Christmas tech gift guide


Stuff your stockings with joy instead of junk.

Have yourself a very techy Christmas


It's the time of year when you give something really nice and useful to a friend, relative or significant other. It's a time for spending money in any case, and CHOICE is here to help.

Our expert testers have reviewed loads of tech products, from fitness trackers, GPS units and sleep-inducing earbuds to the latest 'must-have' items like smart speakers. 

Some are fantastic, and a sure-fire way to make the recipient happy (and you off their naughty list). 

Others, however, are the tech equivalent of a lump of coal and are likely to end up being re-gifted or binned.

Here's our list of the best and worst tech items we've come across during our tests and reviews.

Perfect presents

Sad stockings

Tech under the tree

11FitbitCharge 3 2 of 6

Fitbit Charge 3

A fitness tracker won't get you off the couch (although a small taser shock could be a good new feature), but it can be a great motivational or guilt-inducing tool once you muster up the energy to get on your feet and work off that Christmas ham. 

You won't have trouble finding all kinds of fancy fitness features, media controls and other options, but these can put a big old dent in your wallet with some of the more expensive models setting you back more than $500. 

With an RRP of $229, the Fitbit Charge 3 hits the sweet spot between high performance and low price. It's highly accurate, easy to use and comfortable. 

It has excellent iOS and Android apps, very good PC application and a webpage for monitoring data. It supports both NFC and Fitbit Pay.

01Crescendo DJ 3 of 4

Crescendo DJ filtered earplugs

Humans, especially young humans, have a habit of spending time in noisy environments like clubs and concerts that can permanently damage their hearing. 

It doesn't take much – venues and events like these typically operate at around 100dB, which can start to cause damage after just 15 minutes. 

Unlike regular earplugs, filtered models can reduce these decibels to less harmful levels while retaining sound quality. 

The Crescendo DJ plugs are on the pricier end, but they're comfortable, effective and have minimal impact on music and conversation, making them perfect for regular gig-goers.

pro-ject-audio-vte-r-vertical-turntable_6

Pro-Ject Audio VTE R Vertical turntable

Vertical turntables have been kicking around since the '70s, and though they look cool, their unique design offers little to no audio advantage over your typical horizontal model. 

So while Pro-Ject's VTE BT probably won't win any awards for its audio quality, it's a surprisingly decent turntable given the gimmick and it makes for a great talking point at parties. 

However, the design does come at the cost of convenience, as records are held in place by a plate that screws over the label. 

While this doesn't seem to cause any damage, it slows things down when it's time to flip or replace your record. 

But it looks cool, which is kind of the point, and should satisfy the average set of ears that don't demand audiophile-grade sound.

Nintend_switch_lead

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo's Switch manages to blend the lounge room console and portable gaming into a single device, which can deliver almost the same experience whether you're at home or out and about. 

All the bits and pieces that handle performance, graphics and networking are built into the tablet, which has a 6.2-inch 720p touchscreen and stereo surround so you can play on the go. 

But an included docking station which connects to your TV via HDMI can upscale games to full high-definition with 5.1 surround sound. This design lets you seamlessly flow from console to portable mode and back again. 

Detachable controls called Joy-Cons can be attached to the tablet, or a mount that replicates a traditional games controller to suit your preferred playstyle. 

Although it doesn't match the technical scope of the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, that's not the point. 

The core concept of full-blown gaming on the go works as promised and shows once again that Nintendo seems to be able to get away with doing things a little differently.

06SonosOne 3 of 5

Sonos One

A single Bluetooth speaker can be a suitable audio source if you're cranking songs in a smallish environment. 

The Sonos One smart speaker strikes a good balance between sound quality, range and price. You can pair two Sonos One speakers for stereo sound, or use other Sonos speakers throughout the house for multi-room audio. 

The Sonos One works on Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth, which can improve sound quality as Bluetooth compression is no longer a factor. 

However, despite Sonos supporting a broad range of music streaming options, you can only use voice control on services supported by Alexa.

 google home
 amazon echo

Google Home and Amazon Echo

Smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo are perhaps better referred to as digital assistants. All you need to do is hook one up to the internet, create an account and start issuing voice commands, not unlike Siri or OK Google on your smartphone. 

They can give you a breakdown of your day's schedule, provide a local weather forecast or news summary, give directions and even play music from your library or subscription services. 

They can also control Wi-Fi enabled smart devices such as lights and switches (but check for compatibility before buying). 

Your preference largely comes down to the products and services you want to connect to. Some smart devices such as light globes, appliances and heaters, can only communicate with one or the other. Check the product websites for a list of official partners.

  • Full review: Smart speakers
  • Price: Google Home – $199, Amazon Echo – $119
Oppo find x 1 of 12

Oppo Find X

Very good camera performance and a large, high-quality display are the features that most users look for in a premium smartphone. 

The Oppo Find X not only delivers on both counts, but may also be one of the most interesting tech devices of 2018. 

It packs 6.4 inches of screen into a body smaller than the Apple iPhone 8 Plus (which only has a 5.5-inch monitor). 

To deliver a phone that's all screen without 'the notch', Oppo's 25MP front-facing camera slides out of the phone casing for selfies and facial recognition.

oppo test

FL Bose Sleep Buds-135A9969

Bose Sleepbuds

Essentially a white-noise machine combined with wireless headphones, these earbuds connect to a Bose app on your phone to play 10 repetitive, ambient sounds that are claimed to lull you into a sound sleep. 

They're very comfortable, sitting flush against the ear with a snug, soft rubber finish. They even stay put when you roll around at night. 

Our main gripe is that you can only use the audio files in the Sleepbuds app, but they're good at blocking out many nighttime noises, or at least helping to distract you from them by focusing on the ambient sounds.

01GarminDrive 51 LM 1 of 5

Garmin Drive 51LM

In some Australian states, you can only use your smartphone as a GPS device if you're a fully licensed driver – which makes GPS units a good Christmas gift for P-platers and anyone who doesn't use a smartphone. 

The 51LM performs well and at $179 is well priced, outperforming several more expensive units in our testing. It has handy features, like announcing school zones, avoiding tolls, lane guidance and fixed speed camera warning. 

It doesn't have Bluetooth hands-free, but aside from that it delivers on accuracy, ease of use, screen quality and speed of map refreshing.

Bah, humbug!

Yeah, yeah, we know Christmas isn't about the actual presents – it's the thought that counts and all that. 

However, a year's worth of testing has helped us uncover a few products we'd rather not find stuffed in our stockings.

plox-star-wars-death-star_4

Plox Star Wars Death Star speaker

Now that the world is guaranteed one major Star Wars film every year until 2020, the merchandise machine is back in full swing. 

But of all the toys, clothes and officially licensed bags of fruit (no, really), nothing screamed 'shameless cash grab' quite like Plox's Death Star speaker. 

Sure, it looks cool, and magnetic levitation is a nice aesthetic touch, but the poor quality speaker makes your music sound like it's bouncing around in a tin can filtered through a Stormtrooper helmet – and all for the low, low cost of $240. (Although you may have trouble finding one in store between film releases)

Ideally, this overpriced novelty will meet the fate of the space station that inspired it.

 Milo Champions band
 garmin vivofit jr 2

Fitness bands for kids

With fitness bands continuing to rise in popularity over the last 12 to 24 months, Milo and Garmin cottoned on to a massive untapped market – fitness bands for kids. 

These products came across as a gross marketing exercise/extreme example of helicopter parenting that failed to consider the child's mental wellbeing. Plus, Milo's band was among the worst performers in our test.

Granted, data and progress tracking, as well as goal-oriented workouts, deliver engaging results quickly, which makes the activity feel fun and achievable and can be a powerful motivator for kids. 

But obsession with exercise and body image can lead to poor self-esteem, emotional distress, anxiety, depression and eating disorders, and the raw data pumped out by fitness trackers can exacerbate these issues, particularly among young people.

  • Full reviewsFitness trackers
  • Price: Milo Champions Band – $30, Garmin Vivofit Jr 2 – $129

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Brand Developers HD Mirror Cam

This 'As Seen On TV' product is a rear-view mirror and camera combo that fastens onto your existing rear-view mirror. 

The camera can face the road or swivel around to film your next Carpool Karaoke session, and a built-in LCD screen shows you what's being recorded. 

The concept is interesting, as it does away with a separate mount on the window, but we were far from impressed by it. 

The HD Mirror Cam's maximum vertical resolution is 720p, compared with full HD 1080p for most other dash cam models, which means far less detail is captured. 

The camera's angle of view is also poor – generally, we couldn't make out important details. It lacks useful features such as GPS to record speed and location information in the case of an accident. 

If you stuff someone's stocking with one of these, don't expect good tidings in return.


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