The Procrastinator's Last Minute Gift Guide

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 5:27 PM

So, the time for shopping is quickly coming to an end. Even if you are headed to a Christmas party later in the week, it still may be hard to order something online. Here are some great last minute ideas that you can pick up at many retailers and will not feel very last minute at all.

Roku HD

Over the last year or two, streaming video online has gone from something really cutting edge to something normal. Yet, it frequently remains much more of a hassle than, say, watching a normal TV channel or program off of one's DVR.

Originally, services like Netflix Streaming and Amazon Instant were primarily watched on one's computer. But, who wants to sit at the computer to watch a movie? Yes, one can hook a laptop up to a TV, but that's just an added hassle at night. Game consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have gained support for an increasing number of streaming services, but tend to be overkill if the person you are shopping for isn't looking for gaming or, in the case of the PS3, Blu-ray playback.

For such a person — or anyone who wants to enjoy hassle free streaming — a Roku is a perfect, affordable choice that will prove to be a gift that keeps on giving. The Roku's interface is intuitive, clean and effective. Better yet, a recently added search function makes it a snap not only to search numerous streaming providers at once — helpfully deemphasizing the different services and putting more emphasis on finding the movie or TV show the user wants to watch.

There are numerous free to use channels with content ranging from news to classic TV, premium TV networks such as HBO offer access to their On Demand catalogs via the Roku and all of the major pay streaming providers, including Netflix and Amazon are present (see below for our recommendation on a streaming provide worth gifting this Christmas). The Roku HD ($59) may be the best value for most users, although the top end Roku XS ($99) offers some nice perks, including a big screen edition of Angry Birds, that make it worth nabbing if you see it on sale (Roku, www.roku.com, $59).

PaperPro Stapler

A stapler? For Christmas? Yes, indeed. If you have family or friends who are students, office workers or pretty much anyone else who frequently has a need to staple things, the PaperPro line of staplers is a gift they will surely appreciate for years to come. Teachers, office workers and even those who just shuffle a lot of papers in their home offices will enjoy it.

The PaperPro stapler line started the trend towards easy, functional “staple gun” style desk staplers a number of years back and it continues to set the bar for desktop stapling. It is rather hard to believe just how easy it is to staple with this manual stapler.

Unlike traditional staplers that can often be quite frustrating and require a good deal of force to actually staple, the PaperPro lives up to its advertisement of being able to staple with the force of a single finger. Moreover, thanks to its special spring loaded action, one is far less likely to get staples that don't make it entirely through the stack — if the staples are long enough, a PaperPro will get the job done.

It may be a less than typical Christmas gift, but what's wrong with that (PaperPro, www.paperpro.com, $14.95)?

iPod nano

The original iPod line dominated not only the music player market, but also Christmas wish lists for years. But, since the advent of the iPhone, the iPod touch and then the iPad, they have been rather forgotten. Nevertheless, Apple offered a major upgrade to the iPod Nano earlier this year that makes it a perfect gift for someone who loves listening to music, but either doesn't want a smart phone or wants to have a handy device for listening apart from his or her phone.

Unlike the iPod touch, which is simply an iPhone without the phone — and thus more of what we once called a PDA than a music player — the iPod nano is still a dedicated music and video device that will not run iOS apps. Despite this, Apple has done a very good job of making the new Nano run as smoothly as its bigger brothers, with a crisp clear touch screen that is very responsive.

As responsive as the touchscreen is, however, one of the major faults with touch screen music players is that they are hard to control when you are unable to look at the screen — for example, when you are driving or jogging. The iPod nano solves this problem by sporting a physical button on the side that can be clicked to pause/play tracks, as well as move back and forth through tracks. This may sound like a simple matter, but functionally it is huge.

The new Ear Pods included with the iPod nano are also notable as some of the best basic ear buds on the market. Sound is rich and clear with them and they fit far more comfortably into less than perfectly shaped ears than the old ear buds. They are worth picking up on their own for $30, so getting them as a bonus alongside the Nano makes this an even better gift that is sure to bring joy to your recipient for years to come (Apple, Inc., www.apple.com, $149).

Eneloop Batteries

Every Christmas, someone is going to need batteries for something — cameras, toys, remote controls and the like — the infamous list of gifts with “batteries not included” is well known. While the first reaction of most folks is to reach for another disposable battery, what if you could have rechargeable batteries that held a charge much like their alkaline counterparts, but ran much much longer when in use? Then you would have an Eneloop battery.

While early rechargeable batteries where often weak with short lives — I remember as a kid dreading when my dad would want to put one of his rechargeable batteries in a toy — modern nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries often have two or three times more capacity than a regular battery and, except in rare occasions, will give devices more than enough “juice” for them to run just as they do with alkalines. Also, unlike earlier rechargeable batteries, NiMH batteries are relatively forgiving if you charge them without draining them all the way first.

However, the one thing that NiMH batteries do not do well is hold a charge over time. If you let charged NiMH batteries sit in the drawer for a few months, you'll probably find them dead just when you need them. Sanyo pioneered the long lasting Eneloop line to solve this last major deficiency in NiMH batteries and succeeded to the point that Eneloops come precharged and ready to go because they will maintain power even while sitting on store shelves for a period of time.

In other words, if you give a pack or two of Eneloops, not only will they be reusable and provide plenty of capacity, they will also be ready exactly when your recipient needs a battery. It may not be the most interesting gift at first, but it will possibly prove to be one of the handiest. What is more delightful than having a ready-to-use battery just when you need it? If you do pick these up, make sure to grab the higher capacity, longer lasting third generation models that sport the label “1500 uses” on the packaging. (Sanyo, www.eneloop.com, various prices for differing sizes).

Amazon Prime

An Amazon e-mail gift card is pretty much the only thing you can still give using Amazon, if you need the gift tomorrow and not for a party towards the end of the week. But, you can get creative with that card by gifting the $79 for an Amazon Prime subscription and suggesting using the gift for that.

Amazon Prime has become a lot more visible in recent years, but is still perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in online services. Its original purpose — which will delight anyone who shops on Amazon regularly — is to provide all you can eat 2-day shipping for no extra charge to Prime members. Need to buy a $2.99 bookmark? No problem. A 40 lbs. computer? Also no problem. Unlike Amazon's slower “Super Saver Shipping,” Prime has no minimum purchase requirement to receive no extra charge 2-day shipping. In addition, for things urgently needed, 1-day express shipping drops to a $3.99 upcharge and even Saturday priority shipping prices are reduced.

These days, however, Amazon Prime is so much more than a shipping service. If you give it to someone with a Kindle, they get access to the Kindle Lending Library, which allows them to check out one book a month from a huge selection of Lending Library eligible books for free. Unlike a normal library, this library does not charge late fees either — one can just keep the book until one is ready to check out a different one.

Raising the value of the service even further, Prime also includes Prime Instant Video, a streaming service with a library that increasingly rivals Netflix's (and, occasionally, even surpasses it). Your giftee will be entertained with thousands of TV show episodes along with a similar volume of well known and indie films. Like Netflix, Prime Instant Video can be watched on the Roku, PlayStation 3, computer, iOS devices and Android devices such as Amazon's Kindle Fire.

If your recipient loves Amazon and its services, Amazon Prime is a perfect last minute gift that will make life easier and be enjoyed throughout the year (Amazon.com, www.amazon.com/prime, $79).