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The consumer tech industry is constantly trying to make good things smaller. Part of that is fed by a hunger to have you use its stuff as much as possible, but the larger point is that something you can carry with you is often something more convenient to own.
So, with the holiday season in full swing, we’ve rounded up a few diminutive gadgets worth gifting. All of them are small enough to fit in a pocket, so they’ll be both useful and easy to pack. If you need a stocking stuffer for a tech-savvy loved one, they should be worth the plunge.
Each of them have their flaws, but among the handful of media streaming dongles on the market, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is the best. It’s fast, unlike theRoku Streaming Stick, self-contained, unlike the smartphone-dependentGoogle Chromecast, and affordable.
Its OS still pushes Amazon’s own Prime services above all else, which can be annoying, but turns out to be rather convenient if you’re already an active Prime user. It recently added voice search, too, with support for the impressive Alexa assistant coming in the near future.
While we like the Google Chromecast in a vacuum, it isn’t easy to universally recommend to the niche it’s aiming at. The Chromecast Audio, on the other hand, very much is. Granted, that’s a much smaller niche — people who want toturn their speakers into makeshift Sonos devices — but for what it is, it’s wonderfully simple and effective. It also fixed up a couple of its biggest omissions just yesterday, officially adding support for multi-room playback and Hi-Res audio.
Google Chromecast Audio, $35, available at Best Buy.
There’s no shortage of quality portable Bluetooth speakers, but the JBL Clip+ is our favorite of the ultra-compact ones. It has a surprisingly strong sound for something the size of a hockey puck, it’s water-resistant, and it’s sturdily put together.
It won’t get you a ton of bass, and it distorts at higher volumes, but that’s almost a given with speakers this tiny. It also had battery life issues when it first launched, but JBL has assured us that any model you buy today won’t be affected, and that it’ll give you a replacement if it is. Either way, this is an easy way of keeping music on you at all times.
To be honest, we could put any of our favorite in-ear headphones (or workout ones) in this spot, but we’ll highlight the relatively new RHA S500 for being such a great value. For $40 — or $50 if you need inline iOS controls — it gets you a vibrant, nicely bright sound, with tight and strong (if not super powerful) bass to boot. Its highs get too sibilant at the highest volumes, but generally speaking it’s sharper and livelier than most of its peers.
Its sharply cut, metallic finish makes it look much higher-end than most $50 earphones, too, and it creates a tight seal without feeling all that uncomfortable. It also comes with a ton of eartips. Although it won’t get you the flat signature most audiophiles like, it’s about as complete a package you’ll find for a pair of in-ears at this price.
The 5.5-inch model of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 is (narrowly) our favorite budget smartphone, but we realize a phone that big isn’t exactly comfortable for everyone.
Thankfully, the 4.7-inch version is a solid substitute. It’s not as fast than its bigger sibling, and its screen isn’t as sharp, but everything about it (camera aside) is impressively pleasant for a $180 device. Naturally, it’s also much easier for most people to use with one hand.
That’s just for the budget side of the market, though. If you can afford the step up to the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact (and you don’t live in America), you’ll get the only “small” Android phone that behaves like a true flagship. And of course, Apple makes a 4.7-inch phone that isn’t half bad either.
None of them are perfect, but the best fitness trackers will push you toward a more active lifestyle. If you think you could use the motivation, the Fitbit Charge HR is the wearable to get. It’s one of the most accurate in counting distance, calorie, and sleep metrics, it has heart-rate monitoring (long one of the most useful ways of judging general health), and Fitbit’s stat-tracking software is great. If nothing else, its silent alarm gives you a more pleasant way of waking up in the morning.
Here’s a simple one. You have lots of data, and you should back it up. A good flash drive is a simple way of keeping your most important files safe and easy to transport. You might have a couple dozen of them lying around the house already, but if you’re in need of a new one, the SanDisk Extreme gets you the best blend of speed and affordability.
Everyone loses their stuff at some point. It happens. If it happens to you more often than you’d like, though, the Tile is a Bluetooth tracker that you can easily attach to a bag, keyring, or what have you, then use (with the Tile app) to locate that item if you misplace it.
Now, this kind of thing won’t work if you forgot your suitcase halfway across the globe. But if you, say, left your keys in the restaurant you just walked out of, or just can’t find something around the house, the Tile’s impressive Bluetooth range and loud built-in alarm give you a better chance of finding it than similar trackers.
A portable battery is one of those things you may not always need, but will be thankful to have when you do. There are tons of these things floating around, but Anker’s are both the most popular and, in our testing, among the most reliable.
Its PowerCore+ 10050 is especially appealing — while it’s not the cheapest pack around, it gets you a hefty 10,000mAh of juice in a package that looks like it’d only carry half of that. That’s enough to charge most smartphones 3-4 times, but this model is particularly fast at it, and it’s quick to fill itself back up whenever it runs dry.
Alternatively, if you’re not always out and about, a USB wall charger like thePowerPort 4 has many of the same merits; it just requires an outlet to work.
Anker PowerCore+ 10050 (Black), $29.99, available at Amazon.
Pocket-friendly stick PCs like the Intel Compute Stick are okay, but Windows doesn’t always play nice the kind of budget-level hardware they use. (We do likethe inFocus Kangaroo, which follows the same “cheap Windows on-the-go” idea, but is a little too large to fit in your pants.)
Chrome OS, meanwhile, is built to work with cheap specs. It can’t do as much as Windows as a result, but if you ever wanted to move your desktop across multiple monitors, you could do worse than the Asus Chromebit. The USB drive-sized stick plugs into an HDMI port and turns its corresponding display into a makeshift Chromebook. You’ll need to supply your own keyboard and mouse, but it’s a smooth way of Web browsing (and using its many apps) in various places.
Recharging your smartphone is inherently inconvenient, but the NomadKey does its best to lessen the burden. (For iPhone owners, at least.) Its latest model is an MFi-certified Lightning-to-USB cable in the form of a flexible little stick, which you can comfortably attach to a keychain. It isn’t the most convenient around the house, but it’s much more graceful than stuffing a longer cable in your pocket.
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