Tech Savvy: Still looking for tech gifts? We've got ideas

Big items or small, there are plenty of useful gadgets aimed at keeping people safe in their homes or making life more convenient.

The Echo Show in the CTC Smart Lounge provides an upright screen to check in on home monitoring cameras, see who is at the front door, make calls or run through recipes at dinner. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

There is still time to get items for the tech savvy people on your shopping list.

Sometimes the items that seem as though they will get a ton of use end up languishing on the shelves, while others — even small things — become useful everyday.

Of all the tech gadgets I’ve tried in recent years, there are some that are now part of everyday living. Smart plugs — making it easy to remotely turn on lights while away from home or before you get back after the work day or just because it’s fun — are at the top of the list. Deals can keep the price low, less than $30. Beware that getting one means you might be adding more as voice control is addictive. Being able to turn on a light before entering a room with voice control makes it seem as though the future is here and the present is pretty convenient.

After asking around the newsroom, remote car starters topped hit the list for the best tech and a gift that keeps on giving for months after the holidays are gone.


The little Jibo robot purrs like a kitten when he gets his head patted. The robot was featured at the CES show in Las Vegas but has been discontinued. Still, the robot -- while more limited in functions -- still gets the attention at the Smart Lounge. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Favorite tech

My favorite tech include the Apple Watch, which tracks and encourages health and movement, makes and takes calls and messages, helps with everything from driving directions (it taps your wrist to let you know a turn is coming up) and keeps appointments with reminders, plays music and podcasts — really the list is endless. Buying groceries and realize your wallet is in the car or at home? No worries, the watch can also make purchases. It is a little computer strapped to your wrist — and it is endlessly helpful.

Adding an update to the always-on Apple Watch Series 5 may be in order or for those who have waited on the sidelines, or now may be the time to enter the water and pick up an Apple Watch from an earlier series by taking advantage of discounts.

Also on the favorite list would be AppleTV and the many options for entertainment from Disney+ to AppleTV+, Hallmark Movies Now to Netflix among an ever-growing list of options to brighten a long, cold winter. For the person who has everything, perhaps the best gift is a streaming video subscription, whether it’s British television or Hallmark.

The Echo Dot is also useful on a regular basis. Need a ZIP code when writing out Christmas Cards? Just ask Alexa. Need to do mathematical calculations, set up a wake-up alarm or a reminder? Not a problem. Maybe it’s a morning warmup of trivia or “Jeopardy” to get the day started. Alexa is a helpful tool and is not alone in the digital assistant category with Google and Apple there as well.

Most recently, the Echo Dot increased in value in my world by playing sleep sounds — ocean waves, thunderstorms, wind through trees — and that is a game changer when falling asleep or staying there can be a challenge. For people who miss city life, sleep sounds include automobiles. For the country transplant in the city, a sound of choice may be crickets. The newest version of the Echo Dot mini-smart speaker includes an illuminated clock.

But the Echo Dot isn’t just a novelty. It can be linked to create an intercom inside your home connecting rooms, and can be linked to other friends or family members and their Echo Dots. So if you tripped and fell and couldn’t move and didn’t have a smartphone nearby, you could just ask Alexa to make a call for you and get help. She also tells jokes and they are even worth a chuckle — sometimes.


Wyze Cameras provide an affordable option to check in on seasonal cabins, family pets and serve as a home monitoring system. Cameras are available for $20-$40. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Popular tech gifts

A recent Wall Street Journal report included things big and small on its list of favorite gadgets and best tech gifts of 2019, from PopSockets to a Casper Glow Light, which gradually dims at bedtime and brightens in the morning and can be used as a flashlight if needed — for $129. “It makes a great gift, though it is, admittedly, a bit of a splurge,” the WSJ noted. For people who fight the short days of winter, the light to brighten the room to help start the day may just be the ticket.

Other things on the WSJ list that match mine are smart locks. I’m reminded I want one every time I come up to the door on a cold night and fumble with the key. Having the lock open as it recognizes your smartphone is pretty appealing.

Other items on a number of top tech gift lists are Tile trackers, which now includes a round sticker that can handle weather and attach to everything from a pet’s collar to a car key. So if it’s easy to lose track of something, the Tile can be a solution.

The “Today” show listed a $99 Topvision Mini Projector that can project “clear, bright films” and connect to a smartphone, Amazon Fire TV stick, or computer or DVD player. This would have been super handy a couple of years ago at a family reunion.

Looking for a gift that will make an impression? This could also be the time to move into 4K. The 4K televisions are becoming more and more affordable and there is now more content streaming in ultra high definition. The images are sharp. CNET Editor’s Choice for best TV value is a TCL 6 Series 4K TV for about $800.

Common to many lists were upright smart screens, particularly useful for kitchen, with touch screens and speakers — like the Google Nest Hub or Echo Show 8 — to display recipes, provide updates or make video calls and play videos. CNET noted both are about $80.


The Echo Show displays the view of a camera monitoring the Smart Lounge at CTC in Baxter. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

CTC has a Smart Lounge displaying smart home displays at its offices in Baxter. Max Walter, member services lead, oversees the Smart Lounge. He said the voice activated items are of general interest. By voice commands, Alexa turns on lights, runs the microwave, opens blinds and operates a robot vacuum cleaner at the lounge. Walter noted the Echo Show, linked to a camera, can also display a video image of who is at the front door or show any security camera vantage point.

For people who are looking to add a camera, for security or home monitoring or to check in on pets, Walter noted the Wyze Cameras offer an affordable option in the $20-$40 range. They include night vision and recording features. They also work with Alexa and can display what the camera sees by voice command.

An Echo Wall Clock also acts as a timer with visible countdown ring that lights up on the clock’s face. Walter said for those who don’t want an Echo Dot on their kitchen counter, the clock, at $30, may be the option.

The Nest Protect is a smoke and carbon monoxide monitor that speaks for alerts. It also tests itself monthly and boasts that it will last up to a decade. Price: $120.

So big or small, home safety or streaming service, there are still a lot of options to make this holiday tech savvy.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at


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 or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads