Avery’s Favourite Things: Holiday Tech Gift Guide (Updated for 2021)
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 22 tech products I think are worth gifting –now updated for the 2021 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 most of 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!
Must-Have Everyday Tech Gadgets
In the hellscape that is the entire family working and learning from home over the past two years, I’ve tried a lot of noise cancelling headphones. I’ve tried all the white ones, all the red ones, and all the black ones. These are the clear winners, IMO. They’re comfortable, stay put in my ears, pair easily to multiple devices using Bluetooth, have really decent active noise cancellation, and the batteries last for hours and hours between charges. 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.
We were one of those families that got a puppy during the pandemic, which means long hours spent at the dog park letting her romp and play with other pups. Every morning before heading out, I brew a coffee and put it in an Ember travel mug. It ensures that my coffee is at the perfect temperature while my pupper plays and plays. The Ember keeps my coffee at just the temperature I like it (that’s 59 degrees celsius) for up to 3 hours. Even my dog’s energy doesn’t last that long.
Gifts for Kids of All Ages
Before the pandemic, I didn’t play many video games. Well, at least not beyond Candy Crush on my phone. I am now solidly a video game convert. Playing Animal Crossing New Horizons was a highlight of my 2020 pandemic experience. Yes, that might be cliched. I don’t care. When I’d had enough of reality, there was nothing better than logging on to my island and checking on turnip prices. If you know, you know.
After I had explored every Nook and cranny of Animal Crossing, it was on to Stardew Valley, where I spent way too many hours in the spring of 2021 obsessively mining and building my farming empire.
Neither of these delightful escapes from the everyday would have been possible without my Nintendo Switch. Now there’s a new Switch, with a slightly larger, OLED screen. That means better colours and contrast, and greater resolution. All the better for getting you to the blissful state of racking up Nook Miles and checking in with your island friends.
Of everything I got my child for Christmas in 2019, 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
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 pandemic has made me somewhat obsessive about indoor air quality, and the Dyson Pure Hot + Cold HEPA Air Purifier, Header & Fan is my partner in that obsession. It 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
I gave these frames to all of my kid’s grandparents last Christmas, and they’re still raving about them. Honestly, these frames have given me gift anxiety because how am I going to top it this year? The pressure is REAL, y’all.
Okay, so what’s the hype? Aura Frames are display-worthy, easy to configure, and entirely remote smart photo frames. 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, making you look like the gift giving hero you are.
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.
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.
Want to know what happens when the world is in lockdown and you can’t get a haircut in over a year? Your hair just… grows. Wild, I know. Due to the panny, my previously chin-length bob haircut grew out and I now have hair past my shoulders. Time to change up the styling tools to match my new look.
The Dyson Corrale Hair Straightener is a dream to use. It has all this fancy technology that I will fully admit that I don’t completely understand. But what I do understand is that it heats up really fast, only has to go to about half the heat of other straighteners I’ve used (so it damages my hair way less), and it’s CORDLESS.
Is it expensive? Yes. Are you worth it? Damn straight.
See what I did there? Damn straight? I crack myself up.
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
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?
Calm App Subscription
$69 USD per year
Calm is a lovely app with meditations and soundscapes, but I’m all about the “sleep stories”. Sleep Stories are recordings of celebs reading tales designed to make you fall asleep, with lovely sounds in the background. There’s one with Cillian Murphy talking about a train journey across Ireland, in his beautiful Irish accent. And there’s one with Harry Styles telling some story that doesn’t even make any sense, but it doesn’t matter because I’m asleep within 5 minutes of it starting up. A gift subscription to the Calm app makes for a wonderful gift for the insomniacs in your life.
Techie Stocking Stuffers
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.