David LaGesse

Despite tough times, electronics makers appear to be determined to deliver a touch of luxury this holiday season. They're bucking a history of dreary beige-and-black boxes with devices that look stylish--even beautiful. Smooth lines from nature, colors with a bit of whimsy, and bold designs that enhance functionality are breathing life into a moribund industry.

Maybe gadget makers are emboldened by hints that consumers will spend more freely on tech gifts. While holiday spending is expected to drop overall, electronics should see a bump of 8 percent in sales over last year, according to a survey by the Consumer Electronics Association.

That may be an optimistic forecast. But we're encouraged by the growing trend toward striking design. Here are 10 of the best-looking devices for holiday gift-giving:


Most DVD players don't care how they look, with boring black boxes the rule. Not this Samsung Blu-ray model, whose case is a lot more attractive than its name, the BD-P4600. The rounded corners and 1.5-inch-deep case wrap a player that can stream Netflix and Blockbuster videos and Pandora music—and pump out 1080p Blu-ray movies
Samsung BD-P4600 Blu-ray Player

Samsung BD-P4600 Blu-ray Player

Home theaters are full of boring black boxes, with DVD players are a big part of the problem.

This Samsung Blu-ray model reshapes the mold with rounded corners and sculpted lines that come together in a case that's only 1.5 inches thick. The player doesn't neglect the innards, though. The device can stream Netflix, Blockbuster, and YouTube videos and Pandora music--and pump out 1080p Blu-ray movies.

An included WiFi dongle wirelessly connects the player for streaming and Blu-ray's interactive features, though the latter are still too scarce. And the dongle disrupts the player's smooth lines.

Amazon.com: Samsung BD-P4600 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player


Nothing looks geekier than a keyboard and mouse on a coffee table. The Loop takes their place, enabling easy maneuvering on home theater PCs where a standard remote isn't enough. The Loop responds to natural hand motions to move a cursor and keeps things simple with its four buttons
The Loop Pointer

The Loop Pointer

More living rooms are home to computers that viewers hook to their big-screen TVs so they can tap the growing list of Internet services that stream commercial movies and shows.

The striking, O-shaped Loop replaces the keyboard and mouse that would clutter a coffee table and makes it easier to navigate a PC's menus.

Held in the hand, the Loop responds to natural motions for moving up, down, and sidewise, and its four buttons click their way across menus and virtual keyboards. It takes getting used to, and a real keyboard should be kept handy for quick typing. But the Loop goes a long way toward making a home theater PC more graceful and less geeky.

Amazon.com: Loop Pointer


The new Pogoplug arrives in a colorful and whimsical package. This cutting-edge device has ports for four USB drives. The Pogoplug makes the drives' contents available to family and friends, PCs or Macs, around the home and across the Internet. The Pogoplug service makes networking possible without a computer science degree.


The first generation of this device, a boring-looking box that did an exciting job of networking USB drives, has morphed into a more powerful version propped on a fanciful, bright-pink stand.

The Pogoplug device can now handle four USB drives that connect easily to a home network.

More impressively, the Pogoplug taps into a Web service that makes drive contents available across the Internet. That means easy access from the road to files and photos at home, or sharing them with friends and family scattered across the world. It works with PCs, Macs, and even Linux PCs.


Nobody wants his hard drive to become a brick, unless it's a golden one from LaCie. Waves seem to wash over this external drive from LaCie, a company that's known for bold designs. The disk itself holds 1TB of data and connects through a high-speed USB port
LaCie Golden Disk

LaCie Golden Disk

Add glamour to the tedium of backing up files with this flashy external drive. LaCie is known for eye-catching design in computer peripherals and good hardware, and the Golden Disk has taken the fashion expression to a new level with a solid-performing drive. The fanless case adds no audio clutter and is speedy enough with its USB connector.

The wavy gold look, on the other hand, can slow the work flow in an office as coworkers stop to stare, but there is no denying the fun. There's also no denying that the shiny surface seems to attract dust. LaCie includes decent backup software that works with Windows and Macs.

Amazon.com: LaCie 301126U Golden Disk 500GB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive


A wireless home theater system seems impressive enough. But these Panasonic speakers are so superthin that they almost disappear. Each of the four SC-ZT1 spindles holds four speakers and a subwoofer, enabling the combination to create a roomful of sound that mimics a 7.1 system
Panasonic SC-ZT1 Wireless Home Theater

Panasonic SC-ZT1 Wireless Home Theater ($1,500)

Movie enthusiasts who aren't enthusiastic about surround sound's web of wires get a break with this wireless system.

Plus, the speakers themselves are slender, spindle-like stands that are as attractive as they are unobtrusive.

Each of the spindles packs four speakers and a subwoofer, with a receiver that balances the signals to create a roomful of sound mimicking a 7.1 system.

On the downside, the price is no break for anyone, wireless is never as reliable as wired, and four speakers can't fully match eight.


A Bluetooth headset that is close to looking like jewelry, the Jabra Stone does away completely with the booms that hang microphones off the ear. Sound quality doesn't suffer, with the Stone using twin microphones and software that measures the timing of sounds to cancel out noise
Jabra Stone Bluetooth headset

Jabra Stone

This Bluetooth headset does away with the booms that extend microphones off the ear, leaving the Stone with a clean, swooping design. Jabra says a boom isn't needed for sound quality. The Stone also does a good job of canceling out ambient noise.

But it may not fit all ears comfortably.

A charger that encases the headset in a smooth-looking package gives rise to the Stone name. The headset's internal battery is rated at two hours of talk time. The charger itself has a battery that can supply another six hours of run time. But there is no way to juice up the headset alone with its proprietary connector to the charger, so the case has to come with you.

Amazon.com: Jabra Stone Bluetooth Headset


Rocks are a popular theme with this year's beauty tech. The Samsung Pebble's case looks like it was sculpted in a flowing stream. The 1.5-inch-wide Pebble looks natural hanging from a neck on its lanyardlike earbuds. No screen means limited control over playback, but buttons allow switching between shuffle mode and a playlist
Samsung Pebble

Samsung Pebble looks like it was sculpted in a flowing stream.

The Pebble is only 1.5-inches wide and a half-inch thick, making it look like a pendant when it hangs from lanyardlike earbuds.

No screen means limited control over playback, but buttons allow switching between shuffle mode and a 30-song playlist. The functions of the five buttons are clear, but more sophisticated capabilities--such as managing the playlist from within the player--require a trip to the manual.

Amazon.com: Samsung Pebble


There's nothing sexy about a document scanner. But the designers at Neat Co. earn kudos for making their NeatDesk model attractive enough to grace any desktop. The scanner sits at a sharp angle that reduces its sprawl, and a unique insert makes it easier to scan thin receipts and business cards
Neat Desk Scanner

Neat Desk Scanner

There's nothing sexy about a document scanner. So it's laudable that the Neat Co. has made its scanner attractive with muted colors, rounded corners, and smooth lines.

The scanner sits at an angle, easing document handling and reducing its footprint on a crowded desk.

The NeatDesk quickly captures both sides of documents with one pass, a convenience reserved for high-end scanners. And a unique insert makes it easier to scan thin receipts and business cards.

The included software offers a sophisticated, though not always intuitive, system for organizing documents. The software also makes a reasonable if incomplete effort at turning scans into a text-filled database.

Amazon.com: NeatDesk Desktop Scanner


Dell flew into the teeth of the recession with new laptops that are sophisticated in styling and are, the company says, the world's thinnest. Even opening the slim Adamo XPS is slick, with a finger swipe popping the halves apart. Then the screen starts swinging on an unusual hinge that also lifts the main case for extra cooling
Dell Adamo XPS

Dell Adamo XPS

As the recession deepened this year, Dell bravely announced the latest in its increasingly bold PC designs. The Adamo's jaw-dropping thinness bests the MacBook Air, though the Dell is longer and wider. The Adamo's slimness is made possible by a keyboard and main case that appear to fold into the 13.4-inch screen.

Even opening the laptop case is slick, with the clamshell remaining tightly closed until a finger swipe starts the screen swinging on an unusual hinge that also lifts the main case for extra cooling.

Specs are respectable for an ultra-thin model. The price is steeper than comparable Windows models, but bragging rights never come cheap.

Amazon.com: Dell AX-3600GSL Adamo XPS 13.4-Inch Laptop (Windows 7 Home Premium)


A glossy lacquer and acrylic finish set apart the compact, sculptured look of the Sonoro Elements W. The little case packs an FM radio and WiFi antenna that enables the device to pull in more than 13,000 Internet radio stations. A brushed-metal wheel navigates the stations by categories that are displayed on a bright, OLED display
Sonoro Elements W

Sonoro Elements W

European styling from German maker Sonoro includes a glossy lacquer and acrylic finish to set the Elements W apart from other Internet radios.

The compact case packs an FM radio and WiFi antenna that enable the device to pull in more than 13,000 stations, over the air and over the Internet. A brushed-metal wheel navigates the stations by categories that are displayed on a bright OLED display, while a radio-frequency remote works through walls. But attaching an iPod requires an optional dock that adds $100 to the already steep price tag. At least the base model includes an alarm clock with snooze function.

Amazon.com: Sonoro AU4101BL Elements W Audio System