It can be tricky to shop for the geek who seems to have all the latest gadgets and electronic toys. But it isn’t quite as hard as you think—you just need to know where to look. Here are 11 gift ideas that can point you in the right direction.
Who says 3D printing has to be expensive? The Printrbot Simple is a basic 3D printer that starts at $300. The catch? At that price, it doesn’t come preassembled (a preassembled one will cost you $100 more). The other catch? If you order one now, you won’t get it in time for Christmas. Still, if you’re looking to buy someone a 3D printer, this is a good model to consider.
A 3D-printed gift
Of course, you don’t have to give a 3D printer—you could just give something made on one. Shapeways offers various 3D-printed goodies that you can buy; you can also submit your own creation and have Shapeways print it for you.
If you already have a 3D printer, you can find countless items to print on Thingiverse. It’s easy: Find a model you like, download the model file, and then send it to your 3D printer. If you’re looking for something seasonal to 3D-print, this ornament collection is a good start.
What better way to surprise your tech-savvy best friend than to give them something decidedly low-tech? Lomography cameras use this stuff called “film” to produce dreamy photos with a funky retro vibe. (Instagram, eat your heart out.) The company offers a wide selection of cameras, including the Konstructor, a 35mm camera that you can build yourself. Konstructor kits start at about $35 but range up to around $210.
Receiving a thermostat as a gift is a bit like getting socks for Christmas: Sure, it’s useful, but it’ll never top someone’s wish list. The Nest ($249) is no normal thermostat, however. This “smart” thermostat lets you control and monitor your home’s HVAC system from the comfort of your computer, smartphone, or tablet. It learns from your habits and routines, as well, so it knows when you’re away from home—and it turns down the heat accordingly. It might make a great present for the home-automation fan in your life.
Lego Mindstorms EV3
Meet Lego Mindstorms EV3 ($350). This latest version of Lego’s popular robotics kit comes with an assortment of new features and goodies, such as an infrared sensor, new Linux-based firmware, a USB port, and an SD Card slot. It also boasts improved programming capabilities in comparison with previous Mindstorms kits, and it’s backward-compatible with older Mindstorms NXT kits.
Is the geek in your life more of a Minecraft person? No problem; Lego has you covered, too. The company sells three kits that depict scenes from the ridiculously popular game. The sets cost $35 each. If you want one, you should get your order in as soon as you can—they’re currently in short supply.
If you have a friend who likes to tinker with electronics, look no further than the venerable Arduino board—the circuit board at the heart of many DIY projects. The Arduino starter kit (around $110 at current exchange rates) comes with everything you need to learn how to build your first Arduino-based thingamajig.
If your gift recipient is a bit more advanced, check out the Arduino robot kit (pictured), an Arduino board on wheels featuring sensors and actuators that make it ideal for assembling your very own robotic servant. Or not.
A subscription to 'Make' magazine
Make magazine is a must-have for anyone who is interested in the DIY scene. A mere $20 buys a one-year (six-issue) subscription to the digital edition; a print-and-digital subscription costs $35.
AR Drone 2.0
Why should Amazon have all the fun with drone aircraft? You can’t use an AR Drone to make deliveries (though maybe you can get it to bring you a taco), but if you know someone who wants to get started with quadrotors, take a look at the AR Drone 2.0. You can control the device from the comfort of your Android or iOS device, and it comes with an onboard video and still camera for recording its flights.
If you just can’t think of anything else to give, it’s hard to go wrong with a witty T-shirt. You have plenty of purveyors to choose from, too, with offerings from Snorg, ThinkGeek, Threadless, and Woot, just to name a few. Prices vary, but tees from these places usually run around $15 to $20.
Loot Crate gift subscription
If you still aren’t sure what gift to choose, and you want to leave it to chance, check out Loot Crate. The service sends random boxes of geeky goodness on a monthly basis—it’s a bit like Dollar Shave Club, only less predictable and more geeky. Loot Crate’s gift subscriptions let you give the gift of geek to your friends for one, three, or six months. Prices range from $20 to $115.