Sphero Star Wars R2-D2 App-Enabled Droid: $300
Does a man ever need an excuse to own a small R2-D2 robot he can steer around his house using an app on a mobile phone? Let’s hope he doesn’t, because otherwise there would be no excuse for shelling out $300 for the Sphero Star Wars R2-D2 App-Enabled Droid.
The small R2-D2 replica doesn’t do very much except roll around the kitchen table or the floor, responding to commands issued from the Sphero app. Sure, you can do things like plot a course for it by drawing a shape in the app, or have it express a variety of emotions (unusually for a Sphero toy, this one has a speaker built into it), but at the end of the day, most of the features amount to the same thing: rolling around on your floor. But if you have to ask what it does, then you’re missing the point. It’s not what it does, but what it is. It’s R2-D2. Enough said.
Cygnett USB-C ChargeUp Pro Power Bank: $169.95
If the man you’re buying for is a little more practically minded, and actually would prefer something that does something, then Cygnett’s portable battery fits the bill perfectly.
Few power bricks can power as many things as this one can. It supports a ton of charging standards, from Qualcomm’s fast charging standard for mobile phones, all the way up to the USB-C 20-volt standard for laptop computers, for which this little battery can deliver up to 45 watts. 45! That’s enough to power a MacBook Pro or a Lenovo Yoga. It can even power a Nintendo Switch gaming console.
Well, actually, when we say “little battery”, we mean “huge battery”. The Cygnett ChargeUp holds 20,000 mAh of power, which is a lot, enough for 10 phone charges, two tablet charges or one full laptop charge.
Sonos One – $299
It turns out that Sonos, the best multi-room audio system on the planet, has a flaw: it doesn’t support voice commands, like “Alexa, play my Best of Björk playlist in the kitchen”.
But the Sonos One, the latest addition to the system you hitherto have controlled with an app on your phone, fixes that by adding artificial intelligence voice controls from both Amazon and Google. Or, rather, it will. The Sonos One has the microphone array already in place for voice commands, but it’s still waiting for Amazon’s Alexa to be supported in Australia, and for Google’s Assistant support to be added via a firmware update sometime in 2018.
In the meantime, you’re still getting him the best multi-room system, with support for more online music services than we have space to mention. It basically supports everything. It’s awesome.
Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious edition: $299
What do you get when you take an old-fashioned slot-car racing set such as a Scalextric, remove the slots and add artificial intelligence to the system, so cars can drive themselves?
You get Anki’s Overdrive racing robot system, a game that’s almost as fun to play by yourself as it is with your family and friends. The cars all use AI to study the track, and then aggressively race against you, slip-streaming, lane-changing, forcing you off the track, whatever it takes to win. It’s amazing.
If Overdrive has a flaw, it’s that the cars are all powered by rechargeable batteries that don’t offer a lot of gameplay. So if you have any money left over after buying the starter kit, you might think about some spare cars to sit on the charger while the other ones are racing. Different cars have different handling and different weapons, so there’s that, too.
Samsung Portable SSD T5: $199 to $1249
Don’t think Samsung’s latest solid-state portable storage device, the T5, as the gift of a boring old external data drive. Think of it instead as the gift of peace of mind.
The fact that the T5 has a solid-state drive, rather than a spinning hard-disk drive, means a few things. It means what’s stored on it is far less likely to be corrupted or lost if the drive is dropped. It means it’s lightning fast, with transfer speeds up to 540 MB/sec, which in turn means the recipient is far more likely to use it to regularly back up his precious photographs and home videos.
And, unfortunately for the giver, it means it’s pricey, with prices ranging from $199 for 250GB to $1249 for 2TB of storage. But what price peace of mind, hey? What price sanity?
Microsoft Surface Dial: $149.95
Let’s say he already has the PC he wants, the Bluetooth mouse and keyboard he wants, maybe even the external monitor he wants. What else is there?
Well Microsoft has come up with a novel controller, the Surface Dial, which sits to the other side of the keyboard, opposite the mouse, for use with your non-dominant hand. The dial is at its very best when used with Microsoft’s designer-oriented Surface Studio PC (where, placed on the screen, it adds all sorts of contextual controls to design apps), but it also works with other Surface computers and, to a lesser extent, with any Windows 10 PC.
At best it will let him quickly change settings such as brush size in apps like Photoshop. At worst it will let his non-mouse hand control things like speaker volume, scrolling, zooming and undoing. And, at very worst, it will simply make him want a Surface Studio this time next year.