/Our Favorite Gadgets: Best Tech Gifts 2019
Our Favorite Gadgets: Best Tech Gifts 2019

Our Favorite Gadgets: Best Tech Gifts 2019


iRobot Root Coding Robot
iRobot Root Coding Robot

Do you know what kids really want these days? A programmable dry-erase marker machine, of course! The Root coding robot has a familiar Roomba-like body, but since it’s lighter, with a magnetic underbelly, it can actually stick to dry-erase boards and other vertical metal surfaces. (It’s perfectly fine on the ground too.) Kids can program it to draw patterns, read color-coded music cues and solve other games and puzzles—there’s a surprising amount to do with this thing. And it scales with kids’ ages, from kindergarten through high school. The app feels intuitive from the start but can get into some fairly complex programming. $200; irobot.com

Casper Glow Light

Casper Glow Light

In the dark winter months, a good light can keep you from losing your mind. Casper’s weird, glowing battery-powered Bluetooth capsule might just be the one. In the evening, it will gradually dim until it’s time for bed, and it can ease you into the morning by gradually brightening. It has a programmable app and a fun gesture interface (turn it on by flipping it over; adjust dimness by spinning it). It sits on a dock but can be carried around the house as a flashlight. It makes a great gift, though it is, admittedly, a bit of a splurge. $129; casper.com

Hoverboards never really made it to the Marty McFly stage, but some became useful tools for busy urbanites. Among our favorite battery-powered “rideables,” the 23-pound Onewheel Pint is by far the easiest to pick up and carry. That is, when you’re not scooting your way uphill without breaking a sweat, at speeds up to 16mph. While the Pint’s range (six to eight miles) rules out long commutes, it handles well on rough terrain, be it grassy field or bumpy sidewalk. Not included but highly recommended: a helmet. $950; onewheel.com

Amazon Kindle Oasis E-reader

Amazon Kindle Oasis E-reader

The bookworms in your life shouldn’t be stuck in coach with one of the cheaper Kindles (even though even the $90 model now lights up). They deserve the first-class Oasis. You’d think its crazy-thin, 0.13-inch metal design would make it tough to hold in one hand, but the tapered side grip makes it easy. Then there’s its high-resolution 300-pixel-per-inch display and water-resistant body—and a new feature that allows you to adjust the color temperature, so you don’t get blasted by blue light when you’re trying to wind down at night. $250, amazon.com

Osmo Little Genius Starter Kit

Osmo Little Genius Starter Kit

The Osmo toys have long been a great way to turn the iPad into an interactive backdrop for real physical play. The latest in its ever-expanding collection of educational props is a 4-in-1 set for “little geniuses” ages 3 to 5. One game features a furry monster that teaches kids the ABCs, another turns the sketches they make with the included sticks and rings into living virtual critters. The kit also includes the base and mat you’d need if you ended up buying additional Osmo kits. Which is partially up to you, and a lot up to your kids.
$80; playosmo.com


Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann / The Wall Street Journal

For many people this year, it’s not if they buy an iPhone, but which iPhone they pick. At $699, the iPhone 11 covers most shoppers. It has superb battery life, a big 6.1-inch screen and two cameras (the regular wide angle and a superwide angle). But if you’re big on taking photos, the starting-at-$999 iPhone 11 Pro has a third telephoto lens and a crisper, brighter OLED display. Both the 11 and the 11 Pro models support new camera tricks like night mode and improved video stabilization. Nervous about ditching your aging home-button fingerprint-sensor iPhone? Check out our guide on your best options. $699 and up, apple.com

Form Augmented-Reality Swim Goggles

Form Augmented-Reality Swim Goggles

For most swimmers, forgetting how many laps they’ve completed is part of the ritual. But for people who really want to track the workout, it’s now possible to keep count with these goggles from Form. The in-goggle display shows stats including lap count, time and—for hardcore swimmers—split times. The display is see-through, so wearers can still see where they’re going, but the design does cost some peripheral vision. The goggles sync with an app that also tracks distance, stroke type and other metrics. These wouldn’t make much sense to people who just play with their kids in a pool or splash in a lake. But for someone who swims laps regularly, real-time access to all that data could make a difference. $200; formswim.com


Photo illustration: Adele Morgan / The Wall Street Journal

At $249, the new AirPod Pros—sorry, AirPods Pro—aren’t exactly a stocking stuffer but whomever you buy these for will thank you. Sound quality and comfort are vastly improved from the standard AirPods (which remain on shelves). They even stay in your ears better—we tested on a mechanical bull and everything. The noise cancellation isn’t as good as with a premium pair of over-the-ear headphones but they will block out a good amount of plane and train noise, and they do surprisingly well erasing office chatter, too. $249, apple.com

Google Pixelbook Go Chromebook

Google Pixelbook Go Chromebook

Every once in a while, a laptop comes along and steals your heart. The Pixelbook Go has a comfortable, ultra-quiet keyboard, a bright and crisp touch screen and more than 10 hours of battery life, all in a thin and light 2.3-pound package. Like any other Chromebook, it’s best at Googley and web-based stuff, though it also supports some of the latest Android apps, now that Chrome OS has access to the Google Play Store. It’s more than twice the price of many popular Chromebooks, but that keyboard and crazy battery life make it worth skipping a fancy dinner or two. $650, store.google.com

Yes, it’s gotten to that point. Our phones are so big we need to attach little platforms to their backs to hold them better. But at least those little doodads can be colorful and fun. PopSockets’ original PopGrip has given way to a galaxy of similar, and similarly inexpensive, accessories. The company itself now sells compatible mirrors (PopMirror), fidget spinners (Backspin), cup cozies (PopThirst), credit-card holders (PopWallet)—even a lip-balm case (PopLips). And the company just launched PopGrip Slides, designed to hug Apple’s new silicone iPhone 11 and 11 Pro cases. If this whole PopSockets thing is confusing to you, just ask a teenager to explain. $10 and up, popsockets.com

Lockly Secure Plus and Secure Pro Smart Locks

Lockly Secure Plus and Secure Pro Smart Locks

We’ve been unlocking computers and phones with fingerprints for years, so why not the front door? Lockly’s newest deadbolts and levers let you choose between codes and fingerprints, both of which you can assign to people and revoke as needed. (You can also use a key… like a caveperson!) And if there are a lot of unsavory folks hanging around your door, you can feel secure knowing that because of the way the numbers get shuffled on the touchpad, your secret code can’t be easily copied. The Pro version adds Wi-Fi for access when you’re away from home. $250 and up; lockly.com

 

ILLUSTRATION: RYAN OLBRYSH

Parents who want to set content filters and control who their kids text should skip the expensive child-monitoring services and start with the built-in settings on their devices.

OK, so this isn’t the year to buy a Samsung foldable phone—or, for that matter, any foldable phone—but Samsung still wears the crown for best Android phone of 2019, the $700 Galaxy S10. The company nailed it all: a beautiful, all-screen design, an in-screen fingerprint sensor, three cameras on the back and clean, simple Android software. We also liked the smaller version, the $550 S10e, for anyone who thinks phone size has gotten literally out of hand. Maybe you’re wondering why Google’s Pixel 4 isn’t tops? While it delivered superb voice-to-text transcription and beautiful astrophotography, its shorter battery life is likely a deal breaker. $700 and up, samsung.com

Some of us exercise willingly, even joyfully. Others among us must be tricked into meeting the weekly sweat quota. In this latest example of temptation bundling, Nintendo combines a Pilates resistance ring with a fantasy game where you run across meadows, leap obstacles and, occasionally, bump into dragons. You defeat monsters by performing reps of different exercises; the Nintendo Switch (sold separately) gives you feedback as you go. The way it knows you’re keeping up with your digital self is by the two controllers—one attached to the ring, another to your leg. $80; nintendo.com

Sonos Move Portable Speaker

Sonos Move Portable Speaker

Although the connected-speaker maker has been around for a decade, it only just released a speaker that you can stream to via Bluetooth. (Of course it also works with Wi-Fi.) In a home that already has a few Sonos speakers, the Move is a great addition: With a 10-hour battery and weather-resistant body, it can be your backyard speaker when you need it, and then go back to its charging perch inside your house when the party’s over. It also has its own DJ on board, if you choose to add Alexa or the Google Assistant. It also works with Apple’s AirPlay 2. $399; sonos.com

Whether it’s for a first-time smartwatch wearer or someone with an older model, the Series 5 is the one. (Those with the Series 4, however, really don’t need to upgrade.) The always-on display is a nice new feature, but it’s the other attributes the wearable has accumulated over the years—advanced workout tracking, a water-resistant design, a big screen, a selection of watch bands—that makes it better than the rest. The $199 Series 3 is a decent budget option but you’ll miss out on the bigger screen and all the special health features, such as an EKG heart monitor and fall detection. $399 and up, apple.com

Dell XPS 13 Laptop

Dell XPS 13 Laptop

Another year, another Dell XPS 13 at the top of our Windows laptop chart. Like the previous models, the new XPS 13 successfully balances portability and performance with all-day battery life. (That’s on the model with the HD display; that 4K display demands more juice.) Plus, Dell just updated the system with the latest Intel processors and earlier this year moved the webcam to where it belongs, above the screen. Farewell, unwanted videos of your nostrils! Honorable mention: The Surface Laptop 3, which Microsoft refreshed with new metal keyboard options and a USB-C port. It still lags behind the Dell in battery life, however. $950 and up; dell.com

Public Service Announcement: Give a Little Bit

Public Service Announcement: Give a Little Bit

It’s true, we like to joke about some of the prices of our favorite gadgets, and splurging is part of the season. But it is also important to pause and reflect on what we can do to help people who aren’t so fortunate. Many of our dear readers already have favorite charities that they give to, but if you don’t, there are ways to find some. If you like digging in and doing a little research, here are a few websites that can help you find charities that align with your interests and beliefs:

 

Fujifilm X-T30 Digital Camera

Fujifilm X-T30 Digital Camera

Fujifilm has been killing it in the mirrorless DSLR game with its affordable yet fully functional cameras. While competitors try to cram in as many functions as possible—elevating the camera’s price—Fuji’s less-is-more-useful approach makes its cameras less intimidating. For people already acquainted with the Fuji X system, the new X-T30 will feel like walking into a familiar room, with much smaller furniture. The body fits in the palm of your hand! But the X-T30 doesn’t sacrifice quality for size. It still produces images on par with the higher-end X-T3. Add to that weather sealing, a tilt touch screen for low- and high-angle photos and the always useful Fuji settings dials, and you get a camera for the modern social-media age that can go with you pretty much everywhere. $799 (body only); fujifilm.com

Samsung Galaxy Buds

Samsung Galaxy Buds

Every major tech company now has wireless earbuds with a built-in voice assistant. That doesn’t mean we recommend calling for Samsung’s Bixby—it’s certainly no Alexa. But Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, now in silver, remain our top choice for Android users. They have great sound quality, a secure fit, a wireless charging case and a well-designed app. Google’s PixelBuds may become our top choice for Android, but they aren’t due until 2020, so you’ll have to wait to find out. $130, samsung.com

Anker PowerCore Slim 10000 PD Portable Charger

Anker PowerCore Slim 10000 PD Portable Charger

The latest iPhones and Android phones are capable of charging faster than ever before, but only if you have the right interface. Not only does this battery hold a lot of juice in a relatively small container, it has a USB-C port for high-speed charging. It comes with a USB-C to USB-C cord, which covers most of the latest Androids. For faster charging with iPhones, you’ll have to get a spare USB-C to Lightning cable, or at least carry the one that comes with the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. $42; anker.com

Rubik’s Cubes were always fun—for like 10 minutes, until you realized you were never ever going to solve the thing. (OK, we aren’t talking to you, Rubik’s Cube World Champion.) The GoCube gives hope to the hopeless with step-by-step instructions for solving it, even when it’s royally screwed up. It also provides hands-on training for those who aspire to be the next champ. And if only to justify the rather high cost of this fancy toy, the app turns it into a controller for mini games and even a funky music synthesizer. $80; getgocube.com

We get it: $1,000 for a smartphone is too steep for a lot of people. But saving money on a smartphone shouldn’t mean buying a cheap plasticky device with a slow processor and a crappy camera. That’s why we’re so impressed with HMD Global, maker of latter-day Nokia phones. The new 7.2 feels solid (polymer body with metal chassis), looks gorgeous (6.3-inch Gorilla Glass display) and takes great pictures (48-megapixel camera). More important, since it’s part of the Android One program, it gets a stock Android operating system from Google that will stay up to date for at least two years—and that’s a feat in Android world. And now for the price…
$350; nokia.com

Kano Star Wars The Force and Disney Frozen 2 Coding Kits

Kano Star Wars The Force and Disney Frozen 2 Coding Kits

The trick to getting kids to code is probably to stop calling it “coding.” These Disney-licensed products—which both feature activities centered around a battery-powered motion-sensing puck—go a long way toward helping kids ages 6 to 12 forget that they’re doing actual work. The fun, cartoony tutorials speed them on their way to creating fun games and silly gags. Don’t be surprised to find your kids laughing hysterically and waving their hands around as the screen fills up with shrieking porgs or dancing Olafs. $80; kano.me

Tile Sticker and Slim Trackers

Tile Sticker and Slim Trackers

Here’s one benefit of the sometimes out-of-control digital era we’re in: It’s getting harder to lose stuff. Tile, the classic Bluetooth tracker, has two new designs: a sticker that’s small enough to fit on a cat’s collar, and a slim version that can slip right into your wallet—each with three-year battery life. Basic tracking is included with the price, but if you’re especially forgetful, you can join Tile Premium, which gives you smart alerts when you leave stuff behind, plus a 30-day location history, among other perks. $30 and up; thetileapp.com

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ILLUSTRATION: DAN MATUTINA

Good news! There’s tons of new great stuff to watch. Bad news? You’ve got to figure out what to watch and how to watch it.

Have you noticed that TV is in the middle of a full-blown revolution right now? Chances are that “smart” set you bought a few years back can’t keep up with the likes of Disney+ and HBO Max. Hence the need for a Roku, one of the leading streaming video players. While the company makes boxes and even little HDMI sticks you can hook up to your TV, its new soundbar has all that technology built into a speaker bar. It’s a new way to cut the cord while adding cinema sound to your too-flat-for-good-speakers set. $180; roku.com

 

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

For gamers, there are now more devices, platforms and services to choose from than ever before. Here’s how to figure out what’s best for your play habits and your wallet.

Aura Photo Frame

Aura Photo Frame

Now that all of us take billions of photos, it’s a little weird that we don’t all have digital picture frames constantly flipping through our best snapshots. Maybe that’s because the good ones tend to be expensive, and they don’t all have a great interface. Aura’s frames are easy to set up and share with others—different family members can all add photos to the same frame, even when they’re halfway around the world. It’s pretty much the perfect grandparent gift. $199 and up; auraframes.com

Disney+ Streaming Video Subscription

Disney+ Streaming Video Subscription

File this under “Duh.” A single service featuring Mickey, Woody, Elsa, Iron Man, Mary Poppins and Darth Vader, not to mention dozens of singing, dancing, wisecracking tweens from the Disney Channel and Nicolas Cage trying to steal the Statue of Liberty (or something). If you have children of any age in the home, that $7-a-month subscription will go a long way—and because of bundles or promotional deals, you might not even have to pay that much. $7 a month; disneyplus.com

While we still recommend the Sonos family of speakers for whole-home audio, the Amazon Echo Studio is too impressive not to mention, especially for its price. A single unit with five directional speakers, it can fill a moderate-size room with sound. It supports Dolby Atmos music, which means that a selection of “3D” songs on Amazon Music—from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to the Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker”—sound even better. It also has a built-in smart-home hub, so it can control supported lights, switches and other gadgets without extra hardware and setup. $200; amazon.com

 

ILLUSTRATION: TIM ROBINSON

Scammers posing as grandchildren, government officials and tech-support agents ask for payments through store gift cards—and the scams ramp up during the holiday season.
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