Tech the Halls: All The Tech You Want For Christmas
Tags: Alienware, DoorBot, Google Glass, iPad, MacBook, playstation, tablets, xbox
We’ve taken a broad definition of technology and included 20 items in all price ranges and six categories: cameras, computers, gaming, home, audio, and video. For each item, the price listed is the MSRP.
Nikon D5200 ($800 body only or $900 with body and 18–55mm zoom lens)
Everyone needs a good camera. With most mobile phones able to take decent pictures, the need for a point-and-shoot is minimal for most people, unless it offers a super zoom. Still, many people need a camera that does more and provides more options for closeups, night shots, etc. For those situations, either a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera or a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (MILC), such as those that support the Micro Four Thirds standard, fits the bill. Nikon has produced great cameras for years and has many lenses to suit every need and budget. Plus, in most cases, the old lenses from pre-DSLR days can be used with the new versions.
Nikon 18–300mm Nikkor Wide Angle to Telephoto Lens ($1,000)
While having the ability to change lenses is great, the downside is that if you are in a scenario where you switch frequently between wide angle and zoom, swapping lenses is time consuming and may cause you to miss a great shot. The solution is using an 18–300mm zoom lens for everyday shooting, and then using specialized lenses for occasional needs. While expensive, this lens is top on my list. It would be my go-to lens and the one I’d leave attached to the camera.
Alienware 17 ($1,399 and up, depending on configuration)
Tablets are great, but if you need computing muscle, a tablet just won’t do, at least not yet. For some scenarios, you need a laptop or a desktop. My favorite laptop is the new Alienware 17 that Dell released last summer. It has an overclocked Haswell processor (up to quad core) and can support up to four hard drives and 32 GB of RAM. It supports HDMI and DVport, and the USB ports are USB 3.0. This unit will provide all the computing power you need, whether you’re playing games or running virtualization projects, especially if you load it up with SSD drives.
MacBook Air 13″ ($1,099 and up) or MacBook Pro 15″ ($1,999 and up)
Apple’s flagship laptops are the MacBook Air (if you are looking for an ultra-portable, lightweight laptop with a long battery life) and the MacBook Pro (if you need more computing power). The 13″ Air model offers up to 12 hours of battery life with either a dual core 1.3 GHz Core i5 or a 1.7 Core i7 processor and up to 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD storage. The 15″ Pro offers a retina display (2880 x 1500 resolution) with up to 16 GB of RAM, a 2.0, 2.3, or 2.6 GHz Quad Core i7 processor, up to 1 TB of SSD storage, and 8 hours of battery life. Both run OS X Mavericks, the latest OS from Apple, and each is lightweight (three pounds for the Air and four and a half for the Pro). If you’re a fan of Apple products, these are worth a look.
Synology DS1813 ($1,200 without drives)
With so many ways to create content and so many high-resolution pictures being taken, you may need some place to store all of them besides in the cloud, which can get expensive and be slow if you need access to more than a few pictures. I need a place for shared storage for virtualization use (VMs, ISOs, etc.). For that, I suggest the Synology line of products. I like the DS1813, because it can scale to up to 18 drives via two expansion bays, hence the 18 in the name (The 13 is the year it was released). You supply your own standard hard drives (SSD, SAS, or SATA), and it will provide the RAID and network access (CIFS, NFS, and/or iSCSI). In addition, you can install apps on the box, enabling you to perform backups, stream music or photos, scan for viruses, etc., all on the base unit itself. If you need larger or smaller units, Synology sells them. This is a very reliable product at a very reasonable price and a great way to recycle those drives you already have.
Metal Compass X1 Xappr Gun for Smartphones ($50)
Playing a game on a smartphone has been fairly basic until now. Enter the Metal Compass X1 Xappr Gun. While this does not work with all of the games on the market, it works with quite a few (20 or so at this writing), and more are being added all the time. You mount your Android or iOS smartphone on the gun, and then you have something to hold while you’re shooting.
Sony PlayStation 4 ($900)
For those who want more gaming power than a smartphone or tablet can provide and don’t want to play computer-based games, the new PlayStation 4 (PS4) provides the platform for advanced controllers, high-resolution graphics, and Internet connectivity to play others online. It also can be used to provide access to content from Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, among others, enabling you to stream movies, TV shows, etc., to your TV.
Microsoft Xbox One ($900)
If you are more of an Xbox person than a PlayStation person, you can still get an upgrade. Microsoft released its updated gaming console, the Xbox One, at the same time Sony released the PS4. Among the changes (besides faster video, more memory, and the usual better hardware) are the inclusion of Kinect (to play games using your body instead of a controller) as standard equipment, better pairing of players for multi-player games, the ability to run an app (such as watching a movie) side-by-side with a game, and the ability to Skype with your friends via either voice chat or messaging.
Kwikset 910 Z-Wave SmartCode Deadbolt ($275)
Remotely check the status of this Z-Wave-enabled lock, remotely lock and unlock it, receive text notifications when the door is locked or unlocked, and manage user access with separate codes for your family, contractors working on your home, etc. You can even allow certain codes to only be used during certain hours, and you can have the lock automatically relock itself if the user who unlocked it doesn’t.
Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack ($200)
With Hue, you get long-life LED bulbs that you can control via an app on your smartphone or tablet. You can set the bulbs to display any color in the rainbow, and you can program them to turn on and off at preset times. You can even use one or more as a visual alarm clock! Four preprogrammed “light recipes” are designed to produce the right light for what you are trying to do: relax, concentrate, get energized, or read. You can create groups of lights and have each room in a different color, for example. The starter pack includes the controller bridge and three bulbs; one bridge can control up to fifty bulbs.
Nest Learning Thermostat ($250)
One of the problems with programmable thermostats is trying to figure out the details of your schedule and matching your desired home temperature to it. It’s easy to get frustrated and decide not to bother, making the programmable thermostat just an expensive replacement for your old analog thermostat. Enter the Nest learning thermostat. It learns what temperatures you like and when you are usually home or away, and get this, it programs itself. Via activity sensors, it can automatically adjust the temperature when you’re away to save energy. Best of all, you can make manual adjustments via an app if, for example, you’re coming back from vacation early. With the app, you can also view your energy usage. Nest claims that the average home uses 70% of the energy budget for heating and cooling, while using the Nest system lowers that to 50%. It works with humidifiers and dehumidifiers, heat pumps, multiple zones, etc., as well.
Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise-Cancelling Headphones ($300)
I travel a lot, and I love the ability to filter out ambient noise, such as that from jet engines, people talking, or babies crying. I have used a Bose noise-cancelling headset for almost a decade, and I wouldn’t want to travel without it. The QC 15 headphones use the latest over-the-ear design and do a great job of producing full, rich sound that’s great for watching a movie or listening to music, while at the same time blocking out almost all other sounds.
Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise-Cancelling Headphones ($300)
For those who prefer in-ear instead of over-the-ear headphones, the QC 20 headphones are the way to go. They perform like the QC 15, just in a different format. The QC 20 is designed for Android, BlackBerry, and Windows phones, while the 20i is designed for iOS devices.
Jawbone Jambox (or Big or Mini Jambox) ($150 / $250 [Big] / $180 [Mini])
The Jambox comes in three sizes:
- Small (the Mini): 6 x 1 x 2.3 in.
- Medium (the original Jambox): 6 x 1.6 x 2.2 in
- Large (the Big): 10 x 3.6 x 3.1 in
All three are self-contained, battery-operated units that get the sound to play over Bluetooth (or a 3.5mm headphone jack). The Mini provides 10 hours of playback on a charge, and the original and Big provide 15 hours. All three provide the perfect way to play music wherever you are and are small and lightweight enough to go wherever you go.
Sennheiser PC 360 Headset ($190)
If you are a gamer, or if you teach online, the PC 360 is the computer headset for you. It provides excellent crystal clear sound while still letting you hear what is happening in the world around you. The air flow offered in this design also helps keep your ears cool. The noise-cancelling capabilities are excellent, and you can mute the mic by simply lifting the boom microphone vertically. There is also a volume control in the ear, so you can adjust the volume without going to the computer. It is truly a great headset that plugs into the existing audio-in ports on your sound card.
Bose SoundTouch 30 Wi-Fi Music System ($700)
As with most other Bose products, the sound from this device is rich and full and can fill most any size space. It provides Wi-Fi-based music streaming from your own music library or from various Internet music streams, such as Pandora. You can set up to six preset favorites, making it quick and easy to play the music you are in the mood for. This device is somewhat large (9.7 x 17.1 x 7.1 inches), and it weighs 18.5 pounds, so Bose also offers the SoundTouch 20 (7.4 x 12.4 x 4.1 inches and 9.6 pounds) for medium-sized rooms and the SoundTouch Portable, which comes with a rechargeable battery and weighs just 3.3 pounds. All include an aux input, so you can plug in a device not connected via Wi-Fi, such as a CD player, if needed.
Bose Bluetooth Headset ($150)
I’ve used a lot of Bluetooth devices over the years, but my favorite by far is the Bose Bluetooth Headset. Yes, it is more expensive than just about any other Bluetooth headset out there, and yes, it only works in one ear (you specify left or right ear when you buy it). According to Bose, it is designed that way to provide a better, more comfortable fit, and I have to agree with them on this. On the other hand, you get the rich sound that Bose is famous for. Conversations sound like you are actually talking with the other person face-to-face, and music sounds almost as good as the headsets mentioned above. It will also automatically change the volume in your ear as you move into nosier or quieter settings, removing the necessity to change the volume on your phone as you move around. It does some noise cancelling, but I’ve found the quality of the noise cancelling can vary from user to user. I love this headset so much that I own two: one to use and one that is charged and ready to go so I can swap quickly during long conference calls.
Google Chromecast ($35)
If you’ve ever thought, “I have a bunch of movies on my phone or tablet (or I can stream them from my phone or tablet), but I hate watching them on a screen that is so small when I have this beautiful big-screen TV in my house,” and wished there was a solution, you’re in luck. Google has the solution with the Chromecast. Chromecast enables you to stream content from your tablet, Android or iOS smartphone, or Mac or PC computer running Chrome to your HDMI-equipped TV over Wi-Fi. Content can come from HBO GO, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, and many other sources.
Logitech Harmony Touch Universal Remote ($250)
The Logitech Harmony universal remote offers a simple touchscreen that can be customized to make it easy for non-technical people to use. You can press options to watch TV, listen to music, play a game, watch a DVD, etc. You can also set your favorite channels, complete with an icon for each in any order you wish, switching to the desired channel with a single tap on the screen. The remote can control up to 15 devices and is compatible with more than 5,000 brands and 225,000 individual models, making it highly likely that your device is on the list. You can even configure swipe gestures to do common things like change the volume. If you like the idea of a universal remote but hate trying code after code to get your remote programmed, this is the device for you! Simply connect the remote to your PC or Mac, go online to Logitech’s website, and download the information with a couple of clicks, and you’re done! It’s just that easy.
Sony DEV-50V Digital Recording Binoculars ($2,000)
You may be wondering why you would spend $2,000 for a pair of binoculars when you can get a good pair for a few hundred dollars. Two reasons: the ability to zoom in and out between 0.8x (i.e., slightly wide angle) to 25x (very telephoto) and the ability to record what you see as you look through the binoculars. These binoculars are designed to work well in low-light situations and have been weatherized to protect from dust, rain, snow, etc. An auto-focus feature and an image-stabilization feature reduce the blur while recording, similar to many cameras. These binoculars support 2D photos and 2D and 3D videos, and they include GPS, enabling you to tag where the photos or videos were taken. While probably not a replacement for a high-end camera with a tripod, for many uses, this may be a great fit.
We asked some of the folks around the office which gadgets they are excited about this holiday season.
Richard Cleveland, Creative Director and Brand Manager
“I am geeked over all the new home technology that can be accessed from your smart device. The ones I hope to see under my tree this holiday are the Nest Protect and Nest Thermostat. An awesome combination that controls the temperature, monitors the air for smoke and carbon, offers voice or gesture control, and sends you updates if anything is out of the ordinary so you can take action immediately. Add in a DoorBot wireless camera doorbell, and I will be a happy home geek this winter. Scratch that, I also want a jetpack.”
John Mark Ivey, Social Media Manager
“I’m a Mac and an Apple tech too, so you know what I want under my tree this year. Apple’s iPad Air 16 GB has had me drooling for weeks now, but the iPad mini with Retina Display would more than suffice my holiday jonesing. I wouldn’t even mind an iTunes gift card so I can get Muse’s new live album or those killer apps I’ve had my eye on.”
The “I don’t need it, but I want it” Tech
Adam Alderman, Multimedia Developer
“To me, less is more. I don’t tweet or use Facebook or any of this cutting-edge stuff and didn’t even have a smartphone until a year or so ago. No, I’m not in my 60s either. I’m 31. The tech that catches my eye this year runs the spectrum! On the simple end, I find things like the new Lego Delorean set to be about as cool as it can get. Couple that with the vast open-source community online today, and who wouldn’t want a virtual pinball cabinet that can play any game you could possibly want? I’ll end it on a high note with the rumored 2014 release of a Sony 54-megapixel DSLR camera to capture all those embarrassing holiday party moments and have the option of covering any surface on the planet with them. Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus!”
That’s our wish list for tech gear this year. What do you have on your list? Anything from ours?