Good news for cost-conscious holiday shoppers: You don’t have to break the bank to pick up some cool gadgets and gear. It’s been a challenging year for many, so perhaps a sleek 80-inch television or pricey drone isn’t in the cards for 2021.
Whether you’re looking to spoil the kids with something high-tech under the tree, or perhaps you want to treat yourself to something new, there are plenty of tempting electronics to find online or at your local big box store.
The following is a list of ideas that deliver a lot of bang for your buck.
Speak to Me
Even if you already own a smart speaker, because they’re inexpensive—as low as $35 for Amazon’s Echo Dot (3rd Gen) this time of year—many people are putting them throughout their homes for added convenience.
You know the drill: Wake up your speaker by saying, “Alexa,” followed by a question or command.
Use your voice to control music, set alarms, hear the news, check the weather, play games and control compatible smart home devices, such as smart lights, thermostats, door locks and more. Without needing a landline or mobile phone, you can also verbally dial any 10-digit number in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
Plus, instantly drop in on other rooms in your home with Alexa-enabled smart speakers to make an announcement (like, “Dinner’s ready!”).
Check in on Your Pet
You don’t need to spend a lot to keep an eye on your best friend, wherever life takes you.
Petcube Cam ($45) lets you see, talk and keep tabs on your furry friends at home, thanks to its 110-degree, wide-angle camera with high-definition 1080p resolution, 8x digital zoom lens and clear two-way audio. Thirty-second clips of your pet are stored securely in the cloud.
Use the app on your phone to check in at any time, even when it’s dark in your house. Petcube Cam lets you see up to 30 feet in night vision mode. You may also choose to be notified in real time with audio recognition of barking and meowing.
You can also use the app to connect with licensed veterinarians to get answers to behaviour and nutrition questions, but a monthly subscription service is required.
If you’re shopping for a smartphone owner—who might also have earbuds and perhaps a smartwatch—the 3-in-1 More Wireless Charger Stand ($55) is a smart and space-saving doohickey to place on a desk or table, and can wirelessly change up any iPhone (8 or newer), Samsung Galaxy or other Qi-supported phone by simply leaning it on the stand. No cable needed.
Since the phone is propped up, you can engage in a FaceTime call or watch videos at the same time. Tucked behind the phone stand is an Apple Watch holder and flat area to lay an AirPods case, for both of these to charge up, too.
The 10-watt foldable charger (ideal for traveling) includes a USB cable and power cube to plug into an available AC outlet. The stand will glows blue when charging.
Speaking of what’s old is new again, the Instax Mini 11 ($89) from Fujifilm is a kitschy gift for kids and kids at heart.
Yes, it’s an instant camera—like what you used in the ’70s and ’80s—but it comes in five fun colours, and with modern features like a selfie mode (pull out the lens and check your framing in the teeny mirror) and automatic exposure to ensure even dark images are brightened before it prints.
And yes, it prints captured photos within 90 seconds onto 2×3-sized film (62mm x 46mm) that you can stick onto your fridge, bedroom mirror, in a kids’ locket at school or onto the side of a computer monitor.
The Roku Streambar (usually $189, but currently on sale for $99) is like two gadgets in one: It turns your regular television into a smart TV while also enhancing its audio.
Connect the Streambar to your TV with the included HDMI cable and link it up to your wi-fi to begin streaming movies, television shows and other content from thousands of free and paid channels (including Netflix, Prime Video and Crave), with up to 4K HDR (high dynamic range) picture quality and full, rich Dolby Audio sound.
You can also wirelessly play music from your phone or another Bluetooth device and control it all using the voice remote or an Amazon or Google smart speaker.
Literally and figuratively, there’s no hotter small appliance than an air fryer.
Check out the PowerXL Vortex Air Fryer Plus 5QT ($99), which uses high heat, a fast fan and a small space to cook and brown food in minutes. Place the food in a perforated basket, set the desired temp and time, and the rapid circulation makes the food crisp on the outside—not unlike deep-frying—but without requiring oil.
With dishwasher-safe parts and a large handle for carrying around the kitchen, the PowerXL features 10 pre-programmed settings, additional cooking modes (pizza oven, roaster and others), timers with auto-shutoff, and more.