Luc Jacobs of Boca Raton, Fla., curates an online gadget site called CleverandEasy.com. He scorns silly items, and says that to earn a place on his list, a product should be useful in the long term.
"It should solve a real need, and take little effort - simple is best. Preferably it's the result of original, out-of-the-box thinking, and while it's not essential, it's nice if it looks cool," Jacobs says.
He likes Racor's Gravity bike rack, a freestanding sturdy rack, so no bolts or supporting wall studs to worry about. It's great for a rental home, storage area or garage where the rack may need to be moved from time to time, and is available at Amazon.com for $49.99. The Newline folding kitchen scale gets a nod as well. It's a compact digital scale that unfolds for weighing, collapses into a sleek steel cylinder, and even has a built-in timer (Amazon, $39.99).
Australian engineer Wilson Lee's useful ReZap battery charger not only replenishes the juice of rechargeable batteries but will also revive non-rechargeables, from the tiniest AAAA to a 6V lantern battery. It uses a microprocessor, and also serves as a battery tester. Even C and D batteries can be revived in the ReZap. At pctreasures.com, $59.95.
If you've ever been perched high on a ladder installing a picture or fan when you dropped the screw, you'll appreciate the ingenuity of former Stanford student Andre Woolery, who designed the MagnoGrip wrist band. It's a handy, magnetized, ballistic nylon cuff you can dock small hardware on while you work. There are tool belts and even suspenders in the product line, which starts at $15.95 at magnogrip.com.
ThinkGeek.com's a great destination for useful gadget hunters. Never find the jam fuzzy or the milk moldy if you've got Days Ago fridge timers stuck on the containers. Affixed by either magnet or suction cup, the timers can be set to count off days or hours. They're battery-run and reusable. Two in a pack, in orange, lime or black, for $7.99.
If your picky little eater would rather drive dump trucks around than shovel up supper, order a Kid Construction utensil set. A compartmented plate even has a cool ramp ($14.95), and the utensil set includes a bulldozer pusher, front loader spoon and forklift fork ($17.95). Everything's dishwasher safe and PVC/BPA/phthalate-free.
The Freeloader Pro solar charger ($79.99) uses sun energy to power up a host of electronics, even power-gobbling e-readers, portable DVD players and cameras.
And this item from ThinkGeek satisfies the "clever and easy" criteria in the tastiest way: The Mini Donut Factory ($19.99) looks like a Foreman grill, but bakes up half a dozen mini-doughnuts in under five minutes. Safe enough for kids to use, the appliance uses any store-bought doughnut mix. There's no deep frying involved, and you control how much sugar goes on top once they're baked. A perfect back-to-school gift for the gadget-loving college student.