Dec. 13, 2013 at 6:41 PM ET
While most of the year’s gadget headlines continued to be dominated by tablets and smartphones from Apple, Samsung, Google and Amazon, there are a handful of gadgets that deserve a mention not only because they work so well, but because they’re great for gifts. Here are the media players, headphones, speaker boxes and cameras I tested this year that I really like:
Roku 3 streaming media player ($100) - The little media player that could, this tiny hockey puck sits under your TV and delivers as much streamed subscription content as any smart TV on the market: For video, you get Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and — depending on your TV package — even HBO Go. For music, there’s Pandora, Spotify and most of the other services. There’s a plethora of other channels, and the lineup is growing every day. The interface is simple, and the gadget’s size makes it great for taking on family trips, too. If the $100 price tag (currently marked down to $90) is too much for you, there are other models, as low as $50, that offer the same content but at lesser video quality and with less powerful Wi-Fi. (And if even $50 is too much to spend on a gift, consider the Google Chromecast. At $35, it's a great little media-streaming TV accessory for anyone who already has an Android or iOS phone or tablet.)
Jabra Revo wireless Bluetooth headphones ($200 or less) - The price may seem steep but these are actually two headphones in one pair: a comfortable set of great-sounding wired headphones for traveling, and a convenient Bluetooth headset for exercising without getting wires in the way. When you’re in wireless mode, you can even control the volume and playback with a touch surface on one of the earphones, and when you’re plugged in, there’s a microphone so you could take calls. Though this pair of headphones lists for $250, you can find it for much less. (And if you just want the wire version, you can get that for under $150.)
Logitech UE Boom speaker ($180) - Yes, I called Bluetooth speakers the gadget spam of 2013, and it’s true — everywhere you turn, there’s another one. But if you have to choose one, go for the UE Boom, which sounds great and has long-lasting battery life and a water-resistant body for bringing out to the patio or moving around the kitchen. A cheaper alternative is its baby brother, the UE Mobile Boombox, which you can find for as little as $80.
Sonos wireless music system ($200 and up) - The best way to distribute music throughout your home, Sonos now works as a gift because there’s no penalty for buying just the $200 Play:1 wireless speaker up front, then having your beloved gift recipient add to the system later on if he or she wants. All of the speakers talk to each other, and can be controlled by an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet.
GoPro Hero3 rugged sports camera ($200) - Everybody raves about the GoPro and I finally had a chance to test it where it’s meant to be tested, 90 feet below the surface of the ocean. With the included protective housing, which can go down to 131 feet below, the stills and videos came out surprisingly well. I especially liked the ease of use — two buttons (one for movies and one for photos) are all it takes, and when you’re diving or snowboarding or doing whatever it is you do, you will really appreciate the simplicity.