Whether you are looking for yourself or others, this holiday gift guide should have something for you. But, let’s be honest. You are primarily reading this gift guide because its fun to find out about the coolest and latest tech toys available. You are imagining yourself with each one of these super neat gadgets, and that mere act of imagination feels good – just like it did paging through the entire Sears catalog every year as a kid. (If you are too young to remember the Sears catalog’s final 1993 publication, imagine going through all the Black Friday special edition newspaper advertisements, only better.)
Tech gadgets make great gifts, and those listed here are some of the very best available this holiday season.
Toys for Your Office or Home
Samsung 34” Ultra-Wide Premium Curved Monitor (34UC97-S)
Tags: Office, Home, Comfort, Awesome
Price: $999 (but look for it for under $900)
It’s no secret that more screen surface can make you more productive, and this 3440x1440 pixel Samsung is the ultimate solution for those who don’t want to deal with multiple monitors. Its height-adjustable curved screen is more than just a gimmick, and its VA panel technology, which admittedly gives up some color accuracy and viewing angle width to the IPS displays of its competitors, allows the Samsung to offer deeper blacks, less light-bleed, and slightly better response time.
Alternative: For a similar price, the 34” Curved Ultrawide LG 34UC97-S offers wider viewing-angles and more accurate colors than the Samsung. The tradeoff is sometimes noticeable light-bleed, especially in the corners. The LG also offers thunderbolt ports (something Mac users may care about), although it is not height adjustable. Ultimately, both the Samsung and the LG are awesome monitors.
14 More Gift Ideas
- Sony Playstation 4 Star Wars Battlefront Bundle – $349
- Anki OVERDRIVE Starter Kit – $149
- iRobot Roomba 880 Vacuum Cleaning Robot – $699
- Amazon Kindle Paperwhite / Voyage – $99 / $199
- Sonos Playbar – $699
- GoPro Hero+ – $259
- Fitbit Charge HR – $149
- Apple Watch – $349
- Nerf Rival Apollo XV-700 Blaster – $20
- Dyson V6 Absolute Cordless Vacuum – $599
- Linksys WRT AC1900 Router – $229
- WD 1 TB My Passport Ultra External Hard Drive – $59
- Nintendo New 3DS XL – $199
- Pro-Ject ElementalTurntable – $250
Microsoft Surface Book
Tags: Office, Home, Cutting-edge
Price: $1,499 - $3,199
As good as Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 4 is (and it is a good product), its small screen and relatively flimsy (though much improved) keyboard mean that if I want a primary work machine, I am still looking at laptops. That’s where the new 13.5” Surface Book comes in. Though it has a super cool (and probably useful) large detachable screen, it is first and foremost a full-on laptop, with enough power to compete with the MacBook Pros of this world. Like MacBook Pros, the Surface Book is expensive, but you get what you pay for – and that is superior design and build quality. Unlike MacBooks, however, the Surface Book has a highly sensitive PixelSense touchscreen and Surface Pen, which are good enough to make the Surface Book the first digital device that I think I might actually want to take handwritten notes on.
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display 13” or 15”
Tags: Office, Home, Proven Excellence
Price: $1,299 - $2,699 (13”); $1,999 - $3,199 (15”)
There is not much to say about the MacBook Pro with Retina Display except that if you do not want a touchscreen, it is the best laptop available. Both the 13” and 15” models have good battery life, great displays, and plenty of power – all in a beautiful form factor. They will last for a long time, and then you can sell them and they will keep on lasting. If OSX is not your thing, feel free to run Windows using Boot Camp (included with Mac) or virtualization software such as Parallels and VMWare Fusion.
Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat
Tags: Office, Smart Home, Comfort
When it comes to smart thermostats, Nest (now owned by Google) gets most of the attention. That’s because it’s a well-designed product that works well. I believe the Ecobee3 is even better. Its touchscreen design may not be as beautifully minimalist as the Nest, but it is easier to navigate. Its Smart Home/Away and Follow Me settings also seem to work as well or better than Nest’s learning algorithm approach, especially when used with its nifty remote sensors (the Ecobee comes with one, but you can buy more). These sensors, which you can place anywhere in your house, provide temperature and motion information to the central Ecobee unit, so they are especially helpful if you have a large home but only one HVAC zone and thermostat. Finally, the Ecobee’s phone app, which has basically the same interface as the device itself, is equally easy to use, and with Apple HomeKit Integration, you can even control the thermostat with Siri.
Tison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411™). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by email.
Tags: Office, Home, Physical Security, Big Brother
The Nest Cam is easy to set up and has great night vision, 1080p video, and a convenient magnetic base with an adjustable swivel joint. With your camera purchase, you can view 24/7 continuous live streaming on your portable devices and computers, as well as receive sound and motion alerts. The Nest Cam also has two-way audio, making it a great baby monitor (or pranking tool).
If there is a downside to the Nest Cam, it is that some of its “cooler” features, such as the ability to access past video (up to 30 days), create time-lapse video, save and share clips, and use advanced “activity zone”-based motion alerts, all require a subscription to a monthly service called Nest Aware (starting at $10 a month). Still, whether you want to keep an eye on your office from home, or your home from your office, this little cam is tough to beat.
Philips Hue Lux / Hue White Starter Kit
Tags: Office, Smart Home, First Step into the Future
Price: Hue Lux is $55.99 on outgoing product clearance; replacement Hue White Starter Kit price to be determined
If you’ve heard the term “smart home” or “connected home” thrown around lately in reference to products like lightbulbs, thermostats, door locks, security cameras, and the like, but don’t know exactly what that means, don’t worry. It is just a term applied to common products that have added features to allow them to connect to you and each other, with the hope that they make your life easier.
If that still sounds frighteningly futuristic for you, Philips Hue Lux products are a good place to start. They are simply white light screw-in bulbs that can be connected to your smartphone, allowing you to control brightness and set on/off and graduated-dimming timers. You can even set them to turn on or off based on when you physically enter or leave a room.
If that sounds fun, you can also check out other Hue products, like the $199 Hue white and color ambiance starter kit A19, which allows you to match light color to your mood, sync lights with music and movies, and adjust lumen output and color temperature of white light for various tasks.
Oxo Barista Brain Coffee Maker
Tags: Office, Home, Caffeine, Innovative
The Oxo Barista Brain is a truly unique coffee maker in that its water reservoir is also an electric kettle. This allows you to not only make coffee, but also heat water for tea (or oatmeal). And, because the kettle sits on a scale, you can even do both at the same time. That’s right, after filling the kettle, you can actually specify how many cups of that water will be used for coffee and how many cups of water will stay hot in the kettle.
As a stand-alone hot water heater, the Barista Brain also has precise temperature control (from 174-212 degrees Fahrenheit), making it great for consuming different types of teas that require varying temperatures. When it comes to coffee, the Brain is the only 12-cup machine so far to get the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s seal of approval, meeting specific temperature and timing requirements.
The lone knocks on this device are its relatively long brew time and its relatively fast carafe cooling time. All in all, however, the Barista Brain is one of the few devices trying to do two things that succeeds, even excels, at both.
Toys for Media Consumption
LG 65EG9600 (Curved) / 65EF9500 (Flat) 65” 4K OLED TV
Tags: Home, GOAT (Greatest of All Time)
Did you just have one of your best years ever? Do you want to celebrate by getting a TV with the greatest picture quality of all time? If so, then get an LG OLED 4K TV with HDR capability (choose curved or flat based on preference). These sets are the largest OLED TVs available for an even remotely affordable price ($4,999 is tens of thousands cheaper than larger models, as well as most projector setups), and with their perfect black levels (even better than Plasma), bright whites, accurate color, and excellent off-angle viewing (better than LED LCD), these sets are dazzling. As Ferris Bueller said, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
Samsung UN78JS9100FXZA 78” Curved SUHD 4K TV
Tags: Home, Over the Top
What’s that you say? 65” is too small? Okay, I agree. Try the ridiculously big and awesome 78” 9100 series from Samsung instead. This isn’t Samsung’s top of the line (that would be the 9500 Series, which runs a mind-boggling $9,999 for 78” and mind-exploding $19,999 for 88”), but come on, it’s close enough. Show some restraint!
Vizio M Series TVs (43” – 80”)
Tags: Home, Back Down to Earth, Still Awesome
Price: $599 - $3,998
Okay, this is more reasonable. The Vizio M series is one of the cheaper 4K TVs around, but it punches well above its weight. With full-array local backlight dimming (a feature only available in its competitors’ more expensive models), its superior black levels and contrast offer an overall picture quality that is as good as or better than much more expensive sets from Sony, Samsung, and LG. For my money, Vizio’s M Series models (especially the larger ones) are the best TV values currently on the market. If you are looking for something even more affordable, or something a little smaller, check out Vizio’s cheaper, but still excellent, E series. You won’t miss the 4K at smaller sizes.
Roku 3 / Roku 4
Tags: Media, Down Time
Price: $99 / $129
These days, you can connect to your favorite streaming services (like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go, and so on) using a wide variety of devices (TVs, video game consoles, Blu-Ray players, and the like.) However, having a set-top box that is dedicated solely to media-streaming purposes will in most cases provide a faster, more reliable, and simpler way to access your online content of choice.
There are several such competing devices out there, like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, and Nexus TV, but most of them either have a major hole in their coverage (Apple TV lacks Amazon Prime, for example) or the device tries to force feed you media from its own ecosystem. Roku, however, not only has all the major streaming channels (and the most channels overall), but also has an intuitive interface that allows you to decide exactly which services are displayed most prominently.
Both the Roku 3 and Roku 4 (which adds 4K content) also have cross-platform voice search, the ability to compare pricing for paid content, and a surprisingly useful headphone jack built right into the remote. For these reasons, I recommend giving a Roku to everyone but the person who is heavily invested in Apple iTunes content and doesn’t use Amazon Prime. For those few, the latest Apple TV (2015) ($149), with Siri search, is the best option.
Logitech Harmony Elite Remote
Tags: Media, Smart Home
The Harmony Elite is a smart remote that allows you to create activities, like “Watch TV,” “Play PS4,” “Watch Roku,” or “Mood Music,” and with a single press of a button, the remote will automatically turn on all the correct devices, set them to their appropriate inputs, dim lights, cook popcorn, and more (okay, not the popcorn thing).
The remote communicates with your devices though a small relay hub, and because it connects with the hub using RF signals (no line of sight required), you have the option of keeping both the hub and your devices hidden away. The WiFi connected remote also allows you to control connected home devices, such as Philips Hue and Lutron lights and switches, Nest and Ecobee thermostats, and more. Logitech is in a class by itself when it comes to remotes, and this is their best offering.
However, if you have fewer than six “activities” and don’t need a touchscreen (just know that it is more difficult to control components individually, should it become necessary, without the touchscreen), then the $149 Logitech Harmony Home Companion is also a good choice. And, if you have eight or fewer devices, don’t need any smart-home features, and have all your devices out in the open, the $79 Logitech Harmony 650 is yet another good alternative.
Tags: Stocking Stuffer, Music
If you want to stream music from your phone or tablet using your existing speaker system, this little dongle is a good, affordable solution. It works with Spotify, Google Music, Rdio, NPR One, TuniIn Radio, Pandora, and more, but Apple lovers should note that it currently does not support Apple Music, iTunes, or Amazon Music on iOS devices. At $35, these (as well as the regular Chromecast, which does video) make great gift ideas for 2015.
UE Boom 2
Tags: Home, Music, Fun
For the past couple of years, the original UE Boom was my pick for the best portable Bluetooth speaker for the price, with more than 15 hours of battery life, decent range, and amazing sound for its size. The Boom 2, which has more wireless range, is more rugged, and allows you to skip songs by picking it up and smacking its top, is even better. Its best new feature, however, is that the Boom 2 is waterproof. So, take it in the shower, take it to the pool, or just leave it on your counter. The UE Boom 2 sounds great anywhere.
Tags: Home, Music, Fun
If you don’t require a lot of bass or volume, the also waterproof Fugoo Style Bluetooth speaker offers a little more sound detail than the UE Boom 2, as well as an astonishing 40-hour battery.
Tags: Smart Home, Music, Shopping, Artificial Intelligence
The Amazon Echo is not just another Bluetooth speaker. It is a personal assistant (just say “Alexa” to begin a command or ask a question). It not only provides news, weather, sports, and traffic info, it also allows you to shop (through Amazon), control smart-home devices, and yes, play music and other audio. It works a lot like Apple’s Siri, but it somehow feels different coming from a centralized device, rather than your phone – a bit more communal and futuristic. Just know that it doesn’t have a battery, so you’ll have to keep it near an outlet (I imagine it is most useful in a kitchen or other social location). All in all, the Echo is one of those interesting products that you might not really need, but makes a great gift.
Sonos Play: 5
Tags: Office, Home, Audio
If you want a truly good sounding, very easy to set up and use streaming speaker, without getting into hi-fi price territory, I can’t think of a better product than the newly updated Sonos Play: 5. It is not large by any means (especially compared to floor-standing speakers), but you could be fooled into thinking it is much larger by its controlled, spacious sound (even at high-volume levels). This controlled power, along with built-in software that allows the speaker to tune its frequency response to match its placement in a given room, result in an overall sound that should impress all but the most discerning audiophiles. As always with Sonos, you can stream from your favorite streaming service, or access digital music stored on your local network.
Tags: Office, Home, Audiophile
The Devialet Phantom is one of those products that a large group of consumers will dismiss as outrageously expensive, but another group will marvel at for being so incredibly cheap. For those who are into, and I mean really into music, what the French company Devialet was able to accomplish with the Phantom borders on the absurd. I won’t bore you with the details of the radical new design of this little streaming marvel – instead I’ll just say that it competes with hi-fi systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars and take up much more room. So, if you love music, don’t think of it as spending $1,950 on a streaming speaker, think of it as getting an entire hi-fi system for a song. And, wouldn’t another one look cool in your office?
Toys Just for Fun
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
Tags: Serious Fun, Trespassing
“Drones,” or more accurately, quadcopters, are very popular this holiday season, and if you want one that is more than just a toy, the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced model is the one to get. With plenty of navigation, stabilization, and safety features (such as flight simulator, GPS positioning, automatic take-off and landing, and return-to-home), the Phantom 3 Advanced makes it easy to get started, even if you’ve never flown quadcopters before. And, with a three-axis camera gimbal and integrated noise and image stabilization, it shoots excellent 12.0 MP aerial photos and 1080p videos.
Blade Nano QX RTF Quadcopter
Tags: Fun, Tiny, Trendy
Sometimes a toy is all you need. The Blade Nano QX RTF Quadcopter is fast, relatively durable, and more stable than a lot of other hobby-level quadcopters out there. Get one for everybody!
Tags: Fun, Aspirational
Price: $599 ($479 Certified Refurbished)
The D3300 is the perfect gift for the aspiring photographer in your life. It is relatively inexpensive and relatively easy to use for a digital SLR camera (it has a neat guide mode), but most of the same manual controls you would find on a professional model are there if you look deep enough – making the D3300 a great camera to grow with. Oh, and it also takes highly detailed, very good pictures, which should provide its recipient the necessary encouragement for sticking with photography past the New Year.
Olympus Tough TG-3
If you want a camera you can take with you over mountains and under water, get the TG-3.
Tags: Retro, Modern
The Fujifilm X100T digital camera features a hybrid electric/optical viewfinder that can display the EVF area directly on the optical viewfinder screen. Translation: this camera has highly accurate manual focusing in an optical viewfinder. It’s like a rangefinder, but better! Combined with the camera’s fixed 23mm F2 lens, the X100T is perfect for street photography. Most important, the image results are stunning.
Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer
Tags: Retro, Fun
With most pictures these days being taken with phones or digital cameras, we have become used to sharing our photos immediately. But, don’t you sometimes miss holding and sharing actual, physical photos? If so, the Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer with Zink Zero Ink printing technology is a very simple and very fun photo printer that solves this nostalgic need. Simply connect your iPhone or Android using Bluetooth, hit the print button on the free Polaroid Zip app, and out comes a smudge-proof, 2 x 3 instant print. As this is a Polaroid, don’t worry about buying any ink. Instead, the Zip uses Zink photo paper (30-packs are $15). Measuring 2.9” x 4.7” x 0.9”, and weighing just 6.6 ounces, feel free to take the Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer with you to your next holiday party.
Sphero BB-8 App-enabled Droid
Tags: Star Wars! Star Wars! Star Wars!
BB-8. Not since R2-D2 has a droid so captured our imaginations. Star Wars is going to be big this holiday season, and there are several BB-8 toys out there, but this one is the smartest. It can be controlled with your smartphone or tablet, but it has an adaptive “personality” and can behave autonomously, responding to the world around it – even your voice. Best of all, it rolls around while keeping its head up – just like in the movie! I am crowning the Sphero BB-8 the toy of 2015.