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2022 Tech Gift Guide

Jeffrey M Allen and Ashley Hallene


  • Jeff and Ashley present their annual review of technology gift ideas, including mobile devices and accessories, speakers and earphones, TVs and streaming devices, smart home technology, fitness devices, and more.
  • These technology-related gifts range in price from less than $20 to several thousand dollars.
  • You are sure to find a suitable gift for almost everyone on your list—friends, family, employees, and even yourself.
2022 Tech Gift Guide
photoguns via Getty Images

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GPSolo magazine has published an annual technology gift guide in connection with the holiday season for many years. This year, continuing that tradition, we share our ideas about technology-related gifts for spouses, friends, family, partners, employees, and others. Many of the items we discuss may prove helpful to you professionally and/or provide enjoyable additions to your personal life. We have chosen items in a price range from less than $20 to several thousand dollars. We believe that we have created a list broad enough to let you find an appropriate gift for everyone on your list and a few things you’ll want for yourself.

For the last quarter of a century, the role of technology in the practice of law and in our personal lives has increased rapidly and dramatically. It seems like a lifetime ago that we did not have pocket-sized telephones that took excellent pictures, did videoconferences, and functioned as small computers. Or that we did not have iPads, Kindles, or small, lightweight laptop computers that we could easily carry with us wherever we went. But as fast as technology has moved in the last quarter of a century, our dependence on technology moved much faster in the last few years than ever before. Commencing in March 2020, most of us lived in a surreal environment where the norm looked like house arrest. Most of us spent months where we only ventured out of the house to go to the grocery store. Computers and other Internet-accessing devices moved to the top of everyone’s list of absolute necessities as we bought more online, conducted business online, appeared in court online, met with clients online, visited our doctors online, had children and grandchildren educated online, and looked to the Internet for much of our entertainment. Many, if not most, of us worked from home for a substantial time period during the pandemic. Behavior and work patterns changed dramatically and likely permanently as a result. Many of us will work primarily from home for the foreseeable future, if not longer. It is of little significance whether this results from the risk of the current COVID-19 variants or as a matter of personal choice by those who, having experienced working from home, choose to continue to do that rather than resume their commuting to and from a brick-and-mortar office; the reality is that our lifestyles have forever changed in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Given the increasing dependence on technology in so many areas of our life, it seems logical that we should look to technology as a primary source of gifts for our family, friends, and employees. With that background, we offer you GPSolo’s 2022 Tech Gift Guide.

In keeping with tradition, the requirements of the American Bar Association’s (ABA’s) legal department, and common sense, we have a few disclaimers and disclosures that we need to include in this article; so, let’s get them out of the way and focus on the good stuff:

  1. Tax advice. Nothing said in this article constitutes tax advice. Consult your tax preparer about deductibility, depreciation, and other tax-related matters regarding technology acquired for your use and as gifts. If you think that something in this article constitutes tax advice, you made a mistake. You cannot use information in this article for purposes of tax evasion. You may cite this article in support of an argument that something is tax-deductible because of its utility in your practice. If you do, we wish you the best of luck in making this stick, but we make no representation to you that it will. Nor do we accept any responsibility if it does not. Notwithstanding the foregoing, remember that, if you think of something as a “gadget” or a “toy,” you should not try to deduct it as a business expense. If, however, you see it as a “tool” to assist you in your practice, you may have a shot at making it work as a deduction.
  2. Client gifts. When it comes to clients, make sure any gifts comply with your state’s rules. Under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers can give gifts to clients, subject to some qualifications. Rule 1.8(e) discusses some limitations: “A lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that: (1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter; and (2) a lawyer representing an indigent client may pay court costs and expenses of litigation on behalf of the client. . . .” In general, we believe that a token of appreciation for a client around the holidays should be safe. There are a lot of potential client gifts that can help keep your firm name on clients’ minds. Lawyers have used pens and calendars for this purpose for many years. You might consider gifting smartphone or tablet stands, power banks, or generic phone, tablet, or computer cases to move into the current times. Given the COVID-19 issues, you might think of the oversized brass keys that work to push buttons in elevators and on computer devices such as charging units, gas pumps, self-service checkout counters, and the like. You can order all those things and more imprinted with your firm name and a firm logo if you have one.
  3. No endorsement by the ABA. Nothing in this article constitutes the endorsement of a product by the ABA or its Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. The article contains Ashley’s and Jeff’s personal opinions and observations respecting the products addressed. Please do not give anyone else credit for our opinions. If you buy it and don’t like it, give it to someone else, but don’t blame us. We can only tell you how we reacted to a product and what we thought about it. Desirability of tech tools and toys, like beauty, rests in the beholder’s eye. If you look around hard enough, you can find someone who will disagree with each thing we say in this article. That’s okay; they are entitled to their opinions, no matter how incorrect those opinions might prove.
  4. Manufacturer’s warranties. Opinions and information contained in this article do not replace, modify, alter, amend, staple, mutilate, bend, damage, destroy, or supplement manufacturer’s warranties, instructions, or specifications.
  5. Pricing. Price references in this article reflect available information regarding manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRP) as of the time of writing, unless otherwise stated. Although some items rarely sell for discounts, you can find discounts for most products if you look hard enough. Often, products go on sale late in the holiday season as vendors grow concerned about the likelihood of having surplus unsold. This makes it a great time to buy something for yourself. We finished this guide in the early fall for publication in the late fall to help you with your holiday shopping. It is likely that prices on some of the items will change by the date of publication. You might also find that some have grown more difficult to find as supplies dwindle and that manufacturers have updated some of the items we discuss with newer models. Recent component shortages and delivery issues also play into this concern.
  6. Online shopping warning. Often, products sell online for less than in brick-and-mortar shops. If you shop online, however, be sure to take steps to ensure that you protect your payment information and that you get what you wanted. Some vendors sell “gray market goods.” These goods are manufactured for sale in other countries and imported into the United States and resold. Generally, particularly respecting photographic products, gray market goods sell at a lower cost than those packaged for resale in this country. They often do not include the manufacturer’s U.S. warranty but, instead, include an “international warranty” that may not apply in the United States. Sometimes a vendor will provide its own warranty or package a third-party warranty from a warranty service to fill that gap, billing it as a “U.S. warranty.” If you find such goods at a discount and elect to buy them, you may save a significant amount. But, if it breaks and you want it fixed, remember: caveat emptor! As a general rule, we prefer getting non–gray market electronics goods with the manufacturer’s U.S. warranty.
  7. Disclosures. Some products discussed in this article were provided to us for review purposes by manufacturers, their public relations (PR) agents, or vendors willing to work with us; others were purchased for our own use; and still others we borrowed from friends or, in a few cases, simply ogled and played with in a store. A few products were announced prior to the preparation of this article but were not available for us to test, poke, prod, play with, or evaluate prior to writing this article. As to those products, we offer what we have learned about them through research and information from the manufacturer or its PR firm. We try to stay away from discussing products we have not held in our hot little hands, but some products have such significance that we would be remiss in not including them, even though we will finish this article before ours get delivered.
  8. Omissions. We have not endeavored to look at, let alone test, every product on the market in each field once we find one we like. We acknowledge that there may be very good products available that we do not mention in this article, even in product areas we discuss at length. This article reflects our observations about the products we have looked at and that attracted our attention. We do not intend that it will provide a thorough comparison of every product on the market in each area where we find something interesting.
  9. Addiction warning. The Surgeon General has not opined on the subject, but we believe that technology products have proven addictive and, to the extent that you give up physical activity in favor of technology or allow it to distract you when driving a car, steering a boat, piloting a plane, jogging, walking, bike riding, roller skating, ice skating, skiing, surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, or doing anything else involving motion, can prove dangerous to your health and potentially to the health of others. Accordingly, while we recommend and commend the use of technology to you, we also advise you to use it carefully and in moderation.
  10. No author warranty. The authors make no warranty, express or implied, respecting any of the items discussed in this gift guide, except that if we say we like something, we really do!

Gift giving at or around year-end holidays has grown ubiquitous. Whether you seek ideas for the holidays, a token of gratitude or appreciation, or just a reminder to someone that you care, gift giving is a universal custom. Technology gifts are often shiny, fun, and useful, with many gifts offering a range of multitasking features. Over the last several years, we have adopted the tradition of sharing our insights as our holiday gift to you. Over that time, the importance of technology in our lives has continued to grow, making the practice of gifting technology a very clever idea.

Jeff’s and Ashley’s Lists

As an introduction to the gift guide and a suggestion of what comes next, we will continue our practice of starting with lists of our top-ten products, the ones we want the most—or would if we did not already have them. In preparing these lists, each of us operated from the premise that we had none of the technology discussed. (In fact, we have most of the items on our lists.) Working from this premise, we each present our top-ten choices for 2022.


All I Want for the Holidays Is . . .

  1.  iPhone 14 Pro, Gold, 1 TB
  2.  iPad Pro, 11”, WiFi + cellular, Silver, 2 TB
  3.  Echo Show 15
  4.  Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII camera
  5.  AirPods Pro, 2nd generation
  6.  AirPods Max
  7.  Apple Watch Ultra
  8.  Fitbit Charge 5
  9.  Kindle Scribe, 64 GB, leather cover, premium pen
  10. Ring Video Doorbell


All I Want for the Holidays Is . . .

  1.  iPhone 14 Plus, Purple, 256 GB
  2.  iPad Air, WiFi, Starlight, 256 GB
  3.  Kodak Mini 3 Retro instant photo printer
  4.  JBuds Air Pro wireless earbuds
  5.  Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro
  6.  Echo Show 10
  7.  Blink Outdoor Camera + Solar Panel Charging Mount
  8.  Roku Express 4K+
  9.  Nintendo Switch – OLED Model
  10.  Apple Watch Series 8, Starlight Aluminum Case, Storm Blue Sport Loop Band

Mobile Devices

Those of you who have followed our gift recommendations over the years have undoubtedly figured out that we have a strong preference for Apple products and, on the Android side, for Samsung products. We do not suggest that none of the others deserve your interest or attention. We simply like Apple and Samsung best. Accordingly, we will again focus on these lines when we talk about phones, tablets, smartwatches, and the like.


Likely the most important single piece of technology in most people’s hands these days, the smartphone has expanded its functionality and desirability on a continuing basis. You have a long list of manufacturers and models to choose from when it comes to smartphones. Most smartphones use Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system. If you want an Android phone, you have numerous manufacturers and many models to choose from. If you want a phone running iOS, you have one manufacturer and several models to choose from. We have developed a strong partiality to Samsung on the Android side; Apple represents the only option on the iOS platform.

The Android OS has evolved into an excellent operating system, but both of the authors have chosen iPhones and Apple’s iOS for their primary smartphone device. (Jeff also has a Samsung phone running on Android as a second phone.) We consider the iPhone 14 Pro (or 14 Pro Max) to be the best phone on the market today but not the best value for the money. We think the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra represents the best choice on the Android side. Although almost everyone has a smartphone, the top models keep selling in record numbers as people run to their nearest provider to upgrade to newer and better models as they come out each year. More people use phones dedicated to the Android OS (made by numerous manufacturers), but more people buy Apple’s iPhone than any Android-based model, making it the number-one-selling smartphone in the world.

We recommend that you get a 5G device without regard to which phone you choose. 5G refers to fifth-generation wireless technology, which works faster than its predecessors. All the 5G phones offer backward compatibility with earlier systems. More 5G coverage has come online over the last year, and this trend should continue for the next several years. All providers do not work equally well in all locations. You will want to sign up with the provider that has the best combination of network availability (coverage) with 4G and 5G, service, and rates. Note that we referenced the “best,” suggesting a comparison. We have had issues with all the major providers and have found coverage issues in various areas with all of them. Do not expect perfection or anything close to it.

New iOS. As we write this article, Apple has just released the newest iteration of the iOS: iOS 16. If you currently use iOS 15, the switch to iOS 16 should not create any serious surprises, but there are some changes. As always happens, upgrading to the new OS will kill some of your apps unless and until they get upgraded. Note that older devices cannot provide all the features available in the new iterations of the iOS as a result of hardware differences between the devices. For example, you cannot get facial recognition on an iPhone 7, as it lacks the required hardware.

iOS 16 for the iPhone refines several features in previous versions and adds some new tricks. Included in the list of new and improved features:

  1. Improved Lock Screen. Likely the first thing you will notice after upgrading to iOS 16 is that the new Lock Screen gives you much more customizability than its predecessor. Among the improvements: you can add more widgets; you can track live events, such as sports; and the notifications and now-playing screen have relocated to the bottom of your display, making them easier to access with your thumbs.
  2. Messages now allows you to undo or unsend a message up to 15 minutes after you send it. On the flip side of that coin, you can recover a deleted message for up to 30 days following its deletion.
  3. Apple modified Photos to allow you to lock an album and password-protect it from prying eyes. Apple has also increased your security by preventing access to the Recently Deleted album unless you verify through Face ID. The app now also has the ability to detect and delete duplicate photos.
  4. Mail now lets you schedule when an email gets sent and also allows you to “unsend” it.
  5. Apple added Live Text to iOS 15. In iOS 16, Apple builds more into Live Text. You can now check the exchange rate of goods directly with the camera. You can also copy, translate, and query text in a video if you have a device powered by an A12 or higher chip. Earlier models will not have these features.
  6. Apple redesigned Maps in iOS 16. The interface is much cleaner than in iOS 15. In iOS 16, Maps supports multistep routing. Users can plan journeys with up to 15 different stops along the way. It can also predict the cost of a trip. The app adds new data for 11 countries and regions. Seven cities now have highly detailed scenes.
  7. The Safari browser got an update as well, making it more secure.

You can get more information on iOS 16, including a more complete list of the new features, on Apple’s website. While the changes from iOS 15 to iOS 16 will not strike you as revolutionary, they do make the system better and more secure and provide some new features that will make your life a little easier. Although Apple separated out the iPad operating system into iPadOS a few years ago, it has continued the development of the operating systems in tandem; iOS 16 was rolled out in September 2022, and iPadOS 16 followed in October, bringing similar upgrades to iPads as iOS 16 brings to iPhones.

iPhone 14 models. The newest iPhones, the iPhone 14 series, came out in September 2022. As in recent years, Apple released more than one model in the same numerical sequence. The iPhone 14 represents the basic unit. It comes in two screen sizes, the iPhone 14 at 6.1” and the iPhone 14 Plus at 6.7”. The Pro versions of the 14 add additional features and boost the price. The differences between the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max primarily relate to the size of the device and its screen (again, 6.1” or 6.7”), although there are a few other differences. The specifications of the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus reflect virtually identical construction except for size and weight. The larger size also allows for the use of a larger battery in the Plus, giving you a little more operating time between charges. The other difference is cost. The iPhone Plus costs $100 more than the iPhone 14.

The 14 and 14 Plus are approximately the same size as the 14 Pro and the 14 Pro Max, respectively, but the standard 14 phones do not come as well-featured as the Pro phones. The standard 14 phones use a less-sophisticated dual-camera system, giving up the telephoto lens of the three-camera 14 Pro series. Other differences among the iPhones include: (1) the 14 and 14 Plus have less powerful graphics engines; (2) the 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max have maximum memory availability of 1 TB, while the 14 and 14 Plus top off at 512 GB; (3) case color options differ, with the 14 and 14 Plus offering midnight, purple, starlight, (Product) RED, and blue, while the 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max come in space black, gold, deep purple, and silver; and (4) the 14 and 14 Plus use Apple’s A15 Bionic chip, while the Pro series uses Apple’s new A16 Bionic chip. Other than that, the phones basically come with the same technology. All come with biometric security in the form of Face ID, all three shoot 4K video, and all three work with and are available through all the major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile). Pricing for the iPhone 14 Pro without a trade-in and without provider discounts starts at $999; the 14 Pro Max is $100 more at each memory size. Pricing for the iPhone 14 without a trade-in and without provider discounts starts at $799; the 14 Plus is $100 more at each memory size. The price will increase as you add memory to the system.

Other iPhones. Apple has retained some models of the iPhone 13 and 12 series in its current lineup for the time being. All these were very good phones in their day, and, absent the better ones now available, would qualify as very good phones today. They lack many of the features available in the 14 series, and we recommend the 14 over all of them. If the price differential is a deal breaker for you, we suggest you go with the 13 series or the 12 series (both of which work on 5G). Another option for those who want a smaller iPhone is the 2022 update to the SE; starting at $429, it is the least expensive iPhone that works on 5G.

You can find a brief comparison of all iPhone models for sale on the Apple website.

We think that, for most people, the iPhone 14 represents the best value in the Apple line, and the 14 Pro comes in second in terms of value (but we consider it quite superior to the iPhone 14 in terms of technology, specifications, and features). The 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max cost more than we feel comfortable recommending for most people, but we consider them superb phones. They give you the advantage of more memory if you want or need it and a noticeably better camera system as well. Bottom line: If you use iPhone photography a lot or if you must have the additional memory, get the 14 Pro or 14 Pro Max (we like the size of the 14 Pro better). If not, get the 14 or 14 Plus and save some money. The older models (particularly the 13) or the updated SE will prove good choices if you want a less expensive phone for a child. We say this because phones eventually get too old to update and become problematic to use. Kids tend to be hard on phones, so it makes some sense to save the money and get a lesser model that you anticipate replacing in a year or two. You may find some older models available on the market. Remember that during the next several years, providers will make 5G networks increasingly available. The 11 does not offer 5G compatibility but will continue to work on 4G and 3G. If the ability to use 5G features is important to you, you must get at least the iPhone 12 or the updated SE.

Samsung Galaxy S22. We prefer Samsung as our Android phone of choice. This does not imply that we do not like other Android phones; we do. We just like the top end of the Samsung line the best. Samsung’s Galaxy S line has proven very successful and extremely popular. Samsung has a number of families of phones available, but we have a strong preference for the Galaxy line. The newest models, the Galaxy S22 series, come in three different versions: the Galaxy S22, the Galaxy S22+, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra. All three have 5G compatibility and resist dust and water.

The S22 serves as the base model. It has a smaller screen and fewer features than its bigger and more expensive sibling, the S22+. Otherwise, its features are pretty much identical. The S22 Ultra represents the top of this line. The S22 Ultra offers 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB memory options; the others come only in 128 GB and 256 GB. The S22 has a 6.1” 120 Hz display with a dynamic AMOLED shield, a 12 MP ultra-wide-angle camera, a 50 MP wide-angle camera, and a 10 MP telephoto camera. It also has a 10 MP front-facing camera.

The S22+ has similar specifications to the S22 but comes in a larger package with a bigger display. Where the Galaxy S22 comes with a 6.1” screen, the Galaxy S22+ comes with a 6.6” screen. Pricing for the S22 starts at $799.99 without a trade-in or provider incentives. Pricing for the S22+ starts at $999.99 without a trade-in or provider incentives.

The top of the Galaxy S22 line, the Galaxy S22 Ultra, starts at $1,199.99 without a trade-in or provider incentives. We like the feature package of this phone significantly more than the lower models in the S22 line, but we also think that it comes in a slightly larger size than we would prefer. The S22 Ultra has four rear-facing cameras and a 40 MP selfie camera. The rear cameras include a 108 MP wide-angle camera, a 12 MP ultra-wide-angle camera, and two 10 MP telephoto cameras. The S22 Ultra has a 6.8” display. The S22 Ultra also offers S Pen compatibility. Depending on your personal preference, that is either a big deal or not much of an improvement. We rarely use anything other than our fingers on a phone, so the addition of the S Pen features to the S22 Ultra does not make a lot of difference to us.

You can find Samsung’s comparison of the basic specifications of the three phones on the Samsung website.

For most people, we would recommend the S22 as the best option in the S22 family, although we consider the S22 Ultra vastly superior and would choose that one for our personal use. If the price does not bother you, we recommend the Ultra, particularly if you want to use the phone for photography.

Comparing the iPhone 14 and the Galaxy S22, the folks at Samsung give Apple a run for the money. If you prefer the Android OS, you will likely prefer the Galaxy S22 family to the iPhone 14 family. We strongly prefer the iOS and opt for the iPhone. Additionally, while the gap continues to narrow, we like the apps available for the iPhone better, and that also supports choosing the iPhone.


The market for tablets has slowed. As the price and power of tablets increase, more and more people have chosen to treat the tablet more like a laptop than a smartphone, upgrading every few years instead of annually or even every other year.

Apple has dominated the tablet market since it introduced the iPad. Once again, we think that Samsung provides Apple’s strongest competition in terms of pure tablets. Apple, however, remains the runaway leader, and, in our opinion, Samsung comes in a distant second. If you want to get or gift a tablet, we recommend you go with Apple. Both of the authors continue to use various iterations of the iPad as their tablet of choice.

iPads. Apple has a handful of models in its current lineup, some of which were updated in October 2022, just as we finished writing this article. We have not had the opportunity to examine the 2022 refreshed lines. We have only worked with the 2021 entries. The top of the line remains the iPad Pro. Apple made a few modifications to the Pro tablets, notably changing the M1 processor to an M2 processor, upgrading the cellular capacity from 4G to 5G, and introducing a few new features. They also have a 10.9” iPad Air and an 8.3” iPad mini that Apple updated and released in September 2021. In October 2022, Apple announced the new iteration of the iPad (10th generation), which starts at $449, runs the A14 Bionic chip, and comes in a new pallet of blue, silver, yellow, and pink.

We like all the iPads, but we particularly recommend the Pro versions for use in your practice. In fact, we like the Pro versions best for all uses. Both Pro versions have pretty much the same architecture and features. The main differences are the size (12.9” or 11”) and weight (1.5 lbs. or 1.03 lbs.).

The iPad Air comes with a 10.9” liquid retina display; works with the second-generation Apple Pencil, the Apple Magic Keyboard, and the Smart Keyboard Folio; and runs on an M1 processor. The camera system includes a 12 MP wide-angle camera and a FaceTime camera. Pricing starts at $599 for WiFi only and $749 for WiFi plus cellular. You get your choice of 64 GB or 256 GB of memory (a $150 price increase). We recommend getting the 256 GB version if you are going to buy the iPad Air.

The iPad Pro comes in two versions, the 11” and the 12.9”. We used to think the larger version was too large and a bit unwieldy. Modifications to the design have changed our opinion, and we now like the larger one quite a bit. We have no issue recommending either version and consider both of them excellent. For our money, they are the best tablets on the market, with no close second. Memory availability goes up to 2 TB. We don’t think most people will need that (ours has it, and we are glad it does). For most, we recommend the 512 GB memory. Remember that you cannot add memory to the iPad after you get it, so you should go with at least the highest amount you anticipate needing. We believe that whatever you think you will need, you should increase that by about 25 percent as memory tends to fill up over time with apps, pictures, music, videos, documents, etc. Both the 11” and the 12.9” versions of the iPad Pro use Apple’s M2 chip. They share the same advanced camera system and include a LiDAR scanner. Both work with Apple’s second-generation pencil and have keyboard folios available as well. Both use facial recognition for security. Whichever size you prefer, we think you will love this device. We recommend it for all professional use and personal use as well. Pricing starts at $799 for the 11” WiFi-only version and $999 for the WiFi with 5G cellular version. The 12.9” is $300 more. Pricing is the same for the new iteration as it was for last year’s versions running the M1 chip. We think the M2 chip will make the iPad Pro tablets better and faster than they were with the M1 chip, and we like 5G better than 4G due to its speed. That said, we have the 2021 iPad Pro with the M1 chip and do not see enough change to justify spending the money for a new iPad Pro to get the M2 chip and the 5G capabilities just yet. We will wait at least one more year to see what the next set of changes looks like. On the other hand, if we did not have last year’s iPad Pro with the M1 chip, we would certainly get this year’s version with the M2 chip and 5G.

We look at the iPad mini as primarily a convenient piece for email and for recreational use. Powered by an A15 Bionic processor, the mini has an impressive 8.3” liquid retina display and now supports the second-generation Apple Pencil. You can get a WiFi only or a WiFi plus cellular iteration of the mini. The camera configuration is quite good and starts with a 12 MP ultra-wide front-facing camera. The rear-facing camera uses a wide-angle construction. The mini starts at $499 for 64 GB WiFi only and $649 with 5G cellular as well as WiFi. The maximum available RAM configuration is 256 GB, and we recommend that you go with that. The only other option, 64 GB, is just too small for our tastes. The mini has also added Touch ID using the top button as the contact point. We think it is a good choice for a youngster or as a second iPad to carry in your bag or coat pocket for leisure use. We seldom leave home without ours.

You can see a quick comparison of specifications and features of the various iPad models on Apple’s website.

Samsung. Samsung’s newest offering in the tablet range is the Galaxy Tab S8 family. It consists of the S8, the S8+, and the S8 Ultra. The S8 comes with an 11” display, the S8+ comes with a 12.4” display, and the S8 Ultra comes with a 14.6” display. Prices start at $599.99 for the S8, $749.99 for the S8+, and $999.99 for the S8 Ultra. You can get full details on the Samsung website.

Microsoft. Microsoft has evolved from simply an operating system company to a seller of many things, including hardware. Several years ago, Microsoft came out with the Surface. Microsoft designed the Surface to function both as a laptop and as a tablet. As the Surface evolved, it improved and now functions quite well as a laptop and reasonably well as a tablet. It also evolved into several models, including our favorite, the Surface Pro. Due to its size and functionality, we like the Surface Pro 8 very much as a Windows laptop. It handles the duties we have given it well and works nicely with the Windows operating system and the Microsoft office suite. While we do not like it as a tablet anywhere nearly as well as the iPad Pro, it offers one advantage that Apple still does not: The Surface Pro (like all the Surface devices) runs a Windows operating system that enables you to use most of your applications in both laptop and tablet modes. Microsoft now offers a complete lineup of Surface computing devices ranging from 10.5” to 15” screen sizes and with varying amounts of power and memory. Also included in the lineup is a desktop version called the Surface Studio 2.

Our current favorite, the Surface Pro 8, starts at $799.99. Fully equipped at the top of the line with an Intel Core i7 processor, 32 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB SSD, it will cost you $2,299.99. You can save $700 by taking it down to 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD, which should suffice for most uses. Note that it does not include a keyboard. While you can use other keyboards with it, Microsoft sells a nice package of a cover with a Surface Pro Signature Keyboard and the Slim Pen 2 for $279.99, and we recommend including that in your package.

Microsoft has announced the Surface Pro 9 as well as a Surface Studio 2+ and currently offers the opportunity to preorder them on its website. The Surface Pro 9 will start at $999.99 but fully tricked out comes to $1,899.99. The price iterations reflect an increase from 8 GB to 16 GB for RAM and an increase of the SSD from 128 GB to 512 GB. The keyboard remains a separate item and continues to cost $279.99. You can get all the specs on the Microsoft website. The Surface Studio 2+ lists for $4,499.99. Details are available on the website. According to the Microsoft website, both the Surface Pro 9 and the Studio 2+ will be available by October 25, 2022.

Accessories for Mobile Devices

Accessorizing hardware offers many opportunities for gift giving at reasonable costs. In many cases, you need to know precisely what hardware your recipient has; in other cases, the accessories function generically and will work with most portable electronic devices.

A case, a case, my kingdom for a case. The number of manufacturers and models of cases for electronic devices has grown so immense and changes so rapidly that it is almost impossible to keep up. Most cases are device-specific, and most device manufacturers alter their devices just enough with each version to ensure that last year’s device-specific cases won’t fit this year’s devices. We think that electronic devices should all live in cases and/or protective envelopes. Look for a strong case that will provide protection to your device against such common disasters as dropping the phone onto a sidewalk. We like the case to have a little protective padding around the back and edges and a ridge rising above the display to reduce the likelihood of a shattered display if the device falls facedown. Cases with covers that fold over like a wallet have some benefits, but we have found them inconvenient when trying to use the phone’s camera. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors for smartphone cases. Choose one on the basis of functionality and the protection it offers to your phone. Speaking of protective cases, we have them for smartphones, tablets, laptops, and e-readers.

Make a power play! Each year we grow more dependent on our electronic devices. As a result, more and more people have found that they must recharge their devices at least once during the day. You can find lots of articles about how to prolong battery power in devices. Most of the suggestions trade functionality for longevity, and we think that’s a bad bargain. We don’t like the idea of spending a lot of money to get features and then not using them to preserve battery life. We have found it helpful to keep chargers and/or power banks available for ready use in our offices, homes, and cars (and hotel rooms when we travel). We also carry a charger in our briefcase, and we almost always carry a portable external power source (sometimes called a power bank) as insurance against running out of power at an inopportune time.

If you get a power bank, know that all power banks are not created equal. Be sure that the power bank you get has ports that generate sufficient power to charge your device. Tablets and smartphones often have different requirements, and many can accept power from a variety of chargers that generate greater or lesser power. As a general rule, smartphones will charge with less power than tablets, and tablets with less power than laptops. Many devices charge faster with a higher-powered charger.

You can find power banks almost everywhere these days: Best Buy, Costco, the Apple Store, Microsoft stores, Amazon, even Rite Aid and Walgreens. You can also get them at many airports and some gas stations. Well-known names include mophie, Jackery, Monster, Samsung, and myCharge.

The power supplies from RAVPower represent some of the best values we have found. We also like the power supplies put out by Anker. Some power supplies pack a remarkable amount of charge into a tiny package. When considering external batteries, keep in mind that the higher capacity, the more charge you get. Conversely, the higher the capacity, the larger the device. Accordingly, size and weight become trade-offs. If you have one of the new iPhones that accept MagSafe Charger devices, consider a MagSafe power bank. The one disadvantage of these devices is that most are limited—they have no output ports other than the magnetic connection, so you cannot use them for other devices. On the other hand, they attach magnetically to your phone, so you have a consolidated unit, making it less cumbersome.

You can get heavy-duty power banks that come with electrical power outlet receptacles that will allow you to charge most laptops as well as other devices. Remember that 100 watt-hours are a cap imposed on batteries carried on planes, so if you get one larger than that, do not plan to fly with it.

As Samsung’s phones have had near-field communication (NFC) wireless charging available for a while and Apple has included this feature in recent models, you might also consider gifting an NFC charging base. Samsung sells them, as do a number of other manufacturers. Note that while wireless charging is often convenient and helpful, devices will generally charge faster when plugged into the power source.

Lenses, tripods, and selfie sticks. While third-party manufacturers have offered external lenses for phones and tablets for some time, we have not found most of them very useful. They sometimes improve your picture and sometimes just get in the way. If you have some extra money and want to experiment, by all means, give it a try. We have found those manufactured by Moment satisfactory and sometimes quite useful. They are among the best (and among the costliest) we have seen.

Tripods, monopods, and mini tripods continue as useful accessories for cameras and phones. We have several, and you can get them with attachments to enable you to use them with your phone or tablet as well as a more traditional camera, a light, or a webcam and/or microphone or some combination of those devices. Our favorite tripods come from Manfrotto. They are not the least expensive on the market but are well made and full featured. We think they work most suitably for serious photographers who can and will take advantage of some of the extra features to justify the extra cost. The Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod costs $25.59 at Amazon and works very well for a tabletop tripod. For a full-sized tripod, check out the Manfrotto Element Traveller ($117.32 at Amazon). Manfrotto tripods at a higher price point include the Travel Befree ($191.93 at Amazon) and the MK190PRO4-3W ($286.30 at B&H), as well as several with different features between those points in the range. Look up Manfrotto at Amazon for a list of what they have or go to the Manfrotto website to check out the entire line. In truth, for most of us, more basic, less fancy, and substantially less expensive tripods will work just fine. Amazon has its own line of Amazon Basics tripods that seem quite adequate and sell for far less than many of the competitors. By way of example, the Amazon Basics 50” Lightweight Camera Mount Tripod costs only $14.99, including a bag. You do want to be careful that you do not get a super-cheap tripod that will malfunction after a few uses. The market has lots of those, which is why we like the Manfrotto so much. We have tried some of the Amazon Basics devices, and they seem fairly solid, so we are comfortable using them.

Monopods weigh less, carry more easily, and generally cost less. They provide support for your camera or phone, but you have to hold them up as they have only one leg. Accordingly, they have no utility with respect to setting up lighting unless you plan on having someone hold them up. They would work for a short video, but you will prefer a tripod for a longer video. They work best for still shots. Many of the same companies that make tripods also make monopods. Many sell packages of a tripod and a monopod at a discount. Our favorite monopod also comes from Manfrotto. We like the Compact Extreme 2-in-1 Monopod and Pole from Manfrotto a lot. Amazon sells it for $55. Amazon also sells its own Amazon Basics 67” Monopod for $16.95. For most people the Amazon Basics will suffice. Again, you want to be careful that you do not get something that will fall apart or malfunction after a few uses. The market has many of those devices available.

The advent of the mobile phone/camera also ushered in “selfie” photos. One of the problems with selfies, however, is that most of us lack sufficient arm length to get the camera far enough out to take in what we generally want in a selfie. Accordingly, a selfie stick becomes a great accessory. You can get selfie sticks from any number of manufacturers at a variety of prices. You can even get combination devices that work as a selfie stick and a monopod or tripod or all three. Selfie sticks generally come with remote devices to pair to your cell phone so you can take a picture without using the timer or touching the phone. When it comes to selfie sticks, we have found many more devices on the market that are poorly made than we have with monopods or tripods. For a well-made model, you might take a look at the ATUMTEK Bluetooth Selfie Stick Tripod ($25.99 at Amazon). The handle opens up into a tripod base to give you some ability to let the device stand on its own (don’t rely on it with a heavy device, though). It expands from only 7” to 31”. We think 31” is acceptable but a bit on the short side. Ideally, we would want a selfie stick that extends to around 36” to 40”. The ATUMTEK Bluetooth Selfie Stick Tripod also has a detachable remote-control device.

We have seen a very interesting device on the Amazon website that has received some pretty good reviews. It combines a gimbal to stabilize the phone with a selfie stick and a tripod base, all for $38.99. The brand name is Obudyard. As a general rule, gimbals cost considerably more. While these devices do not provide all the functionality of a full-scale gimbal, they provide enough to help out in stabilizing basic videos. Another gimbal device we like costs a bit more but remains on the inexpensive side, the FeiyuTech Vimble 3, available for $119 on Amazon. The DJI Osmo 3 represents another excellent option. You can find it on Amazon for $149. We like the Osmo 3 a bit better, but we think that the Vimble 3 represents a better value and will prove adequate for most users. If you get the Vimble 3, however, be aware that it does not include usable instructions in the box, but there is a very helpful manual online.

Camera Gift Ideas

Most smartphones take excellent still photos as well as movies these days, as do tablets. Most smartphone manufacturers consider a camera upgrade an essential part of the upgrade ritual. The camera capabilities of top-end modern cell phones have grown good enough to rival many stand-alone cameras. For many (most) users, the smartphone or tablet has become all the camera they need or want. The pictures we can take with cameras included in the top-of-the-line iPhones and Samsung Galaxy series compare favorably with those from mid-level dedicated digital cameras. In some cases, particularly in the hands of a skilled photographer, the quality of the results will exceed those from a dedicated camera in the hands of a less capable photographer. While we still prefer dedicated video cameras for videos and high-quality digital cameras for stills, we use the cameras in our smartphones far more often than we employ stand-alone cameras. Although we have seen any number of people using the cameras in their tablets for similar purposes, we have found that the size of the tablets makes them more unwieldy and far less convenient than a phone.

Although you can add third-party accessory lenses to many smartphones, the general quality of the accessory lenses comes under the heading of “adequate” and, more often than not, detracts from the quality of the built-in lens. Even with add-on lenses, smartphones do not have the range offered by many dedicated cameras, especially system cameras having interchangeable lenses. If you want to explore accessory lenses, we suggest you check out the Moment line noted above.

If you get a point-and-shoot camera from a second- or third-tier manufacturer, you might not get noticeably better images than you get from the camera in a good smartphone. If you stay with the top-line manufacturers—Canon, Nikon, Sony—and focus on the top of their range, you will end up with better equipment for picture taking than your smartphone. Other manufacturers, such as Olympus, Fuji, and Samsung, also produce reasonably priced, high-quality camera models for you to consider. Remember, however, that the trick to great photography is not generally having great equipment (although that does not hurt). The secret is a photographer who understands the elements of photography, the use of filters, lighting, contrast, and composition. Talent and skill properly employed almost always outweigh hardware.

System cameras offer interchangeable lenses, while point-and-shoot cameras come with a single, non-exchangeable lens (often a zoom lens), although you can sometimes obtain an accessory lens that will attach to the camera over the built-in lens. A mirrorless camera is a digital camera that uses an image sensor to provide an image to a rear display or an electronic viewfinder. Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have a built-in mechanical mirror to switch the scene between the optical viewfinder and the image sensor. Because they contain more hardware, DSLRs generally are bulkier and heavier. Because of the built-in mirror components, DSLRs are more complicated to build and generally more expensive. We think that the DSLR is on the path of the dodo. We anticipate that in the next few years, many, if not most, manufacturers will reduce or sunset production of the mirrored DSLR and focus on mirrorless cameras. As mirrorless cameras generally cost less to make and are smaller and lighter than their mirrored counterparts, they travel better and often cost less.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII. Although it has been around for a while and is likely due for an update, we still like Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 VII ($1,299.99) and think it is the best single-lens digital camera for general use for a moderately advanced to advanced photographer. We also consider it one of the best overall travel cameras on the market for all but the professional photographer. A professional might carry this camera as a backup or grab-shot camera. For the rest of us, it likely qualifies as all the camera we need for most uses, including travel. This is the seventh generation of the RX100 cameras. Most of the previous models remain available from Sony or from third-party sellers at substantially less than their original selling price. In fact, the older models have seen multiple price reductions, as they go down each time Sony releases a new model. Although the newer models have more features and are generally better than the earlier versions, the fact remains that the original RX100 model still takes great pictures.

Zeiss makes the lenses for the RX100 series cameras. Zeiss has been around for a long time and has a reputation for making exceptionally high-quality lenses. The RX100 VII also supports 4K video recording, which some earlier models do not. Although the lens for the VII works a bit slower than the lenses on earlier versions, the trade-off is that the VII gives you a much longer zoom range (24–200mm equivalent) than any of the predecessors except the RX100 VI. This zoom range makes it our choice for travel. Earlier versions, which had shorter zoom ranges, did not provide the telephoto functionality that most people want in a travel camera. The camera’s diminutive size lets it fit into almost any coat pocket, backpack, purse, or briefcase with ease. Due to its light weight, you can comfortably wear it around your neck all day. The only disadvantage that it has compared to its older predecessors is that the longer focal length of the lens results in a slower (f2.8-4.5) lens. While we think the model VII offers more than the model VI, the difference primarily rests in the video capabilities of the camera. If you do not shoot a lot of videos or don’t need 4K video, the model VI represents a better value for your money. If you have an RX100 VI, we do not recommend that you spend the money to upgrade to the VII unless you take a lot of videos and will benefit from the 4K video capability.

If you don’t want to go with the Sony RX100, some other point-and-shoot cameras to consider include Canon’s PowerShot G9 X Mark II ($649.95 at Walmart), the Fujifilm X100V ($1,399 at, and the Olympus Tough TG-6 ($499.99 at Amazon).

Point of view cameras. Point of view (POV) cameras have become quite popular over the last several years. You can often see people wearing a POV camera while skateboarding, snowboarding, snow or water skiing, bike riding, river rafting, or doing lots of other things. We have seen many tourists with POV cameras strapped to their heads or posted out in front of them as they tour various venues throughout the world, recording the entire trip for them. The POV camera records video of whatever you put in front of it. Since they first hit the market, the quality has improved, and while still not our first choice for high-quality video, some of the POV cameras do quite well and produce highly satisfactory video footage with minimal effort.

The GoPro HERO11 Black represents our first choice for a POV camera. GoPro has been a leader in the field for several years, and each generation of its POV cameras has shown noticeable improvement over its predecessors.

The HERO11 Black, released earlier this year, shoots 27 MP stills photographs and 5.3K video at 60 FPS. The camera has an advanced video stabilization system and is waterproof to more than 30 feet. The HERO11 Black lists for $649.94 but is available with discounts if you subscribe to GoPro’s web services. See the GoPro website for details. (At the time we write this, the HERO11 Black is available on Amazon for $449.99.) The HERO11 represents a moderate upgrade from the HERO10. If you have a HERO10, it is probably not worth it for you to get the 11. If you have none, the HERO11 makes a better choice as the enhanced feature set more than justifies the $50 price difference.

A plethora of accessories from GoPro and third parties will help you take action videos while holding or wearing the camera. The accessories range from a few dollars to the price of the camera. GoPro’s $29.99 Handler grip works well for most general uses, and for $39.99 you can get the Chesty rig to mount the camera on your chest. You can see the entire list of accessories on the GoPro website. You can find compatible third-party accessories at most camera stores as well as online.

Photo printers. If you have been to a wedding, baby shower, bridal shower, or even an ABA meeting with a photo booth, you will notice there is always a line of people eager to hop in and print out their souvenir photos. Physical photos are entertaining for all ages. Older generations appreciate the nostalgia, while younger generations are often ecstatic to cram into a booth and create these lasting silly memories. Unfortunately, you cannot always carry a photo booth with you. But you can carry a mini photo printer. In the age-old battle of instant photography, the two heavyweights battling it out have always been Kodak and Polaroid. This instant photography process actually dates to 1947, when Edwin Land unveiled a state-of-the-art instant file process compatible with the eponymous Land Camera. He then went on to found Polaroid, which manufactured the camera from 1948 until the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Kodak started out making the film for Polaroid’s cameras, but, in the 1970s, they pivoted into the market for instant photography themselves. Polaroid fought hard against its competition with multiple lawsuits accusing Kodak of illegally incorporating instant photography technology into their products.

With its retro design and classic logo, the Kodak Mini 3 Retro instant photo printer ($129.99 on Amazon) is a treat for all ages. This mini photo printer is ultra-portable and can easily fit in a (decent size) pocket or handbag. The printer comes in three color options: white, black, and classic Kodak yellow. It has a minimalistic design with simple controls that make it easy to use. The device is rechargeable via a USB-C charging port. It can produce around 25 photos on a single charge and then takes about 90 minutes to be fully charged and ready to go again. The printer uses Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to your iOS or Android smartphone. You communicate with it through the Kodak Photo Printer app. Through the app, you can do some photo editing and add design details to your pictures before printing them out. It is fun to watch the printing process, which uses a four-pass dye sublimation printing process. The first three passes imprint the photo colors, while the fourth pass gives the photo a clear coating for protection. The printed photo dries quickly and is also laminated, making it water-resistant and smudge-resistant. This Kodak Mini 3 Retro is limited to 3” x 3” square photos, which can be a challenge to the scrapbooker in your life. There are also 2.1” x 3.4” ($119.99 on Amazon) and 4” x 6” ($139.99 on Amazon) models available if you prefer, but each model can only print the size for which it is designed.

The Polaroid Hi-Print Pocket Photo Printer ($77.40 on Amazon) uses a similar dye sublimation printing process with a paper and color foil cartridge. This new technology results in beautiful, vivid photos in under a minute. The printer generates 2” x 3” borderless photos by connecting to your smartphone via the Polaroid Hi-Print mobile app. Once it is finished printing, the print is ready to go—no waiting for the photo to dry. You can peel off the back of the picture, turning it into an instant photo sticker. It can generate around 20 pictures on a full charge, just a little shy of the Kodak Mini 3. Once it is out of battery life, it will take about an hour to recharge.

Another contender from Polaroid is the Polaroid Lab Instant Printer ($129.99). The Polaroid Lab allows you to take any digital photo and turn it into a classic Polaroid picture. Basically, you place your phone on top of the printer, and it will take in the image and produce the Polaroid picture. Its retro design does a good job of looking like it belongs in a lab. When you power it on, a sort of neck extends out from the top of the printer, and you then uncap the viewfinder. From your phone, you will download the Polaroid app and then open it and select Polaroid Lab. From there, you select your photo and make any adjustments you would like to the exposure and color balance. Then place your phone on top of the Lab device (you will hear a chime confirming it is in the right position) and press a button to begin printing. The print is instant, but once it prints, you will want to put it in your pocket or a desk drawer or other dark area to get the best exposure while it finishes developing. For color film, the picture will take 10 to 15 minutes for your image to properly expose. Black-and-white images will take only 5 to 10 minutes. One feature of the Lab printer is you can create a collage of images by going into the app and choosing whether you want to print in combinations of two, three, four, six, or nine images.

Venturing out of the Kodak/Polaroid universe, check out the Canon SELPHY CP1500 ($139.99 on B&H). This compact printer can make 4” x 6” lab-quality photos from your phone (via the SELPHY app), computer, or digital camera. It is larger than the pocket printers (excluding the Polaroid Lab) that we have looked at thus far but would still be portable in your bag or suitcase. You can also use it to make passport ID photos. It comes in three colors: black, white, and pink. Like the other photo printers here, it employs a dye sublimation process that requires an ink ribbon designed specifically for the printer. The ink is combined with the printer sheets for convenience. Unlike the previous printers, this model can print a variety of sizes, up to the 4” x 6” postcard size. The printer itself features a 3.5” interactive screen for navigating. With a full charge and extendable battery, this printer can generate 72 prints before needing a recharge. From the home screen, you can choose to print a standard single print, two prints to a sheet, a bookmark-style print, and a shuffle print layout that will allow you to print 8 or 20 images on a single sheet.

Webcams. More and more of us have dramatically increased our use of videoconferencing in recent years. Most of the cameras that come built into computers, however, leave something to be desired. If you want to consider upgrading your camera, we have a strong partiality to the offerings from Logitech, and both of us use Logitech cameras in the C900 series; one author uses the C920s ($59.99), and the other used to use the C922 Pro ($99.99). Logitech’s Brio ultra-HD webcam camera has more features than the C922 Pro, including HD, 4K speed, and zoom capabilities. On the other hand, it costs $199.99. One of us upgraded to the Brio; but we both do lots of video work, including teaching classes online, so that cost can be justified (at least in our minds). We have found the less expensive cameras perfectly fine, particularly the C922 Pro. For the present, and for most users, we think the C922 Pro represents the best and most reasonable way to go. The C922 Pro gives you the potential of an excellent image, subject to appropriate lighting, but no HD, no 4K, and no zoom features (do not confuse the last statement as suggesting an incompatibility with the Zoom videoconference service, as it is quite compatible).

We also highly recommend the AnkerWork B600 Video Bar ($219.99), which is a multitasking video powerhouse. The video bar includes a 2K video camera, adjustable cool and warm lighting features, four built-in microphones, and high-definition, low-distortion dual speakers, all in a convenient bar that you can mount on the top of your monitor. The app that pairs with the camera features MagicSight, a lighting function that automatically adapts to make sure you always look bright and professional, even in low-light settings. The camera offers AI auto-framing, so when you move around, the camera lens will follow you to keep your face framed. The video bar produces a noticeably crisp, clear image even though it uses 2K resolution rather than the higher-end 4K resolution.

Let There Be Light!

Lighting represents a critical but often overlooked part of setting up for videoconferencing. For videoconferencing and especially court appearances, you will want to avoid backlighting as it will cast shadows over you and make it harder for people to see you. We explored lots of lighting setups during the COVID-19 lockdown. We have found some devices that we really like.

Lume Cube makes our favorite lighting components. You can find similar devices from other manufacturers and sometimes less costly ones. We have found Lume Cube’s offerings to work well. We consider their pricing more reasonable than not and like the flexibility of their components.

For everyday use, we have settled on two of Lume Cube’s Edge Lights. You can buy a single Edge Light ($129.99) or save about $20 and buy a two-pack for $239.99. We opted for the two-pack to minimize glare. The Edge Lights come with a clamp and adjustable arm to let you attach the light to a table or desk and then position it for optimal lighting. The on-off switch and other controls are set in the arm. The adjustments let you make the light brighter or dimmer and give you the ability to change the light’s color temperature to make it more like daylight or warmer indoor lighting. We especially like this flexibility as it allows us to “tune” the lights to supplement the ambient lighting and optimize image quality.

Lume Cube also makes a Broadcast Lighting Kit ($119.99). The kit includes an LED panel light and tripod. Like the Edge Light, the Broadcast Lighting Kit allows you to adjust brightness and color temperature. The panel light gives about the same result and flexibility as the Edge Light, but it works better for setting up on the road or anywhere other than your primary workplace. Rather than attaching to a desk or table, the panel sets up on a tripod. Detached from the tripod, the panel can be used as a light for cameras.

Lume Cube offers a number of accessories for their lighting kits, including a variety of mounts and stands for on- and off-camera use for the panels and a portable battery pack inside a grip for the panel light ($59.99).

Lume Cube also makes two sizes of cordless ring lights. The original Cordless 18” Ring Light sells for $199.99. The recently released Cordless 12” Ring Light Mini sells for $119.99. You might also take a look at the Cordless Ring Light Pro ($259.99). It is pretty neat and offers some powerful flexibility. If you do a lot of content creation, you may be able to justify the additional expense. We think the regular version works fine. The ring light design allows you to place the camera in the center of the circle of light to provide even lighting around the entire image. It is a simple but successful formula. We opted for a less expensive version that requires an electrical outlet: the Ring Light Kit from Neweer ($134.59). The kit includes a stand and a travel bag that is functional but not very protective. The Neweer Ring Light set up easily and worked fine, but we stopped using it when we got the Lume Cube Edge Lights, which we strongly prefer. If we were going to get a ring light today, we would likely opt for a cordless version and get the Cordless 12” Ring Light Mini if we wanted to travel with it.


In our opinion, most of the microphones that come built into computers, while certainly functional and more than adequate for FaceTiming or other casual personal calls, do not work well enough for formal presentations, creating media (such as a podcast), or for trials or other hearings. We think that anyone using videoconferencing professionally and anyone who wants the best possible sound for videoconferences should get an upgraded microphone.

If you buy an upgraded webcam, many, if not most, will come with a microphone. The microphones built into the cameras range from pretty fair to excellent. The Logitech cameras we discussed in the previous section have decent microphones. You can, however, do better. We have developed a strong partiality to Blue, particularly its Yeti microphones ($99.99 to $249.99). We have used the standard Yeti for several years ($129.99). The $99.99 Yeti Nano provides a smaller package. The top end of the line, the Yeti Pro (discontinued by Blue but still readily available from third-party vendors), will set you back $249.99. It is something that we could possibly justify, given the amount of work we do online, but we still think it is more than we need. We think that the best bang for your buck comes with the $129.99 standard Yeti. If you think the Yeti line too costly, Blue also makes a less expensive line called Snowball (the $49.99 Snowball Ice and the $69.99 Snowball). We have tried the standard $69.99 version, and it works quite well. It would be sufficient for most attorneys to use professionally. We prefer the Yeti, but you might prefer the cost of the Snowball.

If you want to look outside the Blue line, you can find some excellent microphones from Samson and Shure, among others.


Speakers, both Bluetooth and wired, make a great gift, as do earphones and headphones for more private enjoyment. You have literally thousands to choose from. We have looked at a number of speakers that others have recommended to us or that earned high ratings from others, determined which we like best, and now we pass that information along to you. You may notice that we lean toward the wireless Bluetooth speakers and earphones. We do that as (1) wired speakers have dropped to a far less significant position, (2) it has grown increasingly difficult to find wired speakers, and (3) we prefer the flexibility of wireless connectivity.

When it comes to Bluetooth speakers, here are a few specifications to keep in mind while shopping. The first is battery life. Some Bluetooth speakers can last up to 24 hours of play time when fully charged, while others offer substantially less. Most of the larger and better Bluetooth speakers will allow you to play using battery power or plugged into a power outlet. Other features to consider include water resistance (especially if you intend to use the speaker outdoors), sound quality, and portability. The more water-resistant a speaker is, the more it will cost. Water resistance is measured by its IPX Rating, where the IP stands for “Ingress Protection.” The letters “IPX” are followed by a one- or two-digit number that indicates the item’s level of protection against solid substances (water, dust, etc.). The rating system breaks down as:

  • IPX0: Not water-resistant.
  • IPX1: Protected against small drops of water falling vertically.
  • IPX2: Protected against spraying water when tilted up to 15 degrees.
  • IPX3: Protected against spraying water when tilted up to 60 degrees.
  • IPX4: Protected against sprays or splashes in any direction.
  • IPX5: Protected against pressurized water streams or small water jets in any direction.
  • IPX6: Protected against high pressurized water streams or strong water jets in any direction.
  • IPX7: Protected against immersion at a depth of up to one meter (three feet) for a certain period (usually 30 minutes).
  • IPX8: Protected against continual immersion at depths of over one meter (three feet).

Generally, speakers in the IPX6 range are considered “water-resistant,” while those in the IPX7 to IPX8 range are considered essentially “waterproof.”

Sound quality is hard to judge without testing the product in person and in various environments, but it is the most critical element of a good speaker. In addition to sound clarity and depth, make a note of the volume level a speaker can produce. Fortunately, you can often find the devices you want to consider on display at places such as Best Buy, where they often allow you to try out the speakers before you buy them.

We have a number of recommendations for you and will start with the less expensive speakers on our list.

For the adventurous traveler who could benefit from longer battery life, check out the Anker Soundcore 2 ($39.99 on Amazon). The Soundcore 2 is a portable Bluetooth speaker with 12-watt stereo sound and up to 24 hours of play time. The design is basic but functional. The body of the speaker is encased in a rubber material, making it more durable, and there are large buttons on the top of the speaker, making it easy to interact with the device. Its sound quality is pretty good for the price. It’s available in black, blue, red, and teal. If the person you are buying this for is picky about sound quality, check out the Soundcore Motion+ ($106.99 on Amazon). While the Motion+ offers a 30-watt speaker, it offers only around 12 hours of play time at moderate volume levels. The speaker has a companion app for iOS or Android phones that allows you to customize the sound. You can also link two Motion Plus speakers to create a stereo pair. It features an IPX7 rating. It’s available in black, blue, and red.

For normal, everyday use, you do not need a speaker with 24-hour playing time. Instead, look for one with around a ten-hour battery life. The JBL Clip 4 ($79.95) is a micro-Bluetooth speaker with a ten-hour battery life (depending on how loud you play your music and the type of music you play). It is a smaller design for portability and comes equipped with a carabiner clip to easily attach to things while on the go. It is not as customizable as the previous iteration, the Clip 3, but it does come in many different colors, including black, blue, gray, pink, red, white, and squad (a Camouflage color), plus customizable options. The Clip 4 has an IPX7 rating, making it waterproof; however, while it is safe in and around a swimming pool, you may want to leave it at home when out on a lake or river. Despite its waterproof rating and compact size, the speaker does not float.

If you want to step up to a higher level of sound quality, you have many options available to you from manufacturers such as Bose, JBL, Ultimate Ears (UE), Sonos, and others. The speakers in this category have a larger footprint, a bigger and richer sound, less portability, and, of course, a higher price tag.

Some of our favorite Bluetooth speakers in all price ranges and sizes come from Bose. Bose engineers the sound but does an excellent job with it. You can explore the Bose Bluetooth speaker line on their website. On the smaller side: the SoundLink Micro ($119), the SoundLink Flex ($149), and the SoundLink Revolve+ II ($329). On the larger side: the Bose Smart Speaker 500 ($379).

Sonos offers a full line of portable speakers of increasing size, power, and price. We think the Sonos Roam ($179) represents an excellent value, producing a clear and powerful sound.

Because most of us find ourselves spending more time communicating digitally, speakers for your computer station also make a great gift. If you are using the speakers that came with your desktop or those built into your laptop, you have likely noticed it is missing a full, rich stereo sound.

When it comes to speakers for your computer, we have a particular partiality to the Bose Companion speakers. The current iteration (Companion 2 Series III) costs $149 for a pair. Bose speakers remain plug-and-play. They provide excellent engineered sound quality. They do not include a separate sound module for bass or have one that Bose designed to work with the Companion speakers. They do, however, include an engineered design to produce good-quality bass from the two speakers.

Headphones and Earphones

You can invest your money in far more portable devices that only provide sound on a personal basis. We think you should do that as earphones and headphones prevent your sound from annoying others. We like the idea of having both speakers and earphones/headphones available, but we would opt for headphones and earphones if we had to choose between those and external speakers.

We distinguish between earphones as devices that have some portion that goes into your ear and headphones as devices that fit over or around the ears. We will use this distinction in discussing the two categories. Generally, we prefer the portability and flexibility of earphones but consider headphones more comfortable. We also think that the best-quality headphones will outperform the best-quality earphones. On the other hand, the quality of high-end earphones often reaches a level that may cause you to eschew the extra cost of the best headphones.

When it comes to earphones, we have a strong partiality to the new, second generation of the Apple AirPods Pro ($249) and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II ($299). We also like the Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro ($229.99), and Jabra Elite Active 85t ($229.99). These all have noise-cancellation features and produce excellent sound quality for streaming music. They will also work with Zoom and with your telephone. Each fits inside your ear and comes with different sizes of inserts to allow you to adjust to the best personalized fit for you. Each is truly wireless, meaning no wires connect the buds to each other or to your devices. If you have an iPhone, we think the AirPods Pro represent your best option, despite the price. They work beautifully with the iPhone and produce excellent sound. We like the sound of the Bose QuietComfort II a lot but think the very competitive Jabra Elite Active 85t represents a better buy.

For a budget model, we like the JBuds Air Pro ($59). They are affordable and offer a beautiful sound with 36+ hours of battery life. They are perfect for outdoor use when you want great sound. The case contains the USB charging cord, making it convenient to carry around everything you need. The case can recharge the earbuds themselves multiple times on a single charge.

Our favorite headphones include Apple’s AirPods Max (truly exceptional sound at a truly high price: $549), Shure AONIC 50 ($299), Bose QuietComfort 45 (excellent engineered sound, typical of Bose at a not unreasonable price of $329), Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 ($399), and Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399.99). Each of these headphones has excellent noise-cancellation features. All have built-in microphones to allow you to use them for Zoom or telephone calls, as well as music streaming. All produce excellent to superior sound. We have listed them in the order of our sound preference, but we recognize sound preference as idiosyncratic. All of them come with travel cases and adjust to fit inside the cases. The Shure, however, comes with the largest case and takes up quite a bit more room when traveling than the others. The Shure headphones fold flat to fit in the case but do not fold in to compress their size. The AirPods Max have the most diminutive case but not the most protective. Bose and Sony provide similarly sized compact cases that protect the devices quite well. If you plan to travel a lot and like the idea of packing compactly, you will likely not want to get the Shure due to its size. On the other hand, if you want to travel really compactly, you will opt for earphones rather than headphones and leave the headphones to enjoy at home.

For those of you wanting to maximize contact with the outside world while listening to your earphones, and for some who have certain types of hearing impairment, you might want to consider bone-conduction headphones. These devices fit around the ears but remain open, so they do not diminish ambient noise. They transmit sound by sending vibrations to your skull. They do work fairly well, although we have never found one that we thought was as good as the better traditional earphones and headphones we tried. In our opinion your best bet in this genre is the Shokz OpenRun Pro ($179.95 at Amazon). Another reviewer spoke very highly of the Mojowa bone conduction headphones ($129.99 at Amazon). We tried them and found them pretty decent but prefer the Shokz.

Smart Home Tech Gifts

Smart home technology makes for a great gift because it makes day-to-day life a little easier. This tech comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether the person you are shopping for prefers Amazon, Apple, or Google devices, there is something for everyone, whether they are tech savvy or not. In addition, the latest network protocol, WiFi 6, which came out in 2019, is finally becoming mainstream for smart home devices. A network protocol is an established set of rules that determine how data is transmitted between devices that are connected by the same network. Sometimes, someone comes up with an idea of how to structure the rules to make data transfer more efficient. Then the powers that be roll out devices with a new network protocol. The latest edition is referred to as WiFi 6.

Smart speakers. Since 2014, Amazon has offered a lineup of smart speakers that can integrate seamlessly into our daily lives, setting timers and giving us weather reports on oral demand. There is a lot to consider when choosing an Amazon smart device, but you cannot really go wrong with any of them. Let’s start with the Echo. First introduced in 2014, the Echo maintained its cylindrical shape through the third generation (released in 2019). With the fourth generation (2020), it took on a sleek spherical shape, like a fortune teller’s crystal ball. A smaller version, the Echo Dot, was originally shaped like a hockey puck (2016), but, with the fourth generation (2020), it also took on a spherical appearance.

Amazon has not introduced an update to the fourth-generation Echo that we reviewed last year (it’s on sale now for only $49.99, a steep discount from the regular price of $99.99), but there is a recently released fifth-generation Echo Dot (also $49.99). The design aesthetic of the new Echo Dot is pretty much the same as last year’s model, with the same fabric-covered spherical shape and identical dimensions (3.9” x 3.9” x 1.7”). Both the fourth- and fifth-generation models feature a light ring around the base and four control buttons at the top of the sphere. And although both models are available in charcoal and glacier white colors, the new model also offers a blue option. You will notice small differences on the back of the device. The fourth-generation speaker featured a power connection point and a 3.5mm audio output, but the fifth-generation speaker only offers the power connection point. Both generations are also available with an LED clock for a minor step up in price ($59.99), with the newer device featuring a more detailed display and offering weather, song titles, and more. One noticeable improvement is the sound quality; there is a slightly larger driver powering the speaker inside the fifth-generation Echo Dot. This new driver promises to double the bass, offering a more robust sound and reduction in the distortion that can occur at higher volumes. Both the fourth-gen and fifth-gen iterations can also function as a WiFi mesh extender for eero routers (reviewed in detail below). Both run Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant, and you can control them with the Alexa app on a smartphone. The fifth-generation Echo Dot contains additional sensors, including a temperature sensor that can identify the temperature in the room where it sits. The sensor can connect with Alexa routines to control other smart devices in your home autonomously. For example, it can turn on the fan or turn off the heat if that room reaches a certain temperature.

If you are buying an Echo Dot for a little one, check out the whimsical designs for the Echo Dot Kids ($59.99). Current styles include an owl and a dragon. The purchase comes with one free year of Amazon Kids+ ($4.99 per month if you would like to continue after that), a digital subscription designed for kids aged three to 12 to help them learn, grow, and explore in a safe environment. With Amazon Kids+, kids can enjoy kid-friendly Audible books, interactive games, and educational Alexa skills (skills are voice-activated capabilities that enhance the functions of your Alexa device.)

For Apple (and Siri) enthusiasts, check out the Apple HomePod mini ($99), a Siri-powered smart speaker. It offers alarm and timer features like other smart speakers. You can manage the device through the Apple home app, which means if you utilize Apple-enabled smart devices throughout your home, you will have fewer apps on your smartphone. The Echo Dot offers similar functionality for less money than the HomePod mini, but if you prefer to build a pure Apple system, it is worth checking out. Those who wish an alternative to both the Amazon and Apple ecosystems can check out the Google Nest Mini (normally $49, now on sale for $19.99).

Smart displays. What can be better than a smart speaker? How about a smart display? We covered the Echo Show 5, 8, 10, and 15 last year. It seems this year Amazon took a break from updating the Show to focus on other initiatives, but they are offering some great deals on the devices if you are in the market for a smart display. There is one to fit every budget; a chart for reference can be found here.

While Google’s Nest Hub Max ($164) has not really changed from last year, one interesting new entry into the smart display field is the Meta Portal (available as a box connected to your TV for $49, a 10” stand-alone display for $49, the 10” portable Go for $99, and the 14” Plus for $299). The Meta Portal is a smart display originally released by Facebook in 2018. When Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, this device became the Meta Portal. All the devices are powered by Amazon’s Alexa, so at least you do not have to learn a new smart assistant’s name. The Meta Portal TV box is 1.25” x 7.5” x 2.25” and connects to your TV, turning your TV into a Meta Portal screen. You interact with the device via a remote.

In the line of stand-alone displays, the 10” Portal is 7.03” x 10.23” (surprise) x 5.56”. The Go is 6.84” x 10.10” x 3.10”. The Plus is 9.87” x 12.31” x 3.86”. All four varieties are compatible with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Zoom. The 10” Portal offers a 13 MP camera, while the other three offer a 12 MP camera. If you were to compare the Portal lineup to the Echo Show lineup, the Portal devices offer better cameras and better display, while the Show devices offer better sound quality. When it comes to making calls, the Echo Show devices allow you to make calls with anyone who has Skype, the Alexa app, or an Echo Spot or Echo Show device. The Portal allows you to connect with people to whom you are connected through Facebook or WhatsApp users.

A nice entry-level smart display to check out this holiday season is the Lenovo Smart Clock 2 with a wireless charging dock ($44.99 at Best Buy). It has built-in Google Assistant functionality, a night-light feature, and a Qi wireless charging base, making it an excellent bedside assistant, especially for Google-powered smart homes. The Qi wireless station is a bifurcated base with one side hosting pins for the smart clock to dock onto and the other side featuring the Qi wireless pad for your smartphone. The speakers on previous models were in the back; the Smart Clock 2 has moved those speakers to the front for better sound performance. The Smart Clock 2 features a built-in microphone for you to use the Google Assistant, but it also features a physical off switch you can use for privacy. It does not feature a camera, making it ideal for intimate spaces, unlike the Google Nest Hub, which is designed for more communal areas of the home.

Mesh WiFi systems. Because we just discussed the Echo Dot devices, and they are now equipped with eero, it seems fitting to include the eero WiFi system in our lineup. eero, a company acquired by Amazon in recent years, makes a mesh WiFi system. A mesh WiFi system is one designed as a network of devices that you place around your home or office to deliver faster WiFi throughout the space. The term “mesh” refers to how the network devices overlap themselves in order to provide blanket coverage throughout a building. You have many options to choose from for a mesh system. We have written about mesh WiFi networks in prior articles, including our TAPAs column in the August 2021 issue of GPSolo eReport, and have previously included the eero in our list of good choices. The latest iterations of eero include the eero Pro 6E, eero 6+, and the more budget-friendly eero 6. The eero Pro 6E is eero’s first mesh system designed to access the 6 GHz band and offer network speeds up to 2.3 Gbps (gigabits per second). It ranges from $299 for a single unit to $699 for a three-pack and is probably a bit of an overkill for most consumer purposes; it is designed for virtual/augmented reality, 8K, and WiFi 6E devices (a step up from WiFi 6 devices). For homes and small offices, we particularly like the eero 6+, which ranges from $139 for a single unit to $299 for a three-pack. The 6+ devices will support Internet speeds up to a gigabit and offer enough bandwidth for you to connect more than 75 devices. A three-pack can cover up to a 4,500-square-foot area. The eero 6 scales back on performance to offer a budget-friendly price tag: $89 for a single unit, $199 for a router plus two add-ons, and $249 for a three-pack of routers. The eero 6 will support Internet speeds up to 500 Mbps and will still support WiFi 6 devices. It also has the bandwidth to support 75+ connected devices. If you do not have access to Internet capable of Gbps speeds, then the eero 6 may be sufficient, but the extra $50 for the eero 6+ is well worth it to be able to take advantage of faster Internet speeds when they are available.

One alternative to the eero system to consider is the TP-Link Deco XE75 AXE5400 ($299.99, now on sale for $249.99), a recent addition to the TP-Link lineup. It is a two-piece WiFi 6E mesh system that offers 6 GHz connectivity with a strong signal range performance. It delivers WiFi 6E performance like the eero Pro 6E for less than half the cost, and its two-device setup covers 5,500 square feet, almost as much as the 6,000 square feet covered by the three-device setup of the eero Pro 6E.

Home security tech. Everyone wants to feel safe at home. After all, it is your sanctuary after a long day out in the world. Today, there are some home security gadgets that make for a great gift. Whether you are looking for hands-free voice integration or advanced security cameras and video recording capabilities to catch those pesky porch pirates, there are plenty of choices on the market today. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Doorbell cameras. We particularly like the Ring Doorbell system. It sets up relatively easily and gives you a video doorbell with the capacity to record images of people on your porch or wherever you set up the video camera. The images can be recorded and saved for future access. This can prove quite helpful in the event a porch pirate steals a package. It also lets you answer your doorbell remotely at any time. Once the device is installed and connected to your phone, your phone can notify you whenever someone rings your bell or walks on your porch within range of the camera. It also gives you the ability to talk to that person as though you were standing on the other side of the door, even if you are thousands of miles away, as long as both systems connect to the Internet. We know the system from actual experience, and that feature works. One of the authors (Jeff) installed a Ring system in his house last year. He recently attended a GPSolo Division meeting in Columbus, Ohio, and had a friend stay at his house and care for the new puppies (one of which was not old enough to go to the dog spa Jeff usually uses to care for the dogs when he travels). When his friend took the dogs outside, the Ring system told him she was on the porch of his house in Oakland, California (about 1,800 miles away from Columbus). He could see her standing on the porch through the video camera, and he and his friend carried on a conversation using the Ring system and heard each other quite clearly.

To get a Ring system, you can buy a system or components. You can also buy a system and add components. Some examples include:

  • Video Doorbell Wired ($64.99)
  • Video Doorbell ($99.99)
  • Video Doorbell Pro ($169.99)
  • Video Doorbell 3 ($199.99)
  • Video Doorbell 4 ($219.99)
  • Video Doorbell Pro 2 ($259.99)
  • Video Doorbell Elite ($349.99)

With the Ring Doorbell, if you want access to prior video recordings, you will have to sign up for their Ring Protect security subscription (more on which below). If you are not a fan of monthly subscription plans, then check out the eufy Video Doorbell 2K ($149.99). This doorbell records video in high definition (2560 x 1920 resolution) and incorporates a distortion correction to ensure high-quality video. eufy boasts that this product contains no hidden costs; it is a one-time purchase that combines security with convenience. The doorbell features two-way audio so you can speak to anyone who approaches your door in real time. According to their website, the eufy Doorbell employs AI technology along with a sophisticated algorithm to intelligently detect body shape and face pattern, ensuring you are only alerted when a human, and not a stray cat, is at the door. Ashley’s pet cat Deja has managed to fool the AI from time to time, but she is a crafty one. Usually, the doorbell does not pick up stray cats; however, it does struggle with tree branches blowing in the wind. On windy days, you will notice an increase in alerts as it warns you about the leaves blowing, but this is a minor inconvenience at worst and likely will be no issue if you don’t have a tree in your yard in the doorbell’s line of sight. Installation took a medium level of skill; eufy’s smartphone application was thorough in walking you through step-by-step. Now the only question is, do you dress up for the doorbell when you’re going out?

Indoor security systems. Now that the door is covered, let’s circle back to another great home security gift from Ring, the Ring Stick Up Cam ($199.98 for a two-pack). The Stick Up Cams allow you to talk to or hear anyone from virtually anywhere. It has a live view feature that allows you to check in on your home anytime from either an Echo Show or the Ring app itself. You can designate zones around the camera for monitoring and for privacy, allowing you to control which areas you have under surveillance. With the camera alone, you can view real-time video and answer doorbell notifications as they happen. If you want to keep video recordings of those events, you will need a Ring Protect plan. With a Ring Protect plan, you can then save, review, and share video recordings from your Ring devices. The monitoring plans are available for purchase with a monthly or annual subscription. You can get a basic plan that provides video recording for one doorbell or camera for $3.99 per month or $39.99 per year. A better deal (especially if you have more than one Ring device) is the Protect Plus plan, which costs $10 per month or $100 per year. Ring also offers the Protect Pro service, which provides video recording for all home devices, 24/7 Ring Alarm professional monitoring, alarm cellular backup, and more for $20 per month or $200 per year.

A budget-friendly alternative to the Stick Up Cam is the Blink Mini Indoor Camera ($64.99 for a two-pack on Amazon). Both Ring and Blink are now owned by Amazon, and their service plans are almost identical, except if you use just one Blink monitoring device, you can subscribe for $3 per month or $30 per year. Going with the Blink Mini will save you a little up front and maybe $10 per year if you are only monitoring one camera. An annual subscription for the Blink video recording on multiple devices is the same at $100 per year. It is worth noting that Blink does not offer professional monitoring, so if you are looking for that feature, you would want to go with something like the Ring system.

Another alternative is the eufy Solo IndoorCam P24 ($54.99). This indoor camera has built-in human and pet AI detection, 2K image resolution, and two-way audio, and it can move a full 360 degrees around. It can integrate with Alexa, Google, and Apple HomeKit. It allows you to configure zones for monitoring and zones for privacy. It is not battery powered, so you will have to place it close to a plug for a power source. Also, if you want to save recordings, you will need a microSD card that does not come with the device. On the bright side, though, you can use as large of an SD storage card as is available to you, giving you near unlimited storage. Setting up the camera is simple and fast. Like the eufy Video Doorbell, the IndoorCam does not require a subscription to keep video recordings of events. The 360-degree view option is a nice feature for checking on your home while you are away. In addition to viewing 360 degrees around the camera, you can move the camera vertically in a 96-degree range.

Outdoor cameras. For outdoor monitoring, consider the Blink Outdoor Camera + Solar Panel Charging Mount ($129.98 on Amazon). Blink Outdoor is a wire-free smart security camera that offers high-definition day and infrared night vision, two-way audio, and motion detection that lets you see, hear, and speak to visitors. It is Alexa enabled. The device is a solar panel with an outdoor camera connected and mounted in the case, so you can put the camera up anywhere (with sunlight) without worrying about access to power or having to change the batteries frequently. The solar panel casing does not charge the Blink camera itself. Instead, it charges a rechargeable battery that powers the Blink Camera. Also, if you want to record the videos, you will need the Blink Sync Module 2, sold separately ($34.99 on Amazon).

Streaming Devices

Many people have “cut the cord” (i.e., canceled their cable television subscriptions) and switched exclusively to streaming services for entertainment. Even those who have not completely abandoned cable TV often find themselves turning to streaming services for additional content. To bring these services to your television screen, you need a media player. Some new “smart” televisions come equipped with an internal media player, but external streaming boxes and sticks can do the job if your TV doesn’t have this capacity—and they may offer greater functionality and ease of use even if your TV has been labeled as “smart.” When it comes to media streamers, the four leaders in the market are Google, Apple, Roku, and Amazon.

Google offers the Chromecast with Google TV ($49.99), a compact and powerful media streamer that delivers 4K, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and HDR content to your television. It fits into an HDMI port on your TV and gives you access to Netflix, YouTube, Google’s catalog of movies and TV shows, and more. It can mirror the screen of an android smartphone and can display content from a Google Chrome browser. If you have a Google-based smart home, subscribe to YouTube TV, or just want to try a new way to stream your TV shows and movies, this is an excellent choice. The Chromecast is available in three colors (snow white, sunrise pink, and sky blue) and comes with a remote.

At the pricier end of the spectrum, you will find the Apple TV 4K ($129 for WiFi and 64 GB of storage or $149 for WiFi + ethernet and 128 GB of storage). Both come with a Siri-enabled remote control featuring a directional pad at the top of the remote, a Siri toggle on the side, and a power button you can use to control your TV. The device itself features an A15 Bionic processor that supports Apple’s latest services, including the Apple TV+ streaming app and the Apple Arcade gaming service. The new processor also allows AirPlay to stream high-frame-rate HDR.

The Roku Express 4K+ ($39.99) is one of the best all-around streaming systems that you can buy. It has a simple design, easy-to-use interface, and a plethora of apps, services, and features. It is also one of the most affordable streaming TV options with 4K HDR.

Right up there with the Roku, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($49.99) and the Fire Stick ($39.99) offer great all-around media streamers with Alexa-enabled remote controls.

Fun Tech for the Kids and the Kid at Heart

Day-to-day life can be too serious sometimes. The holidays are a great time to gift a little fun. This year, your loved ones can experience the wonder of robots, the joy of flying drones, or the reality-altering experience of video game consoles. It is amazing the amount of innovation and technology that has found its way into toys today.

Travel back nearly 40 years ago when Transformers first came on the scene. Transformers were alien robots that could transform into vehicles or animals and were classified as Autobots (good) or Decepticons (evil). The franchise included toys, animation, comic books, video games, and films and is one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time. Now you can buy your very own self-transforming Autobot thanks to Robosen. In 2021 Robosen introduced the 19” Flagship Optimus Prime ($999), and it was awesome. This year, the company has followed up with the 16” Elite Optimus Prime ($750), which is lighter, more compact, and less expensive—but equally as awesome. Both are composed of 5,000 components, 60 microchips, and 27 servo motors that work together seamlessly. Both models come with 80 phrases recorded by original Transformers voice actor, Peter Cullen, and 43 pre-installed voice commands with which you can activate actions. The robot starts in the form of a semi-trailer truck; then, with a single push of a button (or a voice command), you will watch it transform into its full robot size. Through the app you can execute commands such as “hero pose” or operate it like a radio-controlled (RC) car through the virtual controller. It can even respond to voice commands. For instance, you can say something like, “Hey, Optimus Prime,” and it will respond with “Greetings” in a voice that will fast-track you down memory lane. If seeing this new toy leaves you yearning for a new Transformers movie, you won’t have to wait long; Transformers: Rise of the Beasts will be out in June 2023.

Flying a drone can be fun for all ages, even more so when those drones have cameras that allow you to take beautiful photos or videos in the sky (and when used responsibly, of course). If you want a great beginner drone, check out the DJI Mini SE ($299). The Mini SE is an ultralight, foldable, quadcopter drone with a 12 MP camera that offers 2.7K HD videos at 30 frames per second. You can get around 30 minutes of flight time with a fully charged battery. You can fly it up to 4 kilometers away from the remote control without interference in an area without buildings or WiFi. The Mini SE is a great entry-level drone for beginners to learn the art of drone flying, but more serious drone photographers will want to upgrade to better-equipped models such as the Mini 2 ($449) or the Mini 3 Pro ($759), which offer better cameras with RAW photo capability and longer flight times. The Mini SE drone uses a WiFi transmission system, the Mini 2 uses DJI’s OcuSync 2.0 transmission system, and the Mini 3 Pro uses DJI’s O3 transmission system; each level offers increasing upgrades in communication and control capabilities between the drone and the remote control. Whichever model you choose, you are sure to be flying high.

If you prefer video games, you have a handful of choices when it comes to gaming consoles, including the PlayStation 5 (PS5), the Nintendo Switch – OLED Model, the Microsoft Xbox Series X or S, and virtual reality setups such as the Meta Quest 2. We talk about each of these below, but if you have been contemplating buying one, you may have noticed that most, if not all, of these systems have been plagued with supply-chain issues for the last two years. While we indicate where you can buy systems and at what price point, you will find a wide variety in price and availability. Research and development teams are coming up with amazing devices, but they all require microprocessor chips that are currently in short supply and high demand. This problem created an opportunity for scalpers to enter and make the situation even worse. Scalpers will use an automated system (called a bot) to buy up all the stock the moment it becomes available online, then resell it for a significantly inflated price on auction sites. Some retailers combat this by offering the consoles for purchase in stores only, others have set up a system to manually check addresses for orders to make sure they sell only one per customer, and still others have packaged the systems with games or accessories or streaming game services to confuse the bots. The situation has improved since last year, but we want to give you a heads-up in case it gets worse as the holiday season nears. If you find it challenging to buy one, try looking for it in physical stores. There are also restock trackers you can use, depending on which console you seek.

With so many options for consoles, how will you choose a gift? For starters, look at what types of games the recipient likes to play. Many games have cross-platform functionality, meaning you can play them on a variety of consoles, but some franchises are console-specific (for example, the Halo series is generally exclusive to Xbox, the Super Mario series is generally exclusive to Nintendo, and the Spider-Man video game series is generally exclusive to PlayStation). We say “generally” because the owners of these franchises frequently cut licensing deals to make them cross-platform, or at the very least to cross over to PC (or Mac) computer gaming. If you are not sure what games your gift recipients like, then look for a system with the most options for their age group. For example, Nintendo tends to offer more kid-friendly games for younger people. With that in mind, let’s look at the latest lineup.

The PlayStation 5 comes either as a full-suite console that can play physical game disks ($499.99) or a digital edition that cannot ($399.99). (You will notice this trend of offering full-suite and digital-only console options echoed in the Xbox lineup as well.) The PlayStation 5 is a technological leap from its prior iteration (the PlayStation 4), with an 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU and a general processing unit (GPU) based on AMD’s RDNA 2 graphics architecture that can process roughly 10 teraflops (a teraflop represents about 1 trillion operations per second). That is fast . . . really fast. It offers a beautiful 4K visual effect that will only be noticed if you have it connected to a 4K-capable TV. The controllers offer an advanced haptic feedback system to stimulate your sense of touch and enhance the user experience.

The original Nintendo Switch was released in 2017. Since that time, we have seen the Switch V2, the Switch Lite, and now the latest iteration, the Nintendo Switch – OLED Model ($349.99). What is great, and unique, about the Switch is its variety of playing modes. You can set it in a docking station and connect it to your TV for traditional console play. You can also play it as a handheld device with two detachable controllers that slide in on either side of the OLED screen. The screen features a little kickstand, so you can set it up and detach the controllers on the side or use another controller to play it like a TV console anywhere you go. This functionality revolutionized the console five years ago, and it continues to impress today. The latest OLED version has made improvements to the screen with a larger display, added louder speakers, and modified the kickstand to cover the whole back side with adjustable angles. These tweaks might not be enough to justify upgrading the system if you already own one, but it certainly is enough to make it a front-runner if you are buying one for the first time.

When Microsoft updated its console, it put out two versions: the Xbox Series S ($299.99) and the Xbox Series X ($499.99). The Series S offers a premium gaming experience for a fraction of the price of the Series X, with a few drawbacks. The Series S offers somewhat weaker graphics and, most notably, is a disk-free console, meaning it does not feature a disk drive for playing hard-disk games. Instead, games are bought and downloaded directly from the Xbox store to your console (or played via the Xbox Game Pass, a monthly subscription service with access to hundreds of games).

The Meta Quest 2 (formerly known as the Oculus Quest 2) ($399.99 for 128 GB, $499.99 for 256 GB) is the top-selling virtual reality headset with the largest existing app library. It offers a high-resolution display that can double as a virtual-reality headset for your PC, an interesting and interactive gaming experience, and a handful of fitness apps to keep you moving. The Quest 2 can receive phone notifications, connect with virtual meeting apps, pair with keyboards, wirelessly stream from PCs, and more. If you look under the hood, you will find it has a virtual reality–optimized Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor. It is more gaming console than work device, but you can tell that Meta is steering it in that direction. Right now, the main work apps are Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms, virtual social spaces designed for work and play. The system is made up of a headset and two complicated but well-designed hand controllers. Some top-rated games for the system include Rec Room, the Climb 2, Moss, and the Cooking Simulator VR.

Gifts for Running Here and There: Fitness trackers

With New Year’s resolutions right around the corner, the holidays are the perfect time for a gift to help with someone’s fitness journey. There are a lot of tools to aid you, depending on the fitness path you choose to take. Popular activities include running, cardio training, weight training, swimming, tennis, and golf, to name a few. The choices for fitness aids are just as numerous as the choices for fitness activities.

Some studies suggest that roughly two out of three adults have experienced changes in their sleep patterns since the pandemic started, and 61 percent of adults in the United States have experienced unplanned and undesired weight changes during this time. To help you deal with all this unwanted change, check out the lineup from Fitbit, a well-known brand in the fitness tracker category. They have a range of fitness trackers and smartwatches that combine with the Fitbit app to form a powerful platform to launch your fitness efforts. Fitbit can further fuel your effort with their Fitbit Premium Membership ($9.99 per month or $79.99 per year). Our favorite Fitbit device, the Fitbit Charge 5 ($149.95) is a powerful player in the fitness tracker field. The first thing you notice out of the box is the AMOLED display, with a bright, crisp, and colorful touchscreen. You can customize whether you want the display in “always-on” mode or if you prefer the display be off when not in use to preserve battery life (the latter is the default mode). It has a built-in activity-tracking mode that will automatically track the 20 most popular types of exercises (running, cycling, swimming, etc.).

Beyond physical health, the Charge 5 includes tools for your mental health as well. One such tool, the EDA Scan application, measures your electrodermal activity, tiny changes in the sweat level of your skin. The tracker obtains this data by measuring the sweat levels of your fingertips with electrodes built into the side of the device. The device uses your fingertips because there is a high density of sweat glands located there versus other parts of your body. Because your sweat level is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, the changes can produce meaningful data about your body’s response to stress. These changes can be due to stress, movement, noise, or temperature variations. The idea is that you should expect fewer EDA responses the calmer you are. In addition to the EDA scan, the Charge 5 offers a mindfulness tool in the Fitbit app. It features guided meditations to help you focus on being aware of what you are sensing and feeling in the moment. After completing a guided meditation, you can log your reflections or tap “No Thanks” to skip that part.

The Charge 5 also offers you a Stress Management Score, found within the Fitbit app. This score can indicate how your body responds to stress based on your heart rate, sleep, and activity level data. You can also reflect on how stressed you feel to see the connections between how you feel and your score.

Another Fitbit measurement is the Daily Readiness Score, a metric designed to optimize your fitness journey by analyzing your workout intensity over a period of time and making recovery recommendations based on your body’s response. Essentially, Fitbit will do what trainers and health gurus have suggested for years: It will listen to your body for you, taking away the guesswork when it comes to knowing when to ramp up and when to recover. The Charge 5 does this by analyzing your activity level (relative to your norm), your sleep pattern over the last few nights, and your heart rate variability; it then makes real-time recommendations for exercise, recovery, and mindfulness activities, letting you know whether you are really ready to work out or should prioritize recovery in the moment. A higher score will indicate you are ready for a higher-intensity workout, while a lower score will imply your body is fatigued, whether from a tough workout, poor sleep, or just stress in general. The Daily Readiness Score is available through a Fitbit Premium membership and only with the Charge 5, Sense, Versa (2 and 3), Luxe, or Inspire 2 Fitbit trackers.

The Amazfit Band 5 ($39.99) may be at the simpler end of the Amazfit lineup, which includes the GTR 4 and GTR 3 Pro, along with older models, but it is by far the most feature-rich for your money. The Band 5 measures heart rate, blood oxygen levels, steps, sleep, and more. It even monitors your stress levels and offers guided breathing exercises. The Band 5 offers a 15-day battery life, is Amazon Alexa–enabled, and is water-resistant. The Alexa feature is neat, especially when you consider how affordable this device is. However, the Band 5 does not have a built-in speaker, so when you ask Alexa something, instead of telling you the answer, Alexa will text you back. It has a bright AMOLED display like the Charge 5, making it easy to read outdoors on a sunny day. The band of the Band 5 is customizable; you can easily pop it out and switch the band to suit your preference.

You can choose from many watch faces, allowing you to design a display that reflects you. The sleep monitoring features on the Band 5 offer useful, detailed insight into your sleep quality. You can measure a variety of sleep stages you go through at night and even overlay your heart rate on top of the stages to see what your heart rate did throughout the night.

Although Apple Watches are not just fitness trackers, they often serve as the target that other fitness trackers see as the product to beat. Apple has a few watches active in its store currently: the Ultra, the Series 8, and SE. The Apple Watch Series 8 ($399) was Announced in September 2022 and released in stores a few weeks later. The display comes in 41mm and 45mm sizes. The Series 8 is backward compatible with bands from older models. So, if you decide to upgrade but want to keep your customized wristband, you probably can. The watch offers an “always on” display option like other fitness trackers, allowing you to set the watch to be always on rather than requiring a motion, gesture, or action to activate the watch. The Series 8 is water-resistant to 50 meters.

For its health technology features, the Series 8 offers an ECG tracking app. It also features a blood oxygen sensor. It uses temperature to help women track their menstrual cycles. It has an automatic workout detection feature for cycling, so if you forget to start a workout before you jump on the bike, the watch can detect it for you and prompt you to start tracking a workout. It will also detect when you start and stop working out, so, for example, if you are cycling and have to stop at traffic lights and you don’t want that eating into your tracked time, the watch will know, and it will automatically pause the workout and will resume it again once you start back up.

The Series 8 has fall detection features as well as impact detection, allowing it to determine if you have been in a collision or taken a fall. Should it detect such an event, the watch will give you a buzz on the wrist along with an audible alarm and a visual alert. If you are okay, you can tap the display saying you are okay or “I did not fall” so it does not call for help or notify your SOS network. If no motion is detected or no response is received after a fall, the watch will automatically call the local emergency number within 30 seconds and share your current location. After contacting the emergency department, it shares your location with your emergency contacts. This can help loved ones find your location even if you are taken to a hospital. The watch can make and receive phone calls through your iPhone, as well as send and receive text messages.

The Series 8 has several price points depending on whether you choose to get an aluminum or a stainless-steel case or a standard or designer band. Bands come in many colors and materials. The aluminum cases come in midnight, starlight, silver, and (Product) RED. The stainless-steel cases come in gold, silver, and graphite. The aluminum cases start at $399. The stainless-steel cases start at $699. You can find the different pricing based on band choice. Do note that if you pay more than $399, you pay for case material, color, or band choices. All of the Series 8 watches have the same features and inner workings. The Series 8 has made some improvements over the Series 7 but does not offer enough new features to mandate upgrading from the Series 7. If you have a model older than the Series 7, we recommend considering an upgrade to the Series 8.

Apple has introduced a somewhat different genre of watch in the Ultra, available for the first time this year. The Ultra provides some additional features but primarily differentiates itself from the Series 8 by its ruggedness. The Ultra starts at $799 and is larger (49 mm display) and heavier (61.3 grams) than the Series 8 watches. It comes in a titanium case. It has all the features of the Series 8 and a battery that lasts twice as long (36 hours), water resistance to 100 meters, a depth gauge, and a water temperature sensor. It has dual-frequency GPS for more accurate location recordation. It has a special night mode that turns the face red. The Action button lets you select a particular feature with certain apps to assign to that button. The Ultra costs more but gives you a lot more than the Series 8.

The Apple Watch Series SE, second generation (starting at $249), is only available in aluminum. Your color choices are also more limited. The aluminum case only comes in silver, starlight, and midnight. The SE watch comes in 40 mm and 44 mm display sizes. The SE watch does not offer ECG monitoring or the ability to monitor your blood oxygen levels. It does offer fall detection, heart rate monitoring, noise monitoring, and all the fitness tracking features. The SE is fairly similar to the Series 8; if price is a concern for you, the SE will come out ahead. However, if you are more interested in features, the Series 8 is worth the price difference with its added features, faster processor, and overall newer technology.

There are two important things to note when considering the Apple Watch as your fitness tracker. First, while all the models listed here have sleep tracking capability, none of them are as in-depth in their sleep analysis as the Fitbit devices and Amazfit devices. If sleep analytics are important for you, you may want to consider the other devices. Second, being an Apple product, the Apple Watch is not compatible with Android smartphones. If you are an Android phone user, you may want to consider a different product as well.

Travel Tools

Internet hot spots. We have grown more Internet-dependent over the years, and this trend continues when we travel. We want to have a viable Internet connection to surf the web, check our email, and send messages to friends, family, and co-workers. Accordingly, most of us look for Internet availability as part of our travel planning. We have grown so used to surfing the web, texting, emailing, and now video chatting that we feel lost without ready access to those things.

Throughout the world these days, most airports, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and many stores and shopping centers we have entered offer free Internet access to patrons. This service comes on a relatively unregulated and unprotected network. Even those with a password offer little protection, as anyone can get the password. The bad guys often hang out on unprotected networks to snag information from the devices that connect to them. We understand that the lure of free Internet access may prove hard to resist. We still discourage the use of such networks, but if you must use them, be sure to run your communications through a virtual private network (VPN) to afford yourself and your data some protection against the bad guys.

We think that acquiring your own cellular hot spot makes more sense, and we encourage you to do that. The hardware for that generally consists of a small, self-contained, usually battery-operated device that you can put a SIM card in and will create a portable network that you and your family and friends can use for your communications. The two devices we have the most familiarity with come from GlocalMe and Solis (previously called Skyroam). Both offer their devices with SIM cards and international data plans. You can get hot spot devices from other manufacturers and acquire a local SIM card from a provider in the countries you visit. If you are going to stay for a while in an area serviced by that provider, this option may prove less costly than using GlocalMe or Solis. If you travel to different countries using different providers, you may find GlocalMe or Solis the most convenient. As an aside, we also carry a domestic hot spot with an American provider’s SIM card when we travel in the United States, as we prefer that to relying on the public WiFi available in our hotel, restaurant, coffee shop, etc. You can get such devices from all the major providers.

You can find GlocalMe or Solis on Amazon or on the company websites. You can also buy data plans for those devices on the company websites. If you get on their mailing list, you will find that they fairly regularly have special offers that allow you to acquire data plans at a discount. You can get Solis or GlocalMe hardware for under $200. The devices from other manufacturers can be more or less expensive.

All the devices we have referenced so far work on 4G. In truth, we have not tried the least or most expensive but have used several of those in the middle, including models from GlocalMe and Solis. We have not seen a great deal of difference in performance among them. Neither have we seen much to distinguish between GlocalMe and Solis. The bottom line is that they all seem to work adequately, and you should look for the best deal wherever you will travel. We have acquired both a Solis and a GlocalMe device and regularly switch between them depending on where we travel. We have also noticed that, in some areas, one provides better service than the other.

We have seen more 5G hot spots available recently and, in fact, have acquired one. Check out the Inseego MiFi M2100 5G hot spot ($399.99, or you can rent it from the service provider for a monthly fee). It works very well, but the problem is the still-limited availability of 5G service. When and where you can get it, you get a lot more speed than 4G. Most of the time, however, the device taps into 4G service. You will have to decide whether you want to spend the extra money for a 5G device. The good news: The device should last long enough to justify the cost when 5G service has sufficient availability.

Translators. While we can generally get by with English in many countries, we have always managed to find someplace in every country (including both the United States and England) where the ability to communicate in a foreign language proved helpful. You have lots of possibilities to get help with translating from the local language to English. Many of them come in the form of apps on your cell phone (some free, some not). Some of those will let you download language files so that they can work without an Internet connection. Others require an Internet connection to translate for you. We have come to prefer using stand-alone translation devices. We have two that we like. We have used Timekettle translators for a while and currently use its WT2 Edge. These devices come in the form of two earphones that look sort of like oversized AirPods. Each of the two parties in the conversation uses one earpiece and gets an almost simultaneous translation of the other person’s side of the conversation. They handle 40 languages and 93 accents. Some of the languages require Internet access for the time being. Many works with no Internet connection. The WT2 Edge costs $299.99.

Enence offers a device that has the same shape as a cell phone and provides almost instant translations in 36 languages. This one works a little differently. You record the statement in the foreign language and play it back in English or conversely, so it is not simultaneous, but it works very well for travel. The Enence translators are currently available on the website for $89 (normally $178).

Another translator worth considering, the Vasco Translator M3 ($361), can handle more than 70 languages but requires an Internet connection. It comes with its own SIM card and advertises lifetime Internet access for the device for translation purposes in 200 countries at no additional charge.

Tools to Help You Remember Your Holidays (and Other Things)

One of the most useful and practical gifts comes in many sizes and prices: memory for our devices. Whether you have a desktop computer, laptop computer, tablet, smartphone, or camera, you have reason to want additional memory devices. Memory devices come in various forms: cards in various configurations to insert into slots inside your devices and many forms of externally attached devices ranging from small USB sticks or thumb drives to large external hard disks. While you can still get traditional spinning hard drives, we strongly prefer solid-state drives (SSD) as they have no moving parts, last longer, work faster, have a smaller configuration, and are less susceptible to damage. They do have one downside: They cost a fair amount more than their traditional spinning hard disk counterparts.

SSDs. Our favorite SSDs come from SanDisk and Samsung, but that represents more a choice of style than performance. Amazon sells the SanDisk SSDs for $63 for the 500 GB version, $99.95 for 1 TB, $149.99 for 2 TB, and $479.99 for 4 TB. The 4 TB version has not been around as long as the others, and its pricing has just started adjusting to a proper relation to the others. You will note that in all the other versions, doubling the capacity does not result in a doubling of the price. In the jump from 2 TB to 4 TB, the price more than doubles. As a result, we do not recommend getting the 4 TB version unless you desperately need it. We think the 2 TB version will work fine for most people and represents a much better value. Samsung’s current external SSD version, the T7, does not yet have a 4 TB version. You can get it in 500 GB ($74.99), 1 TB ($109.99), or 2 TB ($219.99) versions. The hundred-dollar price drop for the 2 TB version since last year makes it a good value. We will leave it to you to decide whether you want to get the SSD or not. We particularly like the SSDs for travel due to their diminutive size and weight as well as their ruggedness.

Hard disk drives. When it comes to external traditional hard disk drives, we like Seagate and then Western Digital (also known as WD). You can get a portable traditional spinning Seagate 6 TB hard disk drive for only $119.99 at Amazon. You can get a 6 TB Western Digital drive for only $114.99.

Memory sticks and cards. Memory sticks also use flash memory but generally come in smaller configurations. They make useful gifts, and you can get them fairly inexpensively. We have a partiality to SanDisk drives. You can find SanDisk and many other brands on Amazon, generally for around $50 or less, depending on the size of the memory. These make good stocking stuffers!

Some Odds and Ends That Did Not Fit in Other Sections

We have some items we want to talk about that did not fit elsewhere in this guide, so we created this section for them.

Microfiber cloths. Microfiber cloths make useful accessories for your computers and your portable devices. Displays, particularly on phones and tablets, tend to get dirty, smudgy, and more difficult to read. A good microfiber cloth will help remove that dirt and give you a nice clean screen. Computer and laptop screens also benefit from the microfiber cloth, even though they generally do not get as dirty as often as tablets and phones. Incidentally, if you wear glasses or sunglasses, a microfiber cloth will help keep the lenses clear and clean. Microfiber cloths also make good giveaways. If you want to get them imprinted with your firm name and address and give them to clients, they will likely be kept and appreciated. You can get microfiber cloths almost anywhere these days. Most opticians give them away with glasses. Many merchants use them as advertising promotions (as we suggested you might want to do). If you just want to buy some, you can find a variety at Amazon. For example, you can get a six-pack of 6” x 7” Magic Fiber microfiber cloths on Amazon for $8.99; you can get a 30-pack for $19.99. You can get a three-pack of the extra-large (16” x 16”) size for $12.99.

Smartphone and tablet stand. Smartphone and tablet stands make nice gifts and run the gamut from very inexpensive but functional to much more costly. We have and use permanent stands as well as folding stands we can pack in a briefcase or backpack and use on the road. Generally, the stands that accommodate both phones and tablets have a larger footprint and weigh more than those that just accommodate phones. The least expensive phone-only stand we found on Amazon costs $7.99. From that point you can go up based on design, materials, manufacturer, etc. We do not have a particular recommendation; the ones we like best and use were given to us by merchants and do not have a manufacturer’s mark on them. We have seen similar stands on Amazon in the $10 to $13 range. If you have an interest, you can also get stands that fit in the cupholder of your car or that have clamps to clamp to the side of a desk or table. You can also get holders with longer, flexible arms to allow you to reposition the device. Most of the devices will accommodate a charging cable. Some will accommodate wireless charging.

Kindle. We have liked e-readers for some time. While tablets have the appeal of allowing color images in books, the e-readers generally surpass in terms of functionality as they have longer battery life, and the technology allows you to read them in direct sunlight, while that can prove difficult on a tablet. We definitely think that both have their place, and we have used both tablets and e-readers for some time. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Kindle established itself as the preeminent non-tablet e-reader on the market. Some other models still exist, but we do not recommend them as it would be kind of like buying a Betamax video recorder a few years after VHS took over the market. Amazon has several models of the Kindle available, but we have a long-standing partiality to the Oasis ($249.99 at Amazon). The Oasis has a 300 ppi display, the ability to adjust both brightness and warmth in the lighting, the ability to play audiobooks (you need to supply headphones), and a water-resistant IPX8 rating. If we were going to buy another device for ourselves, this would be the one today. Amazon has a number of lesser, less expensive models available that work quite well and would make suitable gifts for a variety of people. The other models include the venerable Paperwhite and the newly refreshed Kindle. They also have special models for kids. You can check features and pricing on the Amazon website. That said, we would hesitate to buy the Oasis right now (not just because we already have it). Why? Because Amazon has announced that a newer and better Kindle model will ship by December (we preordered ours).

The new model, called the Scribe, sells for $339.99. It comes with a 10.2” screen, making it considerably larger than the 7” screened Oasis. It works with a special pen (either the basic model, which comes with the device at no extra charge, or the premium model, which costs an extra $30) and gives you the ability to read your books and create your own notebooks as well. The premium pen has a dedicated eraser and a shortcut button. The Scribe comes with built-in and not expandable 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB memory options. As with the Oasis, the Scribe uses Paperwhite technology and adds the ability to control the warmth and coolness of the light. Because the Scribe will be approximately the same size as a small tablet, it will carry nicely in a briefcase, computer bag, or backpack—but not so much in a pocket. As a practical matter, that means that sometimes we will carry the Scribe and other times the Oasis. If we did not already have a Kindle e-reader, choosing between the Oasis and the Scribe would present a difficult decision due to the size differences. We suspect we would opt for the Oasis due to its more diminutive size and to the fact that we already have iPads that can do everything the Scribe can and more (except be easily read in direct sunlight). But we would like to see the Scribe before making that choice.

reMarkable 2 tablet. The next item we want to talk about is, well, it’s remarkable. Yes, that turns out to be an interesting twist on words as the item is named reMarkable 2 from the reMarkable company. The reMarkable 2 gives you a different kind of tablet. It functions only to record and transmit your notes. You write on it with a special pen; it saves what you wrote and will transmit it in your handwriting to other devices (tablets, phones, computers), or you can email it to yourself or others, in which case it translates your writing to text with surprising accuracy (as long as you can write reasonably legibly). Because you write on it with a pen, it allows you to include rough drawings and diagrams in your notes. The files it creates will integrate with Google Drive and with Dropbox.

You can even read web articles on the tablet using a Google plug-in. You can get the tablet by itself (pen and case not included) for $279 on the manufacturer’s website. The price does include a one-year subscription to the Connect plan, which gives you unlimited storage; after the one-year initial plan ends, service costs $2.99 per month. reMarkable offers for sale two models of pens (they call them “Markers”): the standard and the plus versions. The markers have only two distinguishing features. The standard Marker ($79) comes in white and does not have a built-in erase feature. The Marker Plus ($129) comes in black and has a built-in erase feature. By the time you get done with markers and folios or covers and the Connect plan, the cost is around $500. While we like the reMarkable 2 and can see lots of places to use it, we have not concluded that we would choose to spend $500 on it as opposed to putting that toward an iPad, which, in most respects, we find more useful. On the other hand, we recognize that by the time you get through with an iPad, the cost will equal or exceed the price of the reMarkable 2.

SCOTTeVEST. Once you accumulate a lot of technology, moving it around can pose a challenge. We like to travel with lots of technology, but sometimes we don’t want to carry a backpack or case. The use of a vest designed to accommodate technology makes it pretty easy to carry a lot with you (although the vest can become pretty heavy). SCOTTeVEST designs products with lots of pockets to hold your electronics, camera equipment, travel papers, wallet, and even your lunch if you want. They have lots of options. One of our favorites is the new Essential Jacket 2.0 ($249). It has 24 pockets, and the sleeves come off, so you can use it as a vest.

Teaser for next year. For those who kind of sort of want a pet but don’t want to worry about cleaning up after it, feeding it, or training it, there have been robotic pets with some level of artificial intelligence for some time. Until recently, those offerings have been pretty basic (check out what Amazon has available). A number of manufacturers have announced that they have more sophisticated AI pets in the works. We suspect that some may reach the market by this time next year. The first of these have started to come out, but they come at a fairly high cost. Sony sells its aibo Companion Robot dog for $2,899.99. You also might want to check out the Tombot robotic puppy (currently sold out). It remains unclear when more Tombot puppies will become available and at what price. We will look for them and keep you posted.

Checking Out

Well, we’ve pretty much done our shopping, and we have shared many of our findings with you. We have tried to provide a sufficient variety of tech-related items at a broad enough cost spectrum to help you with some (or maybe all) of your gift choices, as well as some things to consider for yourself. We regularly follow the practice of buying a few gifts for ourselves for the holidays. That way, we can ensure that we get something we really want. It has worked for us for years, and we recommend the practice to you as well.

Happy Shopping!!
Happy Holidays!!