Nothing says happy holidays better than a brand-new pair of headphones, a smart speaker, or video game console – or at least this is what your kids or grandkids will tell you!
But it’s true the hottest holiday gifts are tech toys in 2019 — and while some gadgets cost more than others, the following is my list of some of the year’s best, ranging in price from $39 all the way up to $1799.
Google Nest Mini
This 2nd-generation smart speaker makes for a great gift – especially as it’s only $39 until December 18 (and then back to $69).
Wake up your Google Assistant by saying “OK Google” or “Hey Google,” and then ask a question or give a command. Your trusty virtual companion will answer you clearly in a soft female voice, as “she” dishes weather info, sports scores, your favourite music, audiobooks, news, recipes, and much more. Or use your voice to control your smart lights and other supported home tech.
Pro tip: You can even make free phone calls over Wi-Fi to any North American 10-digit landline or mobile number.
Available in a few colours, Google’s latest donut-shaped (and wall-mountable) smart speaker is 40 percent louder than its predecessor, has smarter A.I. (artificial intelligence), and is now made from recycled materials.
Roku Streaming Stick+
Turn a regular TV into a smart TV.
This is the premise behind the Roku Streaming Stick+ ($69). Simply plug this small doohickey into the back or side of your television (HDMI cable included), join your Wi-Fi, and then use the included voice remote (or optional Roku app) to stream hundreds of thousands of movies and TV episodes.
While the entry-level Roku Express ($39) only offers HD quality, Roku Streaming Stick+ supports 4K quality and with High Dynamic Range (HDR) for exceptional contrast, brightness and colour -- providing your television supports these technologies.
Access many popular services, including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, and Apple TV+, to name a few, as well as exclusive Roku content.
Apple Watch Series 5
While not the most affordable smartwatch, Apple Watch Series 5 (from $529) is by far the best.
Along with features you likely know about – like the ability to take calls and texts, read emails, play music, show maps, and track fitness and health info -- Series 5 is the first Apple Watch with a display that’s always on. Now you can glance at the time and personalized “complications,” such as activity levels, weather, UV index, and more -- without the watch waking up first.
Along with a wider range of materials (including aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic and titanium), Apple Watch Series 5 introduces a built-in compass, so you can see which way you’re facing when looking at maps, and additional information via the Compass app.
The watch also has an integrated ECG (electrocardiogram) and fall-detection alert.
Also, a fantastic device, the slightly older Apple Watch Series 3, now starts at $259.
Facebook Portal Mini with Alexa
Keep in touch with family and friends with the Facebook Portal Mini ($179), an 8-inch high-definition display with a video camera, that lets you make free calls (and even group calls) over Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
Leveraging your Wi-Fi network and Facebook account to place a video call simply say “Hey Portal, call [contact]” or tap a Facebook friend’s icon on the screen. Not only does the screen adapt to any room’s lighting condition automatically, but its Smart Sound follows your movements, so you’ll always be in frame and be heard clearly to the person(s) you’re chatting with.
Facebook Portal Mini can display Facebook and Instagram photos, like a digital photo frame, plus there’s a built-in Alexa smart assistant to answer questions and comply with your commands.
Sony In-Ear Truly Wireless Headphones
Music lovers listen up!
Sony’s teeny wireless Bluetooth earbuds (model # WF-1000XM3) sound amazing, thanks to Sony’s heritage in driver technology, plus it offers active noise cancellation, which electronically blocks out ambient noise around you.
Featuring 4.5 hours of battery life (or up to 24 hours with the matching charging case), these $299 earbuds also have a sensitive microphone for clear calls, a comfortable and snug fit, touch controls, and a built-in Google Assistant.
Like many of Sony’s over-ear headphones, these earbuds have a “Quick Attention” feature that turns the volume down and lets in ambient sound when you place a finger over the right earbud, which allows you to instantly chat with someone without taking the earbuds out.
Oculus Quest (from $549)
Unlike most virtual reality (VR) headsets today that require a connection to a device – such as a PC, console, or smartphone -- Oculus Quest is a standalone VR solution that lets you download games wirelessly (over Wi-Fi) and stored on the local storage. Available in 64 gigabytes or 128GB ($699), Oculus Quest also includes two Oculus touch controls (to interact with content in the game or other VR experience), and includes integrated audio (without needing headphones), room-scale tracking (without requiring external sensors) and offers several launch titles (covering many genres).
Recommended VR games to play on this headset include Superhot VR, Beat Saber, Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series, and Job Simulator.
LG C9 4K OLED Smart TV (from $1,799)
It’s not the company’s top-of-the-line television, but the LG C9 is undoubtedly gorgeous, smart, and stylish, and with a more mainstream price.
Available in 55-, 65-, and 77-inches, this stunning – and stunningly thin – OLED television delivers exceptional contrast (the difference between the whitest whites and deepest blacks), brightness, and colour. It also features Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for enhanced visuals and sound (respectively).
Included is a Magic Remote, with voice support, to quickly find what you’re looking for, plus you can summon Google Assistant or Alexa with your voice, too. The C9 is powered by LG’s proprietary webOS 4.5 operating system and ThinQ technology and features a healthy app store to download content.