November 29, 2021

THIS YEAR’S HOTTEST GADGETS TO GIFT by Charles Nelson, FounderMan wearing VR goggles (photo: Minh Pham)

There’s always one friend or family member that makes gift giving a challenge.

It seems they’ve read every book they are ever going to like. They have every tool for the kitchen or workshop. No clothes on this planet have ever fit them.

Well, we’re about to turn that around for you. The great thing about a new gadget gift is that you can be pretty sure the recipient hasn’t gotten one yet. Sure, lots of us have iPhones, but just wait until your friends find out you got an Xbox Refrigerator… or a Skull Toilet.

Yes, those last two things are real. And maybe they’re the perfect gift. But probably not. Here are some better ideas…

If You’re Sporty
and Have Seriously
Disposable Income

We’re going to get the most expensive, extravagant gadget out of the way first, just in case Santa Claus is reading this.

We’re pretty into a jet-powered surfboard, also known as an Electric Hydrofoil.

These things are incredible, rocketing along the surface of the water on a slim fin. We don’t even care about that famous photo of Mark Zuckerberg riding one, looking incredibly silly. We know we would look very, very cool. Yes, they are at least 8K, but it will give you a great reason to wear your Willy California Board Shorts.

That aside, a more reasonable sporty splurge is an electric mountain bike. They’ve gotten much cheaper over the past few years. Sure, the high-end eMTBs are more expensive than a motorcycle, but Luna and Sondors have bikes that are under 2K with great range and power. You still get a killer workout but the bikes allow you to explore much more terrain. Plus, you get to feel like George Jetson, passing by cavemen on their ridiculous leg-powered vehicles.

A VR Headset

For those of us less inclined to go outside, it feels like Virtual Reality is finally leaving its early adopter phase. The major barriers to entry with VR have always been as follows: it’s expensive, it requires a beefy PC, you’re covered in cords, it makes you more nauseous than a Six Flags ride and nobody has ever looked cool while wearing it. Ever.

Well, with the possible exception of the last point, the Oculus Quest 2 solves all of that. This self-contained system requires no PC, has no cords and is totally portable. It’s perfect for parties, active gamers, nerdy kids or tech geeks.

A few years back, technology at this level would have been a grand or two. Now, it’s $300.

And the best part? Unlike the PS5, they’re actually in stock (at time of writing). If you’ve never tried it before, you’ll know it’s the future the moment you put it on. Even if you do look silly.

The Return of
the Polaroid

In a more retro direction, there’s something so satisfying about holding a real photo. While you can still buy a Polaroid and the film, the Fujifilm Instax line of instant cameras does it better. The SQ6 square camera is a great all-in-one, while the Mini 90 has a fantastic look.

If you have a ton of great photos on your phone, the Instax Mobile Printer can print any image directly off your device. It’s perfect for budding photographers or anyone who wants to fill out a photobook without hitting up a CVS. Of course, just like the good old days, you have to buy film again.

Smart Plugs

Smart Plugs are more practical than you might think. Consider Christmas lights. You’re in bed, nice and warm, only to realize you left the lights on outside. With a touch of a button on your phone, they’re off. No more stumbling outside in the cold.

The ability to remote-monitor-and-control any powered item in your house is remarkable, with all sorts of potential uses for the clever and creative.

Try using them to preheat a room with a space heater, control lights in tricky places, turn on a humidifier or alert you when your washing machine is done. We’ve heard the best things about the Kasa by TP Link but just make sure to check the amperage of your device and the Smart Plug’s rating.

Finally, on a similar topic, if you want to take your Christmas lights to the next level, look into Twinkly: remote-controlled Custom LED lights. You will instantly become the envy of all your neighbors.

Robot Vacuums

Like most other things on this list, what was once expensive and gimmicky is starting to become both effective and cheap(er). Robot vacuums and mops are far more patient and thorough than most humans. Just don’t get an all-in-one… we recommend a specialized machine for each task. For a vacuum, look into an Roomba or Eufy, and for a mop, try a Braava.

Wireless Headphones

With other companies racing to catch up to the Apple AirPods, there are now a bunch of cheaper, equally excellent earbuds, like the Anker A2s or the Jabra Elite 75t.

A Super Bright
Flashlight

If you look at the flashlight community online (because of course there’s a flashlight community) you’ll find that the more lumens, the better. Rechargeable USB flashlights have never lasted longer or had more lumens. We’ve heard good things about Sofirn, Fenix and Powertac brands.

Hang Out Outside,
Shoot Bugs

A great fun gift for the trigger-happy eccentric, the Bug-A-Salt is a mini salt shotgun. Loaded with salt cartridges, it fires in a fine spray, annihilating flies and mosquitoes and annoying humans. Great for hanging out on the porch.

Remote-Controlled
Copters

Remote-controlled helicopters, quadcopters and drones are run the spectrum. You can spend anywhere from fifty bucks to tens of thousands. But just like everything else, the technology has gotten dramatically cheaper to try out. For an ideal beginner option look into the DJI Mini 2. It’s pricier than other options, but you’re getting a highly effective little machine, easy to operate with a great range and onboard camera. For a budget option, give Ryze a try.

Wireless Chargers

Wireless chargers seemed like science fiction ten years ago. Ten years from now they’ll be ubiquitous. These pads and trays make cords to your phone and gadgets obsolete… when they work. But many are finicky, or require you to remove your phone from its case, which isn’t very convenient. That said, the Samsung Trio and Anker Powerwave are solid affordable charging pads for home, while the iOttie, Scoshe or Intoval charging mounts are great for the car.

A Smart Display

While the trend of putting a screen on everything has been rightfully mocked, a dedicated smart display is more useful than you might think.

They can make video calls, play music, connect with your home security system, easily access recipes and so much more… all without your phone. You have to be the sort of person to want an Amazon Alexa or Google Home in your house, though.

We think the Google Nest Hub is probably the best for its money, but you should stick with whatever megacorporations’ galaxy of products you prefer, so you can easily sync everything together.

That’s all for this year! Happy gadget hunting!