SANTA'S GOT a brand-new bag of tech-minded goodies to share with the nice 'n' naughty this holiday season.
In fact, Christmas has become such a high-tech holiday, the elves are threatening to relocate to Silicon Valley.
North by Northpole
Hallmark Stores (and website) are serving up fanciful gizmos, under $25, that offer a "magical link" to Santa's Winter Wonderland.
With the radio-studio-styled Northpole Communicator Microphone ($24.95), young 'uns can "tune in" each day through the season to chat with Santa and the gang.
Northpole Magic Mail ($7.95) offers a cool and mysterious way for children to share their wish lists. Write stuff on specially treated stationery, then stick it in the freezer. Return to find magical responses from the North Pole gang.
Most fun (and practical), Hallmark's Treeluminator resembles a plunger mechanism used to trigger TNT. Only now it's candy-cane colored and works wirelessly with a Magic Receiver (plugged into a power outlet and string of lights, up to 50 feet away) to trigger on (and turn off) a show of blinking tree bulbs and holiday music. It costs $24.95 with purchase of three Hallmark cards.
Laugh off the seasonal plaint "Baby It's Cold Outside" with tech-smartened gloves and head wear.
Glove.ly hand warmers ($20 and up) weave "Invisitouch" conductive strands throughout the wool-blend fabric. So, without goofy metallic tips or cutoff ends, a glove wearer can tap on a touch screen to text, email, tweet, surf or even, oddly, answer the darned phone.
Beanie caps and ear muffs with built-in speakers are big this season. We've stayed warm and entertained with the 808 Soundcap ($20). This knit hat's speakers are removable, and the braided fabric-covered connector cable has built-in microphone and control buttons for pausing/skipping music and taking calls.
Wake someone happier with the Mr. Coffee Smart Wi-Fi Enabled Optimal Brew Coffeemaker with WeMo technology ($140-$150). The appliance is programmable from an app on your phone or tablet, or can trigger coffee-brewing "live" from your bedside. This Mr. C. doesn't kick on if the carafe's not in place. Brews fast, hot and well (5 cups in 5 minutes at 150 degrees), beating (by a minute and 10 degrees) our favorite clock-programmable (just one setting) Cuisinart Extreme Brew ($99.95-$129).
"App controlled smart baking" is the hot (and cool) concept delivered with Perfect Bake, a $70 bundle at Brookstone for holiday entertainers. Its accurate digital food scale connects to your tablet (Apple or Android). Enter baking ingredients in whatever amounts you have on hand. The companion app summons up dozens of appropriate recipes and leads step-by-step assemblage, working with the scale, supplied bowls and oven thermometer.
Also new at Brookstone, in a similar, um, spirit is the digital scale-based Perfect Drink bundle ($50), which dreams up super cocktails with whatever alcohol, mixers and fruit substances you have lying around. Finally, that bottle of Creme de Menthe will get used!
Small-fry can master mixology skills with the Supreme Moo Mixer, a cute mug with built-in motor and rotating plastic paddle for frothing the perfect chocolate milk with powder or syrup flavoring ($15 at amazon. com).
Lots of small but able Bluetooth speakers, wirelessly catching and amplifying a phone or tablet's music streams, are ripe for the buying and sharing. Most switch automatically when a call's coming in, so you can talk "hands-free."
Our top find of the season - the Blazar, by Beacon Audio - is an aluminum-clad cube with dual side- and bottom-firing speakers. Discounted to $90, it delivers about 90 percent of the sonic satisfaction of our high-end Bluetooth speaker picks - the $199 list Bose Soundlink Mini and UE Boom.
Not nearly as good sounding but suited for water babies is the iShower2 Bluetooth speaker, from iDevices ($100). Stands alone on the tub edge, or hangs from a handle or showerhead. Accepts an echoey phone call, too.
Also looming large this season are wireless Wi-Fi-connected speakers that pull down Internet radio stations (by the tens of thousands) and on-demand subscription music services (Spotify, Rhapsody, Deezer, Beats Music, etc.) using your smartphone or tablet as the remote. The Sonos Play:1 ($199) is the best entry product for adventurers. Sure to please!
Walk before you run
Looking for a stylish, user-friendly gizmo that proclaims, "Here's to your good health!"? Most "wearable tech" fitness trackers are clunky, pricey things that demand recharging every day or three. The slim, light, cute-as-a-button Misfit Flash ($49.99) is the rare exception. Measures daily activity, sleep, steps taken, distance traveled and calories burned, with a 12-LED halo display that also shows the current time at a tap. An easily replaced button battery lasts four months.
Smarten up a flat-screen TV with a super-bargain Amazon Fire TV Stick. This $39 device plugs into a TV's HDMI port, uses your wireless Internet service to pull in popular sites like Netflix, PBS, Hulu and Showtime Anytime. Comes with a wireless remote (unlike the rival Google Chromecast stick) and is an especially good deal for Amazon Prime customers, as Fire TV grants them free access to movies and music. Also worth considering is the rival Roku3 ($90) Internet TV receiver. Has the most apps and a nifty wireless remote with headphone jack for private listening.
Many the tablet computer was purchased over the Black Friday weekend, with iPads claiming the largest chunk of sales. Now accessories are demanded.
M-Edge's Stealth Power cases for iPad, Kindle, Galaxy, Nexus, Nook and Surface tablets ($99) pack a slim-line battery that doubles use time between charges. (We're also crazy for M-Edge's new, paint-splashed Glimpse case for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Would do Jackson Pollock proud.)
Logitech's new Keys To Go ($99) is the slimmest, lightest wireless keyboard for iPads you've ever (hardly) seen.
For artists and note-takers, the Jot Touch digital stylus from Adonit ($99) turns an iPad or iPhone into a blank canvas just waiting to be filled, using variable "PixelPoint" tech and compatible apps like Adobe Illustrator Line (free), Procreate and Adobe Photoshop Sketch.
For the guy who has everything
The brand-new Harmony Ultimate Home ($299) programmable remote control lives up to the billing. Working all manner of audio/video gear, it replaces a table load of IR (infrared) and RF (radio frequency) remotes after easy programming on the Internet. The Ultimate also has the smarts to get home lighting, smart door locks and thermostat working, creating one-touch experiences like "welcome home" or "good night." But don't forget to leave out the milk and cookies for our special guest, OK?