Atomic Pocket Watches and More: Gift Guide 2013

Gadgets and gizmos for every budget, in our annual roundup

Hoptroff

Modern time is maintained by atomic clocks that monitor the vibrations of cesium atoms. For most of us, we get this time secondhand, radioed from GPS satellites or relayed through digital networks. But a select few will be able to keep their own atomic time—losing only 1.5 seconds every thousand years—thanks to the Hoptroff No. 10, a pocket watch with a built-in cesium gas oven. The No. 10 is technically a marine chronometer, and with a sextant, it can be used to navigate across oceans. The London-based watchmaker Hoptroff will make only 12 of these timepieces. Customers will have to pass a security check before taking delivery next year, lest the precision timing technology be reverse engineered for things such as missile guidance. Pricing is on request but will be in the high five figures (U.S. dollars).

Richard Hoptroff, the company’s founder and managing director, notes that there is little economic justification for the No. 10 but that once the key piece of technology became available—a miniaturized cesium oven made by Symmetricom—he had a “compulsion” to build it.

For more, read a Q&A with Richard Hoptroff.

  • Brookstone Perfect Drink

    Continuing the long tradition of booze-related technological innovations, this US $70 scale, the Perfect Drink, is designed to aid the cocktail-impaired. Place an empty glass or cocktail shaker on the scale. An accompanying app on a tablet or smartphone lets you call up whatever cocktail you’d like to make from an extensive database. The app then tells you what ingredient to pour. The scale detects how much has been poured and tells you when to stop. If you add too much or too little, the system will try to compensate by automatically adjusting the amounts of subsequent ingredients.

  • Lego Mindstorms 3

    After debuting at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the third revision of the Lego Mindstorms robotics kit finally went on sale in September. The $350 EV3 kit has new sensors, including a color detector, alongside a significantly upgraded “programmable brick” that serves as the heart of the system. As well as more computing power and memory capacity, the new brick can communicate wirelessly with a wider range of mobile devices—including, for the first time, iPads and iPhones.

  • Belkin Lego Builder Case

    Build your phone into a Mindstorms robot, or create your own charging station with Belkin’s Lego Builder Cases. The cases are available in two versions, one suitable for iPhones ($40) and one for iPods ($30), and they incorporate baseplates manufactured by Lego, so you can be sure of a perfect fit with your other blocks.

  • Retro TV: LG 32LN630R

    Once upon a time, TVs were styled as pieces of furniture in their own right, with care given to the look of cabinets and controls. But the flat-panel revolution created a trend toward making everything but the screen as invisible as possible. The LG 32LN630R bucks the trend with a retro design that allows channel selection and volume control via dials. For now, the $750 set is available only in South Korea.

  • Cypher Labs Theorem 720 DAC

    In the last year or so, a new category of consumer electronics has hit its stride. These products take a stream of digital audio data directly from an iPod, iPhone, or iPad and convert it into an audio signal. I’m particularly impressed by the Theorem 720 DAC by Cypher Labs, with its rugged build and astounding 18-hour battery life. The $900 Theorem 720 combines a headphone amplifier and a high-performance digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that bypasses the built-in DAC in your iOS device. Listening with one of these devices through a pair of great headphones results in a musical experience that is far superior to what you normally get from an iPod or iPhone (especially with audio encoded using a lossless file format). It can even rival the quality of a much more costly home audio system. —Glenn Zorpette

    For more, read the extended review of the Theorem 720.

  • Parrot AR Drone 2.0, Power Edition

    From Parrot comes the latest version of its popular AR Drone, the $370 Power Edition. In addition to the improved video camera and flight-control electronics of the 2.0 version, the Power Edition comes with two 1500-milliampere-hour lithium-ion polymer batteries. Between them, they provide up to 36 minutes of flight time, a substantive improvement over the 12 minutes or so possible with the single 1000-mA-hour battery that came with earlier versions.

  • Parrot Flower Power

    Can’t figure out why your office plants keep dying? Trying to grow the perfect rose? Stick the $60 Flower Power (also from Parrot) into the soil and you may get your answers. Two prongs measure capacitance and hence the amount of water present. Metal nubs above the prongs measure electrical resistance: Combining this with the capacitance gives an estimate of fertilizer levels. Above ground, light and temperature sensors round out the sensor package. The device takes measurements every 15 minutes, and it stores up to 80 days of data at time, which can be uploaded wirelessly to an iOS app. You can use an in-app database of thousands of plants to gauge if your particular shrub or flower is getting the right amount of, say, water or sunlight.

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