It’s happening – it’s that time of year for giving and receiving, and we each need to take stock of the various gadgets that abound at this time of the year.  Here are a few ideas for gifts for family, friends, and co-workers.

Streaming boxes

Roku

Just in time for the shopping season, Roku has refreshed their lineup of streaming set top boxes.  From a $30 HD streamer to the $99 ‘Ultra,’ Roku devices are built to serve the needs of any user case.  Now including power and volume controls, as well as option for 4K HDR, Roku’s experience in this category puts their offering at the top.

The most versatile pick is the new Streaming Stick+ for $70.

Amazon Fire TV

After a lull in their Fire TV offering, Amazon recently released a new Fire TV, which includes 4k and HDR.  Like any such device, it will work with an HD TV, but requires a 4k HDR TV to completely leverage its features.  A single option from Amazon is unusual as they have previously released a fleet of devices.  This device is an attempt to consolidate their line, and it sits between the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick.  At $70, it is competitive with the Roku Stick+ but lacks a few features for TV control.  Like the Roku, it has voice control powered by Alexa and is best suited for someone deep into the Amazon media or Echo environments.

Apple TV

The latest streaming box from Apple adds 4k as well as HDR.  It also significantly increases the price tag, starting at $180.  The older version is still available at the previous price.  Comparing the options, Apple’s offering can only be recommended if you are deeply integrated into their ecosystem.  Though I have many of Apple’s products, this will not be one of them.

Music

The gift of music has quickly progressed into a number of various gadgets.  Over the last few years, every list has had an option for enjoying your tunes in new ways.  I’ve selected the best in this category to meet the needs of the music lovers on your list.

Sonos One

The newest speaker from Sonos is a step forward for this high quality, multi-room, personal speaker company.  Adding the power of Amazon Alexa, the Sonos One adds a new interface for playing your music with ease.  Although it does not currently offer voice control outside of the services already available for Amazon Echo, these are features that could become available in the future via software updates.  By using your local network instead of Bluetooth, control is possible from anywhere, including across other Sonos devices.  Whether adding to existing Sonos speakers or as a first one, this will be a gift loved by many.

Features:

  • Size and sound of the Play:1
  • Touch buttons
  • Full Alexa function
  • Future addition of Google Home
  • Future addition of Airplay 2
Jaybird X3

For anyone looking for isolating bluetooth headphones, these are the best of the numerous options available.  As a third generation, Jaybird has taken steps forward with each offering.  These are smaller than the X2 but are also specifically designed to stick out less, allowing use inside of a helmet or for other similar use cases.  They also offer Bluetooth 4.1 to improve battery use, reduce interference, and improve connectivity.

AirPods

One of my personal favorite gadgets from the last year is Apple’s AirPods.  Especially for anyone that uses the included wired Apple EarPods, these will be a great upgrade.  Obviously, they are wireless, but they’re among the first headphones to be completely wireless, with no cable connecting them.  They sound great, are comfortable, are very small and easy to keep with you, they get great battery life due to the included charging case, and are easily used despite limited input controls.  Unlike other bluetooth style headphones, they are extremely easy to pair with all Apple devices and, in fact, will auto pair to any subsequent device logged into your Apple ID.  This includes your iPhone and Mac, but also any iPad or Apple TV.  Since they are based on bluetooth, they can also pair to Android or Windows devices, but the feature set for these are stripped down.  One of the additional features to highlight is the dual mic system, which I find to be superior to most stereo bluetooth headphones for making calls.  Having used these on the go, as well as in louder environments, they perform better for calls than even the wired EarPods.  For $170, these are among the least expensive of the completely wireless options available today.

Bose SoundLink Micro

The newest in Bose’s SoundLink line is the $110 Micro.  With six hours of battery life and a very small package, this speaker is the first Bose device to boast a rugged and waterproof exterior.  Designed to be on-the-go and used in the outdoors, it includes a strap to attach to your clothes or a bag and a microphone for calls.  Additionally, it can be paired with a second Micro or certain other Bose speakers for a stereo experience.  Do note that, although it is waterproof and can be dropped in water, bluetooth does not transmit well though water.

Digital

One of my favorite advances in technology has been the ability to digitize all of our media.  Whether it’s movies, music, or books, having all of your content at the tip of your fingers has become the norm.  Don’t forget to consider giving the gift of content this holiday season, making all of the devices above much more fun.  For video content, consider: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Now or Hulu.  For music, your recipient might love a subscription to Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, or Pandora.  Each will fit different people differently, so consider how they listen and what they use.

For reading, Amazon offers Kindle Unlimited or Audible (audio books).  And for something a little different, services like Marvel Unlimited offer comic books on digital subscription, while Xbox Live or EA Access give digital access to video games.

Other Favorites

iPhone X: Sleek, premium-feeling design expands the screen on a similar footprint to prior releases.  It’s the iPhone in many ways with highlighted features, including Face ID and an amazing OLED screen.

Apple Watch: The third generation adds cellular support and more processing power, however the prior generation is a great option if you don’t require connectivity without a phone.

Allbirds: Perhaps not quite a gadget but definitely cool tech.  These all-wool shoes are considered the most comfortable in the world.  I’ve not tried on all of the shoes, but my pair are the most comfortable I have ever worn.

Instant Pot Ultra: The newest iteration of the popular mix of pressure cooker/crock pot has even more options to prep food.

Anker Power Core: This, or some kind of external battery, is a must in our on-the-go culture.

Smart Home: Hue lights, Nest thermostats, door locks, and doorbells round out the best of the internet of things options.

R2D2: Serves no real purpose other than to be very tempting for your Star Wars nerd friends.

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