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  • John Bell

Tech Sense November 2023: Ghosts of Christmas Past

Updated: Nov 21, 2023


Ghosts of Christmas Past

So, it is October and I find myself writing the annual Christmas column so it will be published before Black Friday in November, and everyone can get gift ideas for the holidays. I have been doing this column for 10 years now, but I didn’t start writing a Holiday column until 7 years ago. I thought it might be interesting to revisit the gift suggestions that I have made over the years and, because Halloween is so close, I thought of these as “Ghosts of Christmas Past”.

Often many of my gift suggestions were updated repeats of previous years. I like to think that this was helpful for those that didn’t get their gift wishes the first time. I would like to start with one of my favorites.


Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi first appeared in this list in 2016. The Pi is a small computer that initially sold for 35 dollars. It was a sort-of build-it-yourself learning opportunity. The Pi family has grown over the years with the Pi 5 releasing for sale this October with promises that they will be in stock for consumers and not for businesses that use the Pi for their inventions. This new computer is the first one that doesn’t start with a $35 price, instead it sells for $54. Over the years I have collected about 20 of them.


3D Printers

3D printers first appeared in this list in 2016. At the time, a very basic 3D printer was buyable for as little as $180. Now I see prices for very basic printers under $120. I would still look in the $250 range. I think there is less interest in 3D printing because many models are still difficult to use. It takes practice to make a good print. I have never gotten a 3D printer and I have lost interest because I do not have the time to learn to print well.


Phones

They keep coming out with new phones and phones still make a practical gift. In 2016, I suggested the new Google Pixel phones and had nice things to say about the affordable Motorola phones. As usual, I still have little to say about Apple phones. The newest Google phone is the Pixel 8, and it gets rave reviews. In my house, we have a Pixel 5a and a Pixel 6a and we are happy with them. The Motorola phones are still good values, but many do not include near field communications (NFC) meaning they can’t be used for paying when shopping or with Free Style Libre continuous glucose meters (CGM). We do have a Moto One 5G Ace, but we have had some issues with it dropping signal on occasion. I do hear good things about other 5G Motorola phones.


TV’s and Video Streamers

The final gift item for 2016 was a TV. For a small to midsize screen, I still suggest a 1920 by 1080p HD TV until at least 42 inches. For anything larger, consider a UHD screen with 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. Content for the UHD TV is a lot more available now than it was in 2016.

Video Streaming first appeared in the 2017 column. 4K and UHD had just started to become widely available. Now, Comcast’s Xfinity service offers a number of 4K stations. Most, newer Roku, Google’s ChromeCast, AppleTV, and Amazon’s FireTV offer 4K UHD channels. The biggest streaming services now offer 4K streams for the newest movies and programming.


Something New

Last year I got something that I have wanted for years, a set of surround sound speakers for my TV. These were on sale at Costco for about $150 and it has greatly improved my enjoyment of watching movies and quality television.


Voice Assistants

In 2017, we also added Voice Assistants. This gift category may not have much life left in it. Apple, Google, and Amazon are all having difficulty figuring out how to make money from these devices. Still, I love turning off all the controlled lights in my house by simply saying “Alexa Goodnight”.


IoT Controls

If you don’t want to gift a voice assistant, consider Internet of Things controls and devices. These IoT devices showed up on the gift list for the first time in 2019. Last year Costco had Feit brand smart color light bulbs at a bargain price of two for $10. I believe we will see these again this year. Even if you don’t have a voice assistant IoT device can still be controlled with your mobile phone. Consider smart switches, light bulbs, and smart thermostats. Pepco often has discounts on smart thermostats.

Smart Cameras and Doorbells

By the holiday season of 2020, we were deeply into COVID, and I commented that doorbell cameras were all the rage, and this seemed odd to me because we were all stuck at home anyway. Smart cameras and doorbells are still popular, but these devices often have fees associated with services to copy the video to the cloud. Several companies have been caught invading privacy by allowing employees access to view your “private” videos and it has become common to raise the prices or reduce the services for storing the videos.

Try to find cameras that allow you to store the videos in your choice of cloud service providers if you can.

Tablets and Readers

In 2018 I suggested that Tablets seem to be the forgotten technology. Yet last year, that is exactly what I requested for the holidays. My tablet was out of support, and I could no longer run the applications I needed to watch movies on the airplane. These are still great little devices. There are still only three major brands: Amazon, Apple, and Samsung and one or two smaller offerings. Amazon with its Fire Tablets and Kindle readers seems to be the least expensive and make decent media devices. What Amazon really does well is providing content, books to read, music to listen to, games to play, and movies to watch. Samsung and Apple do this too. Tablets are starting to come back. Maybe next year there will be some new good devices.

Readers are primarily for books, but the batteries on a reader will typically last for weeks instead of hours.

Games and Gaming

I first covered game machines and games in 2018. The popular game machines today are the Nintendo Switch, the Sony PlayStation 5, and the Microsoft Xbox series X and series S. All of these games are very popular and games for the devices run between $50 and $80.


Happy Holidays

I am out of space again, but I hope you enjoyed out walk down memory lane. I even managed to slip in a new gift that appeared this year for the first time. Happy Holidays from Tech Sense.


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