Go for broke and give yourself a treat.
By Marc Saltzman
The holidays have come and gone and despite being more “nice than naughty” last year, you still didn’t find that sexy new tablet in your stocking or a curved TV under the tree. No point in wallowing in it. Take charge and treat yourself.
Are there unspent gift cards burning a hole in your pocket? Use them on yourself. Plus, you’ve already paid off the credit card bill from all of those over-the-top holiday purchases, so it’s time to use it again—more Aeroplan points, here we come!
Here’s my take on a few of the hottest gadgets, gizmos and gear for home and away, and for kids who need more spoiling!
Gadets for the home
The next best thing to being in a movie theatre or at the game? Catching all the action on a huge curved television. Starting at $5,999 for the 65-inch model, Samsung’s 4K SUHD JS9500 Series Curved Smart TV is a stunningly slim television with enough bells and whistles to make a film fan or sports enthusiast drool uncontrollably. The first thing you’ll notice is the bright picture with exceptional contrast and wide range of colours, and with support for Ultra HD content—with four times the resolution of 1080p HD. Plus it upscales regular HD video to near 4K quality. As a Smart TV, the JS9500 delivers fast performance and support for many hundreds of apps.
If you’re not interested in buying a new television but do want to turn your existing box into a smarter one, the Roku 3 ($109.99) offers more than 1,700 channels to choose from, including all the biggies such as Netflix, YouTube, Cineplex Store, Google Play Movies & TV and NHL. In addition, the remote has a built-in headphone jack for private listening and doubles as a motion-sensing game controller for playing games such as Angry Birds Space (included). Or use your iOS or Android phone or tablet like a remote instead, via a free app.
And while Apple made a big deal about its voice support on Apple TV, Roku has been offering this for a long time; simply say the name of a title, actor or director and you’ll see the relevant results. Too bad Roku 4 isn’t available in Canada just yet as it supports 4K video on compatible televisions, which offers four times the resolution of 1080p HD.
Thanks for the memory
What if you’re a video-game fan? More storage will likely be a welcomed gift. Considering today’s games average 35 to 50 gigabytes apiece, it’s no surprise many gamers run out of space on the modest hard drive that ships with the Xbox One and PlayStation. Called Game Drive, Seagate’s new two-terabyte external hard drive ($99.99) can be purchased for use with both the Xbox One and the Xbox 360 console—in the signature green and black colours—as well as a model designed for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Because it’s a small portable drive that doesn’t need to be plugged into the wall—it gets its power from the console itself—the Game Drive is easy to take to a friend’s place to play on another console. All of your game saves are also archived on the drive for your convenience.
Called Tiles, these small, white, Blue-tooth-enabled trackers help you find lost items via the Tile app for iOS and Android devices. Simply attach, stick or place Tiles on everyday items—such as house keys, your wallet or a purse—and if you can’t find them, open up the app, tap the name of the item (e.g., “John’s Keys”) and the Tile will ring loudly, as long as you’re within 150 feet. Even if you’re further away, you might be able to find your lost stuff as Tile will log its last known location on a map, so you can see, for example, that you left your wallet at the office.
On the flipside, if you can’t find your phone, double-tap your Tile to make your lost phone ring—even if it’s on silent—or log into the Tile app or website on another device. Prices are $25 for one Tile, $70 for a four pack, $130 for an eight pack or $180 for a 12 pack.
In case you haven’t yet tried one of the amazing Harmony universal remotes from Logitech (from $49.99), they’re super easy to program and use; simply plug the
Harmony into a computer’s USB port, download codes from the internet to the device and then press one of the activity-based commands on the remote, such as “Watch TV” or “Play a Blu-ray.” The Harmony does the rest by turning on only the devices you need to begin watching and switching to the right settings (such as Video 1 on your television). The flagship model, Harmony Elite ($399.99) replaces up to 15 remotes, houses a 2.4-inch touch screen (and support for an optional app) and, through its hub (included), can also control other smart-home devices, such as Philips Hue lights, the Nest learning thermostat, August smart locks and more.
Have a seat
You enjoy taking a load off, so why shouldn’t your smartphone? A quirky design idea for a music lover is the aptly named Phoniture ($99.99), a colourful charging station and Bluetooth speaker set that is designed to look like an armchair with matching ottoman. Drop your smartphone into the seat (vertically or horizontally) and plug your charging cable into the USB port on the back; the chair is then plugged into an AC outlet to juice up your phone. As an added bonus, the chair also glows with a soft white nightlight, which you can turn off, if desired.
The ottoman—er, wireless speaker—has a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 3.5 hours, plus it includes an integrated microphone in case a call comes in and a 3.5 mm jack for non-Bluetooth devices. This two-piece Phoniture set is available in red, blue or black.
Gadets for the outdoors
Through the looking glass
If you’re getting away in the new year for a vacation with skiing, mountain climbing or cycling, you might opt for a trendy POV (“point of view”) camera. The GoPro HERO4 Silver Edition (from $499.99) captures all the action from a first-person perspective and is hands-free when mounted to your helmet, chest or bike (or, since it’s waterproof, maybe your snowboard or water skis). This version can shoot up to 4K Ultra HD video quality (15 frames per second), along with 12-megapixel photos at up to 30 frames per second, and also features built-in and fast Wi-Fi connectivity to wirelessly send your videos and photos to a computer or website. When it’s time to expand its functionality, GoPro accessories are aplenty, ranging from pet harnesses to flexible mini tripods and wireless screens. If budget permits, the GoPro HERO4 Black Edition ($649.99) shoots 4K video at a smoother 30 frames per second.
Music lovers, listen up. The House of Marley Liberate XL Over-Ear Sound Isolating Bluetooth Headphones ($199.99) block out ambient noise and without a cable getting in the way of your listening enjoyment. Simply pair these headphones with your favourite smartwatch, phone, tablet, laptop or music player, and then enjoy wireless freedom at up to 20 metres (about 65 feet) away. Available in black or silver, these headphones are made with FSC-certified wood, stainless steel and exclusive REWIND fabric (made from hemp, recycled plastics and more). Other features include 50-mm dynamic moving coil drivers, an in-line microphone to take calls and controls on the right earcup for power, volume, tracking and more. Battery life is up to 12 hours for music playback between charges.
A touch of class
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (from $499.99 for the eight-inch version) is a slick touchscreen tablet with a super vibrant display—ideal for watching videos, playing games, reading ebooks, browsing the web and viewing photos. Also available in a 9.7-inch model (from $599.99), the Galaxy Tab S2 is powered by a fast octo-core processor. It has 32 gigabytes of storage and an option for 4G/LTE connectivity, so you can access online content without having to find a Wi-Fi hotspot. Other features include fingerprint recognition, two cameras, SideSync support (to wirelessly share content with nearby PCs and phones) and access to the Google Play store to download more than 1.5 million apps.
While Fitbit activity trackers start at just $69.99 for the Fitbit Zip, the Fitbit Charge HR ($179.99) helps you stay informed and motivated while being active. This wearable lets you set a daily goal—such as a certain number of steps taken, distance travelled or calories burned—and the lightweight and water-resistant wristband keeps track of your daily progress. As the name suggests, the Fitbit Charge HR can also read your heartrate. Along with info displayed on the device’s small screen, it wirelessly syncs with your phone or tablet to see how well you’re doing with colourful charts, graphs and historical data (you can also earn trophies and other feel-good rewards). In addition, a sleep mode tells you if you woke up during the night, as well as when and for how long, while a vibrating alarm will get you out of bed without waking your bed partner.
Gadgets for kids
Look ma, no hands!
Electric skateboards/scooters are some of the hottest tech toys of the year, but be aware of the many copycat brands out there with cheap materials and low-grade batteries. A safe bet is the Swagway X1 ($539.00), a high-quality, zero-emission, self-balancing electric skateboard that uses only Samsung and LG batteries. Go forwards and backwards at up to 16 kilometres per hour by simply leaning in a given direction; steering and stopping are equally easy thanks to its internal gyroscope and acceleration sensors that react based on your centre of gravity (blue LED lights flash to indicate which direction you’re turning). Available colours are red, dark red, white, blue, green, black and pink.
I’m with the band
If you’re not a fan of the game Minecraft then you will know someone who is. Downloaded more than 21 million times, the hit indie game was bought by Microsoft for $2.5 billion in late 2014. And now it’s playable on your wrist. Called Gameband + Minecraft ($99.99), this USB bracelet with integrated memory holds the game inside, so all gamers-on-the-go need to do is plug it into a PC and you can play off the device itself—including access to all your worlds, maps, texture packs and saved data. This is ideal for kids who don’t have their own computer, as it allows them to plug and play without installing the software on other computers. And yes, it tells the time, too.
Designed for kids age three to nine years, the LeapFrog Epic ($159.99) is a seven-inch Android-based tablet with a number of exclusive features, such as a first-of-its-kind playable homescreen with daily surprises to tap on; preloaded educator-approved content, including games, activities and ebooks; and access to the LeapFrog Store for more than a thousand downloads, all free from
in-app purchases and third-party ads. A LeapSearch Browser offers a protected online environment with curated websites, games and videos for your child. Parents can also set time limits and manage content. And if and when the child is ready, mom and dad can unlock access to the Amazon Appstore and a full web browser.
May the droid be with you
You might have heard about a little old movie sequel dominating movie theatres: Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens. And with it comes some pretty cool merchandising. One that’s garnering
a lot of buzz is Sphero’s BB-8 ($189.99), an app-enabled droid that recognizes your voice, responds to your commands, displays a variety of expressions and can autonomously patrol its surroundings. BB-8 also allows kids (er, or kids at heart) to record and check out cool virtual holographic videos. The rechargeable lithium polymer battery allows for one hour of drive time.
Marc Saltzman is a recognized expert in computers, consumer electronics, video gaming and internet trends. You can see him on CNN, CTV’s Canada AM, and on Cineplex movie-theatre screens across Canada. Follow him on Twitter @marc_saltzman.