Looking to get cool gadgets for loved ones, but you’re on a budget? Columnist Marc Saltzman helps you save.
Good news for cost-conscious holiday shoppers: you don’t have to break the bank to pick up some cool gadgets and gear.
From wireless speakers and activity trackers to heated hoodies and touchscreen tablets to streaming media players and cloud-enabled cameras, you might just be surprised what you can find at your local electronics store or favorite online retailer.
The following is a list of a few gift ideas that deliver a lot of bang for the buck.
— Turn any speaker into a Wi-Fi-enabled one, so you can wirelessly play and control your tunes from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. That’s the idea behind Chromecast Audio ($45). Simply connect this small, circular and black gadget to the audio input of any speaker system (3.5mm cable included) and you can then use your device to “cast” your music to the speaker throughout the home. Similar to Wi-Fi-enabled speakers that cost much more — such as Sonos family of products — you can search, play, pause, queue songs and turn up the volume right from your device. Music can be stored locally or online via your favorite on-demand streaming service. When it comes to audio, Wi-Fi bests Bluetooth in quality and range.
— If your New Year’s Resolution is to lose the spare tire, consider picking up the Fitbit Zip ($49.99), which helps you stay informed and motivated while on the go. This water-resistant wearable lets you set a daily goal – such as a certain number of steps taken, distance traveled or calories burned – and the lightweight clip-on keeps track of your daily progress. Along with some info displayed on the device’s small screen, it wirelessly syncs with your phone or tablet (via Bluetooth) to see how well you’re doing with colorful charts, graphs, badges and historical data. Unlike the other Fitbits, this entry-level one doesn’t need to be charged up every couple of days – the user-replaceable battery lasts up to six months.
— What the only thing better than a Kindle ebook reader for under $50? How about a color Kindle tablet for that price? The 7-inch Amazon Fire tablet ($49.99) is ideal for playing games, viewing videos, reading ebooks, listening to music, taking photos, browsing websites, and more. Along with hundreds of thousands of aps, built into the Fire is Amazon Underground, a unique app store with more than $10,000 in apps and games, plus you’ve got access to the $99/year Amazon Prime service for millions of movies, TV shows, books, and songs. If the built-in 8 gigabytes of storage isn’t enough, add a microSD card (up to 128GB) for more. Battery life lasts up to 7 hours between charges.
— What to buy a console gamer on your gift list? That’s easy: more storage. Considering today’s games average 35 to 50 gigabytes apiece, it’s no surprise many gamers run out of space on the hard disk drive (HDD) that ships with the console. Called Game Drive for Xbox, Seagate’s new 2-terabyte external hard drive ($99.99) can be purchased for use with both Xbox One and the Xbox 360 console – in the signature green and black colors – which you simply plug into an available USB port on the console. Also for $99.99 is Game Drive for PlayStation, a 1TB HDD/SSD (solid state drive) designed for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3, which replaces your existing 500GB hard drive (Phillips screwdriver required, but it’s a cinch to replace).
— Before you turn your nose up at a $99 sound bar, give Vizio S3820W a quick listen at your local electronics store. Designed for small to medium-sized TVs, this compact 2-channel speaker bar houses 3-inch full-range drivers and 2- x 4-inch deep bass modules for full, well-balanced sound – plus it supports popular movie codecs like Dolby Digital and DTS TruSurround. It also features DTS TruVolume technologies to soften volume fluctuations. The Vizio S3820W is equipped with Bluetooth, so you can wirelessly beam music from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
— Active types will tell you four problems with the earbuds that ship with your smartphone: the audio quality is less than desirable; they’re not sweat resistant; the cord gets tangled up; and they fall out of your ears too easily. Instead, the Monster iSport Bluetooth Wireless In-Ear Headphones ($99.99) resolves all of those issues: they offer superior sound; they’re sweat-resistant; they wirelessly connect with your smartphone; and they’re designed to stay in your ears comfortably and securely. An integrated microphone means you can take a call if one comes in.
— FLIR FX ($199.99) is a small, portable and versatile Wi-Fi camera that can be used as a home video surveillance solution, dashboard cam for your vehicle, wearable or mountable POV cam, baby monitor with two-way audio, and more (some require a special mount, sold separately). Use the free app to remotely tap into your 1080p and wide-angle camera, or set up sound or motion alerts to be pushed to your phone or tablet. The pièce de résistance, however, is a cloud-based service called RapidRecap, which lets you see a time-stamped video summary of what the camera captured so you don’t have to comb through hours of video (FLIR Cloud Basic account is free).
— The heat is on: in your new hoodie. That’s right, the Ravean Heated Hoodie ($119) delivers personalized warmth – with a low, medium and high setting – thanks to its lightweight 12-volt battery that beats out its competitors as it’s just half a pound yet delivers 6 hours of heat. The same battery can also recharge your portable devices up to six times over. With its successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than eight times its goal (so far), each Ravean hoodie is 100 percent washable, fully waterproof, and is backed by a 5-year warranty. Heated down jackets go for $195.
— Turn your regular television into a smarter one with Roku 4 ($129.99), the top-of-the-line streaming media player that not only has a clean interface and more than 2,500 on-demand channels to choose from – such as Netflix, Hulu, Fox Now, and Amazon Instant Video – but it’s the first Roku that supports 4K content on compatible televisions (delivering four times the resolution of 1080p HD). The remote itself is pretty awesome: it includes a microphone so you can search by voice; integrated motion control sensors (like a Wii) for playable games; and a headphone jack for private listening.
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