Whoever said it’s better to give than to receive obviously never got gifted a Lamborghini Aventador.
Then again, as someone who has given friends and family a lot of cool stuff through the years, I can also relate to the warm feeling I get in my cockles after giving a nice present, even if all I get in return are snowman pajamas. A lot of snowman pajamas.
On that note, here is my latest list of recommendations for you tech and gadget lovers out there. Admittedly, it has a lot more big-ticket items than I’ve had in lists from the past but they’re still pretty cool to browse and learn about, even if you’re not a big spender.
I love the Nintendo Switch. There’s just something about it that tickles the pleasure parts of my brain and releases the dopamine or whatever chemical it is that makes you feel happy. A hybrid gaming system, the $299 Switch lets you play on the television by plopping it on its dock and connecting via HDMI. Or you could just uproot the whole thing from said dock and take it with you on the road, easily serving up the best visual experience to date on a dedicated portable gaming console. Add Nintendo’s first-party games and you’ve got a great gaming experience for gamers of all ages.
Audeze iSine 10
If you have a hardcore audiophile in your life, this is the type of present that’ll notch you instant audio cred. At $399, the iSINE 10 is actually the more “affordable” entry in Audeze’s iSine lineup (the iSINE 20 costs $599). What you get, however, is technology typically found in full-size headphones but packed into earbud form. The planar magnetic technology serves up nice bass and near-zero distortion. That means you can crank up the volume until your ears bleed and not hear any crackling. It’s a bit hefty for earbuds, though, so make sure you use the included ear hooks and attachments. One plus is that it makes it look like you have Star Wars TIE Fighter wings sticking out of your ears. For a closer look, check out my Audeze iSine 10review.
I’m a Canon man. Since grudgingly parting with my Pentax K1000, I’ve floated from a Canon Rebel XT to my current Canon 6D, which I absolutely love. That being said, I have mad respect for Nikon, too, and as far as entry-level DSLRs go, the Nikon D3400 arguably provides the best bang for the buck. Chalk it up to a price of just $550 (or $399 on sale) that includes the body and an 18-55mm VR lens to boot. Image quality is also excellent and its small size makes it easier to bring with you when traveling, something I did during a recent trip to Denver for work and the obligatory food-spotting. I just wish they kept that 3.5mm audio port on the latest version. For folks who prefer Canon, you can check the Rebel series, which is the Nikon rival’s entry-level line. Nikon lovers looking to step up also can check out the D7500 as well, which is about twice the price.
Canon Powershot G7X
Admittedly, not everyone wants to schlep a DSLR camera around all the time, and that includes some pro photographers, too. If you’re eyeing a compact camera that still serves up excellent quality, the $699 Canon G7X fits the bill. This baby not only shoots great pictures but nice video as well, making it a popular compact camera for photographers and a new species of content provides known as YouTube “vloggers.” Its small size makes it perfect as a travel companion to boot when you want to just walk around with a camera you can slide into your pocket. As far as worthy alternatives, if you don’t mind the higher price tag, the $998 Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100 V is another compact camera with excellent picture and video quality, including 4K capability.
Know someone who’s tired of bugging Siri? Well, this $99.99 wireless speaker will allow them bug Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa instead, allowing them to add variety to their virtual badgering. The Fabriq Chorus works quite well in deciphering speech, something that Siri sadly has a tough time with when it comes to me because I apparently sound like Captain Jack Sparrow. As such, I had no problems telling Alexa to stream a certain radio station, find a certain restaurant or give me a traffic update before heading for work. The Chorus is a bigger version of the $49 Fabriq Riff that was previously featured in this guide. It has pretty punchy bass for a speaker of its size and also works as wireless Bluetooth or AirPlay speaker. It can also be paired with other Fabriq speakers, allowing you to sync your music Borg-like across the house. For more, check out my Fabriq Chorus speaker review.
Drones continue to soar in popularity. Just ask NASA, which is one of the agencies tasked with creating a traffic control system for unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones are especially taking off with hobbyists, who enjoy not just flying the things but taking impressive aerial photos and videos with them, too. Choices can run the gamut from budget drones such as Swann’s quadcopters and the palm-size Metakoo Bee to pricier options from DJI and Alta. Then you’ve got the DJI Spark, which is nicely slotted somewhere in the middle. The Spark manages to squeeze in a lot of DJI’s popular tech, including high-quality imagery and video stability, within a compact and eminently portable body. It’s also cheaper than its larger DJI siblings such as the Mavic Pro and Phantom 4, coming in at just $499. It’s not the cheapest drone out there by all means but the price-to-performance ratio is pretty solid.
Fitbit Charge 2
Gadgets definitely aren’t just for lazing around. Take Fitbit’s Charge 2, for example. In addition to reminding weird people such as myself of Yosemite Sam yelling “Charge!” on top of a mule or elephant, the Fitbit Charge 2 helps you take charge of your fitness, pun so totally intended. It’s also a big improvement over its predecessor in more ways than one. This starts with a bigger touchscreen that makes it look more like an actual smartwatch. In addition to taking basic metrics such as steps taken, heart rate and calories burned, the Charge 2 also lets you track moving and resting intervals. That’s code for Crossfit savants to go ham while squeezing in the requisite breaks, of course. Add guided breathing and sleep tracking functions and you’ve got a device that’s both functional and fashionable. Just ask my female relatives who crowded around the gadget like piranhas when they saw it. Pricing starts at $149.95.
This electric scooter can go 15 miles per hour and support riders up to 220 pounds. All I can say is, good luck getting dad off this thing. I mean, you can always tattle to mom unless she decides she wants to ride the darn thing, too. Let’s just say I had relatives circling its box like vultures one day and asking me when I was going to assemble it. Operation time is up to 40 minutes under ideal conditions, such as weather and rider weight. Charging time is a bit on the long side, though — between 12 to 24 hours. Still, if you want to relive your childhood with electric power, I mean, let your kids have fun riding around the neighborhood, then this is worth checking out. For the full lowdown, read my Razor E300S electric scooter review.
Wait, Jason, didn’t you include a Crossfade in last year’s gift guide, too? Yup, guilty as charged. Then again, this is my favorite full-size headphone so far thanks to excellent build quality and audio that aligns nicely with my own personal preference for rich bass, detailed mid-range and clear highs. It also has a folding design that makes it easy to take with you when traveling plus it makes the audio from my iPhone and iPad sound great even without an equalizer. Admittedly, the bass can be too much for some folks and it doesn’t have active noise canceling for those plane trips. If you’re looking for a straight-up, no-nonsense pair of cans, though, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Cost is about $200 for the wired M-100 from last year’s guide or $300 for the V-Moda Crossfade Wireless version.
Peak Design Everyday Backpack
Not every gadget-centric gift has to be some fancy electronic device. As someone who uses a lot of gadgets, having a good receptacle for my assortment of doohickeys is important, too. When it comes to the many gadget bags I use, I tend to pick ones that usually have many pockets, are easily portable or perform a specific function. The Peak Design Everyday Backpack falls under the latter. This bag is geared specifically toward photography lovers, particularly those who own a DSLR camera and a couple or so lenses. The backpack has compartments designed to hold a camera body, lens or even a camera body with a lens attached (I was able to fit a Canon 6D with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens attached). I also like how the magnetic lock and double-zipper design lets you access the compartments easily without having to rifle from top to bottom. The charcoal version looks especially eye-catching. Pricing starts at $259.95.
Super NES Classic Edition
Wait, another Nintendo device? Given the crazy demand for this 16-bit retro console from sentimental Gen Xers and Millennials and even younger kids, the answer is “you betcha.” The Super NES Classic Edition is a $79.99 miniature replica of the original U.S. version of the SNES and comes with several pre-loaded games such as Super Mario World, Super Metroid and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Hey, at least now you can prove to your kids that you used to play video games, perhaps even impress them by showing off your skills on Contra III: The Alien Wars. Old games are tough, man! And please don’t buy it from scalpers. That just encourages that type of greedy behavior. Here’s my SNES Classic review for folks who are interested in playing with power. Super power.
Someday, mankind will have Star Trek-style holodecks. Until then, we can settle with devices such as the HTC Vive. A virtual-reality kit for folks who want to experience VR for things like gaming, the Vive will be a hit for PC enthusiasts who like to dabble in the latest audio-visual technology. It also comes with the backing of Valve, which instills a lot of confidence as far as its gaming ecosystem is concerned. It’s admittedly pricey at $799 and that doesn’t include some of the extras you might want to get for an ideal setup. Then again, the person you’re giving it to can pay for the extraneous stuff, fight? Oh yeah, they’ll need a solid PC to run it, too. Alternatives include the Oculus Rift for PC, the Samsung Gear VR for mobile and the PlayStation VR for the PS4.
Sphero Star Wars BB-8 Droid
Forget The Force. Instead, the Star Wars BB-8 Droid uses the power of physics to roll around and delight kids and kids at heart. Produced by Sphero, which made a name for itself with its remote-controlled robot spheres, the BB-8 Droid is controlled via a link to your smartphone or tablet. It also comes with voice recognition and holograph function that should please Princess Leia. It even comes with an autonomous function for kicking up immersion another notch. If this sounds like the Droid you’re looking for, it’ll cost you $129.99.
Alpine Labs Pulse
Keeping up with our camera theme, the Alpine Labs Pulse is a $99 camera remote that fits on your DSLR hot shoe. Although it can do basic operations like remotely triggering your camera, the primary reason to get this gadget is for taking long exposures and time lapse photos. The Pulse does a good job in taking the features seen in intervalometers while placing key camera controls such as ISO, shutter speed and aperture within easy reach via an accompanying app. Add the ability to take the “holy grail” of time lapses — transitioning from day to night — via exposure ramping and you’ve got a neat little gizmo to add to your camera bag. Plus it looks like the nacelle of the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Elgato Game Capture HD60
Speaking of video, a lot of folks these days are incredibly interested in posting gameplay videos on YouTube. In fact, a friend of my niece recently asked what I use to record my video game footage and this is the device I recommended. The Elgato Game Capture HD60 produces high-quality video and can be tweaked to capture footage at various settings, including different resolutions, frame rates and bit rates. It even comes with a basic editor for folks who don’t have a more robust program such as Premiere Pro and can also be used for live streaming directly to Twitch or YouTube. Suggested cost is $179.95 but eagle-eyed online shoppers can find it at a lower price.
Amazon Fire Kids Edition
Kids can be pretty hard on their stuff. OK, they can be downright Visigoth-like — not to be confused with the more delicate “goths” of modern society who go to Hot Topic. Amazon’s Fire Kids Edition tablet boasts a sturdy build as well as a full replacement warranty if it gets irreparably manhandled for any reason. This means a kid or kid at heart can go nuclear on it and your investment will still be fine either literally or technically. As they say, technically true is the best kind of true. It’s also just $99, which is cheap for a tablet.
If you’re a regular viewer of YouTuber Casey Neistat’s videos, you know that the man loves his Boosted Board. This motorized skateboard lets you ride with power, literally, thanks to a rechargeable battery that lets you go six to seven miles unassisted or 12 to 14 miles if you get the extended version. It’s especially nifty for folks who live in urban areas and want a quick commute or people who simply want to ride for fun. Boosted is currently pushing its second-generation board, which starts at $999. That’s admittedly some devilish pricing right there, especially if you turn it upside down.