This season’s hottest tech buys are coming into clear focus. This year is all about home automation. With the ability to talk to your home and turn on music, lighting, or even the TV, this year offers some of the most exciting advances in home technology we’ve seen in years.
Last year’s surprise breakout hit is still at the top of the holiday tech list in 2016. Amazon Echo allows you to do fun and useful things like turn on music, control smart home gadgets, and even call an Uber or order a pizza with your voice by asking “Alexa” to help you out.
The Echo is best for Amazon Prime members, as it gives you access to Prime Music and other connected services. You can also order Amazon.com products with your voice and activate one of over 1,000 skills for more fun and useful tools. Echo offers more integrations than the competing Google Home, and through web service IFTTT you can connect to dozens of apps and services. Echo can also be paired with a phone or computer using Bluetooth to play any audio you choose.
Echo costs $179.00. You can also choose the less expensive Echo Dot for $49.99 and connect to a speaker you already own. Both are expected to offer Black Friday deals.
While it doesn’t have as many skills as Echo, Google Home is Google’s brand new Echo competitor. If you are entrenched in the Google product ecosystem, Google Home is a superior option over the Echo.
Google Home offers music and other helpful question and answer abilities. Also connect to smart home accessories like lighting, thermostats, and more. Google Home does not do quite as much as the Echo at this point, but it does a better job handling the abilities it does have than the Amazon competitor.
While it can’t do everything, some questions you ask are met with the response, “I can’t do that yet.” Yet being the key word here. In the couple of weeks I’ve owned my Google Home, it has already picked up some handy new abilities. I’m excited to see what’s coming up next!
Apple’s iPad Pro is at the cutting edge of powerful tablet computing. With two sizes to choose from, this tablet is loaded with amazing screen resolution, powerful audio, a processor that offers speeds rivaling top laptops, and a battery life up to 10 hours.
While the iPad is nothing new, Apple fans will love an upgrade to this latest model and those who have been holding out moving to a tablet as their primary device for browsing the web, email, and more have an option to ditch the desktop for good.
Phillips Hue Lighting
Phillips Hue offers integrations with both Amazon Echo, Google Home, and its own smart phone apps. These lights do a lot more than just turn off and on. You can choose either white or color bulbs, which both use long-lasting LEDs. Change the lighting intensity with a dimming feature or even the color with your voice or phone to create any ambience you choose. They are perfect for a living room, home theater, dining room, or bedroom.
Hue requires both a connected hub and bulbs to work. Starter kits come with various combinations of the hub and white or color bulb options. Savvy shoppers should be able to find Black Friday deals on Hue. I put the 3-pack color starter kit on my own holiday wish list this year, which runs about $200. The 2-pack white starter kit runs about $70.
After Samsung phones started catching fire and exploding on airplanes, Android fans started looking away from the biggest manufacturer of Android devices for an alternative. The clear winner is Google’s Pixel smartphone.
Acting as Google’s new flagship phone designed to compete with the iPhone, this powerhouse device offers anything you could want in an Android phone. It is fast, has a great camera, and comes with the latest version of Android – Android 7.0 Nougat. This version offers great new features not available in previous versions and the phone is built for virtual reality compatibility (more on that in a moment).
I’ve been using Nougat for a while on my Google Nexus 6P, and love the improved Android experience. Plus, the Pixel is compatible with Google’s Fi phone service which can offer big budget savings.
Quadcopter drones have made huge leaps in quality and affordability in recent years, and there is no reason the tech guru of your family has to wait any longer to have their own remote controlled flying video camera.
While the DJI Phantom is a leading option, the $800+ price tag could have you looking for less expensive alternatives. UDI’s Discovery is a great alternative at a fraction of the cost, coming in at $109.99. You may be able to find Black Friday deals on these and other drones this season.
Virtual Reality Headsets
Virtual reality used to be just for science fiction movies, but using a high-end Android smart phone or Facebook’s powerful Oculus Rift headset, you can experience VR in your own home.
Google Cardboard compatible headsets start around $10-$15 and the high-end Oculus Rift starts at $600 at Amazon. I have a low-end Cardboard compatible version at home, and it offers a fun way to experience VR using the smartphone I already have at a bargain price. See more virtual reality headsets.
Apple’s new Macbook Pro has upset some tech enthusiasts for its lack of ports, but the new Touch Bar has Apple fans drooling to test out its integrations with a growing list of apps including Photos, Mail, Safari, Keynote, and Final Cut Pro.
The hefty price tag starts at $1,499 and goes up to $2,799 for the stock models. Because of the recent changes in the 2016 model, make sure to keep the gift receipt just in case your special someone is not impressed with the new version. See all the Apple options here.
On the evening of the third Presidential Debate, I said, “Okay
Google, play the NBC Presidential Debate on YouTube on Living Room TV.” The TV wasn’t even turned on when I spoke the command, but moments later my TV was turned on streaming Hillary and Donald as they bickered over the future of the country.
This was possible thanks to the Google Chromecast I have plugged into the back of the TV (and Google Home sitting on my counter). Competing Fire TV and Roku streaming sticks offer comparable streaming features, sans the Google Home integration.
Depending on the products you use most, any of these three devices is a great choice. Chromecast costs $35 for the HD version and $69 for the 4k compatible version. Amazon’s Fire TV goes for $39.99. Roku has several version, but the new 2016 version is about $50. You may be able to find Black Friday deals on these sticks.