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Review: High-Tech Gifts to Update the Low-Tech Dad

by Ron Harris
Wednesday May 29, 2013
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Father’s Day gifts have morphed over the years. It used to be a tie, a golf hat or a jazz CD. But dads are more tech-savvy these days.

There are plenty of new gadgets on the market to keep them busy, regardless of their interest or hobbies. The cool new products we’ve selected range in price from $10 to $1,600. There are music players for the shower, tools to help the budding guitarist and even a flask that doesn’t hold alcohol.

We know what our fathers like. Here’s a guide to some tech gifts that may help them do what they like even better.

- Moxie ($200, Kohler Co.)

Your dad is likely going to tilt his head to inspect this gadget, then laugh a bit at it, then love it. The Moxie is a waterproof, wireless speaker snookered into a specially designed showerhead and held in place by magnets. The showerhead mounts onto the common pipes found in most shower plumbing hardware, but similarities to a regular showerhead end there.

One button turns it on. The speaker then plays music from your smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth wireless connection. Sound quality is exceptional, and the build and look of the Moxie is top notch.

Buy earplugs if you can’t stand Dad singing along.

- VivoTab Smart ($500, AsusTek Computer Inc.):

If you want to spring for a new tablet computer for Dad, but think the iPad is too commonplace, you would do well to consider the VivoTab Smart from Asus. It offers a vivid, 10.1-inch display, plenty of social networking apps and the bonus of running the Windows 8 operating system for more demanding applications. This is the full version of Microsoft’s system, not the lightweight Windows RT that can run only apps specifically designed for it.

I’m not totally in love with Windows 8 and its new interface for regular computing, but Windows 8 is slick for tablet use. The response in swiping from one application to the next is lightning fast and intuitive. There are plenty of free and paid apps for Windows 8, and the list is growing.

The VivoTab Smart is light and well designed. It comes with a thin, wireless keyboard and a sleeve that doubles as a stand for the tablet. It has a powerful Intel processor and Bluetooth to keep Dad connected to the aforementioned Moxie, or similar wireless speakers.

One of the best features is the camera. The tablet’s 8-megapixel camera boasts an impressive F/2.2 aperture lens for low-light shooting. The sample images I took with it easily trumped my 8-megapixel smartphone photos.

- Toddy Smart Cloth ($10, Toddy Gear) and the Toddy Wedge ($15):

All that texting and swiping can take its toll in the form of oily finger smudges on your tablet or smartphone. Here’s a better solution than cleaning it with a T-shirt: a microfiber cleaning cloth with colorful and customizable designs. A few quick circles wiped away all the smudges from several devices I dirtied up.

The Toddy Wedge goes one step further in providing the same cleaning material wrapped around a beanbag-like wedge that also serves as a stand for your phone, e-reader or tablet. It’s a lot better than laying your device down flat on a desk and risking scratching up its back.

Toddy will even customize the cloths with photos of the kids, the family or Kate Upton. I mean Mom, of course.

- Vox StompLab 2G ($90, Vox Amplification Ltd.) and the Korg Wi-Tune ($100, Korg):

Many dads have a hearty guitar habit. Longing for the era of their favorite music, they sit around puttering at "Stairway to Heaven" with some Metallica licks thrown in for good measure. But Dad could and should sound better.

To that end, the Vox StompLab 2G is a sound-effects pedal with preset sounds. Dad can simply plug his guitar into it and play rock, blues, metal and variations of each with the proper tone. Guitar pedals such as the StompLab can, for instance, give an electric guitar a crisp jazz sound as opposed to the sound of distorted grunge music. But it usually takes several pedals to cover the wide range of styles. The StompLab offers dozens of effects with just one pedal. Just press on it and use dials and knobs to choose the effect. The heavy metal overdrive effects are the best.

If out-of-tune instruments are Dad’s real bugaboo, Korg has the cure with Wi-Tune, a wireless tuner. The small transmitter clips on to a guitar or other instrument. A receiver, about the size of a deck of cards, rests nearby. The receiver has a screen that will tell Dad if he’s flat or sharp and what the nearest note is. The Wi-Tune can also generate tones if Dad prefers to tune his instrument by ear. It’s sharply designed and has a backlit display for use in low light. (The StompLab has a built-in tuner, so you won’t need Wi-Tune as well if you get that.)

- Nikon D7100 ($1,600 with the 18-105 millimeter kit lens or $1,200 for the body only, Nikon Corp.):

If Dad is still using phones or point-and-shoot cameras, now is the time to set him on the right path. Splurge on the Nikon D7100, a full-powered, interchangeable-lens camera commonly known as a DSLR, for digital single-lens reflex. The D7100 offers so much value, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Consider its 51-point auto-focus system. This could quickly become Dad’s best friend, despite the fact that he’ll learn more about proper shooting by going into full manual mode. The auto focus is fast and accurate. The D7100 has a 24-megapixel sensor that delivers vivid contrast and color in default mode, without any custom setting enhancements. Ergonomically, if feels good in the hands and is light enough not to wear down your wrists when shooting over a long period of time.

It also shoots full high-definition video at 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. In my tests, it tracked the motion of my scrambling dog nicely without any noticeable blurring. It offers a steep range of ISO speeds for low-light photography, though I found anything beyond ISO 2000 susceptible to an uncomfortable level of image degradation.

Still, the D7100 is a winner at this price point. Other notable features include dual SD card slots, solid stereo sound recording and an HDMI-out port for viewing captured images and video on a TV or other large screen.

- HoldFast Ruck Strap ($150, HoldFast LLC) and leather leash ($45):

The hands-down sexiest accessories for toting around your coveted camera gear comes from a small outfit called HoldFast. These hand-crafted leather and cotton camera straps are tough and handsomely designed.

Made in Stillwater, Okla., HoldFast’s Ruck Strap offers a comfortable leather shoulder pad area and strong leather-and-brass-buckle clasps to keep a good tether on your gear. The Ruck Strap adds a nice rustic touch to the photo bag. It also sports a buttoned pouch for carrying an extra memory card or business cards.

The company also sells a stylish simple leather leash that can be affixed to the tripod screw hole in the base of most DSLRs and compact cameras for a more minimalist approach. The leash will take up less space in Dad’s camera bag and on his arm.

- PowerFlask ($90, Digital Treasures):

With all of this high-tech gear, Dad needs a dependable way to keep things powered up. The PowerFlask is up to the task. It looks like a leather-bound drinking flask that fits nicely in the back pocket. But what’s inside isn’t booze. It’s a 13,000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery, with USB ports for charging as many as three devices at a time. Although it won’t do any good for gadgets that require regular wall sockets, many devices such as smartphones, tablets, e-readers and GPS watches can be charged with USB. If Dad is on a long hike or otherwise away from an outlet, the PowerFlask has him covered in case of an emergency.

- GolfSense ($130, GolfSense Inc.):

No Father’s Day gift guide would be complete without something to help Dad break 100 on the golf course. GolfSense is a small device that clips on to a golf glove and analyses the player’s swing. It measures the speed of the swing, the plane and arc of the swinging motion and the tempo. The information is then transmitted to a phone or a tablet, where Dad can quickly view results in an app. Dad can use it at the driving range or during a real round of golf for feedback that is more specific than a buddy telling him, "I think you sliced it."

I found the swing plane analysis helpful in letting me know whether I was dipping my body too low on my downstroke, which causes me to carve up too much earth instead of striking the ball. The tempo data, however, is the gold mine. Middling golfers tend to get excited and rush their swing at the ball. GolfSense offers key visual reminders and can illustrate for Dad where his swing is getting too fast and unwieldy. The app works for both Apple and Android smartphones.

Online:

Moxie: http://bit.ly/TXFhsd

VivoTab Smart: http://bit.ly/12MwVYt

Toddy Gear: http://www.toddygear.com

StompLab: http://www.voxamps.com/us/pedals/stomplab

Wi-Tune: http://korg.com/WiTune

Nikon D7100: http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/dslr/d7100

HoldFast Gear: http://www.holdfastgear.com

PowerFlask: http://www.digitaltreasures.com/powerflask

GolfSense: http://www.golfsense.me

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