Tips for top nerd holiday gifts

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Buying holiday gifts for geeks is fraught, especially for the non-geeky. It's so very easy to buy not just the wrong thing, but precisely the wrong thing. For example, giving a Moto X owner a festively coloured lightning cable, or an iPod Touch fan a Google Play gift card is just not the thing, my dear. And, even if you get close to the right thing, a miss is as good as a mile. USB 2, not 3? It is such a faux pas, dear boy. Let me help.

The agnostic Bluetooth keyboard

Fortunately, this one is easy. There are myriad keyboards that can be used with smartphones and tablets. But, many of them play favourites. Some are ideal for Android phones, others for iPads, etc. But the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard is the Switzerland of mobile keyboards. No matter what phone or tablet you have, the able keyboard lets you set a hardware switch that tunes it to the needs of the very device you own. Plus, it's a robust keyboard with good keystroke depth and a built-in, magnetically latched carrying case. 

Finder keepers -- Tiles

If you have a forgetful nerd on your list, Tiles is an ideal option. Tiles are little square devices that can be attached to keys, slipped into bags, tucked into wallets or dropped into purses. The tiny devices communicate with smartphones so that if the item they're attached to goes missing, your phone can tell you its last location and then make the Tile chime so you can find your keys or other items. The newest version of Tiles can also do the reverse: help you find a missing phone, like that's ever happened. The really geeky thing about Tiles is that anyone else who has the Tiles app running on their Android or iOS device can also spot your missing object. So, if you dropped your keys in Union Station and someone with the Tiles app passes by, their phone can send your phone an anonymous post locating your missing object. I have a set of four of these and they have saved my bacon a couple of times already.

Gift cards

I know these seem impersonal, but, trust me, when it comes to tech gear, apps, etc. these are a great choice. Just make sure you know what platform your lovable geek uses. Both Apple and Google have gift cards available almost everywhere.

The gift of juice

There is not a geek alive who wouldn't appreciate some extra boost of portable power. Avoid bespoke charging solutions like Mophie cases unless you know exactly the smartphone you're buying for. Plus, freestanding chargers can be used by more than one device: tablet, smartphone or smart watch. Avoid no-name units from the corner store or airport kiosk, they may look great but cheap units have poor circuitry and could damage gear they're tapped into. Here's a good bet, plus, flashlight.

Soft wear

Mostly, to be honest, geeks are pretty shameless about what they wear, especially if that clothing can demonstrate their undying fealty to some obscure sci-fi show or movie. That's why, if you have a Doctor Who fan on your list, the Doctor Who ugly Christmas sweater is perfect. Trust me. Per-fect.

Send a cable

I know, I know, your geek pal has cables coming out her ears, right? True, but so what? An extra cable to toss in one of the myriad bags she has for her gear (am I right?) would be a godsend. Again, don't cheap out on these. For Apple fans, get the Apple-branded ones (corner store lightning cables are like buying a tinderbox for a smartphone). Here's what you need to know: Android phone = USB to microUSB. iPhone = USB to lightning. But don't even think of giving this. You're welcome.

Degunk your geek

As anyone who has taken a close look at Bill Gates' glasses know, nerds could use a bit of help in the screen-cleaning department. I really like the Whoosh line of screen cleaners. The combined fluid and polishing cloth do a great job. Great stocking stuffer. Plus, if you have to share a tablet, it's the gift that keeps giving.

Final tip. There is an old user interface adage that goes: "Know thy audience, for they are not you." Same here. You might think these gifts are too nerdy, practical or frivolous. Keep that to yourself on Christmas Day -- geek joy passeth all understanding.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Melissa Wiese/flickr

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