It’s that time once again to go over some of our favorite products we think would make a great gift this season. Honestly, it feels like just a few months ago when we covered this for last year’s guide. Because of this, I took some time to look back at the things we covered then and realized most of them still apply. So maybe both guides would make for a great list of ideas for 2016, but for now, we are going to talk about the products below that we have put together for you below.
The United States of Corporate America does a pretty solid job of overwhelming shoppers with advertisements and claims of fame for products that sometimes come and go. It’s difficult to pick out the diamonds in the rough at times. Although we can’t provide you with a bottomless list of all the right things to get your hands on, we can at least share with you some of our favorites we have tested out this year that are doing great right now in sales and/or popularity. So without further ado, let’s get started!
PlayStation Pro (Sony)
We are moving straight into the video games this year. Available as of Nov, the new Pro version of the console features upgraded graphics, including HDR 10 support, 4K upscaling, and more. You have more processing power and better graphics to enjoy your games with, especially newer games that will begin to release with an icon stating that they take advantage of the newly enhanced PS4 Pro graphics. You get the new USB 3.1 USB ports, A/B/G/N/AC WiFi, Bluetooth, and upscaling for Blu-rays as well. 4K Blu-rays are not supported, however. Only streaming features 4K with upscaling for everything else.
It’s odd that Sony opted *not* to go with the 4K Blu-ray support when there has been such a major push for it this season as everything is finally reaching a point where 4K can begin to matter in the upgrade of things. For now, it is a move we will just have to live with as PlayStation fans rush to get the latest greatest graphics for their favorite games.
Xbox One S
Already available to the market, the Xbox One S has already been making waves, giving gamers a wonderful platform to play on, sporting HDR 10, 4K (including discs, unlike the PS4 Pro), and a smaller profile. The new system is faster, looks greater, and keeps Xbox fans neck to neck with the Sony crowd. Where they haven’t jumped into VR just yet (at least until HoloLens is consumer ready), you will get in graphics since the console natively supports everything that is 4K. Of course, you also have backward compatibility with so many of your favorite Xbox 360 games (and more coming in the future). We have played both consoles religiously and we have to say that the quality of Xbox Live is what place the final touch on things for us in keeping Xbox just slightly ahead of PlayStation on our charts, That and having a 4K Blu-ray player at your bidding.
The next game in the battlefield series takes you back to WWI with classic vehicles, tanks, and planes. You get to chase trains on horseback and play online with up to 64 players, making for one crazy multi-player experience. The new Battlefield game is available on Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 and will be one of the hottest-selling games this holiday. You can see one of the trailers below. Call of Duty Infinite Warfare comes close to it but has a few wrinkles to iron out first, including its multiplayer experience.
Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition
Finally, Nintendo does something right. They bank on what made them who they are in the first place, by re-releasing the original NES console, but in a much smaller form with modern connectivity. Small enough to fit in your hand, it won’t take up any more space than a Mac Mini in your setup and it boasts 30 of some of your favorite NES games pre-loaded (there are no cartridges as the front loading bay is just part of the design but does not open). You’ll find games like Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Metroid and so much more. Pretty fantastic right? Every room needs one of these bad boys in them. Kid’s room, living room, den, master bedroom–maybe even the bathroom right next to your jumbo-sized tub (maybe you’ll fancy yourself a bath more often).
It connects to your TV or AVR via HDMI and comes with one classic NES controller (more can be purchased separately). Now hopefully they just included a way to update it with additional games in the future, else I’m sure other…3rd hand parties…will do it for them.
Samsung 40 to 60 -inch 4K TVs under $399-$999
A great way to start upgrading those TVs around the house, 4K models just keep getting cheaper each year making this one a fantastic time to jump on the bandwagon so that your new Xbox One S has something to show off those new sharp 4K/HDR graphics on. Samsung has a range of 4K models that fall under $1k, with their 40-inch only running $399 this time around. I remember only 3-4 years ago, a 1080 40-inch ran about the same. Sounds like a deal to me. Keep an eye on these models via the Amazon button below and bookmark it for Black Friday because I’m sure the prices might drop a little more on that day. Or, you can simply buy one now so you don’t have to wait. I’m sure the 60-inch at least will drop a little because there is more demand for that size than there is 40. If you’re going to go all out, you might as well go big! Save yourself from straining those eyes, or better fill those larger rooms. Again, the bathroom for that Nintendo Classic during those cozy baths? I’m sure Douglas Adams would approve of the idea. The whole family will be fighting over the bathroom and your kids will never be cleaner.
Finally, all of your favorite things have been making the leap towards 4K, including Blu-rays, YouTube, Netflix, Roku, Xbox, and more. From this point forward, you will slowly see 1080 go the way of 720. Not completely ghost, but still thought of the past (outside of smaller screens).
Speaking of the Roku 4, it is 4K and ready to deliver all of your favorite media at a touch of a button. You’re TV may or may not have a handful of apps, but we can assure you that Roku packs that and so much more. That is of course what makes it so successful still. It offers upscaling for all streams that don’t support 4K yet, so you at least get a picture somewhat better than you would via those apps without it and you can easily find everything you want by talking into the remote. Of course, as time moves forward some of those apps will eventually update and start offering 4K natively. Small enough to hide behind your TV, once you install it, you’ll forget where all these apps are coming from. You can also go silent by plugging in headphones into the remote so you don’t bug anyone else around the house (in case you’re a night owl).
Azulle Access Plus HDMI Mini PC Stick
If what Roku offers just isn’t enough for you and you’re are the enthusiast who would rather strap a PC to your TV, then Azulle has a number of products just waiting for you. This year we have covered a number of them and they have been great. As long as you aren’t a heavy power user looking to play World of Warcraft or stream in 4K, these mini PCs are for just about everyone else. The latest is the Access Plus HDMI Mini PC Stick, which we are still testing out (at the time of this article). It offers a full Windows 10 desktop, so just think about what you can do on a computer. No longer restricted to a library of apps, you have the entire internet at your fingertips as well as Microsoft Office (obviously purchased separately as in any other computer) and so much more. You get USB ports as well as Ethernet and built-in WiFi and Bluetooth so that you can easily connect all of your accessories to it. It’s a full computer yet smaller than the smartphone in your pocket.
It connects to the back of your TV via the HDMI port so you can easily hide it and you can install things to it like any other PC. It also comes in much less than something like a Mac Mini and just a tad higher than the price of the Roku 4. There are two versions to choose from, either 2GB in memory or 4GB (4GB should allow you to multitask a little harder as well as a little quicker response times to opening software). The 4GB model is around $50 more.
Philips Hue Starter Kit
Everyone has been making the leap toward smart home tech and there is no better way than starting with your lights! Well, you could also start with your door locks, the outlets, thermostat, alarm and so much more. For now, though, let’s just pretend that lights are a starting point. If they were, the Philips Hue bulbs are one of the most popular options currently. Instead of swapping out the light switch, you swap out the bulb, and *it* is now the smart piece in the puzzle. However, by doing this, not only do you get to remotely turn them on and off, but you can also change their colors and create all sorts of fun themes to play with around the house (romantic, party mode, spooky Halloween, Xmas or crazy techno for those with nothing else better to do). You can start off by getting the Philips Hue Starter Kit, which will get you a few bulbs and the hub that controls it all, allowing you to access them with your mobile devices or simply create some automation rules that respond to various elements in your day or environment.
Amazon Echo Dot
It’s not a replacement for the Amazon Echo, but instead simply an alternative option. It allows you to take advantage of Amazon’s Alexa assistant to control various elements in your home automation, check the weather, order new things from Amazon, create timers and alarms, check the news, or control so many different apps (like Pandora, Amazon Music and more). It is smaller than the Amazon Echo and so much cheaper ($49). It’s basically the Echo minus the speaker. Instead, you connect this little guy to your own speakers of whatever flavor you prefer, either by Bluetooth or a 3.5mm (aux) wired cable (you may need adapters depending on your speaker/stereo if you go wired). “Alexa, remind me in ten minutes to take the pot of chili off the stove before it blows up”. It’s like Siri or Cortana on your phone, but for your house instead. It can respond to so many things and the list just keeps growing.
Google has also launched a competing smart hub but it still has a little way to go before it makes it to our list of favorites.
Kicker iK5BTL Amphitheater with Bluetooth and Lightning Dock
For those looking for more sound than the average portable Bluetooth speaker, this can really fill those needs. It does need to be plugged into the wall, but it has a relatively small footprint yet puts out enough sound to fill a very large room. The Kicker Amphitheater offers Bluetooth connectivity as well as USB, 3.5mm aux-in. There is also a model that features the lightning Apple dock for iOS devices (pictured above) that only runs slightly more. You can find one of these for just over or under $200 now, depending on the model you choose. It’s loud and has a great range to it. It’s what you’d get if Klipsch tried to launch a speaker to compete against Sonos. I say tried because nothing that Klipsch ever launched came close to this without moving towards actually wired speakers.
Kicker KPM50 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
Let’s say that the Amphitheater is a little too much for you and you just need something mobile that doesn’t need to be plugged into the wall, offers a rugged design, and still puts out a lot of sound. Surprisingly, Kicker filled this spot on our list as well. Finally, a speaker that took the spot of Logitech/UE. The KPM50 does exactly this. It’s loud, it’s mobile, it has up to 10 hours of play, it supports NFC and it’s built tough. In fact, the weight of it alone will give you an idea of the beating it can take as well as the quality of drivers inside that allow it to produce so much sound. It weighs in as slightly heavier than the Logitech Boom speaker but sports a metal housing and a great design. It just isn’t advertised as being water resistant as some of the sportier models. So if you need it to get wet, try something like the Aomais model we covered not that long ago.
Earbuds – 1MORE Triple-Driver In-Ear Monitor Headphones
Now moving on to headphones, we have our favorite pair of in-ear headphones we played with all year. The 1MORE triple-driver “in-ear monitors” truly shine when you put them against music, movies, and everything else. They aren’t B&W but they come close enough for the price of $99. For us, they beat out Klipsch, Bose, and more as we searched for the best-sounding earbuds of the year. This was fantastic since before this year, we had never heard of 1MORE (of course, this is because they are a new brand that launched at the start of the year). They claim to offer Hi-Res audio in all of their marketing materials and they don’t lie. They sound terrific and the average consumer would agree (even audiophiles like ourselves took a liking to them almost instantly).
Headphones – Bose QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth headphones
The 1MORE earbuds are great, but you may not be an earbud kind of person. Maybe you want a more vivid experience with a larger sound stage by wrapping those ears with cans. In the realm of on-ear headphones, 1MORE does offer an option or two but this round is going to have to go to Bose and their QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth headphones. Not only do these headphones sound amazing, but their noise cancelation is on par with the QC 25 wired model, which means these are freaking awesome! They offer a lot of range and feature enough low-end to satisfy just about any movie enthusiast. Switching to noise cancellation allows you to instantly remove yourself from your environment and filter out all those annoying sounds around you. It isn’t 100% if you’re immediate area is quite loud, but it’s enough to wonder how on Earth they pull this off. Their only con is the price ($349) as they are quite expensive, but I guess you get what you pay for.
Storage – 8TB Western Digital My Book External USB 3.0 Hard Drive
How about those backups? With hard drives expanding every year in size, it’s getting harder and harder to match it all in a nice clone of a backup. Mostly because to backup all that space, you have to have just as much if not more to back it up to. If you are a power user who has a lot of data, this can get a little difficult and expensive. However, WD has a one-drive solution that can pull that off thanks to their new 8TB external USB 3.0 My Book. It has all the space for those backups to grow into and then some. Of course, you don’t have to use it for backups. Maybe you like to take risks and simply upgrade the space you have for all that data and stick your nose up at backups. More space for all of your favorite music, movies, games, and more. I remember when the 80GB drives were big towards the start of the millennium, 16 years ago. Now we have 8TB! (and yes, I know a lot of you are thinking “80GB? That’s nothing, I remember 100MB. These stories/comparisons can go on forever)
iClever 6-Port USB Desktop Quick Charger
This is the first time a USB charger made it into the guide, but we find more and more that we run out of ports and plugs to charge all of our devices with. It seems like everything is wireless now and everything requires a cable to plug into the wall. It gets to be a little overwhelming at times. At the end of the day, it is so much easier to simply bring all of your devices into one area and charge them in one spot. The 6-port USB desktop charger from iClever pulls this off perfectly, allowing Quick Charge 2.0 (QC) for those hungrier devices so that they can recoup quickly. You still have a bunch of USB cables running from it, but at least it can all share the same outlet now. Until a brilliant person in the world efficiently develops a way for all of us to wirelessly charge our devices, this is a solid option.
Withings Thermo Smart Temporal Thermometer
Another wonderful item we covered this year. Withings launched, not that long ago, a smart thermometer that allows you to take your temperature without ever having to stick anything in your mouth, ear, or anywhere else (I’ll try not to picture that…). It accomplishes its duties by simply sliding across your forehead. You can even pull it off without making any contact with your skin. It will be able to take a reading by hovering it slightly away from the skin (although it still needs to be close). This makes it great for younger babies who are sound asleep. The smart side of it allows you to connect to a mobile device to save a history of readings as well as create userprofiles and more. It’s a pretty neat (and hot) item in our collection this year and hasn’t stopped bragging about it since some of us had the chance to play with it at CES 2016 (last January). We even interviewed Penn Jillette (from Penn and Teller in Vegas) about his experience with Withings and how much he too loves the Thermo. Great for babies or anyone else. Stop sticking metal probes in your mouth and try something much less invasive. I mean, just look at that picture above and try to tell me you don’t want one.
Arris Docsis 3.0 modem
The future of DOCSIS technology is right around the corner as DOCSIS 3.1 gets ready to start rolling out. We probably won’t see it until towards the end of next year or even the year after, so for now we need a good alternative. That alternative is the Arris SB6190 modem. It offers 32 channels downstream and 8 channels for your upstream. It can push up to 1.4GBps (Gigabits per second), allowing it to become the perfect bridge between DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1. We do like to say “theoretically” since we will believe these speeds when we see them, but for now, it is dominating their older modems in performance. It may not be 3.1 itself, but it’s as close as we are going to get for now. so if you live In an area that is lucky enough to offer crazy high speeds, this is what you will want to get your hands on. We have so far tested 300+ MBps using this modem and it takes every beating without a single bit of hesitation (degradation). You probably won’t have access to these speeds yourself, but you never know what next year will hold,
Well, that wraps things up! Obviously, there will be so many other items rushing off the shelves this season. We can however only spend so much time covering it all before we fall into a deep coma of holiday excitement. Hopefully, our recommendations help you in your holiday shopping this year. Some of us have already gotten a head start as the pre-Black Friday sales have been rolling in at places like Amazon. Don’t forget to keep a strong eye out for Cyber Monday as well (the Monday right after Black Friday) as it is expected to be another tech-strong rush of discounts at all of your favorite online and brick-and-mortar stores.
Have any comments you’d like to discuss in regards to the products we highlighted? Share them below as we’d love to hear from you. Maybe you have some stories to share in regards to one of the items or you have a completely unrelated story that you think everyone just has to hear about. Regardless, share away, and good luck this year!