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  • John Bell

Tech Sense: Holidays 2019

It's November again and time to prepare for holiday shopping. This year we will start with some new technology gifts that people might be giving and also revisit 3D printers and televisions from previous years.

Voice Assistants

Last year, I didn't get to the voice assistants, so I thought I would start with them this year. There are basically two lines of voice assistants that dominate the market: Amazons' Alexa, and Google's Home/Nest lines. These devices are typically small speakers that sit on a desk or countertop and listen for key words. When the keys words "Ok Google" or "Hey Alexa" are spoken, a question or command can follow, and the assistant will respond verbally and may initiate an action like turning lights on or off. Commands can be questions like; "Ok Google, how long will it take me to drive to work today?" or "Hey Alexa, what will the weather be like today?" The devices can play music from various streaming servers and play news reports. The latest generation of devices support screens and live video chat.

There has been some concern this year about the devices listening when they are not supposed to be and about people reviewing voice recordings to help improve the machine translation, but the devices have remained popular. The devices typically sell for $20 to $100 depending on the model and capabilities and can be purchased online or in a variety of stores that carry home electronics.

IoT Switches for Voice Assistants

One popular use for voice assistants is to be able to control lights and other devices in your home with your voice. To do this requires Internet of Things (IoT) switches that connect to your Wi-Fi Internet in your home. The simplest of these switches plugs into an outlet, and a lamp or other device is plugged into the IoT switch. The switch then listens to the Wi-Fi signal, waiting for a command to turn the power on or off. Switches with a single plug typically sell for $10-$15 each. Make certain the device works with your choice of home assistant before you buy, but most work with both Google Home and Amazon Alexa. The switches also allow remote control using an app on your smartphone, and it is possible to buy light bulbs that have these IoT switches built into the bulb.

Smart Cameras and Doorbells

Another trend for this year is the smart camera and doorbell camera. A smart camera is an IoT camera that can be controlled through a smartphone. Many of these cameras will record video when motion is detected and can notify your phone so you can watch the action live. Some cameras also include sound recording and allow voice interaction with people or pets. Cameras can be found for indoor and outdoor use and can range in price from $30 to $200.

With many people purchasing merchandise online that is left on the doorstep, the doorbell camera has become popular. Essentially, the doorbell camera is a smart camera that replaces your doorbell. It draws power from the doorbell circuit and provides a switch to activate the bell. It also includes a camera to watch and record what is happening on your front porch and a microphone and speaker allowing you to speak with your visitor. The camera and speaker work with an app on your smartphone so you can appear to be home while you are away. These devices currently sell for $100 to $250 depending on the manufacturer and features.


With all of these devices, voice assistants, smart cameras, and doorbells, you should be aware that the information the device records is normally being sent to a company that may or may not have your best interests at heart. Please read all privacy statements carefully and make certain you are willing to share the information the device may collect.

3D Printer Update

3D printers have finally reached bottom pricewise and appear to be more expensive in 2019. Last year, there were a handful of 3D printers in the $100 range. This year, the low-end 3D printer is closer to the $180 range. These prices may fall as Black Friday gets closer. Look for printers that support multi multiple filament materials, heated beds, and an enclosed printing space for the best prints. Remember; there is a learning curve to become proficient with 3D printing. Don't forget to purchase filament along with the printer so printing can be started right away.


Ultra High Definition (UHD) High Dynamic Range (HDR) televisions with resolutions of 3840 by 2160 pixels have become the norm for new televisions. The prices have dropped by 30% or more since last year with many models available for less than $300. The older High Definition (HD) televisions with 1920 by 1080 screen resolution are getting harder to find and are typically selling for significantly less than $200.

Wrap Up

This wraps my list for this year. I wish everybody lots of things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving and the best of luck shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. May all your gifts bring joy to the recipients!

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