‘Gizmos & Gadgets’ to think about for the holiday gift-giving season

Here are some cool technology gadgets to give people something to think about for gift ideas from drones to a smart garden.

Sunrise Alarm
Sunrise Alarm. Submitted Photo

CROSSLAKE — Black Friday ads are online and with the holidays approaching, it’s becoming the time of year when people are figuring out what to buy for their loved ones and what the hot deal will be for themselves to purchase, such as a TV or computer.

As a mother of two teenagers, I sat in a full room Tuesday, Nov. 12, with mainly an older audience at the Crosslake Community Center, to get some good technology gift ideas — for myself, as well as for our Brainerd Dispatch members. Presenting was Dylan Raph, network technician at Emily Cooperative Telephone Co./Crosslake Communications, who discussed “2019 Gizmos & Gadgets.”

Raph’s gift ideas ranged in price, which was nice and offered a good selection of products. He started with the largest sized product, which can be found in pretty much every American home — the TV. Raph discussed briefly the differences between the 4K Ultra-High Definition — which offers a resolution of 3,840-by-2,160 pixels that makes up the picture on the screen — to the High Dynamic Range and other HDTVs.

Full HD for years has had a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution. The 4K UHD screen has a much crisper screen, or what I like to call an “in your face” watching TV experience.

Raph said the prices range and of course the UHD TVs are more expensive, which could be about $100-$300 more, so it is up to the individual on which one they like best.


“I think it is worth it,” Raph said about paying the extra money for the higher quality resolution. “I suggest going to Best Buy or somewhere to look at the TVs side by side to get a better idea of what you’d like better. Everyone’s eyes are different. I don’t have a recommendation as it is a personal preference.”

A woman in the audience mentioned her mother has macular degeneration and finds the HD TVs easier to see.

According to an article published online by CNET, 4K TVs will replace the high-end 1080p model as the best-performing LED LCD-based sets on the market.

Comparing all the TVs in more detail, is for another day, another column. This column will discuss a number of products with enough details to pique your interest to see if it is something you’d want to purchase.

Amazon products

Raph said it seems everyone talks about Amazon’s Alexa, which offers products such as the Echo Dot — which is the cheapest, basic voice-activated device — to the Echo Show, which has a screen to watch TV, play games and make video calls.

The Dot is about $49, to the most recent upgraded Echo Show for about $99.99 (but prices vary depending on versions and sizes), to the Echo Studio smart speaker with 3D audio and Alexa for $199.99, which offers a better, high quality sound. The Echo Show 5 is a compact smart display for $79.99 and the Echo Show 10.1-inch HD screen is listed at $229.99 — with the major difference coming from the screen size.

Apple products

iPhone released its iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, which ranges in price from $699 to $1,099. Raph said there is nothing too different with the Pro Max, but it has a larger screen size — an extra inch bigger — and is a better quality product. The iPhone 11 has a new dual-camera system with an ultra wide camera.

The Apple Watch ranges from $199 to $399 with the Series 5, Nike+ and Hermes. Raph said there are many accessories to customize the watch, so accessories can make a nice stocking stuffer. The Apple Watch with cellular now allows wearers to leave the iPhone at home and make calls from an outing, right from the watch itself. Black Friday prices are expected to bring the Apple Watch Series 3 to $129.


Virtual reality

HTC Vive Virtual Reality. Submitted Photo

Virtual reality has become the future of gaming and is constantly evolving, Raph said. It started with a headset and now includes multiple accessories from gloves to treadmills. Some of the popular virtual reality gaming systems include HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Omni and PlayStation VR.

Raph said there are many versions on these games and the companies are experienced with the technology, so more advances should be coming.

Raph said a cheaper system is about $500 and people may think that is too much. However, Raph said it helps get people physically active and not just sitting on the couch playing video games.

“All my friends play video games and there is not much of a physical aspect to it,” Raph said. “(VR) is very interesting and there are tons of stuff on the internet. A lot is not perfected. … It will be fun to see where this goes.”


Drones offer a new way to look at the world and range from $25 up to thousands of dollars. Raph said drones are fun and some can fly for miles and people can experiment with them. He explained there are drones that come with helmets installed with a camera. People put the helmet on and it will be like they are flying along with the drone.

“I don’t like heights,” Raph said, adding it kind of freaks him out. “But it is very interesting.”


Some of the popular drones are DJI Mavic, Parrot Bebop 2 and Holy Stone FPV. Raph said he knows two people who are big into drones. They each have the Mavic and they both have insurance.

“I highly recommend you get the insurance plan if you get a drone,” Raph said. “Even these friends who are experienced have insurance as they break a lot.”

Smart garden

What? Yes, you read that right. You can purchase your own indoor, smart self-growing garden. It is called Click and Grow. The technology runs between $99 to $249. The product pretty much does everything. It takes care of your plants with a special LED light that makes sure the plants have enough water, oxygen and nutrients.

Raph explained how the smart garden works by using pods, similar to coffee pods. The pods are placed in the garden and all people have to do is fill the container with water, which is every two to six weeks depending on the garden a person gets.

This is a great purchase for folks here in the Brainerd lakes area as our summers are short. Just think if you could have fresh herbs all year round? Sweetness!

Furbo Pet Camera

This is by far my favorite of the technology Raph discussed. It not only is a camera that can record your pet live — which you do not need permission from your pet to do, sorry Fido — it also is equipped with a dispenser that releases treats. So while you are away at work, you can view the camera to see what your pet is doing, as well as talk to them via a smartphone. And if your pet was good while you’re gone you can press a button — also from your smartphone — and have a treat released to them.

Wow. If I had this camera I think my English springer spaniel would be watching the Furbo Pet Camera constantly waiting for a treat to be released. I hope the cameras are bite proof!

These cameras go for about $199.99.

Raph said reviews for the camera discussed if it also helps with restraining dogs from barking. Some said it did, others said it didn’t. Raph said it probably depends on the dog’s personality.

Sunrise/sunset alarm lights

This technology is a combination of a light and an alarm clock to make it easier to wake up in the morning or to go to bed at night. A person programs the alarm to have the lights slowly come on over the course of 30 minutes, mimicking a sunrise or sunset.

“It is really tough for me to get up in the morning when it is dark out,” Raph said, especially now with the end of daylight savings time. “This works surprisingly well. If you get up at 6 and set it up, the light will slowly illuminate the room. I usually don’t need an alarm clock to get up. With this I am up before the alarm would go off. If I didn’t have this I would wake up cranky and not happy.”

This technology ranges in price from as inexpensive as $70 to as high as $440.

Technology under $100

Vector Robot
Vector Robot. Submitted Photo

  • Muama Enence for $99 is something for people who travel to foreign countries, as it translates up to 40 different languages.Raph said it helps break the language barrier and the reviews seem to be “very good.” Raph was interested to try it out to see how accurate it would be as some languages could be hard to understand.

  • Anki Vector Robot Sidekick for $86.99 — which has come way down from $500 from last year. This robot works with Alexa and is voice-activated. It has a personality and engages by sight, sound and touch. Raph said it recognizes people, can avoid obstacles and climb stairs. Raph said having a robot is a bit strange and people may think it is creepy, but this could be the normal in the years to come. One handy thing with the robot is if a person has a fireplace on overnight they can have the robot check on it to make sure everything is OK.

  • AmazFit Bip for $79.99 is a cheaper alternative to buying an Apple Watch, Raph said. The device tracks health statistics, such as heart rate, calories burned and sleep quality and also has a GPS to track exercise. Raph said if a person doesn’t need anything fancy, this device is for them.

  • Dodow Sleep Assistant runs for about $59.99 and retrains your brain to fall asleep by using a soft light metronome. Raph said it has been scientifically proven to decrease the amount of time it takes someone to fall asleep. Raph said the device works by having a calming blue light and it has the person focus on it and their breathing to help them sleep.

“This makes sense to me because you can’t stop your mind from racing at night, which is why people can’t sleep,” Raph said. “If this works for you it is a good price.”

  • Other technology to note: Bose Soundlink Micro for $99; Amazon Fire HD 8 for $80; and Roku Plus for $50.

Technology under $50

Tiki Tunes
Tiki Tunes. Submitted Photo

  • Chromecast Audio for $35 will turn any audio system with a standard one-eighth inch auxiliary port into a smart Wi-Fi streaming system. Raph said if a person has a nice speaker system, they bought more than a dozen years ago — this is a good way to go.

  • Tiki Tunes run for about $39 each and are bluetooth speakers that look and act like tiki torches. People can link multiple speakers together and place them all around an outdoor area or indoors.

  • WeMo Smart Outlet for $20 is an outlet that connects to Wi-Fi and can be turned off and on from anywhere around the world. People can use this to have Christmas lights turn on at a certain time or use it to turn on other lights on in the house for security reasons. The outlet is compatible with Amazon Alexa.

Other: Tribit Xfree Tune Bluetooth headphones for $39; Amazon FireStick 4K streaming media player for $50; Amazon Fire 7 tablet for $50; Life Fitness Portable Solar Charger for $30; WeMo Smart Wi-Fi Plug for $25; and Tile Keyfinder for $25.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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