It's that time of year again. The time of year where you spend all of your spare time and most of your spare money shopping for holiday gifts. Shopping is never easy, but for that special Android nerd in your life it can be especially difficult trying to find something to occupy their minds and hands so they can tinker and try to blow things up. That's where I can help -- I'm a total nerd (and proud of it) and I happen to spend a lot of time on the 'net making a wish list for that day I finally hit the Powerball. Hit the break and see our gift recommendations for an Android geek, from an Android geek.
Get the devices sorted first
While almost and Android phone or tablet can be turned into the ultimate hacking toy, some of them are just easier than others. Yes, you knew this was coming -- a new Nexus phone or a Xoom will make your nerdly loved one squeal like a schoolgirl.
The Galaxy Nexus
The Galaxy Nexus is the ultimate Android smartphone. It's big, beautiful, and fast; and it runs the latest and greatest Android version (Ice Cream Sandwich) right out of the box. It's also completely open, and all the tools and code is available for the übernerd who wants to dig in and build his own OS to run. We're expecting some great things from this one, and half the fun is being part of discovering and inventing it.
The Nexus S
Not everyone has the funds to spend upwards of $750 dollars on a new phone, so here's the next best thing -- the Nexus S. It's last years developer device, and it's still more than capable. Ice Cream Sandwich is already hacked onto it, and when Google releases the rest of the sources needed for this one, we expect it to be a nice, hackable phone. As a bonus, versions for most carriers are available fairly cheap. If you don't have a Galaxy Nexus, this one is the one to have.
The Motorola Xoom
While not as light and sleek as some other tablets, and a bit pricey compared to some offerings, the Motorola Xoom is the one if you're an Android hacker. Not technically a Nexus device, the Xoom was the Honeycomb reference tablet and it's completely open for custom software installation. Newer models with better specs will be coming soon, but a Xoom and fastboot is all a geek could ever want.
Little things can make
working on playing with Android devices a bit easier, which makes it more fun. Here's a few things that I am glad I don't have to be without. Add in a cold beverage and some salty beef jerky, and your favorite Android geek won't have to come out for air for hours.
Clingo Universal Podium
When you're hacking away at your phone, it's awful darn handy to have something to hold it on your desk. The Clingo podium works with just about any Android phone, holding it off the desk and in place with a sturdy metal base. It also has a small enough footprint to fit just about anywhere -- have you seen how much junk a hacker can have on his or her desk?
A spare USB cable
Some days an Android hacker's phone spends more time connected to the computer than it does in the pocket. Having a spare USB cable to keep at the desk can be a lifesaver. A tip here -- don't depend on a cable you find in the clearance aisle at Walmart. You want a solid 4-wire shielded data cable for transferring all those bytes and bits.
A Bluetooth keyboard
There are plenty of times when fiddling with your Android device is easier with a real keyboard. Complicated commands can be a real chore on a touchscreen keyboard, and a nice Bluetooth model can be a live saver. They also come in pretty handy if you go the extra mile and install a completely different OS on your Android device, such as Ubuntu or even Windows and want to try out a desktop environment on the small screen.
Toys aren't something we put away when we "grew up" -- we just changed our tastes. Any electronics fanatic in you life already has a set of big boy toys, and there are plenty for the true Android enthusiast out there. Here's a look at some of my favorites.
Imagine the innards of a high-end Android smartphone all laid out and easy to work with on a pre-built PCB. Now add in full debugging options and AOSP (the Android Open Source Project) and you have the ultimate Android hacker toy. The Pandaboard has an OMAP 4430 processor with a PowerVR SGX540 to drive everything, has a full suite of connectivity options like HDMI out, USB (both on-the-go and host ports), Bluetooth, Wifi b/g/n and even 10/100 Ethernet, a full Gigabyte of RAM and an SDcard slot. To make things even sweeter, Ice Cream Sandwich fully supports the board and everything you need to have Android up and running is freely available from Google. This is an Android geek's dream.
Parrot AR.Drone Quadricopter
With a name like that, it has to be cool! It's a four-rotor quadricopter that is controlled by your Android phone via Wifi. You read that right, Wifi, generated from an embedded Linux OS and ad-hoc hotspot right inside the unit.. This gives it a much greater range than Bluetooth would (50 meters on average) and the front and vertical mounted cameras help you steer. The kit is pricey, checking in about $300, but for that you get an indoor and outdoor body (blade guards are for indoor safety), a 1,000 mAh battery, the controller app and hours of fun, and/or mischief. It's an oldie, but it's always a goody.
A Sparkfun IOIO
Remember back at Google I/O 2011 when we talked about Android Open Accessory development? It's alive and well, and some of the coolest things you could think of are possible. The folks at Sparkfun have built a board designed to work right with the ADK, and a world of coolness is available for anyone with an affinity for fooling with tech. The IOIO provides the interface (via USB) to an Android phone and the controller allows your Android device and custom apps to interface with just about anything that can be controlled via an electronic switch. Check it out:
A remote-controlled sphere, with an inductive charging system and user-controllable color-changing LED lighting -- it's the Sphero, and it's controlled via Bluetooth from your Android smartphone. Pointless fun has never been better. Combined with apps that use your Android's touchscreen and accelerometer to play golf, drive with joysticks, touch and drive mode, and even a built in sphereo-eye-view camera this one is just cool. It's scheduled to ship in time for the holidays, and is bound to be a hit at holiday parties, or the dog park.