What is it? A pair of premium wireless headphones
Gift group: Audiophiles looking for an enveloping sound experience
Santa’s scoop: Innovative audio facilitators Blue will make gift-receiving music fans giddy with its first foray into wireless, over-the-ear headphones.
Not simply a Bluetooth-connected, standard listening device, the aluminum and plastic constructed Satellite offers the controllable option of a powerful onboard 280 mW analog amplifier with two separate pairs of dedicated 44mm dynamic drivers in each ear cup for high-fidelity sound in the finest old-school analog tradition.
Add the option of turning on two dedicated 30mm drivers for active noise cancellation also in each cup, finely honed by Blue to not mess with the musical output, and get pure dynamic musical reproduction with sweeping stereo depth
Both options are accessed via buttons on the left ear cup easily reachable with the immediate volume. Textures were apparent after the amp immediately kicked when I listened to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
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A single USB charge offers roughly 24 hours of listening, but that battery life drops to about eight hours when using the amp and active noise-cancellation options.
Not to be considered a mobile, portable headset, the device offers a weighty but pillow-like and comfortable fit over the ears with thick pads and lithe harness. It also takes calls through its built-in, omni-directional microphone on the right ear cup.
Now, that reported, the set does fold slightly but also comes with a very protective case with an interior detachable container for the included USB charging cord and a roughly 9-foot external cord to directly plug into a music or home theater source.
What is it? A Wi-Fi-connected smart frame available in white, black or walnut
Gift group: Seriousart lovers
Santa’s scoop: Netgear offers a product to spice up a living room with a picture frame displaying an ever-evolving look at personal memories and art masterpieces.
The 29-inch frame features a 27-inch, high-definition IPS, liquid crystal screen finely tuned to present digital versions of images, and a wireless connection (using its free app) to upload and maintain an image library.
The images shown on the anti-glare, matte-finish screen area are enhanced with an ambient light sensor and TrueArt technology to make the works look as realistic as one might find in a museum.
Even slicker, an admirer can wave a hand past the screen to change the image, view its origin (with an encyclopedic entry) or talk to the screen to replace the image (Voice control (currently compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices).
Owners will need to connect a free app to get the screen working properly and manage playlists on the go. The slightly complex process involves tapping into its internal router and having a strong Wi-Fi connection.
The frame comes with 100 free images such as “At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance” by Toulouse-Lautrec and “The Dance Lesson” by Edward Degas; or owners have 8 gigabytes of space to upload (via an SD card or the app) their own vacation masterpieces or family portraits to proudly display.
For those wishing to display a deeper catalog of art, Netgear has a Meural membership option ($5.95/month or $49.95/year) to unlock full access to its library of 30,000 works (including a recently added Norman Rockwell collection). All are chosen by in-house curators and licensed from major museums and artists.
What is it? An entry-level DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera and lens kit
Gift group: Amateur photographers in the family
Santa’s scoop: Nikon’s most portable and lightest camera to date gives beginners a chance to use a real piece of photo equipment to capture more controlled visual memories and not just continue to snap pictures with a smartphone.
Shaped almost too small for big-handed humans, the camera features a 3-inch, 921k-dot rear LCD screen, a 24.2 megapixel image sensor (15 times more than a standard smart phone), an ISO of up to 25,600 for extreme light and dark conditions, and it can capture video at 1080p high-definition resolution up to 60 frames per second.
A welcomed Guide mode allows new users to quickly pick a setting and shoot (portrait, landscape, distant objects, close-up, night portraits and distant subjects) as well as easily add special effects to shots.
Semi-professionals can still take control of their shots through the camera’s manual settings to finely tune shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
The camera also has Bluetooth capabilities. Owners install the Snapbridge app on a smartphone or tablet (easily paired with up to five devices compatible with iOS or Android systems) and after a slightly arduous set-up process, they can share images (up to 2 megabytes) with family or friends on email and social media or store them on a cloud.
The package includes an 18-55mm lens, a charger, strap and an ion battery offering more than 1,500 shots per charge.
Now as with the previous model, the package does not include a basic SD memory card (starting at $10 for a lower end 16 gigabyte card) needed to use the camera and store the photos. It’s a really odd omission considering the camera is useless without it.
Sherpa 100AC (Goal Zero, $299.99) — Let’s call it the Swiss Army knife of charging stations. This airline-approved, block-shaped portable power bank — looking and feeling like a lead-lined, hardback novel — weighs about 2 pounds and allows owners to charge smartphones, DSLR cameras, tablets and even power-sucking Apple laptops all at once.
An onboard AC outlet, two high-speed (60 watt) USB-A ports and a pair of bidirectional USB-C ports perform most of the energy transferring magic.
It even features Qi wireless charging for smartphones loaded with that technology. Just lay the phone on the device and it’s charging.
Owners can charge the Sherpa via a USB cable (roughly taking the long side of 10 hours), use an auto 12V adapter (roughly five hours) or a direct power supply (roughly three hours). Unfortunately, the most speedy energy source, the power supply accessory is not included.
An OLED screen on its front displays the power usage and battery level of individual ports and the package includes a Lightning to USB-A, Micro USB to USB-A and USB-C to USB-C cable.
Boost Up (Belkin, $69.99) — After the technology breakthrough of Q1 wireless charging for smartphones, humans can never have enough portable energy stations these days.
The device, that looks like a mini radar dish mounted on a fixed stand can easily charge Apple iPhones (8 and above), Samsung Galaxies (S9, S9+, Note9, Note8, S8, S8+, S7, S7 edge, S6, S6 edge) LG’s V30, G6 (US version), Sony Xperia’s X72 and Microsoft’s Lumia (certain models) through 7.5 to 9 watts of charging power and offers a portrait or landscape position.
An AC adapter with a 5-foot cord is included and Boost Up delivered as promised by simply laying a device on its dish. It works great in a hotel room perched on a nightstand as well as sitting on a kitchen counter.
MagicMount (Scosche, $59.99) — Charge any Qi certified smartphone (10 watts of power) while it’s magnetically attached to a car dashboard area with this multifunctional device.
It’s simple enough. Owners either install the mount through a suction cup on the window or dashboard, or use it to stick into a vent with the angled bracket, then plug in the device with the 12v car adapter (3 foot long cord), attach a magnetto the back of their phones and paste it to the MagicMount.
It works as advertised, but the neodymium magnet can be a bit finicky. Owners will need to find a sweet spot for not only where to place the phone to stay stuck but receive a continuous charge.
RockStar (Belkin, $34.99) — Thanks to some bad decisions made with the designs of new iPhones, folks looking to use wired earbuds to enjoy long sessions of music or talk while charging their smartphones were out luck with a dongle lightning adapter replacing the headphone jack.
The problem is now solved with 3.5mm Audio + Charge RockStar adapter. The 4.5-inch-long connector offers two inputs, a headphone jack and a lightning cord port with the male end of the cord plugging directly into the iPhone lightning jack.