Tech Sense: Holiday Shopping Guide 2020 by John Bell
Updated: Jan 1
Holiday Shopping Ideas 2020
It's November again and time to prepare for holiday shopping. It seems that many companies are running “Black Friday” sales for the entire month of November. This year COVID-19 has had a large impact on both shopping and on technology prices. The sudden demand for people working at home and students learning at home has made computers, laptops, printers, and headsets more expensive. There are still some technology bargains to be found.
3D printers seem to have dropped in popularity with prices stabilized for many models between $100 and $300. If you are looking for a basic 3D printer, get one that supports a heated bed and at least PLA and ABS filament.
With new phones from Apple and Google having just been released, there are bargains to be found on last year’s models. No need to worry about 5G; the technology isn’t really ready yet with multiple reports that current 5G deployments are performing slower than 4G. It is probably best to wait a couple of years for 5G technology to mature before spending the extra money for a 5G phone. Many 4G phones are a bargain.
Voice Assistants, IoT Devices, and Cameras
The voice assistant marketplace has consolidated, leaving primarily Amazon and Google in the US market. Amazon sells three times the number of Alexa devices with 36% of the global market as Google, which has about 12% market share. Last year’s model of the Amazon Dot can often be found for less than $20.
IoT switches are devices that are used to control lamps plugged into the device. These are commonly available for $6 to $10 apiece and are normally controlled through your cell phone or voice assistant. Smart switches can automatically turn on or off based on various events like sunrise or sunset or time of day. Devices that are UL listed and do not require a subscription to an external cloud service to control are the best picks.
Doorbell and home security cameras seem to be all the rage this year. This seems strange to me during when we are all stuck at home anyway. Many of these devices sell for more than $100 to $250 and then require a paid subscription to access the video. A company called Wyze has a line of IoT security cameras and other IoT products that mostly range from $20 to under $50 and do not require paid subscriptions.
TVs and Streaming Boxes
There are some excellent buys on low-end televisions. I recently saw some 32-inch and smaller 720p TVs for $100. These are at the low end of the HD spectrum but may be perfect for a bedroom TV set. Most TVs today are going to be ultra-high definition (4K UHD), high dynamic range (HDR) televisions with resolutions of 3840 by 2160 pixels. Currently 55-inch UHD TVs are selling for under $400. On the higher end, look for 55-inch OLED TVs for around $1,300.
There are four major brands of media streaming boxes, Google has a new Chromecast device which replaces both the earlier Chromecast video devices and Android TV devices. Apple released a new Apple TV, and Amazon released new Fire TV boxes this year. Roku still seems to be the best choice of product with the Roku Premiere on sale in many places for under $30. Roku has avoided the disputes that have kept some streaming channels from appearing on certain boxes. Roku has added Apple TV, and Peacock, this year and also allows you to watch your Comcast channels without the need to rent an extra cable box.
The Nintendo Switch game platform has been around since 2017, and the Switch Lite appeared last year. While Switch is a very popular platform, there isn’t anything new here. The big news is that Sony has released the new PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Microsoft has released two new X box series X and S. These consoles now support 4K UHD HDR video running at 120 frames per second (FPS). In other words the games are beautiful on your modern UHD TV. The new platforms are also compatible with many of the games for the previous generation of consoles.
Game play streaming services allow the newest games to be played without a console or high end computer. Google introduced Stadia, and NVidia introduced GeForce Now. Both services typically want a small monthly subscription to use the platform and require the purchase of premium games to play. Both Microsoft and Amazon are testing their own services for release next year. This will be a technology to watch for next year, but subscriptions for current services may be a good gift for an early adopter.
No, not for desert! The Raspberry Pi is a popular, small computer with the intention of allowing kids to learn computers the way we did on Commodore, Spectrum, and Atari computers decades ago. The Raspberry Pi organization has just released a new computer the Raspberry Pi 400. The 400 is built inside a keyboard on the same CPU as the Pi. The kit includes the keyboard computer, a mouse, a power cable, memory card, and the cable to plug it into the TV all for $100. The software includes a web browser, office suite, multiple programming languages and tutorials for learning them, and even a few games. It connects to the Internet using an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. Look it up at https://raspberrypi.org.
This wraps my list for this year. This year has been difficult for many of us. I hope we all remember the many things we have to be thankful for this Holiday season. May all your gifts bring joy to those that receive them!