Christmas gifts: the best tech gadgets for all the family
If you are stuck for ideas for Christmas gifts this year and looking for something more exciting than socks, here are some gadgets that might be just the ticket.
From folding phones, headphones and VR headsets to smart speakers and eco-friendly phone cases, all of these great gadgets are excellent, built to last and won’t end up languishing in a drawer or, worse, the bin.
Fairphone 4 smartphone
The most ethical, repairable smartphone you can buy someone has had a big upgrade for 2021 and has a more modern design, 5G and faster chips. The Fairphone 4 is built to last, with software support until 2027 and a five-year warranty.
It still contains plenty of recycled and ethically sourced materials, has modular parts you can replace yourself with just one small screwdriver, and a removable battery, which is good for about two days.
The camera is still a work in progress, there’s no headphone jack and it isn’t the fastest smartphone you can get but it does the job with little fuss. Fairphone will recycle an equivalent device for each unit sold, making the phone e-waste neutral, too. You are paying about £200 more than for a comparable phone from the company’s rivals but that helps pay the factory workers who make the Fairphone a real living wage.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 smartphone
RRP: £949 – deals from £799
Not only is the Z Flip 3 a cutting-edge piece of technology but it’s a great phone to boot. Samsung’s reinvention of the flip phone puts a 6.7in flexible screen in the centre of a classic clamshell design, giving it the best of both worlds: a big, luscious screen to rival superphones and a compact size, which means you can actually fit it in your pocket when folded up.
Good cameras, top performance and good software with at least four years of updates, plus water resistance mean you are not losing anything compared with normal phones that cost just as much. Plus, there is something very satisfying about closing the phone to hang up on a call.
If you need an even bigger display, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 puts a folding tablet screen in your pocket, too.
Apple iPad (9th gen) tablet
When it comes to a tablet for watching TV, playing games and reading the Guardian, Apple’s basic iPad is the best option for most people. The recycled aluminium body is solid, the 10.2in screen is good and the speakers are decent. The powerful chip, long battery life and 64GB of storage will be enough for apps and games. Very long software support means the tablet will last years, too.
The brilliant new 12-megapixel “Centre Stage” camera automatically pans and scans to keep you in view for video calls. Apple’s App Store has all the media and tablet apps you could want, and accessories such as keyboards and cases are widely available if you want to use it more as a computer.
Apple MacBook Air M1
RRP: £999 – deals from £850
Apple’s switch from Intel processors to M1 chips of its own design has transformed the MacBook Air from a low-power thin and light machine into the best consumer laptop you can buy. The M1 chip is superfast and powerful but enables gamechanging battery life in excess of 16 hours of work – multiple days away from the charger are now possible.
It has no fan, so runs totally silently, the screen is great, the keyboard and trackpad are first class, the sleek body is made out of recycled aluminium and it contains recycled tin and plastic, too.
The webcam isn’t the best and it only has two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports but you have to spend a significant amount more to beat the M1 MacBook Air.
Ikea Symfonisk picture frame wifi speaker
Ikea’s partnership with the wifi-speaker maker Sonos has created some novel devices. Following on from a shelf and a lamp that double as speakers, comes the Symfonisk picture frame, which hides a speaker behind art on your wall – and it sounds surprisingly good.
It can be hung or leant against the wall, streams music over wifi from almost any music service available and can even be linked up wirelessly as a pair with another or as part of a seamless multiroom audio system. It still needs a power cable running down your wall but you get a choice of white or black frames and the art print can be swapped out easily for a choice of others – though not yet your own print.
Sonos Roam speaker
Most Bluetooth speakers are fine on the road but are immediately relegated to a drawer when you get home. Not so the Sonos Roam, which works so well you’ll want to use it in the house, too.
It has wifi for directly streaming music at home, supporting practically every music service under the sun and Alexa or Google Assistant voice control. It has Bluetooth, too, for hooking up your phone on the road. It is water-resistant, durable, light and compact but packs a big, quality sound. It lasts 10 hours on battery, charged via USB-C or wireless charging in the base. It can even be part of a multiroom audio setup with other Sonos speakers. Sonos promises to support the Roam for at least five years after it stops being sold but has a history of doing so for much longer and you can get the battery replaced if it wears out.
Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones
RRP: £259 – deals from £249
Sony’s top wireless headphones have an unwieldy name but are absolutely fantastic. They are superlight and comfortable even for extended listening sessions, have 30+ hours of battery life, are available in a choice of colours and fold up neatly for travel.
They have extremely effective noise-cancelling that works equally on flights or a commute. They also sound brilliant, producing the kind of sparkling audio that will have you discovering new details in well-worn tracks. They have a great set of touch controls for playback and volume, plus they can connect to two devices simultaneously via Bluetooth but have a cable, too. They are even repairable and you can replace the battery if it wears out, which is rare in the world of headphones.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones
RRP: £130 – deals from £105
If you want to give a set of wired headphones that sound great and will go the distance, you can’t go far wrong with these. Super comfortable with spacious ear cups and a well-padded headband, they sound brilliant with neutral, balanced audio that has made them extremely popular with music producers. Crank up the music and enjoy. Their closed-back design stops everyone else from being able to hear what you are listening to but they can only block a small amount of outside noise. They fold up fairly compactly and feel as if they can take a beating.
The cable is removable and the headphones are generally repairable, so if something does break you don’t have to bin them. Audio-Technica also makes a version with Bluetooth for a little more money.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 headphones
RRP: £139 – deals from £99
Samsung’s latest true wireless earbuds are its best yet. They don’t skimp on features, with a solid Bluetooth 5.2 connection, good active noise-cancelling for blocking out the commute and great sound. They have good touch controls for playback, last for up to five hours of music and charge fully three times in the compact case.
The app for updates is only available on Android and they are only splashproof. But they are more repairable than most true wireless earbuds, so it is possible to replace the battery and fix them if something does go wrong.
Apple Watch Series 7
The best smartwatch you can get for an iPhone. Its big screen, comfortable fit, 50m water resistance and slick performance are unrivalled. It doesn’t hurt that it has some of the most comprehensive health and fitness tracking features available, including the ability to take an ECG. It is made of recycled aluminium and has a reasonable selection of third-party apps, too, including Spotify with offline music downloads. If you don’t want the ECG or an always-on screen the Watch SE is cheaper at £249.
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 is the best smartwatch for Android and is about 80% as good as the Apple Watch, with most of the same health-tracking features and a more traditional round watch shape for £219.
Oculus (Meta) Quest 2 VR headset
The Oculus Quest 2 from Meta (AKA Facebook) is a breakthrough in virtual reality headsets that jettisoned the need for cables and a powerful PC to create a simple, immersive set of goggles you can just strap on to enter a completely different world. The headset is powerful enough to make the experience smooth and convincing. It is pretty light and comfortable. The battery lasts about three hours, and there’s an ever growing library of games and experiences, including from big-name brands such as Star Wars, Beat Saber and Resident Evil.
The recipient will need a Facebook account and enough space to walk and swing their arms around but there’s nothing quite like it for escapism.
Google Nest Hub 2
RRP: £90 – deals from £54
Google’s second-generation Nest Hub puts the company’s voice assistant in a good-looking 7in smart display made from 54% recycled plastic. With no camera to worry about, it makes a good alarm clock. It can wake you with a sunrise effect and sound, and you can silence alarms by waving your hand at it. It also features radar-based sleep tracking with no need to wear a gadget. The screen can be a brilliant digital photo frame for all your favourite snaps.
Google Assistant is useful, and the speaker’s pretty good, able to play radio including BBC, Spotify and others, or stream music via Bluetooth from your phone, making it just as good in the lounge or kitchen.
Amazon Echo Dot
RRP: £49.99 – deals from £29
As a small smart speaker to play music and the radio, set timers and answer questions, the cute ball-shaped Echo Dot is great. Simply ask Alexa for BBC or commercial radio and you’re away. The speaker is better than competitors’ and loud enough for small rooms. You can turn two into a stereo pair. It supports most common music services over wifi, or you can connect your phone via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm analogue jack on the back.
It comes with or without a hidden LED display for the time or alarms, and contains recycled fabric, plastic and aluminium.
Logitech MX Keys Mini keyboard
RRP: £99 – deals from £87
Working from home can be a bit of a drag, so adding a little bit of luxury to the computer your loved one is stuck in front of for hours on end can make it a little more bearable for them. Logitech’s latest rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard is a compact version of its brilliant MX Keys. With some of the best laptop-style typing you can get, it makes every key-press responsive and satisfying, while not taking up too much room on a desk.
It is made from up to 30% recycled plastic, works with multiple platforms and can pair to up to three devices at once, quickly switching between them at the press of a key, has an automatic backlight and plenty of customisation options, too.
Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse
The Ocean Plastic Mouse is a special edition of Microsoft’s Bluetooth Mouse, which is made with 20% recycled plastic cleared from the ocean and given a cool speckled look. It will last up to 12 months on an AA battery (use a rechargeable) and you can mail an old mouse to Microsoft for recycling.
Targus EcoSmart laptop bag range
When it comes to bags to truck gear around there are plenty of options but few have quite such a storied history as Targus – the inventor of the first personal computer carrying case in 1982. The latest EcoSmart range of Targus laptop bags includes backpacks, cases and sleeves, which are made from up to 26 recycled plastic bottles each.
Pela phone cases
RRP: £28 and up
Pela makes good-looking cases that add grip and drop protection to your phone – and don’t have to end up as landfill once you’re done with them. The cases look and feel like fancy regular plastic cases but are made from a starch-based polymer mixed with flax straw, which makes them more environmentally friendly to produce and compostable at the end of their life.
Cases are available for a large range of phones, with various clear and arty designs to choose from.
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