Christmas gadget guide: Tech the halls with gifts from €50 to €1,000
Add a little sci-fi to your loved ones’ Yuletide with top buys in laser guns and hair stylers
Sphero R2D2 (€130)
Christmas is just around the corner, so it’s time to tick off the gift lists. We’ve compiled a handy gift guide for all budgets, from the cheap and cheerful end of the scale to the more extravagant presents.
The Christmas television schedule used to be a big deal, but with on-demand TV and streaming services, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen most of the films already. That’s why the Now TV streaming stick (€25) could be a good Christmas gift this year. You’ll need to add passes – subscription TV packages that you can sign up for contract-free on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, depending on the pass and your personal preference. But you can kick off with a two-week trial of the Entertainment and Cinema passes, which should give you enough content to see in the new year. You also get access to the Now TV app, which can be installed on tablets and smartphones – eliminating arguments over who is watching what on the TV. Another option is Google’s Chromecast (€39).
Perhaps board games are more your thing than TV. The Monopoly Fortnite edition may be more tech inspired than tech, but if you have children of a certain age (or adults, actually) you know that Fortnite is the game to have right now. If you’d rather not fund their addiction to different skins and weapons in the game, Monopoly’s Fortnite edition (€26) could be one way to bring the game into a real-world social setting. There are some elements that will be familiar to Fortnite players – you can unleash the storm, you earn health points instead of cash and the object of the game is to be the last one standing.
For something a little more active, the Nerf Laser Ops Pro Alphapoint (€35) is the toy to have this year. It’s less like the Nerf guns of days gone by and more like laser tag. That means unlimited ammo and a reduced likelihood of finding foam bullets everywhere in the days after Christmas. The caveat? There’s a smartphone app that you can integrate with your battle that delivers real-time information allowing you to customise your blaster, earn power-ups and use GPS to find your opponents. The wrist strap provided is only a holder, so it won’t protect your phone should the laser engagement prove a bit more physical.
Top pick: For the kids, you can’t beat the Nerf Laser Ops Pro Alphapoint – until you find your phone is missing, of course. For adults, the Now TV stick might be the sanity saver this Christmas.
Life is busy. Remembering who needs to be where for what appointment and when; making sure that your meals are nutritionally balanced and yet still take account of the diet idiosyncrasies of the household, even remembering to turn off the lights at the end of the day – it’s all so mentally taxing. While the robot servants of science fiction have yet to materialise, there is (reasonably priced) help out there. We’re talking about smart speakers – Google Home, Amazon Echo – and their respective digital assistants. Google’s Home Mini (€59) is a small speaker that will wait to be called on to look something up or turn your wifi enabled lights or plugs on and off. It will also play music from selected services, set timers, compile lists and remind you about things. If you want something a little smarter, Amazon’s Echo Plus (€125) will do all of the above, has a better speaker and a smarthome hub that is compatible with Zigbee wireless devices.
But maybe you don’t want something smart that will control your life. Although most of us ditched “feature” phones in favour of touchscreen smartphones, the simpler devices haven’t gone away. The Nokia 8110 (€80) is the second of the company’s classic phones to get a reissue incorporating the the important things in life – Snake, a camera, a limited internet connection – while cutting down on the distractions of social media and other apps. Plus the battery life is far better than you’ll ever get out of a smartphone.
But sometimes smart widgets are needed, particularly when you need to keep track of things. While you can go for a Bluetooth tracker such as the Tile or Chipolo (typically under €50), GPS devices will give you a more reliable way to track objects. Vodafone has unveiled a range of trackers from your bag to your child that work with its virtual sims. The V-Kids watch (€130) is aimed at four-year-olds and up and provides location monitoring, limited messaging within a designated group, SOS alerts if the child needs help and the ability to set up safe zones that will trigger an alert if your child leaves the area. Peace of mind on a silicon strap.
Star Wars fan in the family? Then the Sphero R2D2 (€130) may be the droid you are looking for. The miniature replica of the astromech, it may not have the same skills as the film version when it comes to getting you out of tight spots, but the Sphero version is a lot more fun to control. It’s an app enabled device, so you’ll need a smartphone or tablet to run the controls, and if you happen to have other Sphero Star Wars droids – BB8 for example – R2D2 will interact with them.
Games consoles these days are more powerful than ever, with graphics that are almost lifelike. The newest consoles aren’t always the best gift though. Sony is taking a trip down memory lane and reissuing the original Playstation. The mini version follows the popularity of Nintendo’s Classic Mini NES and SNES, and breathes new life into an older console. The updated version has a HDMI connection, keeps the original controller design and includes 20 classic games, including Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3 and Ridge Racer Type 4. The Sony Playstation Classic (€100) goes on sale on December 3rd.
Top pick: If you don’t mind installing a microphone in your livingroom or kitchen the Amazon Echo could be Santa’s little helper all year round but nostalgia has it here – the Playstation Classic is the winner.
Perhaps a fitness tracker is more what you are looking for. They don’t have to be silicon slabs on your wrist – the Fitbit Versa (€200) is designed to be more stylish yet still have all the functions you need. It’s got GPS tracking, will handle your smartphone notifications and manage your exercise sessions.
The Nintendo Switch (€330) has been something of a success for the games firm. The hybrid console can be docked for playing on a TV or taken out as a handheld device, meaning you aren’t tethered to a television set. You get your Mario Bros fix, everyone else gets to watch the TV – it’s a win-win situation.
If you are buying a gift for someone who travels frequently, or just hates the sound of other people, then noise cancelling headphones are the way forward. But not all noise cancelling headphones are created equally. One recommendation that we always stand over is the Sony MDR-1000X (€430). Not only are they comfortable to wear, but you can temporarily let ambient noise – and voices – in by covering one ear cup, or by choosing the ambient noise control on the left ear cup. The upgrade to these is the WH-1000XM3 (€400) which will also work with Google Assistant and Siri, but the originals are still worth the money.
Sticking with audio, for Bluetooth speakers the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay P6 (€400) is a fantastic speaker. It’s a bit more expensive than others, but you can set it up to work with your phone’s voice assistant, it’s splashproof and the sound is pretty powerful.
For Apple fans the latest version of the Apple Watch (€479) might be worth considering. It’s water resistant, has heart rate tracking, will connect to mobile networks (via an e-sim that isn’t supported by operators in Ireland yet) and a soon to be activated ECG function that will allow you to monitor your heart’s health at the touch of a button. Another option is the iPad (2018 edition, from €369).
Cheaper than the iPad Mini (from €449), the 9.7-inch tablet also supports Apple’s Pencil, which is handy for sketching and taking notes.
If you are looking for a smartwatch for an Android user, the Samsung Galaxy Watch offers a rose gold version that looks more like a standard watch. But it does more than just alert you about the calls you are ignoring. It will give you a nudge to remind you move more, allow you to track specific exercises from your wrist – crunches for example, or a few lunges – and keeps track of your appointments. It’s Samsung Pay compatible too, although you may not be.
You may baulk at the thought of spending almost €500 on a hair styler, but the Dyson Airwrap isn’t your average hot brush. Like its Supersonic hair dryer counterpart, there’s a ton of technology in the device that regulates temperature and is designed to keep your hair in good condition. It’s easy to use too, which is essential, and there are several attachments that will cover everything from curling and volume to creating sleek, frizz-free hair.
Top pick: The iPad is a good all rounder – work and play, and it will also satisfy most age groups – but the Nintendo Switch is a good choice for gamers.
If you are feeling really generous, there are fantastic gift options. Sports enthusiasts might appreciate the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (€820), a fitness watch with tough credentials and plenty of smarts. It made it through Hell and Back in Killruddery, Co Wicklow, as part of our review earlier this year, which puts it on a list of the toughest devices we’ve come across. This isn’t a simple smartwatch, this is made for fitness and outdoor enthusiasts. Not only does it measure your heart rate and stress levels, but it will also guide you on routes, track numerous different exercises from running and hiking to indoor elliptical sessions and give you feedback on your activities. Plus it will survive the elements.
Samsung’s iPad Pro competitor, the Galaxy Tab S4 (€729), pulls double duty for work and play. The 10.5-inch screen does as a good a job for watching movies and playing games as it does for work projects. Plus it has its own pressure sensitive stylus and it’s included in the box rather than an extra purchase. The iPad Pro, meanwhile, starts at just under €1000, but now professes to be powerful enough to replace a laptop for many people.
Top pick: The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus might be a well-timed new year, new you gift for an aspiring fitness fan.