How To Use Holiday Gift Guides To Your Advantage

With the holidays right around the corner, I asked my balena colleagues to suggest gift ideas for the tech-minded people in their lives -- and yours -- and they came up with some interesting stuff.

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Some of these things you might want for yourself, so consider it a list for giving and receiving, which I’ve broken down into three categories: gear, tools, and books. This list is by no means exhaustive, but my colleagues and I hope it will stir some gift-giving ideas.

Gear

Since we love all things IoT, we love devices, HATs and workshop gear that makes our lives easier and more fun. This list of gear has that flavor along with hardware that can be combined for cool projects.

Raspberry Pi or other IoT devices

Single-board computers make a great learning platform, whether it’s for coding, home automation or general tech exploration. It’s hard to beat low-cost boards like the Raspberry Pi, which is widely supported, has a large user community, and can be used again and again for different projects.

  • Cost: Starting around $35 US
  • Where to buy: Amazon, most online electronic suppliers, raspberrypi.org
  • Notes: When giving as a gift, consider buying a complete kit that includes the RPi, micro SD card, power supply and case.

Inky pHAT

Devices that attach to IoT devices (HATs) can add a lot of functionality to a base Raspberry Pi, from cellular modems, screens, servo-drivers, radios, Power over Ethernet (PoE) and much more. We came across the Inky pHAT, a small e-ink device that can display text and images. It works with any version of the Raspberry Pi, including the Zero and Zero W. Unlike a TFT video screen, the Inky pHAT is low-power and even displays content when it’s off. We liked it so much, we built the InkyShot project around it.

  • Cost: Starting at $28 US
  • Where to buy:pimorono.com
  • Notes: No soldering necessary. Coding content for the screen is done in Python, so it’s a good choice for anyone interested in coding.

Inky Impression

If the small size of the Inky pHAT seems too limiting, consider the Inky Impression, a 5.7-inch color e-ink display that some of us are looking to use to build a Very Slow Movie Player. A VSMP displays a movie by showing a new frame of a film every couple minutes. Of course, this type of display can be used for a variety of projects, particularly ones with static content as the goal.

  • Cost: $88 US
  • Where to buy:pimoroni.com
  • Notes: Coding content for the screen is done in Python, so it’s a good choice for anyone interested in coding.

Isotunes earbuds

Whether you’re working in an office, on a factory floor or remotely, having good-quality earbuds is a must. The ISOtunes Xtra 2.0 is durable, tangle-resistant and runs 11 hours on a charge. If your special someone is constantly replacing lesser quality earbuds, these may be well worth the investment.

  • Cost: $106 US
  • Where to buy:isotunes.co.uk
  • Notes: The secure neckband and magnetic eartips make it a good choice for rugged environments.

Pirate Audio: Headphone Amp for Raspberry Pi

If you or your friends are a little old-school and prefer wired headphones and the sort of simplicity of the iPod Nano (without the Apple iTunes lock-in), the Pirate Audio: Headphone Amp should definitely be on your gift list. The small device features a 1.3-inch color screen, a 3.5mm headphone jack, four tactile buttons and fits any Raspberry Pi with a 40-pin header. Use it to play MP3, FLAC and other local audio files, or stream from Spotify.

  • Cost: $26 US
  • Where to buy:pimoroni.com
  • Notes: Deploying the stock software requires some knowledge of git and setting device configuration variables. As a gift, consider pairing it with a Raspberry Pi Zero W.

Tools

For those on your list who love the smell of melting solder and enjoy making stuff with their hands, we’ve come up with a few ideal gift ideas. If that person is you, why not put yourself on the receiving end of these?

Adjustable PCB Clamp Holder

This Pro’sKit SN-390 clamp is ideal for anyone looking to work on PCBs who doesn’t have three arms. It has 4 slots for PCBs of various thicknesses, adjustable arms for small or large widths, rubber pads so it won’t skate all over your desk or workbench, and 360-degree rotation so you can rotate your boards as you work.

  • Cost: $20 US
  • Where to buy:adafruit.com

STM32 Screwdriver

Sometimes the best gifts are the things we don’t need, but we really want. The SainSmart ES120 rechargeable electric mini screwdriver fits the bill. It has forward and reverse controls, torque settings, a microUSB charging port, a 4mm hex chuck for all your screwdriver bits, and a small screen that shows the current settings. This is the sort of tool that makes us hunt for things to take apart!

  • Cost: $95 US
  • Where to buy:Amazon
  • Notes: A cheaper option is the automatic screwdriver sold by rakwireless.com, which comes with bits but, alas, no screen.

Cordless mini smart soldering iron

This fine-tipped portable soldering iron is definitely a nice-to-have tool for the discerning tinkerer. It features an OLED screen (which you can customize), operating temperatures ranging from 100 C to 400 C, and a 22-second heat-up time. It has a number of modes, including automatic power off.

  • Cost: $70 to $110 US
  • Where to buy:AliExpress and Adafruit.com

Books

Yes, many of us are reading on screens these days, but some books are best read (or only available) on paper and make for great gifts that can be handed out, not just beamed. We came up with an interesting assortment that should spark some gift ideas.

NASA graphics standard manual

The NASA Graphics Standards Manual, by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, is a futuristic vision for an agency at the cutting edge of science and exploration.

  • Cost: $57 US
  • Where to buy:Amazon

NY Transit Authority Standards manual

If you’re shopping for someone who loves design and the unique challenges of urban settings, this manual describes the design and construction for the iconic New York City subway signs that we still see and use today.

  • Cost: $55 US
  • Where to buy:Amazon

How To Use Holiday Gift Guides To Your Advantage Card

The Art of Electronics 3rd Edition

Ian Bell writing in Everyday Practical Electronics best summed up the value of this classic book by Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill when he wrote, “If you are a hobbyist or maker who wants to acquire or improve a well-rounded knowledge of electronics, then AoE is an ideal book for you. It starts from the very basics of voltage, current, and resistance without getting heavily dependent on physics theory or mathematics, and proceeds to cover a huge variety of interesting topics.”

  • Cost: $85
  • Where to buy:artofelectronics.net/
  • Notes: This book is often used in classes and can be rented. Beware of counterfeits, however!

How To Use Holiday Gift Guides To Your Advantage Membership

Game Programming Patterns

This book by Robert Nystrom is a collection of patterns he found in games that make code cleaner, easier to understand, and faster. He says, “This is the book I wish I had when I started making games.” It’s available in print, ebook, PDF and free on the web.

  • Cost: Starting at $25 for Kindle, free online
  • Where to buy:gameprogrammingpatterns.com

What if?

This highly rated book by Randall Munroe aims to provide “serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions,” and it’s perfect for that intellectually curious and slightly bent person in your life. It’s now available in paperback so you can give it to all your friends.

Guides
  • Cost: Starting at $15 US
  • Where to buy:Amazon

Science and technology magazines

The MagPi Magazine is the official Raspberry Pi magazine, and a good choice for anyone on your gift list who’s into IoT devices and programming. Consider other magazines, too, from Wired to New Scientist for science and tech-loving folks.

  • Cost: Varies
  • Where to buy:Amazon

We hope these recommendations help

We hope these gift recommendations help you find the right techy tool or book for the hardware hacker in your life. Feel free to comment and tell us about other potential gifts. We’re down to talk shop on Twitter, Instagram, and on our Forums, or in the comments below.

How To Use Holiday Gift Guides To Your Advantage Account

Happy holidays, everyone!