The second half of our seasonal gift guide brings a glimpse of the future. These gadgets, which are suited to use on-the-go, will delight early adopter types who like to have the latest tech — but without being so cutting-edge that they confuse the rest of us. All prices are a guide only.
For Apple aficionados:
Apple’s new MacBook ($1,300/£1,050 in the UK) was one of my favourite gadgets this year. Yes, it is just a laptop, and no, it is not the most powerful computer out there today. Several innovations stood out, and these are already starting to make their way into rivals’ products.
The 12-inch Retina display screen is crisp and bright. The full-size keyboard uses a new mechanism to provide just enough bounce in a much thinner casing than regular notebooks. And the glass trackpad feels clickable without actually moving, thanks to the same “Taptic Engine” as used in the latest iPhones and Apple Watch. All this is elegantly packed into a 13.1mm, 2lb notebook that you will barely notice you are carrying.
While the MacBook reinvigorates a 30-year-old technology, the Apple Watch’s shortcomings in speed and an initially confusing user interface show that smartwatches still have a long way to go.
But for a “version one” product, Apple Watch is actually very polished, with a design that many will want to wear — unlike most smartwatches.
It is especially useful for parents who need to check messages hands-free or people who want to check a lot of notifications without picking up their phone every time. Siri’s voice control and the ability to respond to messages with a short phrase (“Yes please”, “I’m on my way”, etc) or just an emoji are timesavers I use daily.
On the style front, the range of finishes and colours is widening all the time, including a range of Hermès leather bands and exclusive watch faces, costing $1,100-$1,500 (£1,000 — £1,350).
For Samsung fans
Samsung, which had released several wearables before Apple Watch arrived, showed the benefit of that experimentation in the Gear S2 ($300/£250). With a svelte, circular face that is comfortable to wear, the Gear S2’s main innovation is its rotating bezel, used to access features and navigate menus. As an alternative to Apple’s Digital Crown, the bezel has considerable appeal. However, the device is short on apps so far.
The Gear S2 is compatible with most recent Android devices but it works best with Samsung’s own Galaxy smartphones. For an extra splash of style, Italian designer Alessandro Mendini (a sometime Alessi collaborator) has created a range of watch faces and straps.
The Gear S2 may be more immediately useful but Samsung’s most forward-looking gadget right now is its Gear VR headset ($100/£80). Virtual reality is tipped by many to be the hottest tech of 2016, so if a friend or relative owns one of the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones, which act as a screen for the device, and is prepared to strap on these plastic goggles for a peek at the future, this accessory is a must-buy.
While it is still early days in terms of the content available to watch and play on Gear VR, Samsung’s partnership with Oculus VR currently provides a richer experience than Google’s cheaper Cardboard.
For non-Samsung owners, Mattel’s rebooted View-Master VR is a sturdy alternative for $30, and works with most Androids and iPhones.
Smartphone photos are now so good that many people do without a standalone camera. Aside from flying (although my experience with taking images from drones has been mixed), the most exciting development in cameras is spherical or 360-degree photography.
Standalone spherical cameras such as Ricoh’s Theta S and Kodak’s SP360 take novel, immersive photos and videos, which can also be viewed in Gear VR or Cardboard-style headsets. For under $400 (£300), the quality and portability of these is impressive.
Many gadgets are either cheap or useful — but rarely both. Amazon’s $50 (£50) Fire tablet shows that great, well-designed technology now comes in astonishingly affordable packages. It may not be as thin or as light as an iPad but Amazon Fire is robust, surprisingly nippy and perfectly adequate for videos, reading and most games.
Getting a capable and connected 7in screen at this price opens up all sorts of possibilities, such as a video screen for the kids on a long car journey. Amazon even has a “Make it a six-pack” offer for $250 (£250), which is still less expensive than a single iPad.
To read part 1, which focused on gadgets for time at home in the holidays, go to: ft.com/management