| USA TODAY
Two reader questions came in the other day.
► What affordable tech gifts would you pick as a stocking stuffer under $50?
► And if you (me, Jefferson Graham) had $200 to spend, what cool tech stuff would you buy?
Well, I’ve got the answers. Plus, one bonus gift item for $449, if you’re willing to stretch the budget. And if you have a grand in your pocket, I’ve got something there for you too.
But let’s start cheap.
Because really, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on great tech gifts. There are many, many options available for under $100 – and if you feel like splurging, that’s fine, we’ve got ideas there as well.
No one needs extra socks or an ugly sweater. But take it from me, we all need more room to fit the ever-growing size of AC adapters. So the most useful gift you could ever buy for someone with an abundance of tech products would be a handy-dandy, super sized surge protector, with as much real estate as possible.
I love this $25 model from Belkin, because I’m sick of giant-sized device plugs that hog half of your strip and leave little room for others. There are 12 outlets here, and even if you couldn’t fit everything in there, you’ll still get in more than on most strips, which have your outlets in a straight line. And there’s a surge protector as well.
If you have an iPhone, you know the drill. The Apple nag message that tells you that you’re out of room. Because you have too many high-resolution photos and videos on your phone. So I love the SanDisk iXpand solution. It’s a $44 128 GB flash drive that connects to the iPhone Lightning port and an iPhone app, and moves the images to the drive. Then when you’re done, you access the other side of the drive, which has traditional USB, and connect it to your computer to copy and backup the media.
We’re living in a 2020 Zoom world where we’re on video conferences all day long, and we’d really, really like to look better. Way better. Lighting has a lot to do with it. Many people went out and bought cheap ring lights this year that are a little awkward to place and just don’t look that great. So, I love the LumeCube Video Conference light, which snaps easily onto the back of a laptop, has an adjustable dimmer for the light, and a diffusion panel to soften the light.
This year I became enthralled with the idea of ditching the soundbar, and all those wires, and using Bluetooth speakers as my TV sound. Soundbars are fine, but the audio comes from the other side of the room. Two little TV speakers, by the bed, works great for me. Perhaps you have two Amazon Echo devices lying around the house. You could use those, or go all new, with two Echo Dots, which are holiday priced at $30. You’ll need an Amazon accessory to pair them to a smart TV. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick sells for $19, without much of a remote, or $29.99, with a remote that can adjust the volume of your set – or make that, your smart speaker. (If you want bigger speakers, two regular Echo devices will run you $120.) The Apple alternative, by the way, are two HomePod Minis, which sell for $99 a piece, and must be paired with the Apple TV set-top box, which sells for $149 and $179. Google’s Nest Audio speakers are also $99 a piece and can connect to a TV with Bluetooth, but won’t respond to voice commands.
Facebook Portal Mini. Another Zoom offshoot. The Portal originally was Facebook’s self-contained unit for video chat on Messenger. This year, it expanded to allow Zoom calls as well, which is why it’s on our list. A dedicated device, always in the same place, set-up and ready for calls, is a great idea, especially for the student in your life, who then can use their laptop more efficiently for note-taking. The Portal Mini, with an eight inch screen, is the lowest priced Portal. Meanwhile, Facebook has competition. Both Google, which makes the Nest Hub Max, and Amazon, which sells the Echo Show display devices, said they would be adding Zoom support this year as well, but as of this writing, have yet to get to it to the general public. (Google did announce a closed beta test that started Monday, but hasn’t said when it will roll out fully.) DTEN has a device available, but it’s way more expensive at $599. Facebook has larger Portal units for $179 and $279. It also has a Portal for TV, which should have Zoom functionality, but doesn’t.
There’s nothing new here. Apple’s AirPods Pro were introduced in October, 2019, and quickly became the best-selling headphone in the world. As they should be. The sound is incredible. This year, the original price of $249 has been cut to $199, and some retailers had Black Friday pricing of $169. Note: Apple has new over-the-ear headphones, AirPods Max, and they sell for a hefty $549.
This amazing drone from DJI takes you out of the budget category, until you realize that DJI’s top of the line unit sells for over $1,000. The Mini II, which is about the size of a smartphone, has higher resolution than last year’s version, and flies like a charm. It’s small enough to tote with you every you go, and is so easy to use. Great for someone just getting their feet wet with drones.
And what’s the one new 2020 device I’d want?
(Come on readers, you know the answer!)
It’s the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is geared towards a camera nerd like myself, with the best, longest range zoom of any iPhone, the largest screen at a whopping 6.7 inches, bigger pixels and, well, does anything else matter?
The 20-65 mm zoom on the 12 Pro Max (up from 20-52 mm on the 12 Pro) is like having a pro DSLR in your pocket that you can take with you everywhere. In many cases, the quality won’t be as good as a camera, which has higher resolution and can stop action faster. But not always. And is your Canon or Nikon in your pocket?
Readers, what’s on your list? I’d love to hear your selections. Drop me a line at Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham.