Tech Sense: Holiday Tech Toys
It's that time of year again where we help the non-technical spouse, sibling, or friend identify gifts for the techno-geeks in their lives. Let's peek inside Santa's bag to see what might be in there.
Last Year's Toys
Last year we talked about televisions, Raspberry Pi computers, 3D printers, and cell phones. These are all good gifts again this year but with updates.
3D Printer Update
It is now possible to find 3D printers for under $100. Kossel Style 3D printers made by LESHP can be found on NewEgg.com for $99. Kossel style printers use a delta configuration instead of the traditional XYZ axis making the printers less expensive to build. Last year's highly regarded Monoprice Mini is now selling for $120, a hundred dollars less than last year. Many printers can be found in the $150 to $190 range. Many Prusa style printers can be found as kits or pre-assembled. These printers often allow larger prints and support multiple filament materials. When you purchase the printer don't forget to buy filament, most printers no longer include filament with the printer.
Raspberry Pi Update
Last year the Raspberry Pi Foundation added the $10 Pi Zero W to its lineup, but they were hard to find during the holiday season. Now they can be purchased from Microcenter for $5 and are generally in stock. Earlier this year the foundation added the Raspberry Pi 3B+ to this collection, selling for $35. The new computer has a faster processor, networking, and Wifi but is form compatible with the earlier Pi 3B. Microcenter has this computer now for $30.
Television and Video
The big deal with televisions this year is that HD televisions are getting hard to find. Mostly these have been replaced with 4K UHD TV's. Some 55 inch 4K UHD TV's are selling on Black Friday for under $300. Again this year you should skip considering the ordinary HD TV and go straight to the Ultra High Definition (UHD) High Dynamic Range (HDR) TV's. Remember an HD TV offers a screen resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, the new 4K UHD/HDR TV's offer four times the number of pixels (3840 by 2160 pixels). HDR expands the number of colors the TV can show and improves the contrast between light and dark giving the TV a better image.
These TV's will upscale the traditional TV sources but to get the best picture you will need UHD/HDR content. Comcast has added UHD support with the Xfinity1 system. UHD Blu-Ray disks and players are also becoming more affordable and readily available. Many of these devices will also upscale your old DVD content to play well on the new TV's. This season may also be a good time to update your media streaming devices as well. The latest devices from Roku, Google, Amazon, and Apple all have 4K UHD streaming capabilities. Streaming UHD content is available from many streaming content providers including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
Wow, I've spent more than half the column updating gift ideas from last year, and I skipped phones and voice assistants. Let's look at some new ideas for this year.
Tablets and Readers
Tablets seem to be the forgotten technology. Many of us have one, but we don't use them anymore, yet these are still great devices. There are three major brands; Amazon, Apple, and Samsung and one or two smaller but quality offerings like Asus. Amazon with its Fire Tablets and Kindle readers seems to be the best and also least expensive devices. What Amazon really does well is providing content, books to read, music to hear, games to play, and movies to watch. Google and Apple do this too, just not as well. Readers are primarily for books, but the batteries on a reader will typically last for weeks instead of hours. This leads us into the next gifting topic.
So they already have a phone, a Roku, maybe a tablet or reader, a 55 inch TV and they don't want anything else to clutter the house. These devices all need content, and content providers sell gift cards. Music cards can be purchased for iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, the Google Play music, and SiriusXM. Streaming video cards can be purchased for Netflix and Hulu. Both music and video streaming are available with an Amazon Prime gift and with a Google Play card. Amazon also has a gift of Kindle books allowing unlimited reading.
There are now four major gaming platforms, the PlayStation 4, the XBox One, the Nintendo switch, and of course the personal computer. To purchase a game, you need to know what platform the gift receiver owns. Many games are still purchased on media like DVD's, but it is now popular to download the games to the device over the Internet and use a gift card to pay for the purchase and for time spent in multi-player games.
Computer games are now typically purchased from game distribution services, like Steam. Steam is the most popular of these services, but GOG and EA/Origin are other alternatives. These services let you buy gift cards and the person receiving the card can select their own games.
Humble Bundle is an interesting alternative for this time of year. Humble Bundle allows you to choose your price for a bundled collection of games (or eBooks) and a portion of the money goes to a charity. You can even choose to decide how much of the price goes to the charity. Most of the games are activated on Steam. Go to the HumbleBundle.org website and your gift purchase can be sent via email.
As usual, I have more to say than fits in the column. I wish a joyous holiday season to everyone and may this be a blessed time for you and your families.