Christmas gifts for grown-ups: From £10 to £10,000
£10 from Pimoroni
Time was when a computer for Christmas was the best you could hope for. Now they’re cheaper than a bumper box of chocolates.
The Raspberry Pi Zero W is remarkably twice the price of its predecessor, the W standing for the integrated wireless that was added to this model in the form of Bluetooth and 802.11n 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. With wireless integration, the Pi Zero W suddenly becomes much more useful as a cheap computer for a specific job, particularly a low-power server. It’s also a great choice for custom projects, for patient people with a steady hand and a soldering iron.
Ultimately, it’s hard to be anything other than impressed by a computer that costs less than £10 and can fit comfortably inside a Christmas stocking.
2017 never quite developed into the year of the smartwatch, but fitness watches have found their niche. The Fenix 5X might just be the best of the lot.
Whether you’re the fitness fanatic or you know someone who is, this watch will be loved. When you first lift it out of the box it looks a bit cumbersome, but once on the wrist you don’t notice its 87g weight and instead appreciate its solid five-day battery life (two weeks if you don’t actually exercise) and sheer style.
You can buy slimmer versions – the plain Fenix 5 or the slimmer-yet 5S – but the 5X has 12GB of memory, which means that it comes preloaded with all the maps you’ll ever need.
If you’ve been considering hiring a personal trainer to marmalise the post-
Christmas podge, consider these instead. These fitness glasses will feed you audio instructions to control the pace of your runs, although they’re definitely not for the self-conscious fitness freak.
You don’t have to talk to your glasses, but that’s the way you’re supposed to check in on your various analytics, in the same way that you’d typically look at your running smartwatch. The Pace glasses are ANT+ compliant, meaning you can attach chest straps or cadence sensors should you wish.
Out of the box, though, it pairs with your phone and uses its own sensors (an accelerometer, gyroscope, humidity sensor and barometer, since you ask) to give you pretty solid information as you go. It didn’t take long in our tests for the Radar to inform us that our strides were too long and that we should aim for shorter, faster steps.
Don’t be fooled by the futuristic looks. The lenses are just lenses, with no Google Glass-like screens appearing before your eyes. But if you can cope with being the centre of attention on parkruns, and with the price, they’re a fitness aid like no other.
It might not be the time of year when you’re particularly bothered about mowing the lawn, but come spring you’ll be glad of this robot’s help. It looks nothing like a Honda Civic, yet this clever little fella can trim a sizeable garden all on its own, and it’s more fun to watch than Jenson Button in his Honda-powered McLaren.
Honda’s technicians need to fit a perimeter wire around the edge of the area to be cut first – so the Miimo knows where to mow – and hook up the charging station to your mains supply, but once this is done, there’s very little left to do. After a few presses of the buttons to set the cutting pattern and timer, plus a short charge for the onboard lithium-ion batteries, off it goes, eerily and silently slicing through the grass.
You’ll notice from the sleek, small, spacecraft-like looks that there’s no horrible grass-collecting box. Miimo’s three blades are whipped around at speed under its plastic lid thanks to a 25W motor (there’s a 10W motor on each wheel, too) so the grass is cut so small that the clippings stay on the lawn, acting as an eco-healthy compost.
Despite the lack of stripes, the finish is seriously impressive: short and even. You won’t win awards for pretty patterns, but one of the many available settings is for Miimo to cut in a circular fashion for a slightly more interesting design.
No true geek carries cash these days, but neither can you rely on Apple or Android Pay for everything. A lumpy wallet in your jeans is overkill for a few cards, which is where the Attenuo comes in. Starting life as a solid block of aircraft-grade aluminium, the end result is so slim and lightweight you hardly notice it in your pocket. Credit and debit cards, Oyster card and your driving licence all click firmly into place yet are easily removed with your thumb. It will hold eight cards at a pinch, though the prime setup is five plus an Attenuo RFID blocker. This is as thick as two credit cards, and creates a disruptive field to protect all the cards from skimming at airports and the like. You might also want to keep a folded tenner between the cards, as cash sadly isn’t quite dead yet…
Anker appears to have cornered the portable power bank market by doing it better and cheaper than most everyone else. There are a number of Anker chargers in various sizes, but this is the perfect go-to model when you’re travelling. Weighing only 209g and measuring a relatively svelte 6.5cm x 13.5cm, it lives up to the “slim” moniker by being only 1.5cm thick. However, the 10,000mAh capacity means allows for safe fasting charging, using the built-in IQ charging circuitry. Recharging the brick itself only takes around four hours from zero via a micro-USB port. For international travel, the PowerCore II Slim is also under the regulation 100Wh that requires approval from the airline before flying with it in the cabin.
This little box rescues unloved tablets and peculiar hybrid laptops from a connection-less hell. We tested it out in an attempt to make the HP Stream 7 Windows tablet actually do some work – and it doesn’t just give that machine a big screen, a keyboard, a mouse and a LAN port, it also does it for several other Ultrabooks we’d all but given up on.
Plugable offers other devices for more modern kit with Thunderbolt or USB 3 connections. These are needed as you can tell that your HD screen is being driven over USB 2 on the Pro8. But for devices such as my old Dell Venue Pro 8, which are limited to USB 2, that’s the only game in town.
Sadly we live in a world where the first law of thermodynamics still holds, which means that despite Vivitek’s best efforts this tiny DLP projector – containing as it does a 500 lumens lamp –has a lot of heat to dissipate. The inevitable effect? Noise from the fans. They’re loud rather than whiny, though, and if you can cope with this then you’re rewarded by a vivid 720p picture from a unit that’s smaller than a 7in tablet (albeit rather thicker) and weighs 460g. Quite some feat. Running Android 4.4 and with Wi-Fi built in, it’s also able to stream video from the internet without a host system, but naturally you can hook up your choice of device via HDMI if you prefer.
We’ve grown accustomed to robots hoovering and mowing the lawn, but Cozmo is a robot in the sci-fi sense. The “emotional” robot plays games, recognises faces of people and pets, and teaches children (and adults) the basics of coding. Designed and developed by a team of artificial intelligence experts alongside character experts from Pixar, Cozmo is brimming with personality; so much so, manufacturer Anki refers to the little tyke as “he”.
Each Cozmo is sold with three cubes, which act as play pieces when Cozmo challenges you to games. They’re also used to “feed” the robot Tamagotchi-style, and Cozmo will interact with them when in Freeplay mode, making Cozmo fun to watch as well as play with. To get started, all you need to do is download the iOS or Android app.
Alongside the games, Cozmo can also perform tricks, such as fist bumps, stacking cubes and playing peek-a-boo. Our test seven-year-old’s favourite feature is Explorer mode, which turns Cozmo into a remote-controlled camera that can be driven around the house via the touchscreen on your smartphone. And let’s face it, Cozmo’s cheaper, cleaner and easier to look after than the dog they really want.
You have to love your music to spend £700 on headphones, and someone has to love you dearly to spend £700 on a Christmas present. But, if you can tick both those boxes, the P9s should be the cans you crave.
They sound utterly wonderful. They’re powerful, agile, detailed and comfortable to wear. And unlike many other expensive headphones, you can use them out and about, connected to your phone.
With chestnut-brown Saffiano leather covering the headband and exterior of the earcups, and soft-to-the-touch, memory foam-cushioned leather cups surrounding your ears, they look the part and feel every inch the high-end headphone.
It’s said that good things come in small packages, and the GPD Pocket is testament to that. It’s a mini-laptop built around the touchscreen from a 7in tablet. The specs are great considering the size, and the build quality is exceptional – it wouldn’t look out of place in an Apple Store.
The keyboard is obviously limited by the form factor, but GPD has done a great job despite that. Used on a table or your lap, it’s perfect for finger-peck typing, and it’s possible to use both thumbs when held in the hands, like an old-fashioned smartphone.
The manufacturer has got the balance between grunt and battery life just right. It hardly ever feels slow, and it’ll give a full day’s use before the battery needs topping up. The plethora of ports on the right-hand side make sure that connectivity will never be an issue.
You’re never going to use the Pocket to write a novel, but for commuting and holidays, it’s the perfect companion.
You can’t buy a projector capable of projecting 4K at native resolution for less than £5,000, and most new 4K models are more than £10,000. So, despite that eyebrow-raising price tag, the Sony VPL-VW550ES isn’t all that expensive for what it is.
So, what exactly do you get for your nine grand and why would you pay £2,500 more than Sony’s “budget” VPL-VW320ES? The big difference is that the VPL-VW550ES supports HDR, including the forthcoming HLG standard. We were initially sceptical about this. After all, HDR is all about producing super-bright highlights and extending the dynamic range so that explosions, headlights and reflections appear more lifelike. A projector in most rooms, due to environmental factors, will never be able to deliver the same dynamic range as an HDR TV.
Still, if you’re going to be laying out this much on a home cinema projector, you’ll probably have it installed in a room where you can black out the windows completely, and in these circumstances a projector like this has a decent chance of producing an HDR-like effect. As we discovered.
Because this projector deals with all types of scene beautifully, including action sequences, with a welcome lack of motion blur. However, it’s the sense of contrast and solidity the image imparts that truly impresses. There’s none of that greyness to darker tones and black that can afflict less expensive projectors. In fact, the picture quality has the appearance of a great TV, with wonderful presence, balance and natural colours.
It’s also a quiet projector, especially with the low lamp mode engaged. Even with high lamp mode enabled, I measured a maximum 76.3dBA. This is far from silent, but the character of the noise – a soft whooshing rather than a noisy whining – isn’t annoying.
If you want the ultimate home theatre experience without having to spend tens of thousands on a professional setup, this Sony VPL-VW550ES is a wonderful choice.
There are plenty of ways to digitally capture drawings and writing, not least scrawling straight onto a tablet screen, but the Bamboo Folio has some obvious advantages: you can still write on paper, you don’t need to constantly synchronise (it stores up to 100 pages at a time in its memory) and the Folio itself looks great. Finished in charcoal fabric, it screams “I’m an important executive, you know”.
There are two versions, but the small £125 version still has space to hold a 9.7in tablet. To us, it makes more sense than the large £165 version. So why buy it at all? One use is to share notes and drawings: the Folio will accurately capture your jottings, exporting them as JPEG, PNG, PDF or WILL files. Plus you can sync them straight to Dropbox, Evernote and OneNote. Bamboo even offers the capability to convert handwriting to text as part of its Inkspace Plus subscription (around £3 per month), but even without this feature the Folio is an elegant gift for the executive who has everything.