Google Nexus 7 Tablet: Power, Precision, Performance, Value
The Google Nexus 7 (www.play.google.com/store/devices) is Google’s entry into the mid-size tablet category. The full HD, incredibly sharp 7” screen is bright and easy to read. It responds quickly and with precision to touches and swipes. Text looks sharp and crisp, and is easy to read. When tested with graphically intensive games, the Nexus 7 delivered smooth high quality game play and no issues. Measuring 4.5 inches by 7.9 inches (and .34 inches thick), the Nexus 7 is fairly easy to hold and manipulate whether you’re standing or sitting. Battery life is good, with CNET reporting 11.5 hours of hard use before it drained.
The best feature of the Nexus 7 may be it’s price. At $229.99 (16gb storage) it offers top of the line performance at an affordable price. (Read a review: http://cnet.co/Lu0ynr.)
For the Fitness Nut: The Fitbit Force Fitness Tracker
The Fitbit Force (www.fitbit.com/force) is a waterproof bracelet fitness tracker that can double as a smart watch. The Force tracks steps taken, stairs climber, distance traveled, calories burned, most active minutes, hours slept, and quality of sleep. The Force features a small OLED screen that can display the current time and any of those fitness metrics. Fitbit also has plans to include call notifications, but only on iOS 7 devices. The Fitbit Force uses Bluetooth to sync with your computer and download information. You can then use any of a number of free online and mobile tools to track your fitness and watch your progress. (Read a review: http://cnet.co/18Vn5H6.)
Share Those Holiday Jams: Jawbone Jambox Bluetooth-enabled Portable Speaker
Stream music from your smartphone or any other Bluetooth device with Jawbone’s Jambox speakers (www.jawbone.com/speakers/jambox) . These powerful little speakers start around $149, and are perfect for filling holiday movies with quality music without a lot of wires. Thanks to Bluetooth technology, you do not have to keep it plugged in to the speaker, leaving it free for other uses. Furthermore, since this device relies on Bluetooth – it will work with any type of device so long as a Bluetooth transmitter is present. This is a powerful speaker for the price, and at the top of my Christmas list. If you haven’t – try streaming music from Spotify, which I highly recommend for music lovers that want a little more control over their music than Pandora or other radio services provide, at just $10 a month. (Read a review: http://cnet.co/Vt4Ss0.)
Help Your Friends Get Entertainment Under Control
I have at least four remote controls in my living room. It drives me nuts but I didn’t realize there was such a user friendly option in the Logitech Harmony 650 (www.logitech.com/en-us/harmony-remotes). This universal remote has a color LCD screen for controls, is web programmable, and boasts a great ergonomic design. Logitech has a few offerings at every price point in remote controls: the entry level Harmony goes for about $80, but the upgraded SmartControl goes for about $120. The Harmony Ultimate starts at $312! (Read reviews: http://cnet.co/rsDsFr.)
And For the Person Who has Everything?
The Philips’ Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack (www.meethue.com/en-US) offers you control of your lighting with your smart phone. The starter pack includes three LED light bulbs and the Philips Hue Bridge, a hub device that plugs directly into your home network and links the three LED bulbs to your smart phone. The basic Philips app allows you to turn the bulbs on and off, schedule when the bulbs should turn on/off, and change to one of 16 million colors available. The app also includes lighting presets such as sunset, deep sea, beach, concentration and relax. The price tag is steep for this gadget at $200 – but it does have some interesting capabilities.
The real value of the Philips Hue lighting system is in the advanced features and huge app compatibility. Philips has allowed third party app designers to create apps to control the Hue bulbs, and this is where it gets interesting. The lights can blink or change color when you receive an e-mail, are mentioned on FaceBook, or re-tweeted on Twitter. They can change color to match up to the beat of your favorite song or to match the weather outside.
Will the novelty of the Philips Hue Connected Bulbs wear off? Probably. But this system could be the biggest change to house hold lighting since the Clapper. (Read a review here: http://cnet.co/19ky8JF.)
Stocking Stuffer: Streaming Video Gets a Little Easier
Streaming video is becoming more and more popular, and rather than adding another bulky device to your entertainment center, you can stream to your HDTV using ChromeCast, by Google (www.play.google.com/store/devices). For just $35, this is a powerful little device to add on to your current technology for those who have not upgraded to the newer “Smart” TVs. This is a small HDMI device that you plug in to your TV that allows you to stream video from Netflix, Hulu, Google Video using devices you already have, such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop or desktop. Apple has a similar device, AirPlay, but ChromeCast operates differently in that it turns your device in to a remote control – and the signal goes directly from your WiFi connection to your ChromeCast. While the apps available are limited – you can also display browser windows on your ChromeCast, which should be helpful for the next season of Game of Thrones on HBO Go. At publishing time, the device was having issues when being used to stream from Windows 8 machines. This device isn’t as powerful as Apple TV or Roku streaming boxes, but it also is not as expensive. (Read a review: http://cnet.co/1c2ZBTl.)
Stocking Stuffer: Sphero 2.0 Remote Control Ball by Orbotix
The Sphero 2.0 is a waterproof, durable ball (about the size of a billiard ball) that can be remote controlled via iOS or Android device (www.gosphero.com) . The ball can also change color and a chirping noise gives it some personality. Out of the box the basic Sphero app allows you to control the ball and change its color. Orbotix has also released a number of different apps and games that take advantage of the Sphero. Some games are driving games, some offer an augmented reality experience, and others have you hold and move the ball to control something on your device screen. A “Nubby” rubber cover is available to drive the Sphero over rough terrain and can propel it while under water, and ramps are built into the packaging for a more adventurous driving experience. For $129, this is not a cheap stocking stuffer, but it will provide some much-needed stress relief during the holiday season. (Read a review: http://cnet.co/1d6p7b5.)