WCCO asks me to talk tech for the holidays

Tech gifts for the holidays run the gamut price-wise from $20 or less to $1,000 and over, which can make shopping for such products confounding — especially if you are not a geek.

I recently appeared on WCCO-TV, my local CBS affiliate, to shed some light on this. Here are the products I featured in a WCCO Sunday Morning segment.

Apple’s iPad Pro

This is the fanciest of Apple’s tablets, with a price tag to match — $999 and up, not including the add-on keyboard and stylus.

I have the larger 12.9-inch model on loan — a full review is coming soon — and I like it a lot for on-the-go productivity even though I think a notebook is, for many Apple users, a better choice.

Lenovo Smart Display

The latest “smart” speakers now have screens. Amazon has several Alexa-powered Echo devices with displays. But, as a heavy user of Google services, I tend to prefer smart displays incorporating that company’s Assistant.

Lenovo’s 8-inch and 10-inch Smart Displays fit into this category. I’ve tested both, and I love these things. Best of all, they’re both under $200.

Stump stands

These device stands are perennial favorites of mine. The smaller Stump Stand is a great way to prop up your phone or tablet on a desk or table. The bigger, softer Super Stump is fantastic for tablet use in bed, on the couch, or out on the porch.

The maker has a BOGO sale going: Get two Stump Stands for $24.95, or two Super Stumps for $39.95 (or, for the same price, buy a Super Stump and get a Stump Stand for free).

I previously praised the Stump stands here.

Nomad chargers

This company has emerged as a leading provider of device-charging products.

These include its $41.95 Wireless Stand, which is good for any newer-model phone with wireless-charging capability, and its $34.95 Battery Cable, an Apple Lightning cable that has a battery for charging an iPhone when a power outlet isn’t available.

Nomad recently upgraded the Battery Cable with more battery capacity.

Security cameras

Install-your-own security cameras are all over the place in terms of price and capabilities.

On the lower end, the Wyze Cam is only $20. Yet, as my TidBITS colleague Josh Centers recently noted, it’s a pretty nice little cam. (Josh also likes the $30 Wyze Cam Pan.)

On the higher end, Netgear’s $200 Arlo Baby is a full-featured security camera that is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, and also supports Apple’s HomeKit. And, as its name suggests, the Arlo Baby has extra features (and even cute costumes) with baby parents in mind.

I recently reviewed the Arlo Baby for TidBITS.

Smartphones

Smartphones are available from a wide variety of makers. I favor only two: Apple and Google. Each has an in-house phone line, iPhone and Pixel. These phones have critical things in common: High build quality, cutting-edge software features, and operating systems that can be upgraded without delay and are free of third-party bloatware.

I recently wrote about Apple’s latest iPhones, including its premium XS models and its lower-cost XR handsets. My advice in that article: Don’t buy more phone than you need.

Google’s new Pixel 3 phones have the best smartphone camera I’ve ever used with tricks that beat even Apple’s iPhone cameras in some respects (such as night shooting).

Verizon is the sole official Pixel 3 carrier in the United States, but you can purchase an unlocked phone directly from Google and use it with any carrier.

iPhone cases

Accidentally dropping pricey phones onto concrete (repeatedly) in recent days, I am reminded that protective cases are a must for such glass-sheathed, prone-to-shatter devices.

Minneapolis-based Pad & Quill has a selection of iPhone protectors with a variety of interesting designs. These include all-leather cases, minimalist wood-backed cases, and wallet-style cases that encase phones in sturdy but compact wooden frames with leather covers.

Apple’s AirPods

Apple’s ubiquitous wireless earbuds are one of my favorite tech products of all time because they sound pretty decent, have a handy little battery case for rapid recharging, and are extraordinarily durable — I’ve run them through the wash several times by accident, and they’re still going strong.

On the down side, they do look a little weird in the ears, and are alarmingly easy to lose.

They’re best used with Apple devices — including iPhones, iPads and Macs — but can also be used with devices from other makers since the buds pair via standard Bluetooth.

One warning: There are swirling rumors of upgraded AirPods that may or may not be coming soon, so consider whether you want to hold off on a purchase until later in (or after) the holiday shopping season.

Oops, mea culpa

On the WCCO segment, I uttered an incorrect URL for Nomad; sorry guys.

Also, I planned but forgot to mention another of my favorite tech products, the Apple Watch. I recently extolled an earlier version of the product, and the current Series 4 is even better.

Other tech products

I had only so much time on the WCCO segment, so I omitted other tech products I think are worth your attention. For instance:

A cheaper iPad. The entry-level iPad is plenty good for frugal tablet shoppers — it starts at only $329. Add one of ZAGG’s nice keyboard cases, like its $49.99 Nomad Book, and you’re ready to roll.

Apple TV. This is the TV add-on video-streaming device with the most polish. And if you’re “cutting the cord” (ditching cable or satellite TV), it’s a great way to watch the likes of YouTube.TV (an alternate way to get your favorite TV channels), Netflix and more.

Apple TV is obviously best for Apple-device users; alternatives include Roku boxes, Amazon’s Fire TV devices and Google’s Chromecast dongles.

Apple smart speaker. Apple doesn’t have a smart display for use with its Siri smart assistant (I hope that will change someday soon), but its HomePod speaker sounds fantastic and is a good choice for those invested in the Apple ecosystem.

Best of all, the HomePod can be paired with the Apple TV to serve as that streaming box’s kick-ass speaker, if you find the audio from your TV lacking.

Device charging. Belkin BoostCharge Power Bank 10K with Lightning Connector is a product badly in need of a longer name. All kidding aside, this portable battery pack stands out from the crowd because it charges via a Lightning port, meaning iPhone and iPad users only have to pack one kind of power cable. Nice!

This won’t work for users of the new iPad Pro, however, because that tablet model has a USB-C port. Consider the ZMI PowerPack 2000, which can also charge USB-C laptops from Apple, Google and other makers. The PowerPack doubles as a USB hub. My TidBITS colleague, Glenn Fleishman, recently reviewed it for Macworld.

Need to charge an Apple Watch while on the go? Try Belkin’s Valet Charger Power Pack 6700 mAh for Apple Watch + iPhone (there you go again with lengthy names, Belkin).

For those with a variety of devices that charge via a range of ports, Nomad’s multi-prong Universal cables save the day.

Luna Display. This one is for Apple nerds who have a Mac and an iPad. The Luna Display dongle plugs into the Mac and turns the iPad into a second Mac display — Two screens are always better than one for productivity.

I recently reviewed the Luna.

This iPad trick doesn’t work for those with Windows computers, but try Duet Display software.

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