Whether you’re shopping for a work pal or soulmate, it can be hard to find a present that’s unique and not obvious.
Smart speakers were the hit gift of 2017, so it’s not surprising there are a ton of spin-offs this year. Smart displays like the Echo Show and Google Home Hub are the best new takes on the theme, and Facebook’s Portal is the oddest.
In addition to devices that speak to you, Ben Arnold, senior director of the Consumer Technology Association, expects interest in wireless Bluetooth headphones, such as Apple AirPods and Bose SoundSport Free, to be especially strong this year.
The holiday shopping season is also when many people splurge on new TVs. He says 4K and ultra HD TVs (and 4K-compatible streaming devices) will top wish lists this year, too.
Although there are plenty of predictable tech gift choices that will be appreciated – iPhones and iPads, to name two – there are other interesting gadgets worthy of your consideration.
Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers get a lot of attention, but consider the Sonos One instead. The small, powerful Wi-Fi speaker boasts killer sound and can be easily paired with other speakers to create an entire audio system in your home.
The One touts always-listening microphones and the Alexa voice assistant, so you can give the usual voice commands, like setting an alarm and adding soup to your shopping list. But perhaps the best reason to consider Sonos is that’s expected to add the Google Assistant by the end of 2018. A third-party smart speaker with multiple assistants could be the best way to avoid locking someone into an Amazon or Google ecosystem.
Price: $79.95 - $149.95
The Ember temperature-controlled mug sounds unnecessary until you remember how often you reheat your coffee or hot water. It’s possible to set the ceramic or copper mug to a desired temperature, anywhere from 120°F to 145°F, and use an app to remotely change the temperature while stuck in a meeting. Although there’s a travel mug option, most thermoses already keep liquids nice and hot. The real revolution is the classic mug.
The newest GoPro Hero camera sticks to the same script the company has had since it was founded in 2002: a small and rugged video camera to record adventures. But the latest Hero7 Black model adds impressive new software-based shake reduction, and features that are meant to appeal to the vertical-shooting, time-constrained Instagram and YouTube set.
There are lots of pricey “smart home” devices with built-in internet connectivity. But to get someone started with connected devices, give them a smart plug. The WeMo Mini Wi-Fi smart plug lets you turn things on or off from the WeMo app, smart speakers, and through other services like IFTTT or Apple’s HomeKit.
Switch your lights on when you’re away on vacation, or set up your coffee maker to automatically start brewing a cup when your alarm goes off. If a white three-pronged outlet doesn’t seem sassy enough for your Secret Santa recipient, throw in a Hue color changing light bulb, which is fun if totally unnecessary.
Ring started the video doorbell craze, but Google’s Nest Hello is a more feature-rich option. When someone rings the bell, it opens a live feed on your Google Home Hub or sends a push notification to your phone. The Hello also uses facial recognition features to tell you who is on your doorstep. Unlike a traditional doorbell, you can turn off the “ding” with the Quiet Time feature.
Scribblers and note takers who hate wasting paper may enjoy a “reusable” notebook. The Rocketbook is an ordinary-looking slim, spiral notebook that works with an included special Pilot FriXion pen. Use it to write anything from shopping lists to screenplay outlines. The app scans and stores the pages to a cloud service. Use a damp piece of cloth to wipe down the pages and start again. Or if you buy the Rockebook Wave notebook, a microwave can zap the pages clean.
Like the Peloton bike, the hotly-anticipated Peloton Tread treadmill has a giant screen that transports the runner to group running sessions, trainers and classes. But in addition to being an expensive purchase at nearly $4,000, the Tread might not ship in time for the holidays. Peloton says it’s coming this winter. For a cheaper workout workaround, try the Wahoo Kickr Snap ($600), a stationary mount for an existing bike. Then add a Zwift subscription ($14.99 a month) to go on virtual biking routes around the world or ride in groups with other people remotely.
The ES4 is the latest electric scooter from Ninebot, a popular scooter manufacturer. For frequent riders, owning one can be more affordable than some commuting options. It has a top speed of 19 mph and a range of 28 miles, so riders can go slightly faster than scooters offered from startups such as Bird, Lime and Skip. It’s foldable too, so if you don’t mind carrying 40.8 pounds, it can be brought on a train or bus.
This is a gift for the person in your life who insists a Kindle can’t compete with the smell of a paper book, and maybe owns a smoking jacket. The Qwerkywriter S is a USB keyboard that looks and feels like an old-fashioned typewriter. This weighty tablet, phone or computer accessory features round keys that make a satisfying clacking sound when pressed. If someone is really committed to the bit, they can use the carriage return lever to start a new line instead of hitting the enter button. New retro colors will be available next year.
Matt McFarland contributed to this story