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Holiday gadgets: my top 7 picks

From home security and smartwatches to ice cream makers, your gift needs are covered.

holiday gadgets

Holiday Gadgets:

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With the holiday gift season ramping up into a full frenzy, it’s as good a time as any to share my picks for best gadgets of the season.

My list is very subjective, as it’s comprised only of the gizmos that I genuinely endorse and continue to use. No paid endorsements here.

I wanted to do a nice round list of 10, but I was honestly only able to come up with seven things that really impressed me this year.

Here they are, in no particular order.

samsung, gear s2

Samsung Gear S2 Classic

I honestly never thought I’d have a smartwatch on my list of favourite gadgets, but Samsung deserves credit for finally doing it right.

The S2 is, in my opinion, a better device than many competitors for several reasons – not the least of which is that it’s round. The form factor informs everything about the watch, from its circular interface to its nifty dial control.

It runs on Samsung’s Tizen software so it’s different from all the Android watches out there, but it also does work with those phones. Now, if Samsung could only get it to work with iPhones – as the rumours suggest – then I might find myself actually wearing one of these full time.

bradley smoker

Bradley Original Food Smoker

Smokers don’t generally come to mind when talking gadgets, but I think Bradley’s products qualifies. Technology is supposed to make a task easier or convenient, after all, and electric smokers surely do that.

I delved into the art of smoking meat this year and learned that the traditional method, using charcoal-powered smokers, is simply not for me. I just don’t have the patience to tend to coals all day.

Traditionalists consider electric machines to be an affront to smoking, but they’re great for anyone who wants to cook tastier meats without the hassle. I love firing up the Bradley, sticking a few wood pucks into its chute and then coming back five hours later for some amazing ribs. Tradition be damned.

nest camera

Nest Cam

The Nest Cam isn’t a new gadget, especially if we count its predecessor Dropcam’s legacy, but I did only start using it recently – and I love it.

The cameras deliver great video quality that can be controlled from anywhere via your smartphone. Unlike competing models, I haven’t had any connectivity issues so far, which is extremely important. If you’re using cameras for home security, they can’t have downtime.

What I like most about the Nest Cams is their “activity zones,” which are coloured boxes you can set on your computer screen to outline especially sensitive areas. This way you can fine-tune alerts to a specific area, like a door or a window.

In the photo above, you could also outline the cake so that you get an instant alarm if anyone touches it. That’s genius.

moto-g

Moto G

Smartphones are barrelling toward commodification, to the point where we’ll soon be finding them in cereal boxes. That’s a good thing that will eventually lead to lower service bills. If phones are cheap, carriers won’t be able to lock customers into long-term contracts and will have to compete on price more.

In that vein, this year’s third-generation Moto G from Motorola offers the best value-for-quality proposition of any smartphone out there. It doesn’t have the super specs of high-end devices, but it does have a good-enough 720p screen, a 13-megapixel camera and runs on LTE.

For around $230 without a contract, that’s a veritable steal.

tomb raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider

It’s not a gadget per se, but I’d be remiss in doing a list like this without mentioning video games. I found many of the big-name releases in 2015 to be either rehashes of the same old stuff, or extraordinarily thin for the money – here’s looking at you Star Wars Battlefront.

The game I enjoyed most this holiday season is Rise of the Tomb Raider, which is exclusive to the Xbox One until next year. It’s more of the same found in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, but that’s okay – that was a fantastic game.

Rise of the Tomb Raider delivers more of that same exploration-puzzle-action coupled with top-notch graphics, story and characters. It’s a ton of fun.

For younger gamers, the toys-to-life Lego Dimensions is a great too. With properties including Lord of the Rings, DC Comics, Doctor Who and even The Wizard of Oz, there has never been such a varied cultural mash-up in a game or any other medium before.

Lego Dimensions is insidious in how it forces you to buy more Lego sets to unlock more of its world, but the core game itself is deep enough to stand on its own.

apple tv

Apple TV

Sure, it’s not the television revolution anyone was hoping for, but the fourth-generation Apple TV is a great streaming box nonetheless.

In Canada, it’s the only one that has all of the major subscription services’ apps, but beyond that I’m a fan of its universal remote capabilities.

The Apple TV’s remote turns my TV on and off and controls the volume on my sound bar. If it could only switch between HDMI ports, I’d be able to get rid of all my other remotes. Here’s hoping that feature gets added in 2016.

cuisinart

Cuisinart Ice-70c

If you’ve never had home-made ice cream, well then you’ve never had ice cream. I tested a number of ice cream makers this year and the Cuisinart Ice-70c delivered the best bang for the buck. More expensive models from the likes of Breville offer better features, but at under $200 the Cuisinart model can’t be beat.

Ice cream will never be a healthy treat, but making it yourself is a good way to ensure your desserts will contain natural only ingredients. And freshly churned ice cream, which the Ice-70c makes in just half an hour, tastes sooooo good.

Few people want to think about ice cream as the temperatures outside plummet, but pick one of these up as a gift for someone now and they’ll be loving you a few months from now.

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