It's beginning to feel a lot like spending. It's that time of the year when you check your frugal impulses at the door, fire up the web browser, point it at the goodies you and your loved ones crave, and shop, shop, shop.
This is that time when we try to balance two opposing thoughts in our heads at once. Consumerism is problematic and has led to many of our modern societal problems. It certainly has had its impact on culture, self-esteem, and accumulated debt. But then there's the whole, "look, the shiny thing goes blinky, makes noise, must have now!" part of our personalities. Marketers count on the materialistic side of our personalities winning out, and quite frankly, so does the health of our overall economy.
I'm not saying you have to buy any of the weird, wacky, wonderful items listed below, either for yourself or for someone you care for. I'm just saying that, for a small subset of you, Dear Readers, you're going to want to.
Look, I'm not one to talk. Every year I declare a moratorium on gift-giving, and then somehow, the Amazon trucks still pull up in front of the house, disgorging boxes that promise blinkenlights and whirring sounds. I'm not proud. I can be as easily manipulated by the forces of marketing as the next guy. And with that, I present you with a list of objects that I've found interesting, compelling, or just plain weird -- but all things I think might be worthy of your gift-giving attention.
Enjoy. Live long.. and prosper. 'Cause, you're going to need to, with this list.
Early childhood robot teaching toy
I am completely enamored by the idea of Kibo. As an educator in the 2020s, I consider programming a critical skill for everyone. Nearly anyone can benefit from understanding how to describe steps in a clear and coherent manner. So the idea that Kibo can begin teaching this to very young children is fascinating.
Kibo is a kinetic STEM kit. Best of all, it's a tool for learning that doesn't require the use of a screen. By combining physical blocks in the right order, kids can instruct Kibo to take action. Kids can also add on capabilities like light, sound, and sensors, all with large, easy to attach add-ons. I can see this in use in a kindergarten or nursery school, as well as at home.
If you're considering Kibo, keep in mind two issues. First, it comes in a simple plastic tub, so if you give this as a gift keep in mind that the gift opening experience might result in a "huh?" at list initially. Also, at over $500, this is not an inexpensive gift. Still, it could unlock something wonderful in the little ones and set them on a path to master technology later in life.
BendyFigs Spock and Kirk
Don't call them dolls. They're "action figures," damn it!
Tiny little Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock beamed into my hallway one day in September. Since then, they've been carefully exploring the Fab Lab, finally having come upon the vent for the laser cutter. Here, they've set up camp and have been guarding it for the past few months.
The folks at the Noble Collection sent not only Mr. Spock and James Tiberius Kirk, but Batman and Superman. Batman is currently guarding my bandsaw, and Superman is standing tall atop my Anycubic Mono X 3D printer. All are great little figures that can be bent -- but only slightly. I was just impressed with how good they look, and they make great on-film props for some of my videos. At under $20, they also make for great gifts, and there are a ton of Star Trek and other characters to choose from.
SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro XDSC UHS-II Card
For your favorite photographer, videographer, or drone pilot
Imagine that look of total gratitude on your face when somebody hands you a hot cup of coffee in the morning? Don't you want to see that same expression when you give someone a gift? I'll admit that SD cards aren't exciting, but if you're gifting someone who has a DSLR camera, or a drone, getting a super-fast SD card will result in exactly that same grateful coffee expression. People who use them need them and always need more.
Here, I'm pointing you at the SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO UHS-II SDXC card. This high-performance card allows recording 4K and higher video at speeds that mean that there won't be dropped frames. I'm also pointing you at a high-performance USB-C card reader because most laptops no longer have SD card readers, and even if they do, they might not be as fast as this reader.
Kodak Step instant camera
Instantly print stickers
This is a fun little camera that I recently put to great use in the Fab Lab. Stay tuned for the upcoming video and article about how I applied this technology to power management.
That said, even for people who don't have to manage 40 USB chargers at once, this is still a great gift. It's a little point and shoot camera that prints out 2-inch by 3-inch stickers. This would be great at parties (if they ever happen again) and even great at home for capturing and displaying quick memories. My wife tells me she'd like to use it for pictures of the shoes inside her shoe boxes. The camera isn't very expensive, but the prints can be about fifty cents each, so keep that in mind.
Cordless Ratchet Wrench
For your favorite gearhead
If you're gifting to a gearhead (or you have to put together carts like I did for the Fab Lab), a cordless ratchet driver is a great gift. I've tried attaching sockets to my cordless drills, but the drill is often too big to get into the nooks and crannies where you need to drive bolts. Smaller, handheld cordless screwdrivers don't have the power. But this has both the power and the flexibility to reach those hard-to-reach spots.
It comes with a set of eight sockets, two batteries, and a battery charger, so you're all set to go out there and wrench something awesome!
Govee Flow Plus
Smart light bars
I'm working on a whole separate smart lighting guide, but it didn't seem right to put out a holiday gift guide without at least one smart lighting gift, and I really like these bars. I've been getting to know the Govee products ever since I set up the Lyra in my hallway.
You can set these light bars on either side of your TV or monitor, or use them anywhere else a splash of light would brighten things up. They can be set to respond to music, or you can run any of Govee's really impressive lighting effects. For about $65, they'll definitely provide that pop of color for your favorite giftee.
Tegic Block 30 power bank
30W, 10,000 milliamps of charging goodness
Most power banks look pretty much the same. Not so for this little beast. This device has an anodized aluminum alloy shell, diamond-shaped edges, and tempered glass covering the visible circuit board. The visible circuit board makes this gift-worthy because it stands out and is so stylistically unique.
This is definitely a gift for the tech aficionado who has everything, and yet this power bank won't break the bank. With 10,000 milliamps, it offers both a fast charging mode for heftier devices and a low power charging mode for more delicate devices. Even if your giftee has one of the bigger smartphones, the Block 30 carries enough charge to fill the phone with juice three times fully.
Self-emptying robotic vacuum
When I was studying computer science back in the days of wooden computers and iron programmers, my mom kept telling me that all she wanted from my education was for me to build a robot that could vacuum the house. I never did build such a device, but Neabot sure did.
ZDNet's Eileen Brown did a comprehensive review of the Neabot NoMo Q11 back in June. The N2 shares some of the Q11's features, particularly the self-emptying feature. But the N2 is considerably less expensive. As of this writing, Amazon's offering $150 off the black unit, bringing it down from $499 to $349. We have one of these in-house at ZDNet, so we look forward to a comprehensive review coming sometime soon.
FOCI app-assisted focus device
The end of, "Look, squirrel!"
The FOCI is a device that...hang on. What was I saying? Oh, yeah, the FOCI is a device that helps you keep your... Wait. Check that out. Puppies. Sometimes I think I'll never get this article finished because I keep... Are you hungry? I'm hungry. Yeah, so. Right. FOCI.
FOCI helps you keep focused. It's a little device that attaches to your waist and measures your breathing. In concert with your smartphone, it uses machine learning to help you train yourself for better focus. It helps you track your level of focus throughout the day. And it will lightly vibrate when it senses you're distracted to help you get back on track.
Personally, I found the notifications about being distracted to be distracting. But I did find the tracking features very interesting. The reports it produced correlated with my observations of my own focus periods (I'm good late in the day but useless first thing in the morning). One missing feature: there should be an Apple Watch app.
Timekettle WT2 Edge
Simultaneous voice translator
This gadget is probably about as close as you're going to get to a Star Trek universal translator, at least this year. It's both a bit disappointing and mind-bogglingly amazing at the very same time. If you or your giftee is regularly in face-to-face meetings with speakers of another language, this might be an ideal gift. It might even help maintain COVID-era social distancing using the earbuds' Bluetooth interface.
The company claims 40 languages and simultaneous translation. That mostly works if each party wears one earbud. I know, awkward, right? Better carry some alcohol wipes for that! If only one person is wearing the buds, then a smartphone can record and speak for the second party, but there's a bit of a delay.
These translate 40 languages, but they do rely on the cloud. If you're in a super-confidential business meeting, keep in mind everything you say is going into the cloud for translation. Plus, the translation is sometimes quick and sometimes very slow due to network latency. Even so, they're definitely proof that we're living in the future.
Proscenic A9 Air Purifier
Alexa-controlled air cleaner
We live in an old house. There's a room in our house that's always had something of a stank. We've always wondered if something climbed through one of the floor air vents and died sometime in the past decade. Open windows help, but there's always been a just ain't-quite-right smell slightly wafting up from the floorboards. The Proscenic A9 Air Purifier came in, and my wife immediately set it up in that room, turned it on, kept it running for a day or two, and... well, the stank is pretty much gone.
So, it works. You can turn it on and off with Alexa commands. There's an app that lets you set start and stop times, program speeds, and get air quality reports. It's quiet, and it's smart, always adjusting its level based on the room's air quality.
But all the smarts in the world wouldn't be worth a thing if it didn't clean the air. Based on our Mark I Sniffers, it does. My only complaint is that extra filters are a bit pricey and are often out of stock. But still. No nasty smell. Worth it.
Lutron Caseta Smart Starter Kit
It's a smart room, in a box
Last Father's Day, I spotlighted a Caseta outdoor smart switch, and a bunch of readers reached out to find out whether that switch was part of a larger system. It is. It's part of the whole Lutron Caseta system, which is pretty slick. Lutron produced the first solid-state home dimmer switch way back in the 1960s. The Caseta system uses its own bridge and network, working even where Wi-Fi tends to struggle.
This kit is an $80 set that includes the bridge, a wall switch, and a remote. It's a good starter kit, and it can control a whole ceiling of lights without requiring expensive bulbs. My office has twelve light cans, and individually hooking up smart bulbs could get expensive. But one of these switches can control the whole room.
Height adjustable standing desk
This is probably not an item you're going to give as a gift to someone else. This is something you gift to yourself. There are many studies on the health benefits of adjustable desks (or at least the practice of standing when using one).
UPLIFT sent me a unit that goes from about 2 feet high to about 4 feet high -- and it's on wheels. It just came in, and I still have to build it, but I have some exciting plans for it. Stay tuned here to learn about some unexpected uses for a power-lifting desk. This changes everything.
MYX II Plus
Gives Peloton a pedal for the money
When the delivery guys brought in and set up the MYX II Plus bike, they told me that it was heavier, more robust, and had fewer repair calls than the Pelotons they also deliver. Both MYX and Peloton are "bike systems" in that they marry pedaling to a sophisticated digital tracking and training system, along with a screen that will make most laptops jealous.
I'm particularly interested in how the MYX II Plus integrates with my current Apple Watch-driven exercise regimen. I've been using a recumbent elliptical trainer and have filled my Apple Watch activity rings with a consistency bordering on obsession.
The Myx II Plus supports five profiles, so this might be a great gift for the whole family. I'm very excited about the bike, but I do have one concern I haven't yet addressed: the seat is ridiculously tiny for a big guy. It's not replaceable, so until I can find some kind of structure to mount on top of it, the MYX II is going to remain a questionable choice for much of its target market: folks with big bums who want to make them smaller. Stay tuned for my in-depth review coming soon.
So there you go. I'm sure you'll find a few things you'll want to gift yourself and even some items to give to folks you care about. Let us know what your favorite gifts are in the comments below.
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