’Tis the season for scratching our heads and poring over endless flash-sale emails in an attempt to divine the perfect gift for everyone on our shopping list. As is our tradition, Techonomy waded through the thicket of geek-friendly options to come up with this fifth annual gift guide. We focused on tech-related presents that are clever, easy to use, and fun. Enjoy!
What’s Your 20?
Location matters. And we often need to know where a thing, a person, or a pet is located. This year, we loved hearing about new products designed to overcome that pesky travel bugaboo of lost luggage. In an era when delivery services can tell you exactly where any package is in the world, it seems unfathomable that airlines can lose track of planeloads of suitcases. Tech to the rescue! For that jetsetter or road warrior in your life, pick up the TrakDot ($40 plus a $25 annual fee) luggage tracking device. Slip it into a suitcase, and the device will send notifications to the user’s phone with its location and other updates. It’ll even tell you when your luggage is within 30 feet of you—offering a nice reprieve from those baggage carousel battle zones.
If losing luggage is less of a concern that losing a pet (or a person), check out the Yepzon One Personal GPS Locator ($129 plus a $5 monthly fee after the first six months). Think of it as the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” solution for tech-savvy folks and their families: it’s a waterproof, wearable GPS locator that syncs with a smartphone for on-demand location lookup. Can be used with Apple, Android, or Windows phones.
Hum, a service from Verizon ($30 plus $10 monthly service), lets you track the location of your car—or transmit that information to someone else if you need roadside assistance. The device plugs into most cars built since 1996 (check compatibility here) and monitors vehicle diagnostics so you don’t have to wonder what that mysterious dashboard light is trying to tell you. The tool, which runs through a phone app, also allows parents to set boundary and speed limits for kids driving the car.
The Well-Oiled Home
The Techonomy team is a big fan of the Amazon Echo, so we were thrilled when the Google Home ($129) came out. Like Echo, it’s a voice-activated speaker—instead of “Alexa,” the magic phrase is the far less enjoyable “OK, Google”—but it has different functionality thanks to Google’s sprawling domain. It answers questions with Google search and, like Echo, can manage your home by connecting to third-party products including Nest thermostats, Philips lighting, and other services. It also streams music from services like Pandora through its speaker and TV shows or movies through Google’s Chromecast right to your TV or device. It connects as well to Google’s apps, so you can set alarms, hear your daily schedule, check traffic, and more. You may have to get over the fact that it looks like a hoof, but at least there’s a nice selection of colors.
For a more budget-friendly option, try the WeMo Switch Smart Plug ($40). Just plug it into any outlet and whatever you plug into it—a lamp, appliance, you name it—can be managed through an app on the user’s phone. The app includes scheduling functions to turn things on or off at certain times, no matter where you are. Works with Android and iOS devices
For Kids (and the People Who Look Out for Them)
It wouldn’t be a Techonomy gift guide without a fun educational present for the young (and young at heart). Check out the Amazing Bacteria Science Kit ($18) to learn about the microbes living around you. Just swab samples from interesting locations (faucet handles, doorknobs, and so on) and transfer what you’ve collected to an agar plate to grow the bacteria for study.
This next item won’t be available until April, but we couldn’t resist including it since you can still order it today. The Sunscreenr viewer ($119) is a little device you look through, which filters out certain waves of light so a user can see whether someone missed a spot applying sunblock. A great idea for parents trying to keep their kids protected at the beach—just take a peek at their skin through the viewer to make sure there are no sunburns in the making.
Virtual Reality & Video
2016 has to be the year that virtual reality headsets went mainstream. We like ones that work with a smartphone, since they’re a great balance between affordability and performance. For the VR fan in your life, try the Samsung Gear VR ($60). Of course, the experience will be better with the latest Samsung smartphones, but older ones are compatible too. For discerning gamers, consider the HTC Vive ($800), which dramatically ups the ante for VR performance. And for the bare-bones option, try Google Cardboard ($15).
For a more subtle video experience, someone on your shopping list might enjoy this photo and video watch ($200). It looks like a regular watch, but captures still or video images with an 8x digital zoom and plays them back on a touch screen. The watch also pairs with iOS and Android phones so the user can make phone calls.
Since it’s never enough just to snap images, we have to include a gift that will print them out as well. The HP Sprocket ($130) is a pint-size device that prints up to 30 photos on zero-ink paper from a single charge. Works with iPhones and Android phones.
Finally, for times when price is no object, take a look at the M1 Electric Skateboard ($1,400). With in-wheel motors and LED headlights and taillights, the remote-controlled skateboard can move its rider at up to 24 mph. The battery charge is good for seven to 10 miles.
All of us at Techonomy wish you a happy holiday season!