Gary Kaye, founder and chief content officer of Tech50+, a website that covers consumer electronics–related topics. Based in Oxford, Connecticut, he has reported on technology for more than 30 years at various TV networks and other organizations. Tech50Plus.com
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Which high-tech gifts will bring big smiles to the gadget lovers on your holiday list this year? It can be tough to choose if you’re not up on all the latest consumer technology yourself. So we’ll make it easy! Here’s our Bottom Line expert’s list of seven great tech gifts, 2017 edition—starting at just $50…
Lightweight and comfortable noise-canceling earbuds:Sony WF-1000X. These wireless (Bluetooth) earbuds not only provide excellent sound quality for music, videos, podcasts and books—they also do a wonderful job canceling out background noise, even though they are so tiny that they rest almost entirely within your ears and weigh only about one-tenth of an ounce each. The rechargeable batteries last three hours per charge, and the included carrying case contains a battery of its own that extends that to nine hours of use between plug-ins. Unlike most noise-canceling audio products, these allow you to adjust the perceived level of ambient sounds around you so that, for example, you still can hear conversations or airport announcements. Sony.com. $199.99.*
Portable wireless speakers that sound as good as wired speakers: Cambridge Audio Yoyo (M). This is the first affordable wireless Bluetooth speaker system that doesn’t disappoint when it comes to sound quality, a great gift for someone who likes to play music from a phone or tablet but who doesn’t always want to wear earphones. Most Bluetooth speakers produce sound from a single unit (and those that can work in pairs generally do so only after a difficult set-up process), but this is a two-speaker system that sets up extremely easily and delivers true stereo sound. And that sound is impressive—subtle and smooth across the audio spectrum. An audiophile might argue that a wireless speaker can never match a great pair of wired speakers, but for someone who listens to MP3 audio files from a phone or tablet, these are more than up to the job. At around eight inches tall and less than 3.5 pounds apiece, these are legitimately portable speakers that easily can be moved from room to room. When no outlet is available, their built-in batteries can provide 24 hours of use on a charge. CambridgeAudio.com. $349.99 per pair.
4K HDTV bargain: TCL 55-inch P Series. This 55-inch TV provides very impressive picture quality for a very reasonable price. Its 4K ultra-high-definition high-dynamic-range LED images are extremely sharp, with lush colors, bright brights and dark darks (which not all TVs have). It’s true that if you view this TV side-by-side with some sets that cost three times as much, it won’t win—the blacks on those high-end sets will be blacker—but the contest will be close. TCLusa.com. $649.99.
Virtual-Assistant Speaker:Sony LF-S50G. “Virtual assistants” such as Siri from Apple, Alexa from Amazon and Cortana from Microsoft are available through many different devices, including smartphones, tablets, computers and freestanding speakers for the home. And most do pretty much the same thing—respond to verbal requests. You can tell them to play certain music…ask how many grams are in an ounce…request a rundown of your schedule for the day…or check the weather forecast. This new Sony freestanding speaker, which uses Google’s virtual assistant software, stands out because it provides answers that its users will be able to hear clearly…and plays music with good sound quality. Unlike the typical freestanding virtual assistant speaker that contains a single low-quality speaker unit, the LF-S50G contains a pair of well-designed speaker units facing in opposite directions, so the single device can project clear sound throughout a room. It also has automated volume control—it senses when ambient noise is elevated and raises its voice to be heard over the din. (Apple’s forthcoming freestanding virtual assistant speaker, the HomePod, due out in December, reportedly will feature strong audio quality as well…but it also reportedly will feature a price nearly twice as high as that of this Sony device.) Sony.com. $199.99.
Digital assistant that doubles as an ultrasimple video calling system: Nucleus Anywhere Intercom. Nucleus is an “Alexa enabled” digital assistant, like Amazon’s Echo, and like all digital assistants, it will respond to verbal commands and requests. But Nucleus also serves a second function—it makes it extremely easy to hold video chats with family members who don’t want to fuss with computers or smartphones. Although Nucleus looks like an eight-inch tablet, it’s as simple to use as an old-fashioned intercom—your loved one can just push a button to talk with you. Unlike a conventional intercom, however, it can connect you from anywhere in the world that has Wi-Fi and let you see, not just hear, each other. Set up is simple—the hardest part is entering the Wi-Fi password. If you give your relative a Nucleus, you can use a smartphone and the free Nucleus app to contact him/her, or you can buy a second Nucleus for yourself. NucleusLife.com. $99.
Point-and-shoot camera that can take very clear telephoto pictures:Canon PowerShot SX730. The digital cameras that are built into smartphones typically offer no optical telephoto capabilities—their lenses cannot make far-off things appear closer without losing clarity and detail. The typical point-and-shoot camera does offer 3x to 10x optical zoom—it essentially makes subjects seem three to 10 times closer. This Canon camera offers up to 40x optical zoom, which is astounding from a camera small enough to fit in a pocket. (It measures 2.5″ x 4.3″ x 1.6″ and weighs 0.66 of a pound.) It’s a great gift for anyone who enjoys photography but doesn’t enjoy lugging around a hefty SLR camera and detachable telephoto lens. USA.Canon.com. $399.99.
Way to make the camera in an iPhone (or iPad or iPod) much more versatile: olloclip lens sets. These detachable lenses clip easily onto many Apple devices and make the cameras on those devices capable of taking a broader range of photos. Depending on the lens set you select, your gift recipient might get a 2x telephoto lens to bring him closer to far-off subjects…a wide-angle lens that can capture sprawling vistas…and/or a macro lens capable of taking crisp close-up images of small things. olloclip.com. $49.99 to $119.99.