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Tech Savvy: Streaming upgrades are enticing

One sure way to connect with a tech fan is to get them something they’ll use a lot over a long cold winter and there isn’t much better than a multitude of streaming options, which are improving.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com
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Technology gifts range from the extraordinarily useful to flights of fancy, but the good news is there are all kinds of items that will appeal to the techie in the family and the price ranges provide multiple options, whether that is a main gift or a stocking stuffer.

One sure way to connect with a tech fan is to get them something they’ll use a lot over a long cold winter, and there isn’t much better than a multitude of streaming options. If their streaming device has been around awhile, it might be a good time to look for an upgrade.

Streaming upgrades

Apple TV and remote in front of Apple TV images on a TV screen.
The next-generation Apple TV 4K is an entertainment powerhouse with something fun for everyone in the family, bringing the best of Apple to the living room.
Courtesy / Apple

Apple TV
I’m an Apple TV fan. The name often confuses people. The first time I bought the device the clerk was looking for a TV screen instead of a small box with a streaming device that fits in one hand. Apple TV has beautiful graphics and incredible images, is easy to navigate, is cleanly organized and offers a superior ability to find what you want to watch. Pro tip: The screensaver is mesmerizing. The most recent version of the Apple TV includes the A15 Bionic chip for faster performance and adds HDR10+ for picture quality. The newest Apple TV has been available as of Nov. 4.

In November, the Verge reported, “The latest Apple TV 4K is Apple’s most powerful and full-featured entertainment box yet.”

It costs about $129. It also opens the door to a rich list of original content from AppleTV+ — Apple’s streaming service, Apple Arcade, Apple Music and Apple Fitness+. But, of course, the streaming service is available to people whether they have an Apple device or not.

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“The new Apple TV 4K is unlike anything else out there, given its seamless connection to other Apple devices, ease of use, and access to amazing Apple content,” said Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, in a news release. “It offers something for everyone in the family to love.”

If the upgrade isn’t in the works to the Apple TV 4K, one thing people have been critics of is the Apple TV remote. The slim design is easy to lose in the couch, can be tricky to operate without overshooting a replay, for example. A side swipe of a cat’s paw can send it reeling off course. But the latest Apple TV version has a much improved remote in answer to those critics and it can be purchased separately for about $54-$59.

A closeup of an Apple TV remote
The Siri Remote features a touch-enabled clickpad that provides speed, fluidity, and precise control, allowing users to easily navigate the simple, elegant interface of Apple TV 4K.
Courtesy / Apple

Apple reports the new remote has the precision to get to the precise scene and has Siri to help with voice navigation, which Apple reports is able to recognize each user’s voice so they can access their content right where they left off. “By using the Siri Remote and asking ‘What should I watch?’ users can get tailored recommendations.” Apple reported.

The new remote is 5.4 inches long and 1.4 inches wide, giving it just enough heft to be easy to pick up and operate correctly the first time or even in the dark.

Some expert reviews said the remote redesign has made all the difference to the overall experience.

Amazon Fire TV Cube
The Amazon Fire TV Cube.
Courtesy / Amazon

Amazon Fire TV Cube
I also inherited an Amazon Fire TV Cube, which has likable qualities including, but not limited to, the satisfying sound as one navigates the system. The Alexa voice control is also helpful when arms are full or that remote is a long way away or when you can’t break the unwritten rule of not disturbing a cute sleeping cat. Maybe the volume is too high or needs to be muted, or the TV needs to be turned on or off — all by voice control — which is something akin to a seat warmer in your vehicle in that you don’t realize how great that is until you’ve had it for a while. It can come up empty when I’m looking for a specific show but it is useful on many fronts.

The most recent upgrades with the third generation version have been noted for faster loading menus and a more robust remote with more buttons including a guide button and one to go to items recently viewed.

A reviewer said the upgrade from their 2019 model meant getting better menus, a better picture, more vivid color and it responds quickly, loading images instantly. Cost is about $139.

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A Roku device with remote
The Roku Ultra will include Roku’s top-of-the-line remote, the Roku Voice Remote Pro.
Courtesy / Roku

Roku Ultra
A lot of people I know enjoy the Roku, and the top-of-the line streamer’s Roku Ultra may make a good upgrade and gift this season. The Roku Ultra has been recently listed for $69.99, a $30 discount.

There are no worries about misplacing the Roku remote as it has a remote finder button on the streamer box. The Roku offers programmable shortcut buttons and preloaded ones for popular streaming services. Reviews have been tough on the voice assistance although it is designed to work with Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. It also supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound. It also has a headphone jack for private listening.

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“Roku Ultra is our fastest and most powerful Roku player ever and now includes our best remote with hands-free voice controls,” the company states on its website. “Enjoy a seamless, cinematic experience with a lightning-fast interface and our best Wi-Fi. The rechargeable voice remote makes it easy to enjoy private listening, set shortcuts for your favorite channels, and even find your lost remote.

This fall, Roku reported it will launch new smart home products at Walmart with security cameras, video doorbells, lighting, plugs and more designed to offer "simple and affordable smart home devices, available exclusively in nearly 3,500 Walmart stores beginning October 17.”

Other gift ideas

Any number of meal plans bring the ingredients and cooking directions right to the home, which can create a fun experience in cooking together as well as an easy way to try something new or just try a healthier eating plan.

Get a gift card with a purpose such as paying for a streaming service over the winter, providing access to a host of movies and original series or childhood favorites that will entertain the gift recipient for months.

A programmable slow cooker with a locking lid and a little dipper is available with Crock-Pot. The 7-quart version has a high user appreciation rating and costs about $75. The locking lid makes this slow cooker an easier one to transport to the party. It also has the ability to switch to low automatically after the selected time ends, which is a great feature. Reviews also noted the size on this crockpot makes it easier to get in the sink and wash up after use. That alone could make it a useful upgrade for the cooks on the list or even those who don’t cook often.

Mini fire pit. I keep seeing ads for the Solo Stove Mesa, the mini fire pit, but it seems like a lot of flame on a tabletop. What could go wrong? It’s made the short lists for top tech gifts. The Solo Stove is listed as a best tech gift for $100 or less by CNET.

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We’ll look at more tech savvy gift options next week.

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

Related Topics: TECH-SAVVYTECHNOLOGY
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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