Cool stuff: Your 2011 holiday tech gift guide

From tablets and smartphones to HDTVs and a few surprises, we've rounded up the best tech gear to give and get this year.

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Jawbone Era mobile headset

Jawbone has made its reputation on its well-designed and high-quality headsets for mobile phones, and its most recent headset, the Jawbone Era, doesn't disappoint. The Era offers a variety of features such as noise and wind reduction, automatic volume control and a single multifunction button to keep things simple.

Jawbone Era mobile headset

Jawbone Era mobile headset

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It also has a built-in accelerometer, which makes it possible to use a feature that Jawbone calls ShakeShake -- if the headset isn't in your ear, you can give it two quick shakes to pick up a call (and then, presumably, put it in your ear).  And if you're wearing the Jawbone and get a call, or are already on the phone and get a second call, you can tap the Era twice to receive or switch calls -- thus avoiding the need to spend precious seconds finding and pressing the headset button.

PC World's Lex Friedman certainly appreciated this feature:

In fact, the Era's tapping gesture offers two benefits that I hadn't anticipated. First, as someone with longer hair, I find that tapping is actually faster than moving my hair out of the way to find the Era's physical button. Second, by using a gentle tap instead of a button press, I don't risk jostling the Era out of my ear. That's not a major issue with the Icon or other earpieces, but it's nice to be able to avoid the risk completely. (Read the full review.)

One of the Era's most fun and useful aspects is its ability to download apps via its MyTalk online service. You can decide what kind of voice you'd like to hear (to announce incoming calls, remaining battery life, etc.), access voice-to-text services or try out a number of different audio apps.  And the Era includes A2DP, so you can listen to your favorite music as well as your favorite people.

In short, the Jawbone Era is the perfect gift for anyone who is constantly on the phone, and wants to make that experience as pleasant (and stylish) as possible. The Era lists for $129.99, but can be found for significantly less at many online retailers.

You might also like: The Plantronics Voyager Pro UC headset (which can be found for $111 - $200) offers high-quality audio, the ability to receive calls by simply placing the device in your ear, and a mini USB adapter that lets you also use it for Skype and other computer-based phone services.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Jawbone Era from Jawbone

Street price: $73 - $130 or buy from Jawbone

Tech specs  |  Product video  |  Where to buy  |  Phone: (877) 254-7426

Summary: The Jawbone Era is a well-designed, full-featured mobile phone headset that will suit anyone who is always walking and talking.

Bheestie Bag

We all know that electronics don't particularly like water -- which is unfortunate, since we're surrounded by it.

Enter the Bheestie Bag: Its sole purpose in life is to dry out wet devices. Inside this silver-colored plastic pouch are two smaller sacs that contain water-absorbing pellets. You just place your phone, camera, MP3 player or other small device inside the pouch (it isn't big enough for tablets) and seal it up with the Ziploc-style zipper, and the bead sacs will draw the moisture out of the device.

Bheestie Bag

The Bheestie Bag

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The company recommends leaving devices sealed in the bag overnight to remove everyday moisture left by rain, sweat, general humidity in the air and even the moisture in your breath. You can use the bag again and again for up to a year, according to Bheestie; when the blue beads in the sacs turn white it's time for a new bag.

But where the bag can come really in handy is for immersion catastrophes. If you drop a phone in the pool, for instance, Bheestie advises immediately drying it off with a towel, removing the battery if possible and leaving it sealed in the bag for 24 to 72 hours. (Note that if a device gets soaked with saltwater, it's a good idea to get the salt off first by immediately immersing it in fresh water, then proceeding as above.)

Bheestie doesn't make any guarantees that the bag will revive a waterlogged device, but it did dry out and revive an old LG clamshell phone that I submerged for long enough to get water stuck behind the screen.

Why not just put the device in a bag of rice to dry it out? That method can be effective too, and it costs a lot less than $20. (More advice on drying out your cell phone can be found on wikiHow.) But the Bheestie Bag makes a really useful -- perhaps device-saving -- gift for college students, frequent travelers and others who may not always have a bag of rice handy.

-- Valerie Potter

Bheestie Bag from Bheestie

Street price: $18 - $35 or order from Bheestie

Tips  |  FAQ

Summary: The Bheestie Bag provides a handy, easy way to dry out wet phones and other devices.

Waterfield Designs Tablet Ultimate SleeveCase and iPad Ultimate SleeveCase

It takes a bit of chutzpah to call your tablet holder the "Ultimate SleeveCase," but in this instance, manufacturer Waterfield Designs may not be all that much off the mark. Its tablet cases are fitted for specific tablets; if your giftee's particular device isn't listed, you just send Waterfield Designs the appropriate dimensions and model, and it will send you a case devised specifically for that tablet.

Tablet Ultimate SleeveCases in two designs

Tablet Ultimate SleeveCases in two designs

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Each SleeveCase is made of ballistic nylon filled with neoprene to cushion any accidental falls; the inside is lined with Ultrasuede to protect your display from any scratches. It closes with a Velcro tab and has an outside pocket for your USB cord or earbuds.

Prices for the Ultimate SleeveCase vary. For Android or Windows-based tablets, cost depends on the size of the tablet you're buying it for, from $50 for the Nook Simple Touch to $57 for the Toshiba Thrive; you can add the Brown Leather trim for an extra $5. The iPad Ultimate SleeveCase costs $55 for the Lead Iridium trim and $60 for the Brown Leather trim. In either case, you can add a basic shoulder strap for $12 or a more ergonomic padded one for $22.

Whatever type of tablet you're shopping for, the Ultimate SleeveCase will protect it from scratches, nicks and falls with style.

You might also like: Speck's $49.95 PixelSkin HD Wrap for iPad 2 not only protects your entire device, but also lets you prop it up at two different heights. It's the perfect stocking stuffer for the iPad enthusiast in your life.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Tablet Ultimate SleeveCase and iPad Ultimate SleeveCase from Waterfield Designs

Price: $50 - $60

Tech specs  |  Product video

Summary: The Ultimate SleeveCase provides iPads or Android tablets with well-designed and fashionable protection.

Spin It Again

Vinyl record sales may be up, but even the most dedicated fan of analog music can't exactly take an LP with her on her morning run.  Enter Spin It Again ($35), a Windows program to help bring record and cassette collections into the digital age.

Spin It Again software

Spin It Again software

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Spin It Again records the output from a record player or tape deck and saves it as 24-bit audio at a sampling rate of 48 to 192 kHz in MP3, OGG, WMA or WAV format (but not AAC or FLAC).  Along the way, Spin It Again can automatically detect breaks in tracks and remove any pops, clicks or background noise, resulting in a conversion that sounds better than the original.  

Not included is the hardware to play the original media; users need to supply their own LP or cassette player that can be connected to the computer or sound card's line-in or USB port.  An inbuilt "Hookup Wizard" helps users configure this connection.

Those familiar with more complex audio editing software can accomplish the same function with a free program like Audacity, but Spin It Again's dedicated feature set makes conversion simpler than ever.

You might also like: Griffin Technology's iMic USB adapter ($39.99) adds audio input and output to Macs that don't have them; it includes Final Vinyl, software designed for converting LPs to digital formats.

-- Ken Gagne

Spin It Again from Acoustica

Street price: $35 - $42 or buy from Acoustica

Online user manual  |  Product videos  |  Phone: (952) 908-4090 (ask for SKU ACTA-31)

Summary: Spin It Again makes it easy to convert classic tunes into a modern format.

Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus

A tablet can be a really handy way to look up and use recipes, but do you really want to expose it to kitchen messes?

Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus

Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus

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That's where Belkin's Chef Stand + Stylus comes in. The stand has a nonslip rubber base to hold your tablet upright (and ideally back away from splashing food), while the magnetic stylus, which has its own mini-stand, lets you interact with the tablet without touching it with messy hands.

According to Belkin, the stylus works with any touchscreen, but it can only wake up an iPad 2. The stylus and the stands are washable.

If you know any cooks who like to work from recipes on their iPad 2 or tablet, this could be the ideal gift.

-- Valerie Potter

Chef Stand + Stylus from Belkin International Inc.

Street price: $28 - $50

Product video  |  Where to buy  |  Phone: (800) 223-5546

Summary: The Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus helps you interact with a tablet in the kitchen while keeping it clean.

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