Our Favorite Gadgets: Best Tech Gifts 2016

Gene Selby

Table of Contents Electric Objects EO2 Screen and Art ClubElectric Objects EO2 Screen and Art ClubParrot Pot PlanterParrot Pot PlanterFilmStruck SubscriptionFilmStruck SubscriptionApple Music SubscriptionApple Music Subscription WSJ’s Personal Tech columnists Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern have reviewed hundreds of gadgets throughout the year. These are their top picks. Photo/video: […]

WSJ’s Personal Tech columnists Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern have reviewed hundreds of gadgets throughout the year. These are their top picks. Photo/video: Drew Evans and Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal.

Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

Now that Apple’s iPhone is leading the charge to kill off headphone jacks, it’s time to invest in Bluetooth wireless headphones. The latest from Bose not only sound great, but in our tests versus seven other headsets, they were best at canceling out the hum of economy-class airplane seats. Normal headphones just cover your ears—these noise-canceling ones use microphones and software to actively delete sound before it reaches your ears. $350

Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

The best way to bring home VR now is with the console already in over 40 million homes: PlayStation 4. Plug in the Tron-inspired PlayStation VR headgear, and you’re literally in the middle of a game. Unlike rivals Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, PSVR doesn’t require a lot of space or a clunky PC to operate. And if you want to supercharge the experience, invest in the new $400 PS4 Pro console. (It also does wonders with 4K HDR TV sets.) $500

Emily Prapuolenist/The Wall Street Journal

We tested Apple’s long-awaited earbuds versus other truly wireless headphones, and it was the resounding winner. $160

Geoffrey A. Fowler/The Wall Street Journal

Cue the chorus of angels: Samsung fixed the TV remote control. The company’s 2016 smart TVs come with a remote that automatically controls almost anything you plug in—Blu-ray players, Apple TVs, Xboxes and pretty much every cable box. Even better, the smart remote comes with entry-level HD models too, like the $450 K6250. If you’re in the market for a set with fantastic Ultra HD 4K picture quality, the KS9000, currently $2,000) is on our “nice” list. Starts at $450

Windows laptop options look strong in a year when Apple’s MacBook update disappointed many; we tested 18 top sellers to pick the best.

Geoffrey A. Fowler/The Wall Street Journal

There’s finally a drone we’d buy ourselves. The Mavic Pro has some of the most advanced flying tech DJI has ever produced—but that’s not the remarkable part. It packs it all into a backpack-friendly form about the size of a fruitcake, which unfolds like a Transformer to take flight. Battery life (24 minutes) is still a downer, but the 4K camera quality is solid. For photographers, the sky’s the limit. $1,000

Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal

Snapchat’s much-hyped video-recording sunglasses are totally awesome in spite of their simple hardware. But they require rules for the real world.

Jake Nicol/The Wall Street Journal

Whether you’re 7 or 47, your own friendly robot sidekick has arrived. Anki’s Cozmo uses cameras, sensors and AI to interact with pets and humans. You can even program the palm-sized dude to recognize faces and say your name. Sure, its robotic cooing can annoy, but if you decide to ignore him, he’ll use the world’s tiniest forklift to play with his glowing blocks. When you’re ready, you can pick games to play in the iPhone and Android app. $180

F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas

A miniature version of the original with 30 games included. Yes, it’s as amazing as you remember. $60

Joshua Scott for The Wall Street Journal

This holiday season Amazon’s talking speakers jump from the “Great for Techies” list to the “Great for Everyone” list. Alexa, the built-in voice assistant, is always listening for your voice commands; it can control your favorite music services, set cooking timers, tell you the forecast and answer random questions. (Yes, it has an eggnog recipe.) The larger Echo provides better sound quality, while the Echo Dot stocking stuffer can connect to existing speakers. $50 (Echo Dot) to $180 (Echo)

F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

Looks like an iPhone? Who cares. It’s the best Android phone you can buy. Starts at $650

Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

Really? A router? For $350? Got a gold toilet plunger on the list, too? Seriously, the Eero is the best way to bring your house into the future. Unlike your current Wi-Fi router that leaves dead zones, the main Eero box and its brother boxes spread out around the house to create a mesh network. Whichever box is closest beams the Internet to your device. It’s so good that we bought them for our own homes. Starts at $350 for two.

Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal

With Google’s PhotoScan app, Epson’s FastFoto scanner or a mail-in service, it’s easier to rescue and digitize family memories.

F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

A water-resistant body and improved battery life, plus cool camera tricks, mean bigger is better when iPhone shopping this year. Starts at $770

Geoffrey A. Fowler/The Wall Street Journal

One of the year’s most fun new devices is the 360-degree 4K camera, which captures everything by stitching together two spherical shots. You can view shots on Facebook, or inside VR goggles (if you have them). Nikon’s new waterproof KeyMission is a bit buggy, but takes decent stills and video, and works with both Android and iPhone. Samsung’s Gear 360 is less expensive and easier to use, but only works with Samsung phones like the Galaxy S7. $350 (Samsung) to $500 (Nikon)

Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

The world’s most popular camera takes a page from smartphones with touch and voice control, plus cloud storage. $400

Electric Objects EO2 Screen and Art Club

Electric Objects EO2 Screen and Art Club

Now there’s a Netflix for art. Masterpieces will materialize on your wall with this Internet-connected 23-inch screen. For $10 a month, an art service lets you choose from thousands of original pieces. Even without the subscription, the EO2 can cycle your own photos. The matte 1080p screen adjusts brightness to ambient light. You could do something similar with an old monitor, but there’s a simple beauty to this purpose-built frame that recedes into your decor. $300

F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas

Connect your phone via Bluetooth and everyone at the party gets a wallet-size sticker print. $130

Geoffrey A. Fowler/The Wall Street Journal

This holiday season, how about buying nothing … or, at least, less? You’ll save money—not to mention help the environment. Raid your gadget graveyard, and you’ll find it takes as little as a simple software download and a prop to give a second life to an old iPhone or iPad. A few of our favorite reuses: turning phones into security cameras and remote controls, and turning tablets into secondary monitors and picture frames. Free (mostly)

This tiny adapter with lifetime cell service keeps tabs on your car and calls for help in an accident. $130

Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

Buying a Pixel? Get Daydream View too. No mobile VR headset is as comfortable or as interactive. $79

This all-electric go-kart will make you jealous of your own children—but at least they’ll drive safe. Starts at $1,000

Parrot Pot Planter

Parrot Pot Planter

Don’t have a green thumb? How about a green robot? This intelligent indoor/outdoor planter pot can give houseplants a fighting chance. It has a reservoir you fill every once in a while, which waters your plant only when needed. Sensors track not only soil moisture, but also sunlight, temperature and fertilizer levels. The app can differentiate some 8,000 plants, so yours gets exactly the TLC it needs. $100

Emily Prapuolenist/The Wall Street Journal

Osmo brings physical play to screentime, and lets children have fun while learning programming basics. Starts at $78

FilmStruck Subscription

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

FilmStruck Subscription

Got a film buff on your shopping list? Skip the DVDs and gift a subscription to FilmStruck. The new streaming service from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection has more than 1,200 films you can’t stream anywhere else. Think cult hits like Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” contemporary favorites like Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation,” and film-school picks like Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” The new service is already on iOS, Android, Amazon’s Fire TV and, soon, Apple TV. $99 a year

Apple Music Subscription

Apple Music Subscription

Streaming music is mainstream. Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Kanye West and Radiohead all streamed their 2016 albums before pressing CDs or vinyl. You may know someone who’s paying for Apple Music or Spotify (both available on iOS and Android), but did you know you could pick up the tab? Our favorite gift option is Apple Music, which costs $99 a year—a $20 savings over a monthly subscription. And Apple’s overhaul this year makes it a solid choice for music lovers. $99 a year

The year’s coolest kitchen gadget is this little cylinder from the culinary wizards at ChefSteps. Plug it in, drop it in a pot of water and watch it cook with restaurant precision. There’s no screen, because the smartphone app does the hard work for you—you just pick food you want to make. Unlike other sous-vide circulators, this one easily fits in a drawer. And now you can even use Amazon Echo to check cooking temperatures and give other commands. $200

Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal

Smartwatches may seem so 2015, but you’re smarter if you held out until 2016. The Apple Watch Series 2 is no longer as slow as a tourist in New York City. It’s now waterproof and has built-in GPS so you can track your run without being shackled to your iPhone. If you mostly want notifications, there’s the Series 1 for $100 less. You still get a faster processor and heart rate monitor—just no waterproofing or GPS. Starts at $270

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