From robots to Pixels: the best tech gifts of 2016

google pixel, best tech gifts

Best Tech Gifts:

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There’s just over a week left till Christmas, which means panic is starting to set in for many last-minute shoppers. If you don’t know what to get that special someone, I’m always happy to help with suggestions.

In that vein, here are my five best tech gifts of the year:

Google Pixel:

Regular readers are likely aware that I can’t shut up about this phone. But yes, it is that damn good.

It’s super fast, runs the latest version of pure Android, comes with unlimited online photo and video storage and features the most advanced voice assistant yet.

The Pixel’s best feature, though, is its camera. Google touted it as best-in-class when it first announced the Pixel, and having used it now for several months, I definitely concur.

I just got back from a week-long trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and my biggest regret is that I bothered taking my SLR. I literally took almost all of my pictures with my phone.

There are times when an SLR’s zoom or wide-angle lens will make for far better photos, but I’m finding those situations are becoming rarer. Unless I’m expecting to take lots of outdoor nature shots, I’m planning to leave my SLR at home on my next trip.

Most carriers have the Google Pixel starting at $899, while the larger screen Pixel XL goes for $1,049, with contract discounts of course.

Samsung Gear 360/Ricoh Theta S:

samsung gear 360

Speaking of photos, regular readers (and my Facebook friends) will know that I’ve become obsessed with taking 360-degree photos. As the old saying goes: once you go circular, you never go back.

But seriously – there’s something awe-inspiring about literally putting yourself in the middle of a photo by using a 360 camera, especially if you’re viewing it with a virtual reality headset. Two-dimensional images just seem flat afterward.

The best affordable 360 camera available right now for both still photos and videos is Samsung’s Gear 360. There’s a big catch, though – it only works with select high-end Samsung phones, like the Galaxy S7.

Other Android and iPhone users will have to settle for the Ricoh Theta S, which is almost as good, although I’ve found the Samsung camera’s video quality to be better.

I’d like better overall quality from both and am looking forward to seeing what new 360 options will be shown off at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month. Till then, both cameras are decent starting points for anyone looking to get an, ahem, fuller picture.

The Samsung Gear 360 sells for $499 while the Ricoh Theta S is $449.

Dyson 360 Eye:

dyson 360 eye, robot vacuum

It’s too bad robot vacuums are so expensive because, really, no home should be without one. But if you’re looking to splurge this holiday season, the Dyson 360 Eye is the way to go.

The company touts the 360 Eye as a vacuum first and a robot second, which is a bit of a veiled insult at iRobot and its Roomba.

But it’s true: Dyson’s robot does indeed have better suction power than the Roomba, even if it doesn’t run as long or has a smaller dust bin.

A robot vacuum isn’t going to clean your entire house for you, but it will do most of the job, which is a huge time savings. If you can afford it, I can’t recommend the 360 Eye more.

Dyson’s robot vacuum sells for $1,299.

Epson FastFoto

epson fastfoto

If you’re of a certain age – let’s say over 30 – you probably have a pile of actual photos sitting around somewhere, either in shoeboxes or photo albums.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had some inkling to digitize those pics at some point before some disaster comes along and destroys them forever. Scanning them all would be an incredible pain in the butt, though.

Epson’s FastFoto scanner solves that problem. The compact machine zips through photos at the rate of one per second, which means you can go through the biggest jobs in no time flat. The included software also makes it easy to organize them.

The only downside is that the FastFoto is relatively expensive. It can also scan documents, but its usefulness declines dramatically once you’ve done all your photos, so it’s a steep price tag for a device without much long-term value.

The smart move, then, is to share it around with friends and family. Spread among a group of people, it’s a gift that’s likely to pay for itself quickly.

The Epson FastFoto is available for $899.

CraveTV

cravetv, review cravetv

Never mind its long-term prospects (which don’t look good), CraveTV is a good deal for the right now and an ideal stocking stuffer.

Bell is selling subscriptions to its streaming service at a discount to the regular $7.99-a month fee if you sign up for a year. Twelve months costs $79.90, which is basically 12 months for the price of 10.

With Shomi gone and the newly launched Amazon Prime Video only available in conjunction with Amazon’s $79-a-year Prime delivery service, CraveTV isn’t a bad standalone source for some decent TV shows.

It’s stacked with older HBO programming and Showtime shows, including Homeland and Billions.

Like Shomi, CraveTV may ultimately fold in the face of its better-resourced American competitors, but it probably won’t happen over the next year so this is a safe buy for the time being.

Who knows, maybe Bell will even add in current HBO shows like Game of Thrones in 2017, which would really make CraveTV compelling.

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