Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The official tech gift list for 2022

I often get asked to chat about nerdy things on TV and radio, and one of the most common asks around this time of year is tech gifts. Here's where my head is at:

 Two-and-a-half years into the pandemic, it’s clear this historic event has rewritten the rules for the entire tech industry - and gift-giving is no exception. If 2020 was all about the panic-move to working and studying from home, and 2021 was about taking the time to be more strategic about how we use technology remotely, then 2022 was the year when raging inflation, spiking interest rates, and concerns over our jobs forced us to finally get smart about buying tech gifts.

Against that backdrop, the 2022 gift-giving season is shaping up to be all about NOT spending the most, but spending wisely. The pandemic has taught us to be more flexible with our tech - and gift-giving is becoming more creative because of it. Here are some creative, cost-effective ideas:

1 - Boring utility stuff. Everyone NEEDS these things, even if they aren’t necessarily the sexiest tech out there. Things like backup batteries (to recharge your phone while you’re on the go), trackers (Apple AirTags and Tile trackers are dead-simple easy to use, cheap, and will save your life), cables (you can never have enough - just make sure you know what kind), car holders/chargers, memory cards (still a thing, especially for photographers and for anyone who uses a phone with a memory card slot), external drives, dongles, card readers, USB hubs, etc.

2 - Streaming devices. They’re cheap devices that hook up to your TV - usually through the HDMI port - and let you directly access streaming services by turning a “dumb” TV into a smart one. Popular options include Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku Streaming Stick and others. Some start at less than $50, so it’s a cheap way for giftees to cut the chord. The only caveat: While some content is free, most of the good stuff is subscription-based. So know your recipient before you buy - or have a conversation with them about their content plans for 2023 before you pull out your credit card. Either way, we’re spending a lot of time at home, so we may as well have lots of good stuff to watch on TV.

3 - Headphones. Apple’s AirPods, especially the pricier Pro model, are hot (just don’t lose them!), as are competing models from Beats, Sony, Jabra, Samsung, Sennheiser, JBL and others. The choices are endless - wireless or wired, noise cancelling, gaming, buds/on-ear-over-the-ear. So if you’re buying for someone else, do your homework on your giftee before you hit the checkout button, as some models work better with certain phones, operating systems, apps, and services.

4 - Smart speakers. Huge last year. Even bigger this year. You can still buy the ultra-cheap Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini (old: Google HOME Mini). Even better, get one with a screen (Amazon Echo Show, Nest Hub). Or buy two and build yourself - or your giftee - a hybrid stereo system. Avoid the Facebook Portal, as the company has a terrible privacy record and we’re heading it’ll soon be discontinued. Same deal with Apple’s HomePod mini: It’s more expensive than the alternatives, and increasingly being left behind by newer, better competitors. If you’re more of an audiophile, speaker companies like Bose and Sonos are including smart assistants in their latest connected speakers.

5 - Smart home devices. This category (namely smart hubs, smart plugs, smart light bulbs, security cameras, locks, etc.) is exploding in popularity as prices come down. But you’ll want to be careful here, as not every device plays nice with other equipment, and you’ll want to know what your recipient is using/prefers before plunking down your hard-earned cash on a gift. The just-approved Matter standard will help: make sure that whatever you buy is Matter-compatible. Either way, in a permanent work/study-from-home world, smarter homes are a major focus this year.

6 - Home office accessories. Now that we’re almost three years into this thing, it’s time to get serious about our home offices. Great gift ideas abound here, from better keyboards and mice to headphones (both the higher-end noise-cancelling ones as well as extra earbuds as stocking stuffers) and stands. Podcasters always need better tools, so microphones (BLUE’s Yeti or Snowball) (bonus points if they have stands or arms) and webcams (Logitech, Rode, Shure, Audio-Technica) that are inevitably better than the lousy ones typically built into laptops and monitors. Speaking of which, better/extra monitors are an easy gift choice, as are stands/arms to make your giftee’s desk insta-worthy. Ring lights are another hot gift idea given how much time we’re all spending in web meetings and virtual classes.

7 - Gaming. This category remains massively popular, and for good reason. While a full-on console like a PS5 or XBox Series X might be a bit much, games, controllers, and accessories like extra batteries and chargers are always welcome. Subscriptions to online services can be affordable gift options, especially given the exploding popularity of networked gaming. Do keep in mind, however, that the global semiconductor shortage has made leading devices like the PS5, XBox Series X, Nintendo Switch/OLED very difficult to find.

8 - Action cams. GoPro was the pioneer (and its latest camera, the HERO10, continues to set the bar for the industry), but this year we’re seeing competing action cams from DJI Sony, Akaso, Yi, and others that LOOK like GoPros - and in many cases are compatible with GoPro extras and accessories - but they might be less expensive, or they’ve got features like wireless connectivity and better apps.

9 - Retro audio. Turntables are huge this year, for some strange reason. It’s partly fuelled by a resurgence in interest in vinyl records (sales have doubled globally for each of the past 2 years) so folks are looking for newer hardware to play them on. Many new models pack techie tricks up their sleeves, like network capability, one-touch digital backups and better sound than you could ever get out of your old Radio Shack turntable. (AUDIO-TECHNICA, SONY) If you’ve got an iPhone and hanker for the old iPod days, you can even download an app that mimics the iPod Classic, complete with its iconic clickwheel.

10 - Security. Lots of interest in smart/connected security cameras that let you keep an eye on things even when you’re away from home. Ring doorbells let you “answer” the door even when you’re halfway around the world. Security alert, though: these devices open up huge privacy concerns around where all that video footage goes, and who can access it. Make sure your giftee is comfortable with these issues before going this route.

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