Published November 23, 2016
For those who go gaga for gizmos, these gifts are as much fun to use as they are useful.
Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
Perfect for the home office, this versatile Epson Expression Premium XP-830 inkjet printer is speedy, spitting out 10 text pages per minute (at 5 cents per page). It has a touch-screen display and a document feeder for copying and scanning, and it lets you send paperless faxes with your PC. It also prints very good photos on glossy paper, as well as text pages or images from a mobile device using a WiFi connection.
This inkjet printer is a great gift for the family photographer. The Brother MFC-J680DW quickly prints very good photographs on glossy paper (only fair on plain paper) and has a separate tray for snapshot-sized photo paper. Its 1.3-inch touch-screen display lets you preview the images on a memory card reader. It also prints two-sided copies and has scan and fax functions and built-in WiFi networking.
Yes, this Roomba costs maybe as much as your first used car, but the idea of never having to push a vacuum again is priceless for some. Our tests demonstrate its excellent cleaning capability on carpets and bare floors alike. This latest version also allows you to control it via an app on your smartphone—nice for when you need to clean up in advance of unexpected visitors.
Buy for $599.00 on Amazon
Once you get past the price, there’s nothing you won’t like about this new model—the best stick vacuum we’ve ever tested. Dyson V8 Absolute aced our carpet and bare floor tests and picked up pet hair like a pro. It’s also surprisingly quiet. We wouldn’t blame you for stuffing the V8 into your own stocking. Just don’t turn the thing on!
Battery-powered stick vacuums are convenient for quick cleanups, but to vacuum an entire home you need a corded model that will go the distance. This Shark is our current favorite. The Shark Rocket DeluxePro TruePet is one of the few recommended stick vacs that provides impressive suction on both carpets and bare floors. We also like that it converts easily to a hand vac, which you can carry far and wide, thanks to the generous 30-foot-long cord.
Now you can give the gift of good WiFi all throughout anyone’s home. The three routers in this Eero Home WiFi System pack work in unison to create a “mesh network” that helps eliminate dead zones in the basement, backyard, and other nether reaches. The setup takes roughly 15 minutes, and the network can be managed via an app on your smartphone.
The reigning king of routers (at least in our labs), the Linksys AC2600 can admirably handle a legion of smartphones, laptops, and other internet-connected devices with ease in even very large homes. It also comes with automatic firmware updates, an admirably easy setup, and four Ethernet and two USB ports. Power users will appreciate its speed and many settings for optimizing their network.
The old Apple Watch was aimed at keeping you connected. This new one has added some serious fitness tracker muscle. It’s water-resistant to a depth of 50 meters and has built-in GPS to map your runs, and the heart-rate monitor and step tracking features are plenty accurate. The updated watchOS 3 operating system also lets you share workout data with family and friends.
Don’t let the fancy facade fool you: This state-of-the-art Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch is water-resistant and loaded with functions, including GPS tracking, a heart-rate monitor and step counter, and the ability to make and receive telephone calls—and even to pay for transactions at stores via Samsung Pay. The watch will work only with Android devices running Android 4.3 Jellybean or higher.
"I use my Echo wireless speaker most of all for Alexa, Amazon's voice-activated personal assistant. She tells me the weather, pleays my favorite music, orders household products online, and turns out the lights on command. My whole life is Alexafied, and my wife is as much of a fan as I am."–Mike Gikas, Electronics Editor
"The HTC Vive virtual reality headset tops my list. The two wireless controllers allow you to interact with objects such as a bow and arrow in VR games. But you need to be tethered to a powereful computer to use it. The Samsung Gear VR and the Merge VR Goggles, which both use a smartphone for processing power, are also good. The Gear works with Samsung phones and has a wheel to sharpen the focus; the Merge (Android and iOS phones) has a soft foam body and adjustable lenses for a better fit."–Bernie Deitrick, Senior Product Tester
Buy for $799.99 on Amazon
This 8-inch tablet has an excellent OLED display that’s one of the best our testers have ever seen. Crisp and bright, it provides accurate colors, deeper blacks, and better viewing angles than most other tablets. What’s more, the Galaxy Tab has a fingerprint reader, a pre-installed file manager, an 8-megapixel camera (but no flash), 11 hours of battery life, and the ability to connect to USB storage devices.
This 8-inch tablet is an excellent performer—especially for gaming. What it lacks in all-day battery life the Nvidia Shield K1 more than makes up for with an excellent high-res display and expandable storage. Toss in plenty of processing power, a Mini-HDMI port, support for Nvidia’s line of gaming accessories, and access to Google Play’s gaming library, and it’s a Borderlands 2 player’s dream machine.
A fantastic screen, fast performance, excellent touch response, and good battery life make the ZenPad S 8.0 Z580C-B1 tablet an easy choice even for demanding web surfers and gamers. With a sharp, 328ppi resolution display, this ZenPad is outstanding for watching videos, and its full access to the Google Docs app market provides a large and varied selection of apps.
"In the first of our robot face-offs, we pitted Wonder Workshop's Dash against Sphero's BB-8, each $150. The BB-8 is cool. Its head floats like magic above its rolling-orb body. And its app-enabled functionality offers things like voice commands, recorded messages, and autonomous navigation. But the Dash is the better toy of the two, with five free educational apps that introduce programming skills for different age groups."–Emilio Gonzalez, Appliance Tester
Buy for $119.99 on Amazon
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