What are this season’s hottest tech gifts?

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There are plenty of tech choices out there for those shopping for gifts. Tech has become an integral part of everyday life to the point where it’s almost reached its saturation point.

A recent Pew Research Center study says 99 percent of adults own a cell phone, 97 percent use the internet, 91 percent have a smartphone, 82 percent use social media and 77 percent have a desktop or laptop computer. 

So how does a shopper build on that? There are plenty of nifty devices out there that would make enjoyable gifts. One of them is a home 3-D printer.

“I used to think 3-D printing was going to be the next big thing but it never happened,” said CNET’s Dan Ackerman. “The printers were too complex; they didn’t work right and were too expensive.

He said the Monoprice Voxel 3-D printer solves those problems because “it’s pretty close to take it out of the box and start working right away. I was printing it under an hour.”

“It’s great for kids because they can see how you design something and see it come to life,” Ackerman added.

Robots are taking over a lot of day-to-day chores. Robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers are two of them.

Ackerman found something even more intriguing.

“It’s the Anki Vector — the hot robot of the season. It’s about $250.” he said.

He said the robot rolls around and beeps. It has a smart assistant mode similar to Alexa.

“He’s not a smart as Alexa, but I gave this to a bunch of 7 and 8 year-olds and they couldn’t stop playing with it.’’ Ackerman said. “They had the best time playing with it.”

Tablets of been ubiquitous for quite some time, so it almost seems like a Kindle to use just for reading would be outmoded.

But it’s been improved this season, according to Ackerman.

“Amazon has finally got around to updating the Kindle Paperwhite. They made it waterproof, and a little brighter,” he said. “It has a nice all-one-level flat screen in the front instead of an indented screen. If you don’t have a Kindle, for $129 it’s a really good deal.”

There are some other cool tech items out there this holiday season. Here’s a list of items that Ackerman has reviewed:

  • Apple MacBook Air, $1,199: Apple’s MacBook Air has gotten a much-needed reboot — keeping the name, but changing just about everything else, both outside and in. That means a new 8th-gen Intel Core i5 CPU, more RAM and SSD options, a high-res Retina display, and the move to USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports.
  • iPhone XR, $799: It turns out the best phone of the year isn’t the fanciest or the most expensive. It’s the mid-range iPhone XR, which keeps most of the great features of the X/XS, but gets the price down to a (relatively) reasonable $749 by using an older type of screen and only a single rear camera. We called it “the best iPhone value in years,” and it’ll be an especially great upgrade for anyone with a phone 3 or more years old.
  • New Amazon Echo Dot, $49 (and probably less): There are many Alexa-powered devices now, from small to large, and almost an equal number of Google Assistant ones. But the new Dot, just redesigned with better sound and more modern design, is still the Trojan Horse for smart home devices. It’s incredibly inexpensive, usually down to $30 during holiday sales, but gives you access to the entire world of Alexa apps and skills. Once you buy one Dot, you’re likely to get more, and then it’s easy to add smart light bulbs, etc. That’s what makes it a Trojan Horse.
  • Nintendo Switch, $299: Heading into its second holiday season, the Switch remains the console kids (and grownups) are most likely to ask for — and the one most likely to pull in even avowed non-gamers. It’s a portable gaming tablet, a living room console, has great games, and most importantly, brings back the golden era of same-room gaming with multiplayer games like Super Mario Party.
  • Anki Vector, $249: This tiny robot — it’s about three inches tall — packs a lot of AI goodness into its compact frame. Left to its own devices, Vector will putter around, explore its environment, and use sensors to make sure it doesn’t roll over the edge of the table. But say “Hey Vector,” and it transforms into an Alexa-like smart device, giving weather reports, answering random Google-able questions, and learning the faces and names of family and friends. It’s bag of tricks is limited right now, but like Alexa, it’s AI is cloud-based, and can continually add features and skills. Yes, Sony’s Aibo robot dog is cooler, but it costs 10 times as much. 
  • New Kindle Paperwhite, $129 and up: Books always make a great gift, but so does an e-book reader. The Kindle is really the only one that makes any sense to buy for someone, and the Paperwhite finally has a few new features that make it feel more up-to-date. Specifically, it’s a bit thinner, has a flush front screen (really makes a big difference), a soft-touch back, it’s waterproof, and it’s even a little bit brighter. Once you get used to an E-Ink screen, you’ll never go back to reading books on your phone or iPad.
  • Arcade1Up gaming cabinet, $299-$399: An incredibly faithful recreation of the arcade cabinets of my youth, just slightly shrunk down, and much, much less expensive. Each multi-game machine has classic art and a full set of buttons, joysticks and trackballs. The only catch — you have to put it together yourself from a kit, but that’s actually part of the fun.
  • Monoprice Voxel 3D printer, $399: For years, 3-D printers have been too expensive, too hard to use, and not really all that useful. Technology is finally at the point where a reasonably priced machine like this is as close to plug-and-play as you can get. Almost no setup is required, and I was printing less than an hour after pulling the Voxel out of the box. I’m not completely obsessed, printing phone docks, game pieces, toys, etc. I’m currently making little Pokemon figure sets for all the parents in my office.

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