2020 Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Engineer
Last year’s list of holiday gift ideas was a fan favorite, so we had to go and do it again. Now that the holidays are here, we asked the Altium community, Altium employees, and my LinkedIn connections their favorite geeky gift ideas. These ideas are for everyone from the engineers in your family to friends and work colleagues.
Hopefully, we won’t all be spending the holidays Zooming with our families under a fresh set of lockdowns, but just in case things continue going in that direction, some of this year’s holiday gift list have a COVID-friendly theme. So, without further adieu, let’s look at some of my favorite holiday gift ideas for 2020.
Gifts for Fun
The holidays are as much about fun as they are about spending time with family. If you want your favorite engineer to have fun as soon as they open up their gifts, take a look at some of these options.
DJI Mavic Mini Drone
For the drone pilot out there, the DJI Mavic Mini is a great option for drone-based photography. This drone and its onboard 3-Axis Gimbal 2.7K camera are small enough to fit in your hand. DJI also provides a simple app for controlling and tracking this drone from your phone. Videos can be captured on a standard SD card, and the drone includes an integrated GNSS module.
Fighting the Console Wars
At the top of the list is probably the most popular gift idea for people of all ages: the Playstation 5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S. Both consoles have plenty of hardware and feature upgrades that make for a more enjoyable gaming experience. These include graphics, navigation, memory, and gameplay upgrades for both consoles. If you do plan to get a Playstation 5 as a gift, then you should try to reserve one early: the Playstation is already outselling the Xbox models by huge margins, but retailers are expecting full restocks after Thanksgiving.
Oculus Quest 2
We all probably when the original Oculus came out, but the new Oculus Quest 2 takes VR to a new level. This new headset features expanded memory up to 6GB, up to 256 GB total storage, and is only slightly heavier than the original Oculus Quest Gen 1. The graphics are also accelerated thanks to the Snapdragon XR2 chipset and 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye resolution.
Live Streaming Backpacks
There’s a ton of live streaming backpacks that are great for mobile HD bonded video streaming broadcasts. These packs include a cellular bonding video encoder for HD video streaming to Facebook Live, Twitch, YouTube, and other services with a shoulder-mounted detachable camera. A live streaming backpack also includes a big battery pack for hours of streaming time. A great configurable live streaming backpack is available from Unlimited IRL.
GoPro HERO 9
For the amateur or professional videographer, consider the new GoPro HERO 9. This camera blows the old GoPro models out of the water with 5K video resolution, a larger battery, and a more robust 20-megapixel sensor. This camera is great for streaming and selfies thanks to the additional screen on the front side of the camera.
Remote Working Gifts
Many of us have been working from home for a good portion of 2020, and it’s become the new normal for many organizations. With this in mind, engineers might like some of these gift ideas to help them be at their best during the work day.
My laptop is less than a year old, but it has a pretty bad built-in webcam. A USB webcam is a great way to keep anyone looking their best on camera during that next Zoom or Skype meeting. These days, USB webcams are also a necessity for anyone using a desktop in their home office. Many newer pro webcams have features like built-in autofocus, facial tracking, high resolution video streaming (up to 1080p), and a built-in clip to attach to your laptop or desktop monitor. Prices for these pro webcams also come in around $100 at most online retailers.
My new laptop also has pretty bad mic quality, which is understandable; it was designed before everyone needed to have the best equipment for working from home. If there’s an engineer you know that could use an audio quality boost, consider a USB microphone setup. This is another essential for anyone working from home on a desktop. The Blue Snowball iCE USB Microphone shown below is short enough that it won’t stick in front of your face during a video call, and it looks pretty cool if it should happen to appear on camera.
Gaming and Music Headphones
I’m definitely an audiophile, and I wear headphones most of the day while working. They’re essential for meetings, exercise, or just jamming out to some midday 80’s rock. If you want to give full-size headphones with an audio jack as a gift, Beats by Dre are your best bet as the cord can be removed and replaced if it ever wears out. For wireless headphones, my favorites are JBL Endurance PEAK earbuds; they have excellent sound quality, they do double duty as meeting and exercise equipment, and they’re available for about $50 from most retailers.
Home Soldering Rework Kit
Hopefully, your loved ones won’t have to bother with doing rework at home, but in case they do, consider a home soldering kit. We’re not talking about the bulky irons they might have used in the past; today you can get respectable micro soldering iron tools and rework kits that can handle as small as 0201 (imperial) without breaking the bank. You’ll probably want to add a good microsoldering pencil or micro-tweezers to go with a rework station.
If someone you know reallys needs to go the distance with rework and soldering at home, you can find a professional microscope to go along with that soldering kit. Amscope microscopes are among the best you can get for a soldering workstation without being too exorbitant on price. They come with a mountable boom stand, barlow lens, zoomable objective, and some models come with a built-in lamp. If you really want to go the distance with an at-home soldering station, get a trinocular Amscope microscope with a CCD camera that plugs into your computer via USB.
Engineering Themed Coffee Mugs
I know my work day wouldn’t be complete without coffee, tea, or some other heavily caffeinated beverage. There’s a huge list of funny coffee mugs for engineers on Amazon, Etsy, and other stores on the web. As a Star Trek fan, my favorite mugs all seem to have Ohm’s Law and the Borg slogan on them, but you can find plenty of other great mugs the engineer in your family will appreciate.
Brought to you by Machine Art, you can compliment that engineering themed coffee mug with a PCB coaster. Yes, it’s an actual PCB with decorative traces, colorful solder mask, and a fun holiday theme. You can even buy a pack of 8 coasters in a holiday theme or space theme.
Dev Boards, SBCs, and Test Tools
I know when I’m working on something that needs custom firmware, I’ll buy dev boards for the relevant components for prototyping and testing purposes. Once a prototype gets built, some testing may need to happen as part of debugging. With that in mind, here are some dev boards the engineer in your life might enjoy. Also, take a look at Harris’ list of essential tools for kitting out an electronics lab for more gift ideas.
Raspberry Pi CM4 Dev Board
The long-awaited Raspberry Pi CM4 was just released in October, and now you can get a dev board for the new CM4 from Gumstix and Seeed Studio. The new Raspberry Pi CM4 was a long-anticipated release, and a new dev board is just what the engineer in your life needs to get started on that new embedded project.
The new CM4 module uses a Hirose connector, but the Uprev and UprevAI boards from Gumstix can be used to upgrade an existing CM3 solution to the CM4. If you know someone that’s not a Raspberry Pi fan, there are other great dev board options for embedded engineers.
Arduino Portenta H7
If you know someone who’s more of an Arduino fan, then the Arduino Portenta H7 is a great gift idea. This dev was released near the beginning of this year, but it takes the well-known Arduino platform to the next level with an AI-capable multicore processor, small footprint, and onboard Wifi/BLE radio modules. This is great for entry-level engineers or experienced embedded developers.
ESP32 Pico Kit
For the intrepid IoT developer, the ESP32-Pico-Kit is a tiny ESP32-based development board from Espressif. This board runs on the ESP32-PICO-D4 System-in-Package (SiP) module, which includes Wifi and Bluetooth. In addition to the cool 3D antenna at one edge of the board, it also includes plenty of GPIOs on 2 pin headers and plenty of integrated peripherals. It’s small enough to build a fun IoT device that will fit in your back pocket.
HackRF One Software Defined Radio Module
The HackRF One module from Great Scott Gadgets is a great gift idea for anyone working on software-defined radio (SDR). This small handheld module is designed for SDR testing and development, and it provides RF coverage from 1 MHz to 6 GHz. There’s a complete bundle available on Amazon that includes an antenna and a beautiful enclosure. The firmware and KiCAD PCB docs are also available on GitHub. If you’re an Altium Designer user, you can convert these project files into Altium’s file format and develop your own SDR module.
The PlutoSDR module from Analog Devices is a great gift for students that are interested in developing SDR platforms or who want tools to help them learn about SDR. This module provides RF coverage from 325 MHz up to 3.8 GHz so that students can analyze everything from sub-1 GHz radio to Wifi signals. Analog Devices also provides a dedicated software library for C, C++, C#, and Python. This module is available from Digi-Key (part number ADALM-PLUTO-ND).
This is one of those open source projects that you would normally have to manufacture on your own. However, there are groups out there who have put together their own versions of the NanoVNA and are now selling them online. The NanoVNA module is a great handheld VNA for testing 2-port networks out to 3 GHz. There are currently a number of NanoVNA variants available on Amazon and Banggood.
Siglent SPD3303X-E Lab Power Supply
If you’re not in the mood to buy the Rigol DP832 power supply mentioned in last year’s gift guide, the Siglent SPD3303X-E programmable lab power supply is a great competitor for the work-at-home engineer for about half the price. It includes three independently controllable isolated outputs (2x at 32 V/3.2 A, 1x at up to 5 V/3.2 A).
Other Ideas For Your Favorite Electronics Engineer
I’ve mentioned everything from coffee mugs to test equipment and a few cool dev boards. If you’re looking to get an upgraded computer for the engineering professional in your family, or you want to get the engineering student in your family prepared for the upcoming remote school year, take a look at Mark Harris’ list of the best engineering laptops for 2021. Happy holidays!
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