Here is a sneak peek at some of the products that will be in my 2016 holiday gift guide. The full version, including images, will appear in your local newspaper.
Especially for kids
Buddyphones headphones, $25: These headphones limit the maximum volume output to protect your child’s hearing.
Magic Sketch Boogie Board, $30: This electronic drawing pad is addictively fun and will encourage your child to explore both their artistic and intellectual side. The reason I say, “addictively fun” is from experience. A friend gave one to her 2.5-year-old son and he never tires of it. The Magic Sketch can also be used to write letters and numbers, play tic-tac-toe, hangman, and other games. It’s a literal blank slate and you will probably come up with your own ways to have fun with it. It comes with many accessories and has a 7-year battery life.
Mobile phone and tablet accessories
Cygnett ChargeUp Digital 10,000 portable charger, $79: This portable power bank charger uses an internal, rechargeable battery to charge your devices anywhere. It is more expensive than other products in this category, but it is worth it. It uses an advanced polymer battery for light weight and cool operation and has a digital readout to show remaining power. The two fast-charge ports actually charge your devices quickly and it uses its power very efficiently. My experience has shown it to be very reliable as well.
iMuto 20,000 mAh portable charger, $36: This power bank charger also has a digital readout, and has more power than the Cygnett charger at a lower price. Compared to the sophisticated, high-tech Cygnett the iMuto has more of a brute force approach to getting the job done. It is noticeably bigger and heavier, and only one of the two ports offers fast charging. Still, for under $50 this could be the best charging value out there.
LampChamp, $29: Turn any lamp into a USB charging station with the ingenious LampChamp.
Amazon Fire 7-inch ($49) and Fire HD 8 8-inch tablets ($89): The 7-inch model is a compact, lightweight, useful, functional tablet with excellent support at a price that makes it an impulse buy. Display quality and battery life could be better, but for $49 who is complaining? If you want a bigger, sharper screen and faster performance then dig a little deeper and get the Fire HD 8. It’s garnering rave reviews and makes for a fine primary or backup tablet. Both offer expandable storage via MicroSD cards and seamless integration with Amazon accounts, making them great choices for Amazon Prime customers.
Olympus VN-541PC audio recorder, $37: It’s not exactly a mobile phone accessory, but this audio recorder will do a much better job recording audio than a portable phone. A perfect gift for students, lawyers and anyone who likes to take voice notes.
Headphones and earphones
Mpow Swift Bluetooth 4.0 Earphones, $38: Forced to go wireless by your iPhone 7? These earphones are very comfortable, stay in your ear easily and sound just great, with warm, pleasing sound. The microphone sounds clear as well.
Grado’s SR60e, $79: High-end sound starts at $79 with high-end manufacturer Grado’s SR60e headphones. The open-back design provides the best possible sound quality but they do not isolate you from the outside world, so you can hear what is going on around you as well. This may not be ideal for frequent fliers but could be a benefit to those with children.
Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7B Headphones, $90: If you are a frequent air traveler these headphones provide effective active noise cancellation that and good sound for a third of the price of the best known noise-cancelling headphones.
Audio, video and photography
OontZ Bluetooth speakers, $39-$99: OontZ speakers are Amazon’s best sellers for good reason: they are well made, sound great, and the price makes them a bargain. The OontZ Angle 3 is a mere $29.99 and is weatherproof. The new for 2016 Angle 3 + is $39.99 and takes sound quality to the next level with more bass and extended battery life. The OontZ 3XL is on sale for $99 for the holidays, reduced from the regular $119. All OontZ speakers can function as a speakerphone with very clear sound on both ends.
SJCAM SJ4000, $79: This action camera has a rear LCD display and produces crisp, clear and colorful 1080p video that is competitive with much more expensive GoPro models and must be seen to be appreciated. Many mounts and accessories are included and additional batteries can be purchased for under $11. The SJ4000 is a a great way to try an action camera before moving on to a more expensive model, and the mounts are compatible with the GoPro system if you decide to upgrade someday. I prefer the model without WiFi because of the longer battery life. Counterfeit SJ4000s abound on eBay and Amazon, so I suggest purchasing ONLY from the manufacturer’s site (listed below) or bhphotovideo.com as they are 100% reliable vendors of the genuine product.
AntennasDirect Clearstream Eclipse Sure Grip Indoor HDTV Antennas, $59.99 (unamplified) and $79.99 (amplified): Get free HDTV with the AntennasDirect Eclipse, my favorite indoor antenna. They are extremely unobtrusive and have tremendous tuning power, pulling in lots of stations effortlessly. You can use the amplified version without the amplifier, so for the small difference in price it offers more flexibility.
Audio-Technica AT-LP60 turntable, $99: This automatic turntable is the only sub-$100 model I know of that won’t damage your records, by virtue of its good engineering and moving magnet cartridge. A built-in phono preamp makes it compatible with any system.
HomeWorx HW180STB DVR, $29: This set-top box tunes high definition television from over-the-air broadcasts and records to USB flash or hard drives. There are no subscription fees, just add an antenna and a USB drive to watch and record. You can also watch one program with your TV as you record another with HW180. It’s a VCR for the 21st century.
Dayton Audio B652-AIR ($59) and DTA-1 Amplifier ($36): These two are good buys either together or separately. The B652-AIR bookshelf speakers use an exotic Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter for detailed, airy sound that belies the price. These speakers are great for budget systems and in rooms like garages and workshops. The tiny, lightweight DTA-1 amplifier has a single miniplug input and provides 15 watts of power per channel. It can be powered by the included wall wart power supply or 4 AA batteries. Combine them for under $85 and add a CD player, the AT-LP60 turntable, Bluetooth receiver, or the headphone outfit of tablet or phone to make a mini component system with spacious stereo sound.
Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge, $99: This excellent phono cartridge is great for upgrading that old turntable and playing vinyl records again.
Think Tank Photo Mirrorless Mover camera bags, $35-$70: Not only are these the best camera bags on the market, the selling prices are probably 35% below what you would expect for the quality and capabilities. The best costs less here.
Amazon Fire Stick, $39: If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber without a streaming capability, the Fire Stick is an absolute must-have. For only $39 ($49 with voice remote) you can stream lots of free programming from Amazon Prime, major networks, and online providers such as Crackle. Games and other apps are available as well. amazon.com/firestick
Dish Hopper Go, $99: Dish subscribers who travel will love the Hopper Go, a perfect companion to Dish’s industry-leading Hopper DVR. The Hopper Go can store 100 hours of video from the Hopper DVR and creates its own WiFi hotspot for viewing anywhere. Until Dec. 11, new Dish customers with a Hopper 2 or Hopper 3 DVR get a Hopper Go for free.