High-tech gifts can be pricey and it can also be tough to figure out what’s actually gift-worthy with so many products to choose from. We’ve got you covered on both counts with this edition of our 2018 holiday gift guide: 10 high-tech gifts for less than $500.
I’ve had hands-on time with every one of these recommendations, and reviewed most of them for publications including Forbes and GeekDad. Some you’ll recognize, some aren’t the mass-market electronics you’ll find on big box shelves (real gift surprise potential with these), and a few are just launching in time for Christmas.
If you want a high impact, high-tech gift to give someone special, one of these is sure to please — without costing the equivalent of a mortgage payment.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Jaybird Torah Pro Wireless Earbuds
Wireless earbuds have been a big thing this year, with Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) AirPods leading the way. I have had several dozen sets of new wireless earbuds submitted for evaluation so far in 2018, but one really stands out from the pack: Jaybird Tarah Pro wireless sport headphones.
Jaybird’s Tarah earbuds made our list of gifts under $100, but for $60 more ($159.99) the Tarah Pros are easily one of the all-round best wireless earbuds on the market today.
They are extremely comfortable, waterproof and feature premium touches like the fabric cable that connects the two buds. Audio quality is excellent and can be almost infinitely fine-tuned using the Jaybird app. They support Siri and Google Assistant. But the killer feature on these wireless earbuds is the 14-hour battery life rating. That’s 14 hours on a single charge, not the total capacity of the buds plus a charge case. And in my testing, the Tarah Pro earbuds actually exceeded 14 hours…
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Como Audio Amico
Como Audio’s $399 Amico is a portable wireless speaker for those who appreciate premium audio, and like to mix retro design with the latest technology.
It looks nothing like most portable wireless speakers because there’s virtually no plastic in sight. The Amico is clad in real teak wood veneer, covering 1/2-inch marine-grade plywood for weather resistance. A 30W Class D amplifier powers a 3-inch, long-throw woofer (with rear bass port) and a soft dome tweeter for exceptional sound. The control knobs are anodized aluminum, and a remote control is included. There’s even a telescoping FM radio antenna.
The Amico adds the latest high-tech features to those retro looks, including both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming (internet radio and Spotify Connect are fully integrated), multi-room support, a mobile app for iOS and Android, and an integrated 2.8-inch TFT color display that shows info such as album art. The rechargeable battery is good for eight hours of portable use.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Kobo Forma
If you have a real reading fan on your holiday shopping list, the ultimate e-reader doesn’t come from Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), it’s the new Kobo Forma.
I’ve been testing the $279.99 Kobo Forma for just three weeks and it’s already hands-down the best e-reader I’ve ever used. The high resolution E Ink Carta display is huge at 8-inches. Yet the Forma feels thin and light, and the physical page turn buttons on the curved side make it easy to hold in one hand. Fonts and page layout can be tweaked to perfection with Type Genius, and Overdrive library e-book borrowing is built in. The e-reader is water resistant and perhaps my favorite feature is its adaptive ComfortLight PRO that automatically adjusts LED lighting temperatures through the day, becoming amber at night.
Kobo’s own e-bookstore has over 5 million titles, and I find prices and selection are competitive with Amazon. If someone is already heavily invested in a purchased Kindle e-book library, then the Kobo Forma may not be the best idea, but otherwise it’s a sure hit for true hardcore readers.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Thinkware F800 Pro Dashcam
Dashcams don’t come much better than the Thinkware F800 Pro. It makes a cool, high-tech gift that’s fun (YouTube video potential), and also extremely practical.
The app-connected Thinkware F800 Pro offers advanced functions including collision notifications, vehicle location (via its built-in GPS) and geofencing. But this dashcam’s core mission — recording video while driving — is unbeatable thanks to use of a premium Sony (NYSE:SNE) STARVIS CMOS image sensor that delivers 1080p video with wide dynamic range, super night vision and an extended 140-degree field of view. Optional features include hardwiring to a vehicle (which adds the advantage of parking surveillance to keep tabs on a vehicle when not in use), and a rear camera to catch the action behind the vehicle.
You may not have the budget to give a new car as a gift (and who among us does?) but the Thinkware F800 Pro also adds some of the latest high-tech safety features to any car: forward collision warning and lane departure warning.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Goal Zero Sherpa 100AC Power Bank
With an ever-growing collection of mobile gadgets, a portable power bank makes a great gift for anyone.
Goal Zero’s $299.95 Sherpa 100AC Power Bank is a far more powerful and versatile choice than your average power bank, making it a great gift. This one will charge smartphones. Not once, but up to 10 times. It has a range of charge outlets including USB, USB-C and Qi wireless, along with rugged versions of the cables needed. It even has an integrated OLED display. And — unlike most power banks — the Sherpa 100AC has a 100W AC outlet and the power on tap to charge a laptop. Twice.
All this and the Goal Zero Sherpa 100AC is also approved for use on airplanes.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Moment Smartphone Lenses
Everyone owns a smartphone and there’s a good chance that phone does double duty as their camera. As good as smartphone cameras are, they still have limitations.
Add-on lenses make great gifts and of all the systems I’ve tested, nothing beats Moment. The company offers a range of premium lenses featuring precision glass optics in a durable metal housing — just like a DSLR lens. They attach easily and securely to a special Photo case, which is available for most iPhone, Pixel and Galaxy smartphones. Lens offerings include 18mm wide angle, 58mm Tele, and a new Anamorphic lens that adds widescreen letterbox and lens flare effect to video shot on a smartphone. To get an idea of the difference Moment lenses can make to a smartphone’s built-in camera, there are some example photos on my Forbes review.
Moment lenses start at $89.99 each, Photo cases start at $23.99 and the company also sells a variety of accessories including straps, filters, lights and gimbals. If there’s a photographer on your shopping list, for under $500 you can put together a Moment kit that will make their smartphone rival a DSLR for photo quality and versatility.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Nanoleaf Canvas Smarter Kit
Without a doubt, the coolest tech to come through my office in the past few months has been Nanoleaf’s new Canvas smart lighting system.
Canvas is the latest offering from Canadian smart lighting company Nanoleaf, which made a big splash with its interconnecting triangular light panels. With Canvas, the company is offering 9-inch Light Squares that mount to a wall. They can display light scenes and patterns with millions of colors on tap, and can even pulse in time with music. Canvas supports touch control, as well as Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa.
This modular smart-lighting system supports up to 500 Light Squares with a single Control Square, opening up the potential for intricate mosaic designs. The $249.99 Canvas Smarter Kit (now available for pre-order with Dec. 14 delivery) has everything needed to get started including eight Light Squares plus a Control Square, a power adapter, connecting Linkers and adhesive mounting tape. Additional Light Squares are sold by the four in Expansion Packs.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Vinpok Split Touchscreen Monitor
One downsides of mobile devices like the Nintendo Switch, smartphones or even laptop computers is a relatively small display. That can be remedied by plugging into a computer or external monitor, but those don’t exactly travel well.
However, the Vinpok Split Touchscreen Monitor does. This crowdfunding hit (it achieved a ridiculous 44,813% of its funding goal) is a 15.6-inch, 1.4 pound, 1080p HD external touchscreen display with HDMI and USB-C ports. Connect your device, hook the display up to a power source and you have a monitor on demand.
I tested a Split Touchscreen Monitor with a Nintendo Switch (connecting the monitor to the Goal Zero Sherpa 100AC power bank that appeared earlier on this list) to create a completely mobile “big screen” gaming system. The Vinpok Split Touchscreen Monitor is crowdfunded, but it’s in production — I have one — and units are scheduled to ship in December. The retail price is $399, but at time of writing, pre-order pricing of $199 was still available.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Nixplay Iris Wi-Fi Photo Frame
The latest generation of digital photo frames make great gifts. They offer better display quality than ever, and many are now Wi-Fi connected for easier photo loading and even photo sharing.
The $199.99 Nixplay Iris is one of the better options out there. This digital photo frame has an 8-inch, high resolution IPS display with Wi-Fi connectivity, 8GB of onboard storage (enough for 25,000 photos), motion and light sensors, and a choice of metallic frame colors. It can be used in horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait) orientation. The screen brightness adjusts automatically to ambient light, so photos always look their best.
Upload photos using the smartphone app, or send images from Google Photos and your social media feeds. Friends and family can also be given permission to remotely upload photos to the Nixplay Iris, making it a great choice when loved ones live far away.
Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Dyson Cyclone V10 Cordless Vacuum
Finally a gift that in the past could be iffy — it could be taken the wrong way — but this version is so packed with technology that you shouldn’t have to worry about that. It’s Dyson’s latest and most powerful cordless stick vacuum cleaner, the Cyclone V10.
With a starting price of $499.99, this high-tech vacuum just slips under the ceiling for this gift guide.
I wasn’t convinced about cordless vacuum cleaners until I tried the Dyson V8. It made a convert of me, easily dealing with a four level house with three kids and two large, furry dogs. Having no power cord to deal with is a game-changer. I upgraded to the V10 and it’s even better. At its highest setting it out-suctions our older Dyson Animal upright vacuum, which is no small feat. It weighs just 5.5 pounds, goes for up to one hour on a charge and the bin holds a lot of dog fur before it needs to be emptied. Included attachments make it ideal for dusting and cleaning our vehicles as well.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.