Cutting-edge technology isn’t just for big business. In fact, a lot of it is meant for everyday consumers like you and me, for students looking to get a foot into engineering, for moms and dads looking to fix up their homes. And the best part is that nothing has the wow-factor of a cutting-edge device.
For the special technophiles in your life, consider the gift of cutting edge consumer technology. We’re talking drones, 3D printers, virtual reality, wearable technology, and home automation. These aren’t just gadgets, they’re the future of innovation, and you can buy them now.
Virtual Reality Gifts
Everyone who owns a smartphone needs to install the virtual reality (VR) Google Cardboard application right away (available for Android and iOS). That’s because you can now turn any Android or iOS smartphone into a VR device with very little effort.
Most people don’t realize that the smartphone includes all the basic requirements of a head-tracking virtual reality device.
Aside from Cardboard, there’s no other consumer-ready VR standard out there. The only VR development kit out there is the Oculus Rift DK2, which is no longer being sold at this time, and the official consumer release won’t be here until 2016.
Google Cardboard is by far the cheapest and most consumer friendly VR package out there. It’s pretty simple to set up, as well. Just install the Google Cardboard application and insert your smartphone into the headset’s cradle. The Google Cardboard headset uses the phone’s sensors and screen to provide an immersive 3D experience.
The higher the phone’s resolution, the greater the realism. Here’s an example of what it looks like:
I also recommend pairing a Cardboard headset with a wireless Bluetooth headphone and either a Bluetooth remote or a gamepad. Keep in mind that many of these peripherals are manufactured by a single company, but rebranded and sold stateside by myriad marketing companies.
Google Cardboard VR Headset
- FAVOLCANO 3D Headset: A solid pick, but doesn’t include NFC or a magnetic button. ($15 via Amazon)
- D-scope Pro Google Cardboard Headset: Slightly better than FAVOLCANO’s option and better designed. ($17 via Amazon)
- CreateGreat 3D Virtual Reality Headset: The highest end option. ($36 via Amazon)
Bluetooth Remote or Gamepad
- Measy Bluetooth 3.0 RC16 Keyboard + Air Mouse: It’s the only motion-controlled mouse that includes Bluetooth support. It has a junky keyboard though. ($39 via Amazon)
- iRainy Bluetooth 3.0 Keyboard + Mouse: It’s decent, but not amazing. It also includes a touchpad. ($19 via Amazon)
- CreateGreat Bluetooth 3.0 Gamepad: It’s a decent option, but I prefer Measy’s Air Mouse. ($12 via Amazon)
- Zero-One Bluetooth Headphones: High reviews and low cost. ($33 via Amazon)
- Avantree Audition Bluetooth 4.0 Headphones: I loved the Audition’s decent audio fidelity and 40+ hour battery life. Check out my Avantree Audition review for more details. ($50 via Amazon)
- Xiaomi Piston 3: Regarded as one of the best headsets for the money. ($25 via Amazon)
Drone Technology Gifts
In short, a drone combines remote-controlled flight with video recording capabilities. There’s even some tie into virtual reality with Google Cardboard: with Google Cardboard, drones allow users to experience what the drone experiences, provided the drone possesses compatible hardware (depth-sensing cameras).
Drone prices range all over the place, from tens of thousands to the tens of dollars — but you get what you pay for. Enthusiasts, of course, should consider one of the higher-end models whereas entry-level consumers should wet their feet with one of the more inexpensive models.
Due to the nature of the spinning blades, drones aren’t suitable for all ages of children, unless supervised by an adult.
Right now the most important consumer drone is the DJI Phantom 3 (we reviewed an older DJI Phantom 2), which blends together high-end performance with mid-range pricing. Unfortunately, the Phantom 3 is almost impossible to find at present, but many alternatives exist:
- DJI T600 Inspire 1 (v.2) Quadcopter with 4K camera: It’s ridiculously pricey. ($2,699 via Amazon)
- Parrot Bebop Quadcopter: It’s probably the best alternative to the Phantom. ($437 via Amazon)
- UDI U818A with Camera: A low-cost alternative to the DJI Phantom 3. ($110 via Amazon)
- Hubsan X4 H107C with Camera: It’s a great choice for those looking to get their feet wet. ($49 via Amazon)
3D Printer Gifts
3D printers allow consumers to download, design, and print out three-dimensional shapes using a variety of plastics (and sometimes metals or even chocolate). A conventional 3D printer melts down spools of plastic using fused deposition modeling and then extrudes the liquified material onto a tray.
A few 3D printers even include 3D scanners, which gets pretty close to a Star Trek replicator. Depending on the printer and size of the project, the process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
There are four primary kinds of consumer-grade 3D printers out there: PLA, ABS, exotic materials, and resin. Resin and exotic materials printers cost a fortune — I’d advise staying away from those kinds of 3D printers until the technology matures — but PLA and ABS printers are consumer-ready now.
- FlashForge 3D Printer Creator Pro: For the money, it’s the best dual-extruder 3D printer on today’s market. ($1,099 via Amazon)
- UP! Mini 3D Printer: It’s the one of the cheapest fully-assembled and best-reviewed 3D printers out there. ($599 via TEquipment)
- M3D Micro 3d Printer: It’s one of the cheapest 3D printers around and we recommend it. Check out our M3D Micro review for more details. ($525 via Amazon)
Home Automation Gifts
Smart Home, or Home Automation, is the wireless control — and automation — of home appliances. In a Smart Home, everything from the smoke detectors to lighting can be remotely controlled and automated.
To illustrate, the Philips Hue line of smart lighting can change its brightness and color to better match one’s personal preferences. Smart Home products not only reduce the time users spend fiddling with their appliances, but can also improve standards of living, home safety, and even save money on heating.
We’ve already covered some of the best home automation gifts you can give, but there’s more to cover. Keep in mind that there are several competing standards for syncing all your home automation gadgets together.
Note that if you purchase a Smart Hub, make sure it’s compatible with all your smart home devices. The connection standards include openHAB, WiFi, Z-Wave, Apple’s HomeKit, and ZigBee. If you’re unfamiliar with the subject, check out which Smart Hub is right for you.
Right now, the hottest product in home automation is the Amazon Echo. I reviewed it myself and was extremely impressed by the Echo’s Smart Home flexibility and promise for future innovation (but not with its added NSA compatibility).
- Amazon Echo: It’s the best Smart Hub product around because of its sophisticated voice recognition and compatibility with multiple Smart Home products. ($180 via Amazon)
- Nest Learning Thermostat, 3rd Gen: It’s the best smart thermostat around and it integrates with the Echo. ($249 via Amazon)
- Samsung SmartThings Hub: Samsung managed to simplify the connection standards for Smart Hubs. It’s a one-stop-shop device for all things Smart Home. ($99 via Amazon)
- Philips Hue Starter Kit, 2nd Gen: It’s the best Smart Home lighting system out there. ($80 via Amazon)
- LIFX White 800 A19 Smart Lights: It’s a lower-cost alternative to Philips Hue. ($40 via Amazon)
Wearable Technology Gifts
There’s all kinds of wearable tech out there, but as far as consumer-friendly smartwatches are concerned, there are three main categories: fitness trackers, personal assistants, and hybrids between two.
For the most part, people tend to buy fitness trackers and then forget them after the novelty wears off. Personal assistants provide a little extra utility, but even so, most people forget they’re even there. Hybrid devices are where it’s at.
We think the Apple Watch does it all and our Apple Watch review was positive. It combines a sophisticated biometric sensor with a halfway-decent personal assistant in Siri. On the other hand, the Android Wear series of devices (which Android Wear smartwatch is best?) provides superior personal assistant software but relatively weak health tracking sensors.
- Apple Watch 38mm Black: It’s the best all-round smartwatch on today’s market. ($335 via Amazon)
- Sony Smartwatch 3: It’s the best Android Wear smartwatch around and it’s heavily discounted. ($163 via Amazon)
- Basis Peak Fitness Tracker: It’s the best fitness wearable on today’s market, remarkable for its ease of use and durability. ($127 via Amazon)
- Polar V800 Multisport Watch: It’s the most flexible and rugged out of the dedicated fitness trackers. ($303 via Amazon)
Which Techie Gift Is the Best?
With Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping, you can still get some of the sharpest bleeding-edge technology around before Christmas! My personal recommendation — for almost anyone — is Google Cardboard. It’s still an unheard of technology and it’s the most inexpensive in the tech world. Give it a shot, whether you’ve heard of it before or not.
Did any of these gifts catch your eye? What other cutting-edge gift ideas can you think of? Tell us in the comments below!
Image Credits:christmas tree by Petr Vaclavek via Shutterstock