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Tech Savvy gift guide: From small to large items, there are many options for tech gifts this holiday season

What is the next tech item or gadget that will become either something you’d use everyday or something that really adds to your entertainment?

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Cync Outdoor Smart Plug by GE Lighting allows remote control by app or voice of individual outlets in this Wi-Fi plug, which works nicely for holiday lighting this time of year. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
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When it comes to those who are tech savvy, one of the best parts of the holiday season is looking for that latest gadget or an updated one that is going to be a hit.

It can be the smallest items that become part of everyday use, lending itself to greater convenience. Look at how much Alexa is part of everyday life from turning lights on and off with a voice command or smartphone app, to getting news and weather updates, to setting timers and alarms or playing music.

So what is the next tech item or gadget that will become either something you’d use everyday or something that really adds to your entertainment? There are lots of options.

In compiling a list, I asked others to contribute their favorite tech items this year or what they’d like to see under the tree, and I received a couple of items from GE Lighting’s Cync line — an outdoor smart plug and an indoor smart home camera.

Cync comes from a long line of innovation from GE Lighting, which of course traces its history back to Thomas Edison’s General Electric Co. and literally the light bulb, which itself is on a short list of technologies that altered life as everyone knew it.

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GE Lighting launched its smart lighting products in 2015 and now operates that line as Cync, which has products for a smart home experience from smart bulbs to light strips, switches and remotes, cameras, thermostats, sensors and the Cync app. Those devices can be paired for voice operation with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

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Outlets are protected by waterproofing covers. The smart plug allows each outlet to be named and operated individually or packaged together. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

The Cync outdoor smart plug joins the handy list of options to operate holiday lights, whether that is from a warm spot next to the fireplace inside or while relaxing in a beach chair while vacationing in Hawaii. The Cync smart plug comes with two outlets. A bonus with the Cync plug is being able to name each outlet so it can be operated separately — the holiday lights on a tree can be on one while a backyard string of lights can be on the other. Both can have their own name and be operated independently or grouped together and operated in one motion, like naming the grouping backyard lights and then turning both on at once. The smart plug can also be set up on a schedule to turn holiday lights on and off at designated time. The indoor smart plug can be used to turn on the crockpot, or power up indoor lights on demand, all by voice or by a flick of a switch on the smartphone app.

The smart plug was easy to set up, though pairing it with Alexa took a little longer than it should have and may need clearer directions in the booklet to make that a little more seamless. I’ve set up multiple plugs in my garage outlet to handle outdoor lights. The garage setting, for whatever reason, has given the light sensor plugs fits.

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Over the years, I’ve gone through a number of plugs either based on timers, light sensors or remotes. Even the one with the remote is often hit or miss for the ability to turn it on from the house to the detached garage, which are quite close together. The Cync smart plug responded immediately to the app control on the phone or via a voice command with the added benefit of being able to turn those lights even when miles away. For those without a protected outlet in the garage, the company reports it is built for the outdoor elements with a waterproofing outlet cover and durability for outdoor conditions. It worked well. Cost: $29.99.

Feit is another option for smart plugs with two outlets, voice control with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri shortcuts. The outdoor model can be set up to operate holiday or landscape lights, outdoor appliances from heaters and fans and lamps. Amazon reviews gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars with 1,234 ratings. Like Cync, Feit has indoor smart Wi-Fi plugs as well. Cost: $15.98 for the outdoor smart outlet recently at Menards and $12.99 for the indoor smart outlet plug on Amazon.

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The Anker Nebula Capsule, which the company dubs a soda-can-sized pocket projector, offers a way to embrace the home theater experience with a mini-projector packed with power. The projector means movies and TV shows can be shown on a screen up to 100 inches. Mindful of copyrighted material, shows from Hulu or Netflix or other streaming services need to be operated through a downloaded app through the projector. On Amazon, the Anker Nebula has 4.5 out of 5 stars with nearly 5,000 ratings and high marks for portability, quality of material and picture quality. It has a 360 degree speaker system. When nice weather returns, it’s also a way to bring that movie experience out to the patio or backyard or camping. It works with Bluetooth or HDMI and has a tripod mount and table mount with four hour video playtime.

Cost: $299.99 with a newer version the Anker Nebula Capsule Max listed at $375.00 on Amazon.

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Nordic Track’s Vault fitness mirror iFIT-connected home gym has a 61.5 inch mirror for workouts with tidy storage behind the mirror for training accessories — dumbbells, kettlebells, strength training, yoga blocks, bands, mats and more to make the most out of the space. Workouts include strength, high intensity interval training, and yoga with trainers. It uses an interactive touchscreen that lets you see yourself and the trainer to keep up on form. Nordic Track touts the Vault as a way to turn any room into a complete home gym while fitting into the home decor. Cost: $2,499 for the complete Vault with workout equipment or $57 a month for 48 months or $1,899 for the Vault without the equipment or $44 per month for 48 months.

Peeps eyeglass cleaners allow you to forget the tiny towels and bottles of cleaner for a carbon molecular technology to clean glasses — thus Peeps by Carbon Klean using a carbon microfiber pad that sandwiches glasses and cleans both sides. Cost: $11.99.

Bril toothbrush sterilizer uses ultraviolet light to get rid of bacteria hanging on those bristles. The Bril cleaner fits over the toothbrush head. Color options are there to make it easy to get multiple Brils for family members and keep them straight. Cost: $39.99 with discounts for multiple units.

Ember’s Temperature Control Smart Mug. This item had 4.5 stars out of 5 on a Best Buy list for tech gifts. The mug allows users to set the temperature of a hot beverage. So those coffee drinkers can keep that coffee at the precise temperature. It is battery operated and has a charging coaster. Mugs come in a 10 ounce or 14 ounce size. By pairing the mug with the app, users can adjust the temperature with their phone.

“Our smart mug allows you to set an exact drinking temperature, so your coffee is never too hot, or too cold,” Ember states on its website. “Ember then maintains your chosen temperature for up to 1.5 hours with the Ember Mug² 10 oz and up to 80 minutes with the Ember Mug² 14 oz - so your hot beverage stays perfect.” Cost: $99.95.

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The Cync camera was easy to set up and hook up to both Wi-Fi and phone, using the Cync app. The camera has a motion sensor and captures video clips when it detects movement. For pet parents, it can be an easy way to keep up on activities or make sure the food and water supplies are available. Brainerd Dispatch

Cync camera is another offering from GE Lighting. It was easy enough to set up and hook up to both Wi-Fi and phone, using the Cync app. Another reporter used the camera to keep an eye on their two cats while they were leaving town for two nights and provided this review:

“I checked in on them a couple hours into my trip, and all was well. They were sleeping peacefully on the couch. The motion detector had caught some activity shortly before I left, with each cat, in turn, walking up to the camera and giving it a good sniff. Unfortunately, though, when I went to check in later, my phone told me that the camera was offline. I assumed my cats had gotten overly curious and either knocked it over or perhaps even chewed through the cord. But when I got home, I saw that the camera was still in place, and when I checked my phone, the camera was working.

“In the week I had the camera set up, it periodically told me the camera was offline, so I’m not sure if the issue lies with the camera or my Wi-Fi, but I don’t typically have issues connecting to the internet at home.

“I like that the camera has a motion sensor and captures video clips when someone — or some cat — walks by. I’m not sure how close one needs to be to the sensor, though. When I set it up in the spare room with the cats’ food and water, I was hoping to check in on their eating habits while I was gone, as I have a sneaking suspicion my adult cat has an affinity for his little sister’s kitten food over his own. But I think the shelf I put the camera on must have been too far off the ground, as it didn’t save any video clips from the night or following day even though I know the cats ate.

“Another feature I enjoy is the voice mechanism. I can actually talk to my cats through my phone when I’m not there. It’s fun to call for them and see their confused little faces pop up, wondering where my voice is coming from.

The app also allows me to take a video or photo in real time from my phone as I’m watching the feed.

“All in all, this camera seems solid, but I think I’d have to do a little more investigating on the internet connection part to try to figure out why it’s not always sending the feed to my phone and explore the range of the motion sensor, too.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

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The Cync camera was easy to set up and hook up to both Wi-Fi and phone, using the Cync app. The camera has a motion sensor and captures video clips when it detects movement. For pet parents, it can be an easy way to keep up on activities or make sure the food and water supplies are available. Brainerd Dispatch

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGYMINNESOTA
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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