The best technology to buy this Christmas for all budgets
Wireless chargers, new smartphones, video game consoles among the must-have items
Google Nest Mini, a new smart speaker out this Christmas. Photograph: Google/PA Wire
December is looming and with it, Christmas. We know it’s the season of goodwill and it’s all about family rather than material things, but if you do want to buy some presents, here are a few options.
From €25; thetileapp.com
Yes, it may seem utterly sensible, but the Tile is genuinely a life changer. Have you ever been ready to leave the house, only to realise you’ve misplaced your house keys? Or spent 10 minutes trying to find the remote control in the living room? This is where Tile can really shine. The Bluetooth tracker provides you with a homing beacon for your important things, allowing you to “ring” your tracker through the smartphone app, guiding you to its location. There are a few different versions. The Sticker, which is a small button-shaped tracker that can be stuck to almost anything, comes in a twin-pack for €40. The Tile Mate and Tile Pro, which can attach to keychains, work ID badges etc, are €25 and €35 respectively, while the Tile Slim is perfect for keeping an eye on your wallet.
Mophie wireless charger
Most of the high-end mobile phones – and a couple of not-so-expensive ones – now come with wireless charging built in. That means an end to the dependence on cables to keep your devices powered up, at least some of the time. It also means you are less likely to ruin your cables by picking up your phone while it’s charging to use it. It’s a nice idea: drop the phone on the charging mat and let it power up your phone. The Mophie mat supports fast charging for the iPhone too, so you have less time to wait on your device to power up.
Of course it’s not just phones that have the ability to charge wirelessly; headphones such as Samsung Galaxy Buds and Apple’s AirPods Pro have built in wireless charging too, and are compatible with the Mophie charger.
Google Nest Mini
If you want a smart speaker but don’t want something too clunky, the Google Nest Mini is good place to start. As the name suggests, it’s the smaller of the company’s speakers, but it’s big on sound. Not only does it pick up your voice commands from across the room, the mini speaker works well enough to play your music and sounds good while doing it. The Nest Mini uses Google Assistant to control everything from your timers to your smart home devices with a couple of voice commands.
The caveat is the privacy element. The Google Nest Mini may be a useful helper, but it is a device that is designed to listen – waiting for that wake word that tells it to pay attention – and not everyone is comfortable with that.
Eighties nostalgia or a solution to at least some of society’s plastic waste? SodaStream is pitching itself as the latter, offering people a way to get sparkling water without building up a mountain of plastic bottles. The premise is simple: fill the bottle with tap water, pop it in the SodaStream and gas it up. The more times you press that button, the fizzier it gets. You get to use your tap water and save yourself some cash, and the planet gets a break from yet another single use plastic bottle. The catch is that you have to have decent tap water to start with.
If you don’t like sparkling water – I’m not a fan, I have to admit – you can add some of SodaStream’s flavours. Or go with your own. That’s the beauty of the whole system – you get to choose.
Samsung Galaxy Buds
When phone manufacturers decided they wanted to ditch the headphone jack, the obvious solution was Bluetooth headphones. The wireless earphones have taken a big leap in quality in recent years, with options that cover everything from sporty earphones with a band to individual buds, untethered. Samsung unveiled the latest addition to its line-up earlier this year, making the Galaxy Buds lighter, smaller and simpler than the Icon X that went before them.
They are designed to work best with a Samsung phone, you don’t have to have a Galaxy Note or an S10 to use the Galaxy Buds. The set-up isn’t quite as seamless, but they will work – and you can use the touch sensitive controls to pause your music or call up your chosen voice assistant.
One thing though: be careful with them. Individual buds are easily lost and Samsung doesn’t have a replacement service as yet.
Instax Mini Link
Digital cameras have turned us into dedicated snappers, capturing almost every moment of our lives just in case we want to look back on it in the weeks and years to come. But the majority of our photos are still marooned on our devices. Instax is encouraging us to start printing them again, with a range of Instax cameras and printers. The Mini Link is a portable printer that will spit out retro style Polaroid prints, giving you something you can handle (almost) instantly and show off to your friends.
Sphero Sprk+ Robotic Ball
There are some toys that cross the border between fun and educational; the Sphero Sprk+ Robotics Ball may be just one such toy. It teaches children the basics of robotics and coding without getting too complex, making it fun. LED lights and sensors such as a gyroscope give you multiple ways to use the robot, with the app playing a major role here.
Fitbit Versa 2
More affordable than an Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch, the Versa 2 will do all the essentials, measuring your activity levels, sleep and exercise sessions. It also has Amazon’s Alexa built in, although it has no speaker so Alexa’s responses to everyone within 500 metres are displayed on screen. That’s not a bad thing; it’s more subtle than Alexa usually is, and is less likely to surprise when you least expect it.
Nokia 800 Tough
Not everyone wants a smartphone. In fact, not everyone needs a smartphone, because they don’t want round-the-clock access to their email and instant messages. And some people need a tougher phone, because if there is one thing that we can all agree on it’s that smartphones are a little on the delicate side. The Nokia 800 Tough is addressing that, offering a phone that can take a bit of abuse while also giving basic access to the 21st century through a limited number of connected apps. You also have Google Assistant on hand to take your voice commands.
Active noise cancelling, customisable tips and sweat-proof, the AirPods Pro are everything the originals were not. They still come in the handy charging case, and although the battery life is slightly less than the standard version thanks to the active noise cancelling, it’s only a matter of 30 minutes. Plus you still have the charging case.
The Nintendo Switch bridges the gap between TV-based console gaming and portable games, switching from a console to a handheld device and back again. The controllers slide off the side when you want to play on the big screen; when you want to take your game on the move, snapping the controllers back on to the screen turns it into a portable games device. Plus there are a couple of thousand games now available for it, including Mario Kart.
There was a time when everyone had a Nokia phone. That was before the days of the iPhone, which turned the smartphone market on its head. Suddenly Nokia found itself struggling to catch up, and one massive market shift and a deal with Microsoft later, it seemed as if it was time for the once king of smartphones to hang up the souvenir crown. But Nokia is back with a range of Android-powered phones that are surprisingly good given their cost. The Nokia 7.2 has a 48 megapixel triple camera, Zeiss optics and HDR video. On the inside, it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor, and a battery that should last a day and half at the very least. Buy the green version if you want to stand out.
JaxJox Kettlebell Connect
Does a kettlebell really need to be connected? Like it or not, that is what the JaxJox weight is. It will track your reps, sets, weight time and power, keeping it all together on the app or importing it into Apple’s HealthKit. You can also change the weight from 12 to 42 pounds, with six settings available. It holds a charge for about 14 hours of use – but it is another thing you’ll have to remember to plug in at night.
iPad (seventh gen)
The iPad Pro may be a bit of a stretch for your wallet, but the seventh generation iPad offers support for the Apple Pencil with a more affordable price tag. It’s got an A10 Fusion chip, supports the new arcade games service from Apple and has the connection to support the Smart Keyboard. Because it allows you to use Apple Pencil, your iPad is now anything from a sketch pad to somewhere to keep your college notes. The Apple Pencil is also an extra though, at €99.
GoPro Hero 8 Black
There was a time when the only action camera in town was the GoPro. Times have changed and the company has competition, so it has had to step up its game. The Hero 8 Black has a touch screen, 4K recording and waterproof housing, so no need to invest in any extras to make it more resilient. It’s also had a few design tweaks that make it easier to slip into your pocket. The tech inside has also had a boost, with three levels of stabilisation for video, and an improved time-lapse mode.
Dyson Airwrap Complete
Dyson is not just a vacuum cleaner company. The experts in digital motors have turned their hand to the beauty industry for the second time, and come up with the Airwrap, a styler that turns your lifeless limp hair into a bouncy do worthy of Hollywood glamour. Or at least that’s how it works for most people. You can talk about the coanda effect and the amount of technology inside, but all you really need to know is if it works. It takes a bit of practice, but so far, so good.
DJI Mavic Air
Feeling really generous? The DJI Mavic Air is a foldable drone that fits into the ultraportable category. What is less slimmed down is the price tag, but for that you get the ability to shoot HDR photos and 4K video, with 21 minutes of flight time and a whole heap of technology such as active tracking on subjects, obstacle avoidance and the ability to control the drone with gestures.
Garmin Approach G80
Got a golf fan in the house? Garmin’s Approach G80 is a GPS launch monitor that combines golf radar and a golf handheld in one. The monitor tracks clubhead speed, ball speed, smash factor, swing tempo and estimated distance, and will help improve shot consistency with four practice and game modes, so you can use it on the range or the course. Speaking of courses, there are 41,000 golf course maps worldwide, so you can play virtual rounds, tweaking your game.
OnePlus has always been worthy contender in the smartphone space, offering above average specs for the price. The 7T continues this trend, bringing 90Hz display, fast charging and a better camera to the mix. The Nightscape mode is worth checking out.
Shopping online: how to cut the costs
Online shopping has a lot going for it. It’s convenient, you can do it any time of the day or night, and you don’t have to brave the crowds to tick off your Christmas list. It also opens up a whole world of small and independent retailers that you may otherwise never have encountered.
It may often seem like you are getting a bargain when you shop online, but there are a couple of things you should bear in mind before you hit checkout.
Regardless of whether you are shopping with Irish online sellers or international behemoths, delivery charges can be steep. But while Irish prices may not be cheap, some of the fees for delivering from the UK can be eye-watering – if stores will even deliver at all.
There are ways around it though. A virtual address, for example, can help significantly reduce the cost of deliveries, while also giving you a more secure way of getting your parcels. An Post offers Address Pal, which will give you both a US and a UK delivery address, with items priced by weight. Be sure to check out the accepted sizes and weights in advance to avoid a surprise fee.
Parcel Motel gives you a UK address and delivers your parcels either to a nominated locker of your choice, or in the case of larger items, to its depot in Dublin. The other options for UK addresses are DPD’s Parcel Wizard and Parcelconnect.
If you are buying from another euro zone country, exchange rates won’t be an issue. But if you are buying from a UK supplier, there is the pound sterling/euro differential to take into account, plus your bank may also slap on some fees for a non-euro transaction. That is usually a percentage of the transaction value, subject to a maximum cap.
But by using a card from fintech companies such as Revolut or Transferwise, you can beat the banking fees. Not only can you swap your money for foreign currency when the exchange rate suits you, but you can also keep that money on your card and then use it to pay for goods in the local currency,. For example, on Revolut you can have separate balances in euro, sterling and dollars. When you are buying goods in dollars, you can use the card to pay in dollars, and you won’t get landed with extra charges from your bank.