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Holiday gift guide

Some tech toys for late Christmas shoppers or January bargain-hunters.

Sat, 24 Dec 2016

Some tech toys for late Christmas shoppers or January bargain-hunters:

Sony PlayStation VR ($629.95)
Virtual Reality goggles have been all the rage this year. I’d be lying to you if I said VR headsets from Samsung, HTC and Sony had any business utility at this point but they can be a lot of fun for games – and Sony’s PlayStation VR, which plugs into PlayStation4, has the best games now and the best titles in the pipeline. Sony’s VR World’s title features five VR experiences including the gritty “London Heist” that puts you in a room with a gangster. The effect is stunning and visceral but also a little ropey around the edges. Your field of movement is limited and the onscreen image starts to judder if you try to move beyond it. Another downside: With paraphernalia including a tracking camera, additional control console, two handheld controllers and various USB and power cables, the PlayStation VR quite clutters up your TV/entertainment unit area. Still, an amazing taste of things to come.  

Sphero's BB-8 droid (on charger) and Force Band.

BB-8 Force Band ($360)
One for the kids. Sphero’s latest toy robot is a licensed replica of the BB-8 droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s not much larger than a tennis ball and it’s controlled by “The Force” – or at least a sensor you strap around your wrist. You move your hand to move BB-8. Its US inventor, Ian Bernstein, despaired during a demo in NBR’s board room as I repeatedly crashed the droid into our drinks cabinet – but if your children are more co-ordinated, they’ll have a whole lot of fun. Incidentally, as well as hauling in hundreds of millions in venture capital money for his various robotic ventures, Mr Bernstein has become something of a gun at getting manufacturing running smoothly in China, where so many have stumbled – see

A pair of AirPods next to an iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (above) and in situ (below).

Apple AirPods ($269)
Yes, they look a bit silly but Apple’s Air Pods are the Bluetooth wireless earbuds you’ve been waiting for. Unlike most Bluetooth earpieces, they’re easy to set up and offer a clean, consistent wireless connection to your iPhone, iPad or MacBook. They also sound great and, surprisingly, they’re not prone to falling out. There are no controls on Pods themselves; If you want to adjust volume or skip a track you do so from Siri or your Apple device. The only minor glitch is, if you’ve got your AirPod synced to an iPod or MacBook, there are a few seconds of manual stuffing around before you can take a call. Battery life is a modest five hours but a carrying case that doubles as a mobile charger offers five charging cycles on the go. More:

PlayStation4 Pro ($640), Xbox One S (from $499)
Game consoles these days are about more than just gaming these days: They’re also a way to access streaming video-on-demand services like Netflix, Neon and Lightbox and watch them on your telly. Sony has just released the “Pro” version of its PlayStation4, which adds support for 4K or “ultra-HD” video and games, plus HDR (or high dynamic range; a very good thing for better picture quality). And Microsoft’s rival Xbox One S  offers 4K for downloads (plus a 4K Blu-Ray player for old-timers) and HDR. That’s just the ticket if you subscribe to Netflix, the only streaming service that offers content in 4K quality and HDR at the moment. Just make sure you’ve also got UFB fibre and an unlimited data plan, as 4K video really chews through your cap.

The iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, and attached to a Smart Keyboard.

iPad Pro (from $1219) and Apple Pencil ($159)
In an age where we’ve all become pretty jaded these days with lookalike smart devices and their endless upgrades, Apple’s iPad Pro is one of the few models still guaranteed to get a “hey wow!” from the gadget lover in your life. Its sheer size (the display is 12.9-inches) never fails to impress. And if you add the impressively responsive Apple Pencil stylus, the Pro can become a sketch board too. There are lots of apps that can take advantage of the Pencil, including the free Adobe Photoshop Sketch that lets you “paint” in styles such as acrylic, pastel or watercolour. The big screen is superb for video viewing and games, too. A great way to while away your summer and, when work resumes, you could couple it with one of Apple’s Smart Keyboard For iPad Pro covers ($269). It becomes a potential laptop replacement too – and it helps that the Pro has a lot more processor grunt under the bonnet than a regular iPad. (Apple now has a 9.7-inch model of the Pro, too. It sells from $999.

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Holiday gift guide