Our 2011 Christmas gift guide is a mish-mash of top-notch alternative tech that will surprise and delight your hard-to-buy-for loved ones.
Katie CollinsSenior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
All year long, CNET UK's technology elves have been toiling away reviewing mobile phones, cameras, laptops and TVs, so you know which products are worth their weight in pennies and which should never be allowed off the shop shelves.
But there's a whole world of tech out there, and many fantastic products pass through our hands on a daily basis. Some of these fall outside our general remit, while others don't get as much attention as they deserve. As Christmas rolls around again, we can raid our toy boxes and rediscover all the cool stuff we've seen throughout the year.
When it comes to gifts, it's tempting just to splash your cash on the newest, shiniest and most expensive products you can afford. But if you're looking for something niche, a thoughtful gift or a gadget for someone who's impossible to buy for, we know the gizmos that will surely fit the bill.
Here we've compiled our top alternative tech, all 13 of which we think would make cracking festive gifts.
Combining Balance, a two-in by two-out audio interface, with Reason Essentials editing software, this great music production package is the perfect gift for anyone who is passionate about making music. The integrated recording equipment is perfect for those looking to create brilliant tracks from a small studio or from home.
The Apple Magic Trackpad is a good year or so old now, but with the recent release of OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple's most gesture-reliant operating system to date, the Trackpad has never been more vital for those for spend hours squinting at their Macs.
Polaroid Z340 Instant Digital Camera
Perfect for: Arty types and lovers of vintage Price: £230 from Firebox
The Polaroid instant camera is an iconic piece of technology. It recently made a comeback after hovering on the brink of extinction in the face of digital competition. In its latest iteration, you can still print out the classic Polaroid instant snaps in under a minute, but you're also able to preview them on a screen first. This means you can choose whether or not you want the physical picture -- a great improvement considering the paper is seriously pricey.
The ideal gift for those in the habit of slipping off the grid, the Spot Connect pairs with a smart phone via Bluetooth, which then connects to a global satellite system, meaning adventurous friends or family members have no excuse not to stay in touch. Using Spot Connect they can email, text, send SOS messages and even update Twitter and Facebook from deserts, mountains, jungles and beyond.
Libratone Live Speaker
Perfect for: The house-proud Price: £485 from Cancom
The Libratone Live is a stunningly minimalist AirPlay speaker that's crafted from cashmere, chrome and wood and uses special technology to fill your rooms with acoustic loveliness. Not only will it look splendid wherever it's placed in your abode, the Libratone Live works with both Apple products and PCs. It can also be set up for multi-room streaming.
Perfect for: The style-conscious Price: £12 from V&A
Pretty much every designer and his dog has jumped on the tablet/laptop/smart phone case bandwagon over the past few years. But if you think your loved one would prefer to dress their tech in something more unusual and classy, head over to the V&A and nab them one of these unique skins that will turn their favourite products into works of art.
GoPro HD Helmet HERO
Perfect for: Thrill seekers Price: £200 from Amazon
Go Pro produces several versions of its Hero camera, but as we're sliding into winter sports season, we've picked out the Helmet HERO as the perfect gift for those who spend their spare time jumping out of helichoppers and diving down powdery ravines. With 1080p resolution HD video recording, the Go Pro can record up to 2.5 hours of professional quality footage on a single charge, so you can relive all those death-defying descents over and over again.
Nespresso Citiz and Milk by Magimix M190
Perfect for: Caffeine addicts Price: £125 from John Lewis
The Citiz and Milk was a half a latte short of full marks when we reviewed coffee machines for CNET Essentials back in the autumn. The capsules produce truly divine coffee and the milk frother is fun to use and makes a lovely cappuccino. This retro-style machine will look delightful in any kitchen and ensure many hours of joyful sleeplessness.
These B&W C5 earphones maybe pricey, but they are extremely classy looking and have lovely little loops to keep them nestled snugly in your lugholes. More importantly, the sound quality is excellent and the bass is mighty strong. Give someone's ears a treat this Christmas with these stylish and distinctive buds.
The Hue Animation Studio comes packaged with a versatile HD camera, easy-to-use computer software and plasticine so your nippers can design their own characters and create an animated Aardman-style movie that can be uploaded to YouTube via the Hue website. Your kids will be working for Pixar in no time.
This arcade-style iPad cabinet allows you to transform your sophisticated, high-end tablet into a retro games machine. Download games from the Atari Greatest Hits app, and the the iCade will sync wirelessly with your iPad to let you indulge all of your most nostalgic whims and childish instincts.
Big spenders should also check out the full-size arcade machines offered by The Games Room Company, and if you're really flush, take your pick from Transformers, Tron, Star Wars or Doctor Who-themed pinball machines.
This health-promoting little gadget is so svelte, it almost makes us want to put down the mince pies, throw away the figgy pudding and adopt our New Year fitness regime a whole month early (note the 'almost'). The wristband tracks your activity in conjunction with an app that records information such as your calorie intake, number of footsteps and quality of your sleep, to give you a detailed reading of how healthy your lifestyle is.
Jawbone tells us that demand has massively exceeded expectations, with Apple stores quoting 4-6 week waiting times, making the UP this year's tech equivalent of the Buzz Lightyear doll. You're advised to keep checking the Jawbone website for availability.
Lego Man Torch
Perfect for: Anyone with a soul Price: £14 from Amazon
Stocking-fillers are usually novelty gifts -- mere precursors to bigger presents. But if you're looking for something with a little more longevity that won't be cast aside at the first glimpse of a high-res capacitive touchscreen, then Lego Man torch is your, er, man.
Any fans of our Facebook page will know that Lego Man torch has brought the CNET UK team hours of joy throughout the year. We wholeheartedly endorse him.
What are you hoping to find in your stocking come Christmas morning? Post your wish-list in the comments below or on our Facebook page.