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Tech Gift ideas for the 2017 holiday season

Santa is now using artificial technology to make his list and check it twice and here are some of the tech gifts he’s bringing the nerds and geeks among us boys and girls.

IoT devices

There are many on the market and most are focused on home automation such as turning on lights and appliances, controlling home temperature or automatic door locks. Often you have to start with a hub, which supports a particular technology or brand of devices like SmartThings, Belkin, Zigby or Z-wave. So, when you’re buying products, you’re really buying a system and pretty much need to stick with compatible products that work with your hub and your iOT devices.  It’s also a good idea to get devices that work with the Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can control them with your voice.  There are also services like Vivint and Xfinity Home where you pay monthly for an integrated suite of devices and home security products

Virtual reality headsets

These headsets give you a 360 degree view of the media they support, like being able to walk through a museum and look around, up and down almost as if you were there. There are a few expensive options like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR that all require either an expensive companion PC or a PlayStation. There are also a number of devices where you simply insert your phone which acts as the engine for the VR visual and audio experience. These typically cost under $100 and include the Samsung Gear VR, the Google Daydream and, if you want really cheap, Google Cardboard, which starts at under $10.

Voice activated home assistants (Amazon Echo and Google Home)

These popular home assistants play music, radio stations and podcast at the command of your voice but they can also give you information from Wikipedia or Google and control compatible devices such as lights, heaters, fans and even door locks. Both Amazon Echo and Google Home come in larger versions with decent speakers and smaller ones with tiny not-so-great speakers that support external wired or Bluetooth speakers.

TV streaming devices

Many “smart TVs” are already set-up to stream content from the likes of Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu, but there are several add-on devices that will work with any modern TV.

The most popular and arguably the best is Roku, which comes in several models starting at under $30 for the Roku Express all the way up to $90 for the Roku Ultra that has “all the bells and whistles, including a voice remote with buttons for TV power and volume on compatible TVs, headphones for private listening, lost remote finder, and night listening mode.” What I mostly love about Roku is that it’s the king of content with far more streaming channels than anyone else.

Other choices include Amazon Fire Stick ($34.99) and Apple TV 4K which, at $179, feels a bit overpriced to me.

Toy and worker robots

Whether it’s the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner or the $129 Sphero R2-D2 toy robot for Starwars fans or the programmable Cozmo, there are plenty to choose from this holiday season.

Game consoles and portable gaming devices

Popular this year are the Nintendo Switch handheld player, the XBox One and the PlayStation 4 Pro.

4K TVs

I don’t even know where to begin listing these ultra-high resolution TVs but there are plenty on the market and they’re getting cheaper. I saw an amazing deal on a 55-inch Samsung model for under $600. When shopping for a 4K TV look for HDR (high dynamic range) and three or more HDMI inputs for the gadgets you’ll want to connect to your TV. Having said that, I must admit that I have trouble telling the difference between 4K TVs and the far more commonplace 1080p high-definition sets. If you’re in the market for a new TV, you may as well get a 4K. Don’t be surprised if replacing  your existing 1080p set with a 4K doesn’t make a huge difference.

Wireless headphones and earbuds and speakers

If you own a relatively new iPhone or one of the new Google Pixel 2 phones, you’ll need wireless headphones because these phones no longer have headphone jacks. But even if your phone does have a place to plug-one in, you might consider getting Bluetooth wireless headphones for the convenience factor alone. If you travel by air, make sure you get a pair that also has a cord, so you can plug it into the audio jack on the plane. I’m a fan of the Plantronics BackBeat series because they’re affordable ($79) and comfortable but there are better sounding headphones out there for audiophiles from Bose, Sennheiser and other companies.

Ars Technica has a good round-up of good Bluetooth headphones and earbuds. For earbuds they recommend Plantronics Backbeat 300 and Jaybird X3, both around $100.

There are a lot of great Bluetooth speakers on the market that you can pair with your phone or an Amazon Alexa or Google Home for much better sounds. I’m a fan of the JBL Charge 3 ($129) which also happens to be portable and water resistant.  The JLab “Party Wireless” Multi-room Bluetooth Speaker system is also kind of cool in that you can not combine them for continuous sound as you walk from room to room. 

“Stocking stuffers” under $30

  • There are a lot of inexpensive gifts that can come in very handy, like:
  • Extra cables for smartphone (make sure you know if it’s Apple Lightning, MicroUSB or USB C)
  • Portable power supplies for smartphone (easy to find, even at drug chains)
  • Earbuds (some phones require they be wireless)
  • Extra laptop power supply
  • Laptop security screen
  • USB thumb drive
  • Car mount for smartphone
  • Roku Express

For more, check out CNET’s Guide to Gifts Under $25

 

Other suggestions include:

  • Smartphones
  • Wearables and fitness devices
  • PCs and laptops

Popular 2017 gifts so far (from Business Insider)

  • Apple AirPods
  • Sony Playstation VR
  • PJ Masks
  • L.O.L. Surprise toys
  • Hatchimals
  • Colleggtibles
  • Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Xbox One X

Links:

30 Ultimate Tech Gifts from Time

50 Great Gadget and Gear Gifts for the Holidays from Popular Mechanics

Best Smart Home Devices And How IoT Is Changing The Way We Live

2017 Holiday Tech Gift Guide: Games, gadgets and more from GeekWire