How many neckties does a dad need? I'm certain even Socrates himself posed a similar question, possibly rhetorically and definitely in Greek. Shopping for dad can be a real head scratcher, particularly if you want to avoid the stereotypical tie present.
Thank goodness for technology! Today, there are gadgets that appeal to all sorts of dads. Chef dads, sports dads and geek dads can all appreciate the right type of gadget. The new challenge isn't looking for an alternative to the tie -- it's narrowing down all the options out there.
That's where we come in. We've put together this list of gadgets, gizmos and thingamajigs that will bring a big smile to any dad's face. So whether it's a birthday, holiday or Father's Day, we've got your back. Let's get started!
One Remote To Rule Them All
The perfect entertainment system can be a thing of technological beauty. There are a few components every great entertainment system includes: A nice television and a good sound system are fairly standard. Then, there are the various set-top boxes, including DVD players and recorders, Blu-ray systems, video-game consoles and other components. But with great power comes great responsibility: How do you keep track of all the remote controls?
Enter the universal remote control! These gadgets eliminate the need to keep track of half a dozen -- or more -- remote controls. A good universal remote control gives you access to all your entertainment system's features from a single interface. Some even include settings that let you switch your entire system to different functions. Press one button and the remote switches all your equipment so that you're watching live TV. Push another and suddenly you're ready to watch a Blu-ray disc.
There are dozens of different universal remotes on the market. Some aren't as packed with features as others. You may have to enter model and serial numbers into the remote itself. Or you may need to use each component's remote control on the universal remote to configure it properly. Other universal remotes let you set up and program the remote control through a Web-based interface.
Does your dad have a man cave where he likes to relax and watch television? Does he talk a lot about the "good old days of television" before reality TV? Is he a fan of obscure films and documentaries? If you've answered yes to any of these questions, hooking dad's television up to the Internet might be the ideal gift.
There are many ways to achieve Internet connectivity. You could build or buy a media PC and connect it directly to your dad's television. There are several products on the market that are relatively user friendly. But if this seems a bit too complex for your dad, there are other options.
Set-top boxes like the Roku, Boxee and Apple TV can give dad access to content from the Internet on his biggest screen. Video game consoles like the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 also include options to access content from providers like Netflix or Hulu.
If dad travels around a lot, he might appreciate a Slingbox. These devices connect to your television and then stream out the content over your home's network. You can access the content on a computer, tablet or smartphone -- even if you're hundreds of miles away.
Cooling Things Down
It seems strange that a thermostat got the tech world buzzing, but that's just what the Nest thermostat managed to do when it debuted. The Nest packs a lot of features into an elegant, simple design. Just looking at one makes you want to play with it!
So what makes the Nest special? For one thing, it's connected to the Internet. This means you can monitor and change the temperature of your home no matter where you are. The Internet connectivity also allows the Nest to download new instructions as they become available.
But perhaps the most compelling feature of the Nest is that it learns how to heat or cool your house based on your behaviors. As you make adjustments to the temperature, the Nest tracks and plots the information. When you're away from home, Nest can adjust your dwelling's temperature to save on energy. It can readjust to meet your comfort standards before you get back home.
Nest also has a few features designed to make heating and cooling more efficient. One of those is called Airwave. The Nest can turn off your air conditioner 10 or 15 minutes before your home reaches its target temperature. The air conditioner will continue to produce cool air for several minutes. Nest uses your air conditioning system's fans to distribute this cool air throughout your home. The unit itself remains off, conserving energy.
For dads who like to exercise -- or who have talked about wanting to get fit -- a fitness monitor could be a perfect gift. There are dozens of different monitors on the market. Some of them are relatively simple pedometers -- devices that track how many steps you take throughout a day. Others incorporate multiple sensors to not only tell you how far you walked or how strenuous your workout was, but also how many calories you've burned.
Some fitness monitors are part of an overall fitness package that can help dad focus on his exercise routine. For example, the BodyMedia FIT device has an online component that lets dad track how many calories he's eating as well as burning. When he's burning more than consuming, he's on the road to weight loss. He can also set up specific goals and get tips on how to achieve them.
There are so many different products on the market that you're sure to find something to meet your dad's preferences. Whether it's a gadget that connects to various monitors through Bluetooth or an all-in-one device that estimates how much energy he burned in a workout, there's a gadget out there that will make the perfect gift.
For dads who have a lawn, keeping a yard in shape can either be a joy or a hassle. Dads who don't relish the thought of pushing or riding a lawnmower around a yard in the summer heat might appreciate a little help from a robotic landscaper.
There are several robot lawnmowers on the market. Some require professional installation -- a representative will visit your dad's yard and program the lawnmower so that it stays within the property perimeter. Others may require you to install wire to act as nearly-invisible boundary to keep the robot lawnmower from rampaging through the neighborhood.
You can find lawnmowers that work off of battery power, meaning that your dad won't have to breathe in exhaust fumes or worry about buying fuel regularly. Some even have solar panels that help supplement the battery power. But best of all, the robot lawnmowers give your dad the chance to kick back and relax while the yard work gets done.
Bring on the Noise
The digital era has simplified buying music as a gift. Delivery is instantaneous, you can often buy music on a song-by-song basis and best of all, you aren't burdened by that sense of embarrassment you'd get when you buy the music your dad likes at a physical store. No one needs to know!
But dad still needs something to play music on. There are several inexpensive digital music player options available. Or you can give dad an iPod touch, a device that's just shy of being a smartphone. There's a wide spectrum of devices with different features and price points.
One thing to keep in mind is the user interface. Some digital players are easy to work with -- they have an intuitive user interface and simple features. These make great gifts for dads who love music but aren't used to handling complex gadgets. You may also want to consider the type of computer your dad has -- some devices work well with PCs, but not with Macs -- or vice versa.
With a little research and some legwork, you can pick out a digital music player that best suits your dad's needs and habits. And you don't have to worry about someone you know spotting you with an album of Slim Whitman's greatest hits.
Does dad not feel like a human being until he's had that first cup of coffee? Does he know precisely where his coffee beans come from and can he debate the merits of a good Kona blend versus the beans from the famous Blue Mountains of Jamaica? Then consider a vacuum coffee brewer for pops.
This isn't state-of-the-art technology -- it's been around for more than a century! But the effect is undeniably cool. A typical vacuum brewer holds water in one container. A second container with a siphon and rubber seal fits on top of the first container. The siphon extends below the water line of the first container.
Put some freshly ground coffee in the top container, put the brewer over heat and watch what happens. Heat causes the water in the bottom container to convert into water vapor. The vapor takes up more space than the liquid -- but there's nowhere for it to escape! The vapor pushes against the water, which rises up the siphon into the second container where the coffee grounds are. Here, the water mixes with the grounds, brewing the coffee.
When the water level in the bottom container gets low enough, the brewer begins to bubble. At that point, it's time to remove the brewer from heat. The gases contract as they cool. The differences in pressure and gravity push the water back down the siphon. A filter catches the coffee grounds, leaving a clean brew of coffee.
Vacuum coffee brewer kits come in all shapes and sizes. Some even look like they're from a mad barista's scientific laboratory. If dad thinks coffee is king, this could be the perfect present!
If dad is a musician, there are a few cool gifts you can pick up for him. For the aspiring video star, there are lots of webcams and USB microphones to choose from. A good camera and microphone can make a big difference in the production value of even the simplest video.
For the guitarist, you might want to look at gadgets like the iRig or the Peavey AmpKit. These let your dad plug his axe into iOS devices like the iPhone or iPad to make them sound like they're hooked up to an amp. He can even mimic effects pedals and tweak settings to get the tone he wants.
Another simple gift is an electronic tuner. You can find tuners for lots of different instruments. They detect the vibrations given off by a musical instrument and can let you know if you need to make any adjustments.
And just in case you want to preserve marital -- if not musical -- harmony, consider buying a nice pair of headphones so that dad's musical output doesn't filter through the rest of the home.
Tablets, Smartphones and E-readers, Oh My!
Just a few years ago, smartphones were strictly for jet-setting executives and early adopters, tablets were for specialty professions and e-readers weren't for anyone. Two companies, Apple and Amazon, helped change our perceptions about these gadgets with the introduction of the iPhone, iPad and Kindle. Other companies soon followed suit.
But which should you buy? Tablets, smartphones and e-readers share many of the same features. Some, like the Amazon Kindle Fire, are really hybrids. First, you should ask yourself what features are important to your dad. If phone calls aren't a priority, a smartphone is easy to strike off the list. If he enjoys reading but isn't interested in running apps, surfing the Web or sending messages and e-mail, you can eliminate tablets.
Even after you determine which category makes the most sense, you still have to settle on a particular make and model. There are all sorts of tablets, smartphones and e-readers out there. Each operating system and design has something to offer. Knowing what's right for your dad can be tricky. Should you get an Apple iOS device or would he prefer Android? Is Blackberry more your dad's speed or should you get a Windows phone?
Before buying any of these devices for dad, you should keep in mind that some of these gadgets require an ongoing network fee. Your dad might think his new smartphone is amazing -- until he gets that first bill complete with data fees. Then he might consider it the gift that keeps on taking.
Car Diagnostic Kit
In the good old days, a guy could learn basic mechanical skills and fix a car. Sometimes, it might mean spending the better part of a weekend covered in grease but eventually, a dedicated car fanatic could repair many basic problems that might befall a vehicle.
Today, cars are a bit more complicated. Modern cars have computer systems that monitor everything from tire pressure to engine performance. And when the dreaded check engine light pops on, it can be hard to tell if it's something serious or just a minor issue.
Now, you can buy a car diagnostic kit that works with a smartphone to find out what's going on with your vehicle. There are several on the market -- Kiwi from PLX Devices is a good example. The kit comes with either a WiFi or Bluetooth connector you plug into your car's computer system. It then transmits data to your smartphone -- the Kiwi has models that work with iOS or Android devices.
By knowing what's wrong, you can determine if there's something you can fix yourself or if you'll need to bring the vehicle in to a mechanic. And knowing what's wrong will help you determine if your mechanic is giving you a good deal or taking you for a ride. That's something just about any dad will appreciate.
Virtual reality makes it easier — and a little more fun — for sick kids to deal with painful medical procedures. Find out more at HowStuffWorks.
My dad is a science fiction author. He's always had an interest in gadgets and technology. Shopping for him can be a challenge. But a quick visit to CES each year reminds me of the incredible variety of electronics that is available. Surely something out there would make the perfect gift, right?
More Great Links
- Amazon. "Kindle Fire." (April 29, 2012) http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-Fire-Amazon-Tablet/dp/B0051VVOB2/
- Apple. "Apple TV." (April 30, 2012) http://www.apple.com/appletv/
- Apple. "iPad." (April 29, 2012) http://www.apple.com/ipad/
- Apple. "iPhone." (April 28, 2012) http://www.apple.com/iphone/
- Apple. "iPod touch." (April 29, 2012) http://www.apple.com/ipodtouch/
- BodyMedia. (April 30, 2012) http://www.bodymedia.com/
- Boxee. (April 29, 2012) http://www.boxee.tv/
- Google. "Android." (April 28, 2012) http://www.android.com/
- IK Multimedia. "AmpliTube iRig." (April 30, 2012) http://www.ikmultimedia.com/irig/features/
- JL Hufford. "The Vacuum Brewing Method." (April 29, 2012) http://www.jlhufford.com/articles/vacuumbrew.asp
- Nest. (April 30, 2012) http://www.nest.com/
- Peavey. "Ampkit Link." (April 30, 2012) http://peavey.com/products/recording/ampkitlink/
- PLX Devices. "Kiwi." (April 30, 2012) http://www.plxdevices.com/product_cat.php?id=GSST
- Roku. (April 30, 2012) http://www.roku.com/
- Slingbox. (April 30, 2012) http://www.slingbox.com/get/countrySelect?page=/go/home