Gift Guide: The best gadgets to buy this Christmas
Published 17/12/2015 | 02:30
Few Christmas wish lists go without some sort of gadget or tech toy. From tablets and headphones to cameras, smartwatches and fitness gadgets, we routinely look for something digital as a seasonal present.
But what are the best bets in the most popular categories? What kind of budget tablet can you rely on as a good gift? Are there any good headphones worth giving that don't cost the earth? And will someone thank you for getting them a smartwatch? With just one week of shopping to go, technology editor Adrian Weckler picks out 12 of the best in our Christmas tech gift guide
Although many of us have switched to big phones, a tablet still makes a good gift for someone who wants to watch movies, browse the web or use social media on the couch at home.
Apple iPad mini 4
From €409 in CompuB and large retailers
It's a fair tribute to Apple that five years (and it's only been five years) since it launched the first iPad, its tablets are still the best in the market at what they do. Personally, I've always preferred the mini versions to the 10-inch models. You can slip them into bags and folders that might not quite fit a bigger machine. They're also easier to hold up when you want to read or watch a video in bed or on a plane. The new Mini 4 is 18pc thinner and 10pc lighter than last year's model. It also has a little more power under the hood. The camera megapixel power is upped from 5 to 8 on the main rear lens, if you really need to take photos with it. If the price tag seems a little steep for a gift, the iPad Mini 2 is still a great option at €100 less: all it's missing is the fingerprint reader and some of the power.
Nexus 7 16GB
€150 from Argos
You have to be very careful when buying budget tablets: a large proportion of them perform poorly. One of the models that still stands out, even though it's about a year old, is Google's Nexus 7. The seven-inch tablet gives a user experience that's completely satisfying with no scent of a dodgy screen or plasticky covers. It has a microphone, webcam and GPS and is light enough to bring anywhere. On top of this, it has 'pure' Android, so there are no annoying widgets or promotional apps that you never use and are difficult to wipe. It's adequately powered and has enough space for things like kids' gaming apps too. As a budget tablet option, this is a great choice.
Headphones are a luxury in modern life. They turn our phones into proper portable stereos and gives us a relaxing bubble from the outside world. Here are two decent, affordable sets.
Sony h.ear MDR100
€200 from Harvey Norman
If you're looking for a pair of light, comfortable headphones that fold up for easy transport and give relatively good audio quality, these are pretty good. Aside from the choice of colours (which widens their appeal for younger folks), they support high resolution audio. To hear this additional quality - 24-bit versus a CD's 16-bit standard - you have to be connected to a device or a streaming service that also supports it. (Tidal is one such service.) Otherwise, they block out external noise quite well and are relatively comfy over long periods. They also support any type of smartphone with in-line controls.
€35 from PC World/Currys
Wireless overhead headphones are great: they give you a lot more freedom without worrying about cables flapping all over the place. Unfortunately, they can be more expensive than wired varieties and the audio quality isn't quite as good. This budget pair of headphones makes a good gift for someone who doesn't need top-spec headphones but would like the convenience of wireless cans. They have fairly decent sound and they work perfectly fine, wirelessly, with smartphones (where you probably keep most of your music or radio stations). You can also make and take calls on them thanks to the on-board microphone.
While we can't yet say that anyone needs a smartwatch for day-to-day life, it's a fun, shiny thing to have (and to give). Here are two options, depending on your budget.
From €429 from Harvey Norman and PC World
As smartwatches go, this is the best one if you use an iPhone. The Watch does a very competent job showing you notifications from social media, email and SMS via a wireless connection to your iPhone. Unlike some other smartwatches, it also has a microphone and speaker built in, so you can make or take calls on it and use it as a handsfree unit. The App Store isn't coming down with Watch apps but there are enough to get you going, with health and fitness a particular strength. It comes in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm: the larger one is slightly pricier.
€210 from Argos
While there are lots of good Android smartwatches out there, the best ones (Motorola's Moto 360 in particular) are hard to find in Irish shops. Samsung's impressive Gear S2 is also sparse on the ground. A good, less-expensive alternative is Pebble's Time. It doesn't do as much as Apple, Samsung or Motorola smartwatches, but it performs the basics brilliantly. Connecting wirelessly to your iPhone or Android phone, its basic usage involves vibrating notifications and a variety of apps (including fitness apps). Its battery life is relatively good: a full 10 days (compared to one or two days for Apple's Watch or Android watches). It's also water-resistant (to 100 feet) and has a microphone that can be used to respond to messages in some apps.
Outdoor and Fitness
Looking for tech to bring outdoors? There are dozens of fitness and sportscam products that make good gifts. Here are two such gadgets.
GoPro Hero 4 Session
€240 from Argos
The world's favourite outdoor action camera company recently brought out a version that is slightly simpler to use than its predecessors. Instead of requiring a separate plastic housing unit like its forerunners, the new model is itself waterproof and easier to mount on devices such as bikes, helmets and surfboards. It's also faster to switch on and to start recording. It needs to be connected to your phone to change many of the settings. It records in 1080P HD, which is perfect for most big screens even though not quite at the same 4K level as more expensive models. It also takes 8-megapixel wide-angle photos.
Garmin Forerunner 10
€120 from DID Electrical
If you're promising yourself a running regime in the New Year but don't want to bet the bank on it, this is one of the most affordable GPS watches you can get. It's aimed squarely at walkers or runners. With its GPS functionality, it tracks your speed, distance, elevation and estimates the calories you've burned. It compromises a bit on features, with no wireless Bluetooth functionality. This means that uploading your progress is mainly through a laptop rather than a phone. It also won't do things like track your sleep or your pulse. But you can program it to tell you whether you're meeting your pace and distance goals.
Where once we had stereos in living rooms and bedrooms, now we mostly opt for wireless speakers to play music from our modern day stereo devices - phones, tablets and laptops. Here are a couple of good wireless options.
Sonos Play 1
This Sonos speaker is a great choice for someone who wants decent-quality audio together with an innovative way to hook up several speakers at once. The Play 1 can be wirelessly linked with other Sonos speakers to create a house-wide audio system. It does it through your home's wifi and lets you play your Spotify, iTunes or other digital music. There's a set-up process that takes a few minutes to complete but, once done, you won't look back. You can either buy it separately or get the home starter kit (two speakers) for €399.
€65 from Power City and others
It's surprising how good small wireless speakers now are. This one from Sony makes a really nice gift: it's small, has good audio quality and is really nicely designed. The wireless can also be paired up with a second one to deliver even better stereo sound. It's a fairly straightforward set-up, pairing wirelessly with a phone or other Bluetooth audio source. It can be used as a hands-free Bluetooth speaker for phone calls too, including the ability to switch to a call whenever one comes in. It has an extra-audio-in jack for anyone whose Bluetooth is on the blink and it comes in a choice of different colours.
Looking for something more powerful than the camera you have on your phone? Here are two great options for beginners and enthusiasts.
Canon Powershot G5X
€800 from The Camera Centre
This is a beautiful new 20-megapixel camera that mixes serious quality with real portability. It’s an excellent choice for those who want better photos in a pocket format, although it suits advanced learners rather than total beginners. Styled in a retro fashion, it has a good, bright 1-inch sensor and a powerful fixed f1.8-2.8 lens with a 4.2x zoom (from 24mm to 100mm). It also has an electronic viewfinder and a flip-out 3-inch screen. It also has wifi, as well as extra knobs and dials to allow more in-depth control. It can shoot 1080p high-definition video at up to 60 frames per second and is good in low light, with an ISO level of up to 12,800.
€390 from Conns Cameras
For a good-quality idiot-proof pocket camera with a big zoom, there’s lots of competition out there. While Panasonic has some excellent Lumix models, Sony’s 18-megapixel HV90V is definitely worth a look. The massive 30x zoom (which is stabilised) on the camera comes in really handy for far away objects, while you’re able to send photos directly to your phone (and then immediately online) thanks to the camera’s wifi connection. There’s an easy video-recording button, with a number of HD modes available. And its screen flips up (though not out), enabling you take shots from down low, or from in front of the camera. Maybe most impressive is the camera’s small size. At 4 inches by 2.3 inches (and 1.4 inches thick), this is genuinely pocketable.