Holiday Helper

As the year draws to an end, it is time for our yearly holiday tech rundown. Whether you are looking for a gift or not, this time of year sees a lot of new releases that are worth taking a look at if you keep an eye out for the latest in technology. It is no surprise that the big names this year once again include Apple and Nintendo with the typical categories of video games and portable devices being the hot ones.

As in the past two years, the home smart speaker/assistant category is already loaded with new offerings from the typical players, as Amazon and Google have both issued updates to their lineups. Google added the Home Mini earlier this fall as a competitor to Amazon’s Dot and companion to the full-sized Home personal assistant. The Home Max version is also available, built to deliver a better sound experience for the music lover, where the original Google Home was made to compete more in the personal assistant category. Amazon expanded their offerings to include video, with the new Echo Show and Echo Spot. A newer version of the original, the Echo Plus, comes with a built-in Smart Hub to control various brands of smart home devices, which previously required a hub such as the Wink, to control and communicate back to the Echo. But, the biggest news in this category for 2017 is the December 1 release date of the Apple HomePod, which is geared toward the iPhone user much in the same way that Home was geared toward Google’s Android users. The HomePod will be able to sync to your iTunes account to play your music. The device also includes Siri and, like the Amazon and Google options, can be used to control smart home devices. If you want a good rundown of the smart home speaker market, Business Insider has a good article comparing the three main competitors.

A related item that is popular right now are wireless Bluetooth speakers. Most of these are not smart speakers like Echo or Home, but standard speakers that can be connected to a phone, tablet, or PC via Bluetooth for music playback. There are a lot on the market right now, so it is a good idea to take a look at a website like Cnet’s holiday gift guide or consult Consumer Reports to get reviews and an idea about the different features offered by each one. Some things you want to look for include compatibility with the device to be used (iPhone, etc.), how long a charge lasts or if there is an AC adapter included, and if the speakers are waterproof for use in a bathroom or by the pool. Some of these are even going toward the smart speaker market in an agnostic way, like the Sonos One. This speaker has Alexa built in and is targeted to support Google Assistant and AirPlay2. Someone with a music collection on more than one site might consider this option in order to access all of their collections on one device.

Video games are always a popular gift item and once again Nintendo is primed for the market, as is Microsoft. Last year the hottest item to track down was the Nintendo Classic, which was made in limited quantities and sold out quickly. This year, Nintendo returns to the what-is-old-is-new-again well to produce the Super NES Classic edition, a tiny version of the original that comes pre-loaded with memorable 1990s games including Zelda, Yoshi, Mario and more. Not that Nintendo is living entirely in the past, as the Nintendo Switch is set to be the hottest item on many of this year’s wish lists. The system was released in March and is already hard to find in stores, so experts are betting it will be a sell out the closer we get to December. The main idea behind the Switch is it replaces two types of video game systems, the portable and the console. The Switch itself is small enough and packed with enough battery power to take on a road trip or chill out in the backyard. The charging dock doubles as a connection to your TV so you can ditch the console and pick up where you left off on the train ride home. Different accessories can be added or removed based on how you wish to use the device. Of course, you can find Zelda and Mario here as well. For pure console fans, the Xbox One X is also hard to find in stores with Microsoft set to offer a slimmer Xbox One S version soon. The main selling points on the latest Xbox are the high end graphics and computing power that exceeds previous consoles. This one competes with Sony’s Playstation 4 in offering realistic games with lots of details, including the typical sports titles and first person shooters.

Finally, I always like to add an oddball item to this list each year, so this year there is the Kerastase Hair Coach, a smart hair brush. The idea behind the brush is to collect information on the state of your hair as you brush it each day and then provide feedback via an app on your phone. The user is directed toward certain Kerastase products to help solve issues like split ends, but the feedback could presumably be used to select products from other hair care lines based on the conditions indicated by the brush.

Do not forget the library has resources to help you research different products in our consumer reference collections. These include our print collections and Consumer Reports on our online magazine collection, Flipster.

- Laura, Information Technology


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