Here’s our 2016 gift guide for the tech-lovers in your life:
1. Amazon Echo
The Amazon Echo is one of those products you never knew you needed until you used it. It’s a speaker and personal assistant rolled into in one. Ask “Alexa” to play music by your favorite artist or tune in to a radio station and it happens in seconds. Ask for the latest news, weather, and directions, or to time an event. You can create shopping lists, set appointments, and do an increasing number of things as Amazon keeps adding new functions. The original larger version has a built-in speaker, while the new Echo Dot works with your own Bluetooth speaker. $180 and $50, respectively.
Personal drones are all the rage this holiday season. They let you take movies and photos from wherever they fly. They’re controlled using a smartphone or separate controller, and their onboard GPS and WiFi allow them to follow you or fly over a preset course. They’re powered by rechargeable batteries that provide about 20 minutes of flight time. This year’s best model is the Mavic from DJI, a Chinese company that’s the world’s largest and most successful drone manufacturer. The new Mavic is one of the most advanced, taking 4K movies, but also folds up to fit into a small case. $1000.
This amazingly versatile camera is everything a cellphone camera is not. This all in one has a very sharp 24-600mm zoom lens, an advanced Sony-made 1-inch sensor, and a tilting screen and high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder. It’s able to capture images and movies that no other camera is capable of because of its wide zoom range and stellar performance under very dim lighting. While not small, it’s more compact and weighs less than an equivalent DSLR and lens, making it ideal for vacations and family events. The RX10III provides one of the best combinations of image quality, ease of use, and versatility over a wide range of shooting conditions. $1600.
Next up: Smartphones and wearable technology
These are Google’s first internally-developed smartphones. They’re considered to be the best Android smartphone available because they use the latest operating system and Google’s most advanced personal assistant that anticipates what you need and answers your questions with remarkable accuracy. They each have cameras that match their rivals. The Pixel and Pixel XL will receive their Android updates directly from Google, ensuring that their owners always have the latest version of the software, unlike other brands that often take months to be updated. And unlike most other Android phones, these are not loaded up with extraneous apps that add confusion. Available from Google for all carriers as well as from Verizon. $649 and $769.
The new Surface Studio is an entirely new desktop computer that’s designed for general computing as well as for creative needs. It has a huge 28-inch display that provides a large canvas for all kinds of work using the included pen. The display can sit upright, lay flat, or be positioned anywhere in between, so that it can be used to sketch, draw, edit photos, and much more. $3000 from Microsoft.
6. Apple Watch
Sometimes it takes a while to get things just right. The latest version of the original Apple Watch, called Series 1, has a simpler operating system and a lower price, often selling for under $250. It’s great for tracking your health vitals as well as reminding you of appointments, incoming messages, directions, and even answering phone calls. The more advanced Series 2 version looks identical, but adds a built-in GPS and improved water-resistance, and costs $100 more.
Next: Some ideas for traveling techies
This standard size 22-inch carry-on ballistic nylon roller bag looks like most other bags but has 3 unique zippered compartments: one for your regular clothing, a second for suits, and a third for all of your electronics. It also has a built-in backup battery for charging your phone and tablet and RFID pockets designed to protect your tickets and passport. The electronic section unfolds from the front of the suitcase to let you pass through airport security without removing your electronics. The $400 bag is designed to hold everything you need for a 2 or 3-day trip. Available for $400 from ec-bc.com.
Koss invented the audio headphone and their Porta-Pros have been a mainstay of their line for decades, albeit with continuous improvements. The on-the-ear headphones sound remarkable for the price and have become one of the world’s most popular models. Known for a high-level of comfort, the Porta Pro has open-air cushions that deliver exceptional sound, including rich bass and a wide frequency response. I’ve listened to them for hours without tiring or becoming uncomfortable. They fold up and fit in a jacket pocket on in the small round carrying case that’s included. This year they offer two limited edition models in Black Gold & Rhythm Beige, each with an inline microphone, remote, and volume control. They’re available directly from Koss. $60.
The new Staad Attaché is a lightweight medium-sized leather and fabric briefcase designed to hold an iPad Pro (9.7″, 12.9″) with Apple Pencil or MacBook (13″, 12″, 11″) and the new 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro, along with a sketchpad, notebook, smartphone, earbuds, and power adapter. It also fits most other laptops with a display of 15-inches or less. It has a comfortable handle and a removable shoulder strap. The bag is made in the USA and comes in two sizes, several colors, and a choice of complimentary materials. Costs $239 or less.
Next: A pricier option and something for the music lover
When I recently looked to replace a 3-year-old Epson all-in-one printer I was struck by this new HP model. Approximately half the weight and size of conventional all-in-one models (18.26 x 15.35 x 9 inches), it’s packed with similar features at a remarkably low price. Listing for $179, but often available for under $100, the color printer faxes, scans and prints on both sides of the paper. It connects wirelessly to your computer, prints directly from smartphones, and even has an email address that you can send documents to for printing.
11. Lenovo Yoga 910
This just released 2-in-1 Windows 10 notebook with touch screen is one of most attractive looking computers, constructed of machined aluminum with a matte finish and a unique, intricate hinge that looks like a watch bracelet, allowing the display to rotate 360 degrees. As a result, it can be used as a tablet, in presentation mode, or as a normal computer. The edge-to-edge 4K display provides a 15.3-inch screen that’s bright and sharp. It has 10 hours of battery life and a very good full-size keyboard. From $1050.
Solo is a superb sounding bedside radio from the inventors of the Tivoli radio. It’s a powered bookshelf speaker with integrated AM/FM tuner, analog clock, color display, and Internet functionality, that sounds incredible for its small size. The speakers are encased in a nearly half-inch-thick wood housing and are powered by a 30 watts per channel Class D digital amplifier.
A multi-room feature allows placement of multiple Solos in a single room for expanded stereo sound or in multiple rooms. Play the same source on all of your Solos or different sources on different Solos. The radio can be controlled by the included remote or an app. You can also play back music from a flash drive or device such as a digital music player. $299.
Lastly, one caveat. Some of these products are so new and complex that they’re having trouble getting out of the starting gate. The Mavic Drone and Microsoft Surface Studio announced deliveries in time for Christmas but may miss the date by a few weeks.