Tis the season for worrying about what to buy for friends, colleagues, and loved ones – and what we would like to find under the tree for ourselves. So in honour of the season, we offer the first of our weekly gift guides that we hope will spark inspiration.
Source: Blue Tiger
The Blue Tiger Solare headset is not your garden variety office device – though it can be used as such. It’s solar powered and cordless, making it perfect for field workers in environments where they need to stay in touch with others. Its single earcup means no stereo sound, but it also means not getting splatted by that approaching truck that you didn’t hear over your music. It also works for truck drivers, or anyone else who needs to be aware of their surroundings. And it claims 97 per cent noise cancellation, so people can hear you.
It can be paired over Bluetooth with two devices at once, and if the ambient light isn’t adequate for charging (it supposedly charges off room lighting as well as the sun, but I didn’t find that did well), can be juiced up over USB. A smartphone app shows charging status and battery level.
The Blue Tiger Solare is available at some retail locations, or directly from the company for US$219.99.
Wearable devices like smartwatches are still drool-worthy items, and one that is not only functional, but high-end gorgeous is the Huawei Watch GT 3 Pro. It comes in two sizes: 46.6 mm, and 42.9 mm; we’ll focus on the elegant 42.9 mm version, which comes with a white ceramic case with gold accents (the 46.6 mm comes in titanium), and has a white leather or ceramic band to match (be aware, adding or removing links from the ceramic band is an Adventure involving tiny screws, an equally tiny provided screwdriver, and steady hands).
It needs the Huawei Health app for iOS or Android to commune with your phone, but once they’re chatting, displays notifications of messages, calls (you can send a preset text from the watch if you can’t answer a call) and emails, monitors health stats such as heart rate, SpO2 levels, skin temperature, sleep, and more, offers a ton of workouts, music, and even alarms, timers, and a barometer (among other things). And its battery (charged wirelessly) lasts for days; with my usage, the 42.9 mm gets at least five days, and the 46.6 mm a solid two weeks.
It’s available from multiple retailers including Canada Computers and Best Buy, as well as from Amazon, and is currently on sale for around C$700.
From smartwatch to smart assistant
Amazon’s new 5th generation Echo Dot with Clock is a cute little device that, if you’re inclined toward Alexa devices, is a nice addition to your home. It offers improved audio over the previous generation, as well as offering all of the features of its predecessors.
The clock is actually an LED display that can also show song titles, reminders, weather, and more – it will even greet you when you enter the room if you choose, thanks to its motion detector. And since it’s an Amazon device, it actually lets you change the wake word from “Alexa” to either “Ziggy” or “Computer” (some third-party devices running Alexa don’t support this) – a big help if there’s a TV in the room. Until I made the switch, every Lexus commercial triggered the device.
The Echo Dot with Clock (a nice digital clock with numbers big enough to see across the room) lists for C$79.99 on Amazon.ca.
The work from home world has featured a lot of hassles, including that of tangles of wires connecting devices to your computer. The Kensington Thunderbolt 4 Dual 4K Dock works with Windows 10 or 11 laptops (or Mac OS 11 or later), supporting dual 4K external monitors (or a single 8K screen), with a USB-C 90W charging port, an Ethernet port, 3 USB-A 3.2 ports and one USB-A 2.0 port, a 3.5mm audio port, and an SD card reader. You just need to plug that USB-C charging cable into the laptop, and power, plus all devices, are available – and yes, it works with Microsoft Surface devices.
It comes with a three-year warranty, and free Kensington DockWorks software with WiFi Auto-Switch, MAC Address ID Pass-Through and Reset, and Device Connection Monitoring. MSRP is C$479.99.
Kobo’s newest e-book reader and audiobook player, the Clara 2E (MSRP C$159.99) is all about eco-friendliness. It’s made from ocean-bound and recycled plastic, and its packaging is magnet-free and made from recycled paper printed with soy ink.
The reader itself boasts a six-inch e-ink screen with 300 pixel per inch, 1448 x 1072 resolution. Its 16 GB storage holds up to 12,000 ebooks or 75 Kobo audiobooks. It’s waterproof (IPX8 certified for up to 60 minutes in two metres of water) so you can read in the bathtub if you’re so inclined, has dual band WiFi (802.11 ac/b/g/n), Bluetooth, and USB connectivity, and has an adjustable frontlight. There are 12 selectable fonts and over 50 font styles, and it supports 15 file formats, including Kobo audiobooks. Battery life is measured in weeks. And it’s all in a package that weighs around 171 g (about 6 oz).
And if your public library supports Overdrive, you can borrow books directly on the device. That’s how I got most of my pandemic reading material when everything was shut down – it works very well, and the books essentially return themselves when the loan expires. And e-ink is much easier on the eyes than a PC or tablet screen.
More to watch
Roku’s latest streaming device, the Roku Ultra (MSRP C$129.99), adds even more power to the company’s line with its support for TVs with resolutions from HD to 4K HDR with Dolby Vision. It connects to your network via Ethernet or WiFi (802.11 ac dual band) and has USB 3.0 and HDMI ports as outputs to the TV. It also supports Bluetooth streaming, and works with Apple AirPlay and Homekit, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa.
The Voice Remote Pro that comes with it is rechargeable and, as its name suggests, provides voice control of your TV and the Ultra, allowing you to search for your favourite programs without touching a button. And if it slips between the couch cushions and gets lost, you can push a button on the player and say “Hey, Roku, where’s my remote” to cause the elusive remote to make a sound so you can hunt it down.
Roku offers a bunch of free channels to view, plus access to paid subscription services such as Disney +, Netflix, and Prime Video. The company has also begun creating original content; its first movie, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, was a huge hit at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and is now available on the free Roku channel.