ONCE AGAIN THIS YEAR, we’ve been clearing out our cupboards to find all the stuff that we think you might fancy putting under the tree.
Every January, we swear blind we won’t bother next year, but there’s so many cool gadgets that we don’t get to cover any other time that it ends up being a no-brainer.
As ever, we’re putting up the entries in stages, so bookmark this page, it’ll be updated right the way through to Christmas. We’ve got a veritable pot pourri of gadgets this year. Basically, if it’s got a current running through it, it’s in. So grab a mulled wine and start a family row, and get stuck in.
Toast gadget covers
The idea of putting a skin on your laptop to protect it from the elements is nothing new. Carefully cut stickers that often leave you with an airbubble covered mess. But Toast does something new and different. It creates skins made of real wood and they make even the scruttiest tech look gorgeous. They’re easy to apply and the one that we got for the office Nintendo Switch makes it blend beautifully into a room. There are kits available for almost every electronic device we could find for it, and in a range of shades, they’re great value for money.
Polk Assist Google Speaker
Last year was all about Alexa appearing in third party products. This year, it’s very much about Google Assistant, and the Polk Assist is a fine speciment of a bedside companion, with Mrs G aboard. Although quite bulky, that leaves plenty of room for a fine sounding speaker that meshes into your Google Home setup, even for multiroom sound, beautifully. If feels like a quality product and the twin speaker system only bolsters that. For our US cousins, it’s worth knowing that this bares more than a passing resemblence to Best Buy’s Insignia speakers with Google built in, which are much cheaper – but the sound quality of this is superior and reflected in the price.
HexBug Robot Wars arena and bots
You may recall that we went coocoo for Coco Pops over the range of Battlebots merch that Hexbug brought out last year. Well, despite being a show with no channel right now, Hexbug has done it again for the UK equivalent, Robot Wars. It’s more of the same, and in fact, the arena is a rebranded Battlebots one. The robots meanwhile are familiar recreations of some of the most formidable ones in the series, all designed to disintegrate on contact for your pleasure. Two robots are included in the arena set, but if you want house robots, they’re extra.
Mishiko pet tracker
Don’t think we’ve forgotten your little friend. Mishiko is a fitness tracker just for your dog. It can record his steps, (multiplied by four), chart his walks, and of course track him down if he gets lost. The app is good if a little clunky and the device itself is a bit big for our test hound but we got around that by attaching it to his harness instead of his collar. The main thing that sets it apart from previous trackers we’ve mentioned is that it has an option for absolutely no ongoing fees, yet still has GPS and GSM for realtime updates. It also comes with QI charging, which is a nice touch. All in all, one of the better doggy trackers
Funcl wireless earbuds
We’re a bit reticent about featuring crowdfunders as so much can go wrong, but Funcl has confirmed that the new W1 and AI models are already in production (and they sent a production prototype over of each) and will be under your tree if you act fast.
What’s quite spectacular about them is the price. The W1s are just $19 (£15), and yet come with Bluetooth 5.0, IPX5 sweat-proofing and pretty impressive sound. The flagship Funcl AI have the sticky out bits that Apple’s AirPods have inexplicably started, but also come with touch controls, APTx, low latency (great for gaming) and 24-hourur battery life. Both come with a charging case. Are they the best? Well they’re better than many, and as such the value proposition is incredible. Just… you know, buyer beware, especially if it’s meant as a present.
Huawei Smartwatch GT and Talkband 5B
Huawei’s Smartwatch 2 was one of the great Android Wear devices, so when Huawei announced it was releasing a successor we were all very excited. The truth is not so great. Using its own operating system has reduced the almost identical Watch GT to a very expensive fitness tracker, not a Smart Watch at all. What’s really weird is that Huawei have some lovely, similarly specced fitness trackers for a fraction of the price. We love the new Talkband 5B – a slim fitness tracker that does everything that the GT does, and the watch turns into a hands free kit at the touch of a clasp. It’s a no brainer.
Tile has been around for a good while and has cemented itself as the most effective network for finding your lost stuff. As we’ve travelled round the world we’ve used them for everything from pet tracking (but be warned, they’re not fully waterproof) to seeing when our suitcases are coming onto the carousel. Plus there’s the peace of mind of knowing they can be tracked if they do get lost. The big change this year is that Tile is finally moving on to models with replaceable batteries, meaning this is no longer a gift for a year, but for life. Amen to that.
Rowkin Ascent earbuds
So-called “true wireless” earbuds are definitely the big thing this year – after a few companies made a head start, the arrival of Bluetooth 5.0 has made them more reliable and battery life longer. One of our favourite brands last year was Rowkin. Now they’re back with three different propositions. The smallest (the Ascent Micro – and it’s really tiny) are in a case similar to that of Apple Airpods, but the tiny earbuds within are far more subtle with none of those annoying stick things. The middle set (Bit Charge Touch) are in a form factor similar to last years model, but the sound has improved and there’s touch control – no annoying buttons. Finally, the premium pair (Ascent Charge+ – pictured) are slightly bigger, but equally comfortable, with a case that boasts not only USB-C but QI wireless charging too. In fact, both the middle and top versions double as powerbanks if you’re caught short, and that’s always a good thing.
Gaming Christmas jumpers from Numskull
Ah, what yuletide season would be complete without a Christmas Jumper or two? Numskull has been combining garish fashion with pop culture for years and this time has upped its game with some gorgeous embroidered finishes inspired by gaming franchises. Whether it’s Fallout 76, Far Cry, Call of Duty or classic titles like Pac Man and Crash Bandicoot, there’s something for every gamer to be snuggly in. And if gaming isn’t your thing, how about Star Wars, Batman or Rick and Morty? And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Kitsound Slam XL party speaker
Ah, lovely Kitsound. Always reliable to bring some quality audio at a silly price. The 100w Slam XL is one such device – one of the biggest speakers we’ve had into the office just in size alone. Ideal for getting your Christmas Party going with one heck of a swing, the Slam XL also has a range of lights to add even more of a party vibe, and even a strobe light for when you’re having it large/laser. It is a “dumb” device – everything is done through your phone, but there is an Aux In to add a Chromecast. For sheer value, and some seriously loud bass, it’s hard to resist at this price. And did we mention, it’s stereo out of the box? Can’t say that about many speakers these days.
Vype x House of Holland vape
Look, we don’t condone smoking, but if you care about someone, why the heck shouldn’t you give them a safer alternative to fags? Vype’s ePen 3 uses pods in a range of flavours and strengths (we’ve checked, they can be recycled) and the smoking action is the closest to actual smoke we’ve found. These limited edition designs from House of Holland make them even funkier too.
Kiwi battery bases for Google Home Mini.
By now, you’ve probably got some Google Home Minis lying around as you’ve upgraded the Home Hub and the Max. So why not bring them back to life as a portable speaker? Kiwi’s bases are rubberised and colour coordinated to match the original three designs on the Home Mini. They fit perfectly, and once charged, can free you to take your little assistant pal where it’s needed – the garden, camping, even the bathroom (though like Gremlins, don’t get them wet). The 7800mAH battery can manage up to 12 hours of use and 24 hours of standby on a single charge. We’re having some of that. They also make bases for Homepod and Echo, by the way.
Bookmark this page for more ideas right up until Christmas!