Hot gadget gifts for Father’s Day

There’s no way around it: fathers, grandfathers and husbands can be hard to shop for, even when you ask for ideas. If the man in your life isn’t offering any hints, we’ve got ideas to suit any budget and interest:

Rechargeable flashlights and camp lights. Whether they’re crank, shake or squeeze, these self-sufficient, rechargeable lights are great for camping, the cottage and the boat. Ranging $10-$40, they’re easy on the budget, easy to use and easy to stash in a glove compartment, drawer or bag. For example, Lee Valley’s Mini Dynamo Flashlight ($9.95) provides 20 minutes of light for two minutes of cranking. The Dynamo Camping Lantern ($24.95) also comes with a DC adaptor for the car and has a battery life of five hours (available for $5.50) .

Crank radio. Not only do they provide entertainment, radios provide valuable information in an emergency. However, old batteries can go dead or leak acid. Instead, try a Midland ER102 Emergency Radio (Amazon, $65.00) or the Woods Sylvania Crank Radio with Light (Sears, $80.00).

Digital BBQ thermometer. Dad loves to grill? These handy gadgets provide precise measurements, even if the cook isn’t nearby. For example, the Fire Works Remote Digital Thermometer (Home Depot, $49.99) lets Dad program the right level of “doneness” for meat, and he can check the status of dinner while checking the sport scores.

Weather stations. Admit it — we Canadians are a little obsessed with the weather — especially when our gardens, outdoor entertaining and outings are at stake. Gadgets like the Wireless Weather Station Plus (Lee Valley, $89.00) read temperatures and humidity levels both inside and outside, and even forecast the weather by monitoring barometric pressure changes. (For more ideas, see Hot gifts for the grill.)

Power coolers. Pack a picnic, hit the road or hit the market in hot weather without worrying about spoilage or losing space to ice packs. Electric coolers plug into your car’s outlet — or into a hotel room outlet — to become a portable mini fridge. They’re available in a wide variety of sizes and types, including a 35 L hard-sided Mobicool Power Cooler ($129.99) and a deluxe 40 L 3-Way Power Cooler ($299.99) that comes with three different power sources, including a propane tank, both available at Canadian Tire.

Global Positioning System. Like to explore? GPS systems continue to be a popular buy. These units are practical for finding directions and local amenities, and there are plenty to choose form — like ahand-held unit to take camping or geocaching, a watch or a navigation system for the car. GPS units range from $100 – $500 so it might take a little research to find one that will suit Dad’s needs as well as your budget.

Blu-ray Players. This technology is becoming more popular — and also less expensive. Blu-ray promises better picture quality, and experts still warn it will replace DVD. Prices have come down significantly over the years, so a decent player can be found for as low as $100. And yes, they’ll play Dad’s DVD collection (and even make them look better too). If you’re looking for the latest, check out 3D features so everyone feel like part of the action. (See for examples.)

Digital recorder or PVR. If the family VCR has worn out its welcome, it’s time to move to a PVR so Dad won’t miss his favourite shows and sports. The latest PVRs hook right into your cable and let you record two shows at once.

Looking for something a little more budget-friendly? Try a digital recorder — they’re cheaper because they burn directly to DVD rather than an internal hard drive as in a PVR. However, both types of devices have user-friendly interface and they’re easy to program. DVD recorders typically run between $100-$250, while PVRs can cost $500-$600.

Netbooks. Think of them as baby laptops. They’re smaller in size — with screens ranging 8.9″ to 10.1″ — and cheaper, with prices ranging $230-$550. While they aren’t meant to replace a home computer system, they’re great for people who are always on the go. (Check out for examples.)

Unfortunately, netbooks tend to be Windows only. Expect a price jump if you want to go Mac — Apple’s new 10″ Macbook Air starts at $999.

E-readers. Imagine carrying a library of books, magazines and newspapers on one small device — that’s the idea behind eBook readers (or e-readers for short). They’re designed to be easier on the eyes than a computer screen, and you can download content through a wireless internet connection or your computer. Some of the latest features include colour and touch screens.

Thought they were too expensive? Prices have dropped significantly since they first came out, and there are more options available in Canada — like the Sony Reader line (starting at $129) and the Kobo ($139). Amazon’s Kindle line (starting at $79 USD) ships to Canada, though you won’t find them in stores. Many e-readers come with new feature like colour screens, internet browsing and games — but expect to pay for the privilege.

Tablets. Apple’s iPad may have gotten a jump on the market, but now there’s more competition on the scene, including RIM’s Playbook. Though pricier than your average digital reader, tablets offer more features including music, video, internet browsing, touch screen technology and an “app” for just about any task.

These devices are still pretty new, so don’t expect to find too many deals. The latest generation of IPads runs about $519-$849, and the Playbook will set you back $199-$299. However, there are a variety of options in between these two products, so it pays to shop around.

Smart phones. It’s amazing what a phone can do these days — like take pictures, send emails and text messages, connect with social media, browse the internet and play music. Prices for these devices and phone plans vary greatly, so it pays to shop around. Some of the major players are Apple’s iPhone ($375-$849) and RIM’s Blackberry line, but don’t exclude other companies. There’s a lot of competition — and a lot of options. The devices are often cheaper with a two or three year data plan.

Looking for something simpler? Companies are now marketing phones with older adults in mind. These cell phones have features like larger buttons, text messaging, a simple layout and a “panic button” that automatically dials a friend or relative with just a touch. (For example, Rogers Communications offers an Essential Connect Package for Seniors with the Doro PhoneEasy 410 ($99 with a pay as you go plan). While there aren’t many offerings in this niche yet, this trend may be worth keeping an eye on.

Accessories. Dad has it all, or has it already? Try accessories instead. For instance:

If he has a computer or a netbook…

Storage devices are sure to get used. Memory cards, USB drives, DVD burners and portable hard drives can all protect valuable information and files. When small devices won’t suffice, external hard drives range from 80 GB to 4 TB (remember: one terabyte is 1000 GB). Storage devices are always going on sale, so try not to pay full price.

If he has a music player… An AC adaptor will let him recharge it anywhere there’s an outlet and many now come with dual voltage for travellers. He might like a good quality pair of headphones instead of the “earbuds” that came with the device, and an adaptor for the car will supply tunes for long road trips. If you’re looking to spend a little more, consider portable speakers that recharge the device while it’s playing and can be moved to any room in the house like the garage or workshop.

Bridge the gap between analog and digital with a turntable or cassette deck that hooks right into his computer. Finally, Dad can transfer his old music collection to his new electronic devices. There are a few software packages on the market such as Nero that let you hook up a device and amplifier to the computer to record music as well.

If he has a digital camera… Additional lenses, memory cards, photo-editing software and photo printers will help him take his photography skills to the next level. A sturdy tripod is a must-have for photographers who like to experiment with lighting and angles, but don’t limit yourself to straight legs. The Joby Gorillapod has bendable legs that can be adjusted to uneven surfaces or wrapped around objects to capture unique viewpoints.

If he has a game system… Look for additional controllers or games. A carrying case comes in handy for portable units.

If he has a cell phone or PDA… Try an emergency recharger kit. The kit provides a little extra power to the device to provide extra talk time when another source of power isn’t available. A hands-free head set or Blue Tooth device is great for using in the car or boat.

If he has a digital reader or tablet… Help him dress it up with skins, cases and covers that offer both style and protection. While some devices don’t go on sale, the accessories can often be found at a discount.

When in doubt, a gift card is always welcome so Dad can put it towards a gadget purchase, or buy content for his new toy.

One final word of advice for you gentlemen out there: Don’t be shy about dropping hints. While we’re sure you’ll like almost anything we get you, we’d still rather it be something you’ll use and enjoy.

Got an idea of your own? Share it in our comments section.

Please note prices and links are current as of April 2012, but are subject to change without warning.

Photo © Yeulet

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