Tech Savvy: Annual holiday gift guide
There are lots of options for tech gifts to make this season more enjoyable at home from a smart light bulb to 75-inch ultra high definition TVs.
This might be the earliest Tech Savvy gift-buying guide ever, but that’s just fine when Black Friday deals are already in motion or about to start as the calendar rolls over to November.
The nights are longer and will be progressively colder, so the list this year includes ways to be active at home during the winter, ways to nest and find comfort from the chaos outside, or ways to entertain yourself through what could be a challenging season ahead.
Here are a few items that stuck out to me as I looked through a host of tech gift guides.
Bring on the light
I’m a fan of light and voice activated light. I started with smart plugs and graduated to smart light bulbs (a good option when the plug-in space is limited.).
They all work with Alexa and are on my phone meaning I can turn lights on or off while I’m away at work and can turn those lights on from my smartphone so the house and the backdoor light is lit when I walk in the door.
There are light bulbs capable of simulating daylight, which will help when our sun time is limited this winter and lights that can change color and amount of light projected via voice commands. Have a sleeping cat in your lap? No problem, a voice activation will turn the light down or off. It’s addicting. Brands include Philips Hue, GE, Yeelight, Senled, Wyze and Ring.
Getting a smart bulb can be had for less than $10, but be warned once you’ve moved to smart bulbs there is no going back. PCMag.com also notes while the smart bulbs cost more they are LED and cost less to operate as they use less energy and the bulbs last longer. Lots of options here.
The Casper Glow lamp, described by CNET as “undeniably beautiful, easy to set up and pleasant to use” is (yes it’s made by the mattress people) a night light that can slowly dim for night and simulate sunrise to help people wake. It’s controlled via an app. Casper says it's designed to help people fall asleep. It’s hands-on with a twist to dim it and a shake to put it into a low setting. The time it takes to dim as you fall asleep can be programmed via the app.
To stick on items of particular use with a tech savvy bent, there are programmable smart thermostats that turn the heat up before your feet touch the cold floor in the morning and turn it down at night, in case you forgot. They can save energy by keeping the thermostat lower when you are away and warm it up before you get back. A look at prices, including Home Depot, show them ranging from $25 to several hundred dollars.
And there are the locks you can get, easy to install, that unlock as your phone gets close and can auto lock behind you after you enter. No more fumbling for the right key in the dark. Some work with voice assistants. PCMag.com lists the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock as one of the best. It fits on the inside of your door and uses your existing deadbolt. It works with voice assistants and can add biometric verification — like your fingerprint or facial recognition before the lock can be accessed remotely. There are a number of brands to choose from in this category. But expect to pay $100 to $200, unless there is a Black Friday sale.
For all the above mentioned reasons, this may be the year to invest in a family gaming system or an upgrade. Perhaps it’s time for a new PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch or Xbox Series X or time to dip a toe into virtual reality with Oculus Quest.
Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 is faster, has a higher-resolution display and is selling for $299, depending on how much storage you want. The Nintendo Switch Lite comes in at $199 and is handheld only with no switch ability to play on the TV screen. I’m not much of a gamer beyond the Lego Batman game. But there were a number of online comments on the limits of the Nintendo Switch Lite. A CNET review was more favorable, however a headline on the article may have said it all — “Travel joy, home sadness.”
On the other hand, the Nintendo Switch, which can transition from home game console to handheld device, is $299. CNET reported a new upgraded Nintendo Switch could be released in early 2021 with possible 4K visuals.
PlayStation 5 launches Nov. 12 starting at $399 for the digital edition and going to $499 for the ultra high definition HD Blu-Ray disc drive.
Xbox can be purchased with no upfront costs by paying $34.99 a month for the console and 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate or by paying $500 for the Xbox as a standalone. The new Xbox release date is Nov. 10.
Headset or earbuds
OK, so we’ve all done a lot of video conferencing and it’s likely to continue so having a good microphone and comfortable earbuds is basically a need not a want these days. For people with small ear openings, it can be a challenge to find something comfortable for one meeting let alone a couple back to back. Some come with noise canceling abilities in addition to quality sound and some are able to go from meeting to workout.
Apple’s AirPods Pro are touted as being among the best (they have an ear tip fit test to make sure customers are using the right size tip) and are currently priced $195-$250. The Apple standard AirPods wireless earbuds are this year dropping into the affordable realm with CNET reporting they’ll be available for $99 in November. For differences between the Apple earbuds — the AirPod Pro model has noise cancellation (which can be set to a Transparency Mode to bring in the ambient sound), and they are water resistant.
Sennheiser also makes wireless earbuds and was a CNET Editor’s choice. Sony and Beats are other brands that come up often as well as Samsung.
Look for deals here as these items are not cheap often ranging from $50 to $400.
Over the ear headphones provide an alternative complete with microphone and may offer the comfort fit people are looking for along with the ready signal that you are engaged in a conversation, which can be helpful for those working in an open office and your co-workers don’t see the earbuds or the sticky note saying “Zoom meeting.”
TVs and soundbars
If you’ve ever gone to a Black Friday shopping experience you’ll know the first items purchased and out the door as shoppers rush back out are those big flat-screen TVs.
Prices keep falling on those big glorious TVs to help produce a theater-like experience at home while we wait for new film releases and a general return to the movie houses. Best Buy is offering a TCL 75-inch LED 4K ultra high definition TV for $500 and a Hisense 75-inch TV LED 4K for $600. Target has a LG 70-inch 4K ultra high definition TV for $600 and a Vizio for $660. Walmart has a 65-inch TCL 4K TV for $428 and the same size Vizio for $548.
Once you have the big screen TV, the next thing to think about is a soundbar. The thin TVs don't offer much in terms of quality sound. To improve the experience significantly, add a soundbar and that can be done without a lot of expense. Best Buy has an Insignia soundbar for $50. Whether you want the soundbar all in one or the added benefit of a subwoofer is up to you. I opted for the single bar for streamlining
“You can get a good listening experience with just a soundbar, but if you really want to make the walls shake and actually feel your favorite movies or music, you should make sure you have a subwoofer,” PCMag.com writes. You can go all over the price range here from minimal to spending thousands of dollars. You can get a basic soundbar and really increase your viewing experience for less than $100 and with sales for quite a bit less.
And just for fun
Because fireplaces really add to the cozy factor on a winter’s night, and provide a place to hang those holiday stockings, there are many options that won’t break the bank. Daily Steals has a thin wall-mounted recessed electric fireplace starting at 42 inches for about $250. It has the modern look with a horizontal line of flames, 12 flame colors and 12 bed colors and varying brightness levels, remote control and it produces heat of course.