Avery’s Favourite Things: Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2020
As the resident tech expert on Canada’s largest national morning show, it’s my job to keep a look out for the coolest gadgets and gear. Here’s my roundup of 28 tech products I think are worth gifting this 2020 holiday season.
Editorial note: none of these picks are sponsored, and you won’t find an affiliate link on this page. The only way to make it on this list is to have a product I think is worthwhile. Also, you may notice that all the links here go to the manufacturers’ websites. Many of these products can be purchased from small businesses. Check with your favourite local shops to see what they carry before buying from a big box retailer. Small businesses need your support!
- Avery Swartz
Gifts for the Work-From-Home Master
You know what sounds like hell? Two parents working from home and one child attending virtual school, all in a 1200 square foot house. That’s my reality, and noise cancelling headphones are my saviour. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds work with any smartphone or laptop via Bluetooth, feature active and passive noise cancelling, and they stay put in you ears (comfortably). The batteries last 6 hours before needing a charge — perfect for those Zoom calls that seem to go on forever.
Speaking of Zoom calls that seem to go on forever… what’s your on-camera setup like? You can drastically improve how you look on screen (and save your arm from falling asleep) with this live streaming kit. It features a universal phone holder, USB-powered light with 3 brightness settings, and a desk clip.
Imagine a world where your coffee or tea was always the perfect temperature. A world where your favourite beverage is exactly as hot as you like it — not a degree colder or warmer. The time has come, Goldilocks. That world exists, and you can live in it.
The Ember Mug allows you to select your preferred drinking temperature via the app, and then the mug keeps your bevvie exactly how you like it for 80–90 minutes, without tasting burnt. Dreamy.
Gifts for Kids of All Ages
PS5 and Xbox Series X
Starting from $629 CAD and $599 CAD, respectively
I don’t play a lot of video games, so I can’t comment much on these, other than to say that they’re likely to be the most hotly anticipated gifts this holiday season, and they’re going to be very hard to get. If someone on your list insists on an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, good luck to you in your hunt. May the odds be ever in your favour!
$399 CAD for the special edition ACNH themed Switch
I know I just said I don’t play video games… but playing Animal Crossing New Horizons has been a highlight of my 2020 pandemic experience. Yes, that might be cliched. I don’t care. When I’ve had enough of reality, there’s nothing better than logging on to my island and checking on turnip prices. Those of you who know, know.
You need a Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing, so get a normal Switch or a Switch Lite. Either are fine. The device is just a means to an end, and that end is getting you to the blissful state of racking up Nook Miles and checking in with your island friends.
Of everything I got my then 8-year-old child for Christmas last year, this was the hit item. It was also a hit when we had friends over (remember being able to do that?) but honestly, it’s just as fun to belt out some tunes solo as it is in a group. Open YouTube on your smartphone, find a karaoke banger with background music and on-screen lyrics, and connect the mic via Bluetooth. Both the background music and your vocals come out of the on-device speakers. Get it in a wild colour. I recommend pink. It just adds to the performance.
Gifts for the Happy Homebody
$93 CAD for a 3 month subscription; $173 CAD for a yearlong subscription; $400 CAD for an unlimited subscription
Circle is a parental control device for your home’s internet. It’s easy to use and totally works. Connect it to your home’s WiFi, and then you can control every device that’s online in your house. Monitor what apps and websites are being visited, set time limits, even choose to block the internet for certain devices at certain times. What’s that, children? Didn’t clean your room? No TikTok for you!
This is the next generation of the Google Home smart speaker. It’s small, design-y, and has great sound for a low price. Nest Audio comes with the Google Assistant (“Hey Google”) for all your voice command needs. Use it to stream music or the radio, make phone calls, and control your smart home. Also great for telling your kids how to spell words so they stop asking you, over. And over. And over. Nest Audio comes in a selection of colours to match your decor, including sky, sage, and sand (my favourite).
Green thumb, black thumb… it doesn’t matter what kind of thumb you have. The Click and Grow Smart Garden makes it easy for anyone to grow an indoor garden. Pop in a plant pod (choose from over 50 options or use your own seeds), and watch your plant baby grow right before your eyes with perfectly calibrated light, water, and nutrients. The accompanying app will make you feel like a gardening expert. Winter is long. You deserve plants to brighten it up.
This is one of those tech gadgets that seems completely ridiculous until you live with it for a while, and then you can’t imagine living without it. There’s a motion sensor that opens the lid on its own, and when it’s time to take out the trash, press a button. The garbage bag seals itself. Seriously. Pick it up, and the next garbage bag automatically lines the bin. No spills and no leaks. Is it strange to give someone a trash can for a gift? Yes. Will they love you for it? Also yes.
The Dyson Pure Hot + Cold automatically knows when air needs to be purified, and the sensor is super responsive. It goes nuts when I use hairspray or something else offensive, kicking on the purifier to cleanse the air. The heater is a nice touch too, mixing and circulating the air as it warms up a room (so you don’t get hot and cold spots). My favourite part is the remote control that magnetically clicks onto the top of the machine, so you’ll never lose it. It’s the little things that make a difference, and that is a brilliant design choice.
Gifts for the Grandparents to Stay in Touch
Forget what you remember about digital photo frames from the early 2000’s. Those low resolution, clunky pieces of plastic that were hard to set up, and difficult to add images to, are a thing of the past.
Aura Frames are actually display-worthy, easy to configure, and entirely remote. Anyone can send images straight from their phone to the frame via the app or email (making it super easy to send the latest pics to the grandparents). Aura offers a “gift setup” option so you can send a frame that’s preloaded with images, right out of the box.
Starting at $429 CAD
The entry-level iPad is super powerful (it features Apple’s A12 bionic chip), supports the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, and offers great value for a great price.
Perfect for emailing, social media, playing games, watching TV or movies, and of course staying in touch via video calls, it’s a great gift for grandparents. Also, it comes in gold. 😍
Sending a text message or an email is so… predictable. Elevate your correspondence with someone special with the LoveBox Spinning Heart Messenger.
Give them a LoveBox, and then send short messages or a photo using the app on your smartphone. The heart on their LoveBox spins to let them know there’s a message waiting. It’s delightfully analogue and is sure to brighten anyone’s day.
Gifts for the Fitness Buff
from $369 CAD
If you didn’t “close your rings,” did you even work out? The Apple Watch is the de facto health tech device, measuring your heart rate, exercise, standing, and activity levels throughout the day. The Apple Watch SE has all the best features of the other models (water resistance, high and low heart rate notifications, fall detection and emergency SOS, music, podcasts, and cellular ability), without the high price tag. With all the money you’re saving, you can splurge on a few additional watch bands.
$12.99 CAD per month
Disclosure: I don’t have this. But as more and more of my friends keep signing up (and they won’t stop talking about their favourite classes and instructors), I’m starting to think I really should.
You don’t need to own the Peloton bike or other specific equipment to access the classes and workouts. There are thousands of streaming classes in 10+ workout types (including yoga, cycling, walking, and running), and you can use your own equipment, or none at all. The first 30 days are free, so you really don’t have much to lose.
Gifts for the GlamSquad
So you spent a bunch of money on your iPhone, and picked out the perfect case that expresses your personality, and now what, you’re going to use an ugly charger? I don’t think so. Elevate your charging experience and your decor with a beautiful wireless charger from Courant. They’re all made with fine Italian leather and free monogramming is available.
I’m a big believer in celebrating accomplishments, both personal and professional. Earlier this year, when my first book was published, I treated myself to a gift I wouldn’t usually splurge on. Yes, I bought myself a $700 hair appliance as a celebration gift. And reader, it’s worth every penny.
The AirWrap has a bunch of different attachments, for drying hair, smoothing hair, curling hair… it truly is a miracle device. Is it expensive? Yes. Are you worth it? Damn straight.
$199 - $309 CAD
Like the robot trash can above, these are another one of those products that you think are ridiculous until you actually use them. They’re sunglasses with built-in speakers. Good speakers. From Bose. And they really work — they sound good when you’re wearing them, and are barely audible for the person standing right next to you. They’re magical, and a great gift for the stylish person in your life who has everything.
Gifts for the Home Entertainment Enthusiast
I like good sound, but I hate the look of big speaker towers. And don’t even get me started on the metres of speaker wire and component cables running all around a home. We set up a Sonos 5.1 surround sound set in our basement and it’s dreamy. There’s a soundbar by the TV, a subwoofer hidden behind, and a pair of SL speakers (one on either side of the sofa). The best part is that it’s all connected over WiFi, so no wires ruining the look. Sonos speakers are smart, and the whole system can be voice controlled by the Google Assistant or Alexa (your pick).
There are a lot of fantastic entry-level, low price televisions on the market. But if you really want the best, there’s only one you should consider: an OLED television made by LG. I can go on and on about the technical things that separate OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens from others like LED and plasma displays, but all you really need to know is that OLED doesn’t require back light. So when a picture calls for black, individual OLEDs turn off, creating a true black. The result is stunning. Yes, they’re expensive, and yes they’re worth it if you want the best. I bought one for my husband for his birthday (yes, he’s a very lucky guy) and it is bananas how good it looks.
For battery life, waterproof-ness (is that a word?), sound quality, and price, there’s no beating the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 in the portable Bluetooth speaker category. They come in a variety of fun colours, and can stand up to drops. And, not only are they waterproof, the speaker floats. The novelty of throwing the Wonderboom into a pool of water never gets old.
Gifts for People Who Just Want to Hibernate Until the Pandemic is Over
I love reading on a Kindle. Seriously. If you’ve tried reading on a tablet and said “reading on a screen is not for me,” try a proper e-reader before giving up. Unlike a tablet, e-readers aren’t backlit, so they don’t strain your eyes. They also work really well in bright light, and are glare-free. Reading on an e-reader should feel as effortless as reading off a real page.
The Paperwhite is Amazon’s best-selling Kindle, and the new edition is waterproof. That means you can read in the bath without worrying you’ll drop your book in the tub. Couldn’t we all use a bubble bath and a good read right about now?
$5.83 USD per month, first 14 days free
Headspace is a meditation app for people who don’t do meditation. There’s nothing woo woo about it — these are simple meditations for sleep, mindfulness, and stress. I listen to one every night, and I swear I get to sleep faster, and sleep better because of it. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
Techie Stocking Stuffers
A Phone Loop makes a great stocking stuffer for the person who is always dropping their smartphone. The loop installs through your existing smartphone case, using a strong 3M adhesive that stays in place but doesn’t leave a residue when you remove it. The only tough part is choosing which pattern to get.
You know that little white cube you’re using to charge your phone? Odds are, it’s only 5 watts. The Anker Nano charger is 20 watts. That means it’s gonna charge your phone at least 3, if not 4 times faster.
Tip: most devices made in the last few years support fast charging, but double check your device can handle this kind of power if you’re rocking an older phone.
Some consider giving gift cards to be gauche but I think it’s fine. Especially when you’ve wracked your brain to find a great gift and are coming up short. Gift cards for app stores and streaming services are always appreciated.
Tip: check Costco for bulk packs available for a small discount.