike.com, is $149 in black or white

Gelaskins

GoPro Hero3 HD camera
GoPro Hero3 HD camera

Go into any coffee shop here in town and you'll be surrounded by a sea of boring silver laptop screens. You're probably contributing to the problem yourself, and I'll bet there are times when you've almost grabbed someone else's laptop after a meeting because they're all so similar.

So personalize it! A lot of companies make thick, easily applied laptop-size stickers that you apply to your device, but I'm a fan of Gelaskins and imagine that the dozens upon dozens of different designs are more than enough to let you find one that's just right for that geeky someone on your shopping list.

If you've ever seen my gear, these skins are on almost all, from my iPad and iPad Mini to my MacBook Pro. They're fun, inexpensive and stylish.

Info: Gelaskins laptop skins, from gelaskins.com, start at $29

GoPro Hero3

Whether you're a ski bum or think of a century as a good pre-lunch bike ride, there are lots of people in Boulder who are busy having adventures in the great outdoors. So why not have an HD video camera strapped to your helmet, recording everything that you do?

GoPro created this category of video, and with the new Hero3 system, the image stabilization is amazing.

Think about it: Strap a regular video camera to your bike before going down a trail and it's going to be so shaky you won't be able to even watch it again. But GoPro's got that problem nailed and the video you get from these devices is terrific and a great way to share your experiences with friends and family.

And don't forget that this is also a great present for children, too: For them it might be the skate park at Scott Carpenter Park or even just a pick-up basketball game at the gym, but they can be enthusiastic fans of the GoPro cameras, too!

Info: GoPro Hero3, from gopro.com, starts at $199

Canon PowerShot S100

While more and more people are using the cameras built into their smartphones for photography, there's still a world of different between a mobile phone with a tiny camera chip and a device designed from the beginning to be a digital camera.

Better lenses, better imaging systems, more versatility and usually quite a bit easier to work with are just a few of the benefits offered.

For this reason I love my Canon S100 digital compact camera. I have a big Nikon DSLR setup, but don't carry it with me too often because it's big, heavy and bulky.

The Canon slips in my jeans pocket and is easily toted to even the most remote locations. Not all compact digital cameras are made well, but Canon seems to have nailed the tech and has an entire range of cameras starting with the $79 A2300. All good. All a smarter alternative to low-res, out-of-focus cellphone pictures when it really counts.

Info: Canon S95 compact digital camera, from canon.com, start at $249

 

Whatever you chose to purchase this holiday season as presents for your loved ones, remember that it's always smart to get the best you can afford, because there really are substantial differences in the circuitry and capability of higher end units when compared to entry level offerings.

Also, unless it's something that's going to really get beat up a lot (like a GoPro), I'd discourage you from also buying the extended service plans. They're a great money-maker for the retailer, but rarely worthwhile for the consumer.