What’s a better gift than the future? Here are some innovative gadgets and services we at the Washington Post have tried and loved over the past year.
Oculus: Go Virtual Reality Headset
The Oculus Go is the first virtual reality gadget you might actually gift. It has no cables and requires no additional hardware. And it’s good for more than just games.
It’s a self-contained portal to 360-degree experiences, from concerts to meditation experiences. Curl up and watch TV virtually with a faraway friend. Or on a long flight, you can use one as your private movie theater.
Hulu: No-ads Subscription
For the TV lover, what’s better than the gift of no commercials? Hulu streams the current season of shows from NBC, CBS, ABC and other networks, as well as beloved back-catalogue hits. For a bit more money, the often-overlooked commercial-free subscription lets you squeeze even more TV into your life.
Price: $11.99 per month
Sure, nobody needs a robot dog. But you’ll want one after meeting Aibo, the rebirth of Sony’s iconic robot companion from 1999.
Aibo’s new litter comes with remarkably lifelike mechanical movement, its own cellular connection and artificial intelligence that learns faces and grows with you.
iRobot: Roomba i7
The next-generation robot vacuum cleaner from iRobot has gained remarkable skills. Like a self-driving car, it creates its own map of your house to clean more efficiently — and so it can take commands to vacuum just one particular room.
Even better, the i7 has a docking station that empties its own dustbin.
Sonos: Beam Smart TV Soundbar
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The best upgrade you can make to your TV is better sound. This compact soundbar attaches to a TV and packs in a lot of great sound — but also has a few other tricks.
With Amazon’s Alexa built in, it can take voice commands to play music or even control the TV. And it can wirelessly sync up with other Sonos speakers to give you music all over the house.
Surface Go With Type Cover
Want the full capabilities of a PC in a package you can stick in a purse or knapsack? The Surface Go is a 10-inch tablet that weighs 1.15 pounds but comes with a keyboard cover and stand that transform it into a Windows 10 laptop.
The smaller keys take a little getting used to.
TCL: 6-Series Roku TV
You might not be familiar with the TCL brand, but don’t let that turn you away from this amazing value. The six-series TV boasts picture tech that rivals what you can get from best-seller Samsung — and costs half as much. It’s not only 4K, it supports high dynamic range (HDR) content.
Sphero: Bolt App-Enabled Robot
What’s more fun than a ball? A waterproof robot ball you drive from an app with a rainbow LED screen inside.
Apple: Watch Series 4
If you’ve been on the fence about a smartwatch, this one is finally worth considering. The Series 4 has a larger screen, faster processor and — for $100 extra — comes with its own independent cellular connection to take calls and receive messages while you’re away from your iPhone.
This model also acts more like a medical device, with abilities to measure your heart and call for help after a hard fall.
Price: From $399
Moment: Wide Lens for Smartphones
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Help your favorite Instagrammers take their photo game to the next level with this detachable lens for the iPhone and Samsung and Google Pixel phones.
This wide lens provides the most dramatic new view, but there are also telephoto, macro and fisheye lenses available.
Byrd and Belle: Laptop, Tablet and Phone Felt Cases
This is really a gift for laptops, tablets and cellphones. They’ll get to spend downtime encased in a luxurious, thick, protective felt — in one of 10 beautiful colors. Makers Byrd and Belle believe in simple, yet functional designs with quality construction.
Price: $19 and up
Amazon: Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Tablet
Children love tablets. But for parents, providing safe, age-appropriate experiences — that aren’t just rotting Junior’s brain — can be a lot of work.
Amazon’s kids edition tablet goes further than iPads to give parents tools to reward learning time. It comes with a year’s subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, which provides access to over 20,000 popular apps and games, videos and books.
The AirPods work and sound great. An included case keeps them charged and from getting lost.
The biggest downside is Apple’s one-size-fits-all design, so you should try on a pair and give your head a good shake before buying.