Rene's favorite tech: 2013 holiday gift guide

Rene's favorite tech: 2013 holiday gift guide

In years past the staff of iMore and Mobile Nations have shared our favorite devices, apps, and accessories of the year for the holiday season. This holiday season and this year, however, we're expanding to not only reflect our increased focus on all things Apple - OS X as well as iOS - but on all the technology that works with it, maybe even competes with it, but ultimately extends, enhances, and improves our lives. We're people, after all, and categories do not contain us! So, whether you're looking for a gift idea, trying to find an excuse to treat yourself, or are simply curious about what all of us here have been using throughout the year, hopefully we'll have you covered. Here's my list for 2013, and a few of my favorite things!

Computer hardware

Everything you need to know about the MacBook Air: Apple's all-new, all-day ultralight, unibody personal computer

15-inch Retina MacBook Pro

I still have my old, first gen Nehalem Mac Pro for podcasting, and might well replace it with a new Mac Pro when they ship, but for the last 17 months my day to day computer, the one I produce most of my work on, is the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro. The display is unbelievable, the power is fantastic, and simply put, it's the best computer I've ever owned. The 2013 model, with Haswell, is even better.

13-inch MacBook Air

I can and have lugged the 15-inch around, but since the Haswell MacBook Air was introduced last June, the combination of its lightness and 12-hour battery life has made it the only thing I take with me when I leave the house. The screen is nowhere nearly as good, but the performance is fine and it lasts so long I can fly across country or shut down a coffee shop without even having to think of plugging in.

Computer software

Apps of the Week: Napkin, Mextures, Glassboard, and more


As much as Photoshop is now muscle memory for me, making compositions for things like diagrams is by no means instant. Napkin is. All the help and how-to graphics we use at iMore are produced with unbelievable speed using Napkin. It's exactly the right tool for this job.

"Disclaimer: Napkin is made by a good friend of mine, Guy English, but is so damn good I'm including it anyway."


Twitter is the social network I use most. It's my water cooler, and the secondary comment channel for my work. Tweebot fits the way I use Twitter, both on OS X and iOS. I don't even want to know how much time I spend in it.


When I install a Mac, I sign in, set up Dropbox, and then install 1Password. It manages all my passwords so that I get the best possible compromise between security and convenience. OS X and iOS, it's my lockbox.

Audio Hijack Pro

All of our audio podcasts are recorded over Skype using Audio Hijack. I'm sure I don't use even 5% of its functionality, but what I use is rock-solid and gets the job done every time. That makes it invaluable.

Final Cut Pro X

I edit our video podcasts in FCPX. It's the easiest, most accessible professional-level video editor I've ever used, and I've been editing video since the Toaster. Earlier this year, after all of 5 minutes of instruction, I managed to turn around a 3 camera podcast edit in about 45 min. My mind is still boggled.

Computer accessories

AirPort Extreme Time Capsule

I use SuperDuper! to create bootable clones of my main drives, but one backup is about as good as no backup at all, so I also use an Apple AirPort Extreme Time Capsule to incrementally, wirelessly, backup my MacBooks whenever they're at home and plugged in. The less human intervention is needed for a backup, the more likely it's going to get done.

Tom Bihn Ristretto bag

I love vertical messenger bags and for the last couple of years, whenever I've left the house with just a MacBook and iPad, I've left it with with Tom Bihn. It looks great, it wears well, and the most recent version fixed all my gripes.

Thunderbolt Display

Apple's 27-inch Thunderbolt Display is not only gorgeous but it also serves as a docking station for any MacBook attached to it. Simply plug in and not only does your 11-, 13-, or 15-inch MacBook suddenly get 27-inches of secondary display, but it gets USB, FireWire, and Ethernet ports as well. Apple might field a 4K display sometime soon-ish, but unless and until they do, this will be my go-to.

Mobile devices

iPhone 5s

The iPhone 5c is a ton of fun, but I really do want the future in my hand today. From the incredible camera to Touch ID - I want it on my house! - to the sheer audacity of the 64-bit Apple A7 chipset, the iPhone 5s remains the most iconic of Apple's products, in every way imaginable.

iPad Air

I use a Retina iPad mini for travel - it's my Wi-Fi hotspot - but when I'm home, when I'm watching videos or reading or using VNC - the big screen of the iPad Air just can't be beat. That Apple managed to squeeze a 9.7-inch display into a shell so light is a miracle of engineering. As a window into apps and the internet, it's magic.

Apple TV

Even though it wasn't updated this year, the 2012 Apple TV with 1080p is still amazing. On its own it plays pretty much every video service I have available, combined with AirPlay from iOS devices, it plays every bit of video I have access to. Since I cut the cable cord, Apple TV is the only video source I use.

Nexus 5

I'm a sucker for new Nexus phones. I loved the Nexus One, skipped the dismal Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, but jumped right back on board with the Nexus 4 and now the Nexus 5. There's a lot to be said for the more consumer friendly skins, but if you're going to geek out on Android, geek out on Google's Android. This year that's the Nexus 5 and KitKat.

Mobile software

Latest Marvel Unlimited update means more offline comic books for you!


What can I say, sometimes I'm too lazy to get up and go to a Mac. When that happens, I open Screens on my iPhone - or better still, iPad - and access it remotely. It's the closest thing to IT nirvana I've ever experienced.

Air Video HD

The new version of an old favorite. It lets you pull any existing video off your Mac or Windows PC and not only watch it on your iOS device, but AirPlay it to your big screen via Apple TV as well.


I'm terribly disorganized. Fantastical, however, makes it so easy to enter and scan appointments and events that I can't even make up an excuse not to use it. I keep track of podcasts, calls, everything thanks to Fantastical. Mac and iOS.

Marvel Unlimited

You know all those awesome Marvel movies, like Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc.? They call began as comic books, and almost all of their classic and best story lines can all be found in Marvel Unlimited. I just re-read Walt Simonsons Thor run, and previously re-read Frank Miller's Daredevil and everything ever drawn by Art Adams. Next up, some classic Avengers. Think of it as Netflix for comics, right on your iPhone and iPad.


Speaking of which, Netflix on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV is still a glimpse into the future of video. While traditional networks cling to cable - and want to make us login with cable accounts - Netflix is simply streaming great catalog content to us for one low price a month. I'm watching Supernatural right now, but if you haven't seen Buffy, Angel, and the West Wing, you should feel bad about owning a television and start with those right now!

Mobile accessories

mophie powerstation duo

I have nothing against plugging my iPhone or iPad in when I'm going to be, or in the car, or even at my desk. However, when I'm traveling, and especially when I'm at trade shows, it can be a long time between outlets. That's why I typically have a couple of mophie powerstation duos with me. Each one has double USB ports and can charge an iPhone full twice over. They're big bricks, but they're life savers.

Hue lightbulbs

I currently light my studio with 3 Philips Hue lightbulbs and 2 blooms. I have 2 Hue lightbulbs in my kitchen, and 1 in my hallway as well. I intend to keep adding to them until most of my lighting is powered by Hue. Why? Because I can control it from my iPhone or iPad, and that includes not only each individual light's intensity, but color as well. Watching Star Wars while your room is lit red and gold like Tatooine dawn? Priceless. Start with the combo back, build from there.

SONOS home theater system

Kevin Michaluk has been recommending SONOS to me forever. I have an open, octagonal living room and I've never been happy with the way I ran speaker wire around it. When my old receiver started vomiting HDCP errors all over the place, I decided it was time to pull the trigger. Now, my TV and network cable plug straight into a Playbar, and two Play:3 speakers handle rear surround duty. I also have the SUB on order. It looks great, it sounds great. It can be controlled by my iPhone or iPad, and, no more speaker wire.

Camera gear

Now that we have iOS in the car, how about iOS on cameras? [Poll]

Canon 5D Mark III

Yeah, it's stupid expensive, but it's full frame and so light sensitive that no matter how badly I do taking a shot, more often than not I can salvage something usable. For keynotes, for trade shows, for hero shots on iMore, that makes it invaluable to me.

Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens

It's not terribly expensive and it takes shots that are unbelievably gorgeous. One of the best values in photography, and the lens we used to capture much of Talk Mobile, and almost all trade show videos this year.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens

This is what I use to shoot keynotes or anything where I'm going to be a good distance away from the subject. It's probably not quite as good as the Canon version, but for what I'm doing, there's no appreciable difference and Sigma makes a fantastic product for the price.

Incase DSLR Pro bag

I'd previously used the Incase DSLR slings, but had grown to dislike non-balanced bags. (Back and neck problems, ugh.) I just ordered the backpack, and its combination of amazing camera and lens storage and laptop pocket makes it just about perfect.


Global knives

I love these knives. I buy one or two every year. Yes, they look like the cheese grater on the classic Mac Pro, but that's just a bonus. From the single piece design to the amazing quality, there's just nothing else like them. The starter pack, with block, is pricy but if you cook a lot, oh so very worth it. (And these are the kind of gear you can pass down through the generations.)

AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker

Espresso machine? Need a masters degree. Drip coffee? Burned on the bottom. Instant? What are we, animals? French Press? So last decade. Unless you earn Clover money, right now AeroPress is where it's at. Easy enough for everyone, good enough for a serious coffee snob. (I just wish it came in Apple-style aluminium.) It's a single-cup solution, but there are multi-cup marvels as well.

Tonx coffee

Most of the brown liquid we ingest these days isn't coffee. It's a stale, over-caffeinated, coffee-flavored something. Tonx is coffee. Fresh roasted, fresh shipped, punch-you-in-the-face-when-you-open-the-bag coffee. It's absolutely delicious.


Kevin Michaluk is to blame for this one as well. When he visited Montreal, he was shocked that I didn't have a SodaStream, so bought if for me on the spot. I've been bubbling ever since. Here's the deal - you supply the water, they supply the carbonation. You can choose to carbonate that water well beyond sanity, and you can also add flavors if you can't take it straight. I take it straight, middle level.

Your favorites?

That's some of my favorite tech - and tech-supporting - stuff from the last year. I'd love to know what you love, however, so let me know!

More great gift guides!

Looking for more great gift ideas for the geeks - and non-geeks - in your life? Check out the rest of our 2013 holiday guides!

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Rene's favorite tech: 2013 holiday gift guide


(I realize some of the stuff on this list is stupid expensive. Keep in mine I have no family to support, no debt to pay off, and no other hobbies/interests to bankroll. I also believe in buying fewer, better things, keeping them longer, and building over time. This approach certainly can't and won't work for everyone, but it does for me.)

Oh you have no debt to pay off...? You mean you only spend money you have and don't borrow money you can't pay back or rack up excessive credit card debt? What a weird concept, it is almost un-American :P. I am just messing with you of course, my wife works in debt settlement and I hear some horror stories. This is a great list, love the Nexus 5 shout-out, looking at maybe picking one up in the next few months.

edit: Also hear great things about Sonos.

Haha, good call. I always knew there was something fishy about him. Kidding of course!

PS: All I want for Christmas is the official iMore app on Android :)

I guess you can always ask Kevin to sell one of his Panerai watches.

All of the stuff you mentioned though is pretty new, i think the oldest item is the 5D Mark III at 20 months old. Yes, the mac pro is old but the 15 " macbook pro retina 2013 more than makes up for that.

Thanks for sharing....

That's is great. You are killing us with the the black apple mug in the photo. My picks are iPad mini with retina display, MacBook Air 13inch and for software 1 password and tweetbot. Great list!

Sent from the iMore App

Maybe the cost of "SuperDuper!" could've been squeezed into the list... I got lost a little and misread that segment to read "SuperDuper!" costs $300! Doh!
You're right, Rene, a great deal of this is currently out of reach, but I feel it's nice to see what tech you guys have chosen to use over this year. After all you are exposed to more variety of tech that I'm sure most of us get to enjoy. Being able to read what you've picked and why is far more interesting to me than reading specs lists.
Thank you!

Hey Rene, 2 things,
First, is 1Password worth the price? I mean we have lastpass and iCloud Keychain, they're free... Why pay so much?
Second, Netflix or Hulu?

With keychain if I unlock my device and hand it to somebody, they have access to all my passwords and credit cards. With 1password, they would still have to enter a separate master password. Until and unless keychain gets that feature, I can't use it.

And yes, for something I use hundreds of times a day, every day, it is more than worth the price.

Sent from the iMore App

I use both. Keychain because it's very easy across the web. 1Password because there are more things that need passwords or unlock codes than just websites. I keep my AMEX on file with KeyChain so I can easily make purchase on the web. How often are you handing your iPhone,iPad, or Mac to people you don't trust???? And what are you doing, letting them borrow it for the day? That seems a crazy excuse to not use Keychain.

Both are great at what they do. And 1Passwors is worth the price on the iPad and iPhone. The Mac version is very pricey. It should be $20 also. Not $50.

Cool. After hearing all this, I think it's time to buy 1Password... Now if only my photographic memory could remember the master password :p

Please take a moment to re-read this and correct the typos. It's terribly distracting trying to read this as it currently exists.

Surprised you don't like Nest thermostat if you like Hue. I actually like that your list isn't affected by cost because it shows that your list is what you truly feel is top tech.

Sent from the iMore App

Great list Rene! Here are some of the things I picked up for family or myself (love Bamboo!) this year.

Cocoon: Bag wise, I LOVE the Cocoon Slim Backpack ($79) with GRID-IT organization system. My mom is always disorganized.. Wonder if she'll pickup on that. :)

CalDigit: I'm also loving the Thunderbolt Dock ($199) from CalDigit. Picked this up for parents and new Macbook Air as well. Keeps things simple and clean when it comes to cables.

Slate - Mobile AirDesk: I've been looking for something to use around the house and I love bamboo, so this fit the bill. I'm an early adopter and wanted to support this project.. they still are selling it for $98, so get in on it while you can!

Apple TB Display: I'm waiting for them to upgrade the TB Display to USB 3 and TB2 technologies.. seems non-starter to get USB 2.0 and TB1 with my new 2013 rMBP, is that just me? I don't care about 4k, care more about getting current TB Display updated.

Slightly off topic, Rene - but IIRC, you and Georgia study Brazilian jiu jitsu, yes? If so, I'm interested in if you've ever used any of the BJJ video apps out there (i know Stephen Kesting has several) and, if so, what are your favorites?

I have some of Kesting's tapes. Good stuff. I trained with Michael Jenn for a while and really liked his videos as well.

Sent from the iMore App

Nexus 5?.... I'm patiently waiting for Phil (@ Android Central) to list the iPhone 5/5s on his 2013 holiday gift guide.... ;)

Thanks for Air Video- used it constantly until too many people claimed java was creating problems, now I can go back in. For my ios software pick, I would say Multitrack Daw is my choice to record guitar. Garage band is free but doesn't offer the mixdown capabilities or flexibility when recording audio.
Also, Fantastical is just that and more. Wow!

The 15" retina is the best, I have the 2012 model and even though I'm in school for Microsoft networking and troubleshooting, it is my go to machine ( I also have a windows 7 machine). Right now 1password is $34.99, I will be picking that up today.