Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2018 Part 3: Technology

Speakers, Earphones, a Robot Vacuum, a Smart Scale, a Harry Potter Coding Wand, and a Dancing Groot

Nov 27, 2018 By Mark Redfern Web Exclusive
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Welcome to part 3 of our Holiday Gift Guide 2018, in which we highlight some of our favorite tech products from the year. Technology's march into the future continues unabated and unless we all get wiped out by some natural disaster or pandemic, or the artificial intelligence systems we create go all Terminator on us and launch all our nuclear missiles, we need to get used to a more plugged-in future.

But it doesn't have to be all Black Mirror-esque, when used correctly and in moderation, technology is our friend. There may soon be a day where robots and AI do many of our mundane tasks and hopefully it won't turn out like it did in WALL-E, where humanity trash the planet, all get fat, and move to space. No, ideally it'll free us up to all follow our passions more. We're not there yet, but until then the below products might make your life a little easier. As you would expect from a music magazine and website, they include speakers and headphones, but there are also some fancy toys to better prepare children for a more computerized future.

We have previously posted part 1 of our 2018 gift guide (for video games), as well as part 2 (for board games). And in the next couple of weeks we will still also be posting more gift guides centering on DVDs/Blu-rays, music box sets and reissues, collectibles, toys and other gifts for kids, apparel and household items, and books and comic books. And don't forget that Under the Radar subscriptions also make a great gift. Plus donating to the charity of your choice in the name of the gift receiver is also a good way to go.

Anker PowerCore II Slim 10000

RRP: $35.99

The battery on my cell phone has gotten progressively worse recently. If I'm out and about and use my camera or other apps for too long the phone will just unexpectedly die despite appearing to still have a charge. I'm due for an upgrade soon, but in the meantime I can use the Anker PowerCore II Slim 10000. And even once I have my new phone this device will be highly useful to charge my phone or tablet when on long trips, such as an international flight. It's small enough that it can fit in your pocket. You could even take it to a music festival, so that you can stay charged all day without having to find a charging station and still find your friends before the headliner takes the main stage. It charges anything that can connect to a USB cable after you power it up at home via your laptop or wall socket. It has over 3.5 charges for the iPhone 8 for example or 2 charges for the Galaxy8 and on average it only takes about 1.5 hours to fully charge a phone. Also available is the slightly cheaper PowerCore II Slim 5000, which is still effective, albeit with slightly less charging power. Either way, never be caught with a dead phone again. (Buy it here.) 

Eufy Bluetooth Smart Scale

RRP: $39.99

If you're old enough to have mainly dealt with analogue scales in your youth, then even a basic digital scale can seem impressive, but the Eufy Bluetooth Smart Scale might truly blow you away. It does much more than simply give you your weight. When connected to your phone via the free app it gives you 12 measurements of your health, including weight, body fat, BMI, bone mass, muscle mass, and more. The scale is FDA-listed, meaning it's guaranteed to be as accurate as possible. And if you have a big family, no worries, the Eufy Bluetooth Smart Scale can save user data for up to 20 accounts. This is not your parents' or grandparents' scale. (Buy it here.)

Eufy Robo Vac 11S

RRP: $219.99

The AI revolution is coming whether we like it or not and some of the first robots we've let into our homes are robot vacuums. The earliest robot vacuums were produced in Sweden as far back as 1996, although they didn't become popular in America until 2002. These days, 23% of vacuums are robot ones. Pretty soon robots and computers are going to be doing a lot of things for us, so you might as well get used to them now. Enter the Eufy Robo Vac 11S. I have tested the model at my house and as well as distracting my (sometimes annoying) cat, it has done wonders to clean our floors. If you've never had a robot vacuum before you will ponder what you did without one (and also realize that's truly a first world problem). You simply turn the 11S on and let it roam around in its own time, picking up dirt and dust with minimal noise. At a full charge it will work for 100 minutes and with the slim design it can better clean hard-to-reach places, such as under couches. This model has increased suction at 1300Pa and via BoostIQTM Technology it automatically increases suction within 1.5 seconds when extra vacuuming power is needed. The Eufy Robo Vac 11S comes with a charging base, a remote control, and extra brushes. (Buy it here.)

Get Together Mini (House of Marley)

RRP: $149.99

There are lots of speakers that sound great, but most look like speakers and don't exactly blend in with the décor. The Get Together Mini, from House of Marley, bucks this with its stylish design. It's made with natural bamboo and recycled fabric and would look fantastic on any bookshelf or on a bedside table (it's portable, so you can take it where you'd like). Not only does it work as a Bluetooth speaker, it can charge USB devices. What's more, when you buy any House of Marley product some proceeds go to Project Marley, which helps support reforestry and to date have planted 125,000 trees. (Buy it here.)

No Bounds Sport (House of Marley)

RRP: $99.99

House of Marley also have the No Bounds Sport portable Bluetooth speaker and, again, it's more stylish than some other similarly shaped speakers. It's partially made from recycled materials, has 360° sound, is waterproof and dustproof, has a speakerphone, can pair with other House of Marley speakers, and has a 12-hour battery life. The No Bounds Sport even floats, making it ideal for pool and bath parties. One feature we particularly liked was the handy volume dial at the top, which is super easy to adjust. And again, your purchase supports reforestry. (Buy it here.)

Guardians of the Galaxy Dancing Groot Speaker (eKids/Fun.com)

RRP: $24.99

This speaker isn't intended for die-hard music heads concerned with the best sound quality possible (its reasonable price should signal that). But it is an amusing gift for Marvel fans, including kids who might want a speaker in their room. As befitting the Guardians of the Galaxy films, it is styled like a tape deck. The plant-based hero Groot is perched on top and when music is played he moves to it. It comes preloaded with Jay and the Americans' 1964 hit "Come a Little Bit Closer," which was featured in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Groot also says his signature catchphrase at the touch of button. But you can also connect your MP3 player, Walkman, Discman, etc. to the speaker via the aux-in port so that he can dance to the song of your choice. To sum up the product, in the words of Groot himself: "I am Groot." (Buy it via Fun.com here.

Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit

RRP: $99.99

A more technology dependent world remains our likely future and so it makes sense to get kids started early on learning the language of tech. We teach them to read and write, we teach them science and math, we even encourage them to learn a foreign language in school (my daughter is only in kindergarten and she's already in an after school Spanish club). But are they doing enough in public school to prepare children for potential tech careers? Well Kano has you covered. They have several products aimed at kids to help them learn some basic tech skills in a fun way. Firstly there's the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit. While the world of Harry Potter is all about magic, this toy is very much grounded in real science. Basically it's a Harry Potter wand that even Muggles as young as 6 should be able to build and work. Via an app you can download for your tablet or laptop, with a wave of the wand it can teach the child the basics of coding. (Buy it here.)

Kano Computer Kit Touch

RRP: $279.99

These days, kids know how to work tablets and smart phones from a young age. While my wife and I try our best to limit and manage the screen-time of our soon-to-be 6-year-old daughter, she's been fairly fluent in how to basically work our iPad for a couple of years now. But how many kids know how to actually build their own tablet? The Kano Computer Kit Touch allows them to do just that. It includes all the parts and easy to follow instructions for how to assemble the tablet. But the fun and learning doesn't stop there. Once it's built, kids can learn coding, build games (such as the classic Pong), make music via Google's Song Maker, do art, and connect to the Internet to download apps. Don't just give your kid their own tablet, empower them to learn how to make their own and help prepare them for the inevitable future. (Buy it here.

 

Hang Up (JAM)

RRP: $19.99

Do you like to sing in the shower and wish you had your favorite tunes to sing along to? JAM's handy little Hang Up speaker might be the answer. The inexpensive Bluetooth device is small, but has a strong sound for its size. It is waterproof and has a stick pad on the back that allows it to stick to any shower tile, wall, or elsewhere. (Buy it here.) 

 

JBL Charge 4

RRP: $149.95

In last year's gift guide we included the wonderful JBL Boombox, which we still use pretty much daily. The JBL Charge 4 is a nice complement, a smaller, less expensive companion Bluetooth speaker. With the Connect+ function you can pair the Charge 4 with the Boombox and up to 100 JBL speakers in total, all playing the same song across the party. But even on its own it's got a powerful sound and deep bass for a speaker of its size. A fully charged Charge 4 gives you 20 hours of continuous music and as its name suggests, the speaker can also be used to charge up the USB connected device of your choice. Also, it's waterproof, making it perfect for the beach, the pool, or to play either relaxing songs or romantic tracks by the bath, depending on if you're taking a solo bath or sharing it with a special someone. (Buy it here.)

Shure SE425 Sound Isolating Earphones

RRP: $259.00

I know everything's supposed to be about streaming these days, but I still have an iPod Classic, the same one I've had for over a decade. And while a lot of the music on there can also be found on my computer (and a small amount on my phone), quite a bit of it is only on that iPod. It'll be a sad day when it finally dies. Many fancy new earphones these days are Bluetooth-only, but the old iPod's don't have Bluetooth. That's why I immediately gravitated towards Shure's SE425 Sound Isolating Earphones. Not only are they high quality and modern earphones, they also have the cable to connect to earphone jacks in old iPods and other such devices, as well as being able to connect to Bluetooth devices, via its detachable cable system. The earphones are equipped with dual high-definition drivers (a dedicated tweeter and woofer) and have a sound isolating design that blocks up to 37 decibels so that you can really get lost in the music. There's also a microphone for phone calls, a carrying case, various sizes of the ear bud sleeves to make sure you have the best fit, a clothing clip, and micro USB charging cable (a full charge gives you eight hours of listening). So whether you want to go old school with a headphone jack or listen along to Spotify via the latest smart phone model, you're good to go with the SE425. (Buy it here.)

Vibes High-Fidelity Earplugs

RRP: $23.99

In my concert-going over the years I've generally avoided earplugs. Most basic earplugs simply make the bands sound kind of vaguely muffled and generally terrible, defeating the whole purpose of going to see live music. Although there was a My Blood Valentine concert where the venue gave out earplugs as you entered and they were essential to enjoy such a deafening show. Vibes High-Fidelity Earplugs are better than the earplugs of the past (or than stuffing toilet paper from the club's gross bathroom in your ears, which I've resorted to a couple of times during a particularly loud show). Thanks to sound enhancing filters, the music actually still sounds good while your ears are also protected with 22-decibel reduction. So if you don't want to end up with hearing problems like Jackson Maine, Bradley Cooper's rock star character in A Star is Born, you might want to invest in a pair of Vibes. They would be a useful gift not just for friends who are live music fans, but also for musicians or others who work in loud environments. The earplugs come with a hard carrying case and three interchangeable fit sizes. (Buy it here.)

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