With the holiday season upon us, and many folks looking for the perfect gift for that special someone, the following tour of technology gear and gadgets is sure to have something for everyone—from the novice to the most discriminating geek. Let's start with some fun, smaller ticket items before finishing strong with the big ticket items.
Google Cardboard (google.com/get/cardboard): Maybe you have heard the news or have seen the silly pictures of users wearing goggles and wondered, "What is all the fuss about virtual reality (VR)?" Quite simply, VR is a three-dimensional, immersive video experience that users can interact with and explore. And it's poised to be the next big thing! But before you shell out big bucks for a new set of video goggles, you might want to take an initial look using a low-cost option. Paired with free downloadable apps, Google Cardboard goggles are compatible with Android smartphones or iPhones (screen sizes up to 6 inches). Once you assemble the goggles and set up your smartphone, you can begin enjoying sample content and next-generation games. And all with a viewer made of cardboard!
- Prices: Starting at $4
Stratos (stratoscard.com): Tired of carrying so many credit, membership, and loyalty cards in your wallet? Would you rather carry a single card that can be used at stores, coffee shops, ATMs, gas pumps, and more? Stratos is an "all-in-one" smart card that pairs with a user's smartphone. To use the card, you first need to swipe the information from each of your existing cards using the mag strip reader that comes with the Stratos. Your credit card, membership, and loyalty card information is actually then stored on your smartphone and transmitted to the Stratos card during a sync process. When you're ready to pay, simply double-tap the card (on anything, which "wakes it up"), select one of the preset buttons, and swipe—it's that easy. The card automatically locks if it's lost or stolen. If it's time to thin the wallet, Stratos could well be the miracle diet you've been waiting for. Stratos recently announced it is phasing in support for chip-based credit cards (for more on such cards, see the Technology Q&A column item "Credit Cards Getting Smarter," on page 85 of the November 2015 JofA).
- Price: $95 per year
TiVo Roamio OTA (tivo.com): Tired of ever-rising cable TV bills? Ready to "cut the cord"? If so, you'll be pleased to learn that HDTV content is actually available free, over the air (OTA), in most major metropolitan areas. All you need is an OTA antenna to grab a good signal. Just plug it into your HDTV, and you're ready to go. If you want to record your favorite programs as well, you should consider a product such as the TiVo Roamio OTA. The Roamio OTA can record as many as four OTA shows at once and has 500 hours (75 hours of HD) recording capacity. Connect the Roamio OTA to the internet, and you can stream content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus as well. You can even add TiVo Minis to share content with other TVs in the house for a multiroom solution that adds no additional monthly service cost. The add-on Mini devices allow you to stream content from the Roamio OTA.
- Prices: $199.99 plus $14.99 per month. TiVo Minis are available for $149.99 each.
Apple Watch (apple.com): 2015 was heralded as the "year of the smartwatch," and while countless vendors announced and sold modest numbers of their smartwatch creations this past year, Apple made the biggest splash with the release of the Apple Watch. Available in three versions—Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition—the Apple Watch is an ideal wrist-worn companion for iPhone users. An extensive library of native and add-on apps unleashes the true power of the Apple Watch. With just a flick of the wrist, Apple Watch wearers can see alerts and notifications, beckon Siri or interact via voice commands, and even pay for retail purchases using Apple Pay.
- Prices: $349—$12,000 (depending on version, model, and band selection)
Pebble Time/Pebble Time Round (pebble.com): Building on the notable success of its first-generation smartwatches, Pebble released Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel, and Pebble Time Round in 2015—all with e-paper color displays and battery life measured in days, not hours. Having sold more than 1 million watches, Pebble likes to think of watches as just the right balance between functionality and price. And with the company's most recent offering, Pebble Time Round, the watch is thinner and more stylish, too. Users can pair Pebble watches with any Android smartphone or iPhone and immediately begin enjoying real-time alerts and access to more than 1,000 add-on applications available in the Pebble app store.
- Prices: $199.99—$249.99 (depending on model)
Ring Video Doorbell (ring.com): Want to see who's at the front door, even when you're not home? The Ring Video Doorbell features a wide-angle HD video camera with smart motion detection that alerts users on their smart device (Android or iOS smartphones and tablets) when someone steps to their front door. Once the device is connected, users can see and speak with visitors. And every visit can be recorded and saved for later viewing using the optional cloud service. The unit comes in four colors and installs in minutes. Don't ever miss a visitor again.
- Price: $199
Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth speaker (bose.com): Tired of the poor sound quality when playing music on your smartphone? Can't fully hear the soundtrack when watching your favorite movie on your tablet? A portable Bluetooth speaker may be in order. What sets the SoundLink apart from competing products is Bose's long-standing dedication to full dynamic response and sound quality. The Bose SoundLink can pair with multiple devices, and the lithium-ion battery operates up to eight hours on a single charge. At home, or on the go, the Bose SoundLink Color makes all audio playback rich and enjoyable. Plus, you can choose from five SoundLink colors.
- Price: $129.95
Samsung Portable SSD T1 (samsung.com): If you are running low on disk space or just in the market for additional external storage with a portable solid-state drive (SSD), the Samsung SSD T1 is one of the highest-capacity (250 gigabytes to 1 terabyte), fastest (up to 450 megabytes per second transfer speeds), smallest (2.5 × 0.35 × 2.1 inches), lightest (1 ounce), and most secure (AES 256-bit encryption) products available. Even better, operating it is simple—just plug it into any available USB 2.0 or 3.0 port on your machine—no external power required. Many reviewers have called this a one-of-a-kind device—and for good reason.
- Prices: $149.99—$499.99 (based on capacity)
Microsoft Surface Book (microsoftstore.com): After promoting the Surface 3 as the tablet that can replace your laptop, Microsoft surprised the tech world in October by announcing that it was releasing an actual laptop—the Surface Book. Weighing 3.34 pounds and featuring a 13.5-inch touchscreen display with impressive resolution (3000 × 2000 pixels), the Surface Book offers a full-size keyboard, runs Windows Pro 10, and gives Microsoft a direct competitor in the hybrid laptop market against other Ultrabooks (thin laptops with Intel chips) and Apple's MacBook Air. Among the Surface Book's distinguishing features are the Surface pen, which allows users to write directly on the screen, and the screen itself, which is detachable, allowing users to shift the Surface Book into tablet mode. Microsoft says the Surface Book has as much as 12 hours of battery life, but because this article was written before the device was shipped, that couldn't be confirmed. During the preordering period, Microsoft offered the Surface Book in six configurations with sixth-generation Intel processors. At the low end is a version with Intel Core i5 processors, 8GB of random-access memory (RAM), and 128GB of storage. At the high end, the Surface Book features top-of-the-line Intel Core i7 chips with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage.
- Prices: $1,499—$3,199
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (microsoftstore.com): Last year's technology gift guide (December 2014, page 52) covered the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the aforementioned "tablet that can replace your laptop." The Surface Pro 3 stood out by combining personal computer-like processing power and performance with the size and interactivity of a tablet. The Surface Pro 4 is a pretty notable upgrade. It's thinner, lighter (1.73 pounds vs. 1.76 pounds), and more powerful, and it also has a slightly larger display than its predecessor (12.3 inches vs. 12 inches). Like the Surface Book, the Surface Pro 4 uses Intel's sixth-generation Skylake processors and runs Windows 10. The new keyboard features a fingerprint sensor, and, at the high end, users can configure a tablet with Intel Core i7 processors, a 1TB SSD, and 16GB of RAM.
- Prices: $899—$2,699
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (lenovo.com): Ever since its original release in 2012, the X1 Carbon has consistently been one of the best business Ultrabooks available—and the third-generation X1 delivers on that strong legacy with superior power and performance in a wonderfully portable form factor. At the high end, a fully configured X1 Carbon runs Windows 10 Pro and sports an Intel Core i7-5600U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 14-inch WQHD (2560 × 1440 pixels) touch display. Weighing in at 2.88 pounds with a battery life of almost 11 hours, the X1 Carbon has become the gold standard of Ultrabooks and the go-to business machine of choice. It's easy to see why.
- Prices: $1,142—$2,500 (depending on configuration)
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro (lenovo.com): Looking for a device that can function in multiple modes? The latest version of the Yoga Pro does just that. The device is called a 2-in-1, but users can operate in any of four modes—laptop, stand, tent, or tablet. Running the Intel Core M processor with 8GB of RAM with a 13.3-inch multi-touch display, and either a 256GB or 512GB SSD, the Yoga Pro delivers an excellent balance of power and functionality.
- Prices: $949—$1,299 (depending on configuration)
About the author
David Cieslak (email@example.com) is a principal with Arxis Technology and a popular technology speaker known as Inspector Gadget.
To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, senior editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-402-4056.
- "Technology Round Table, Part 2," June 2015, page 26
- "Technology Round Table, Part 1," April/May 2015, page 36
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