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Tech gifts that people will want to see under the tree for Christmas

Marlo Anderson is getting a lot of questions about what technology holiday gifts people should be getting loved ones and friends.

Anderson runs Zoovio Inc., as well as Awesome 2 Products and has his own technology-centered podcast, "The Tech Ranch," which can be heard at thetechranch.com. He does all this out of his office in Mandan.

Anderson said there are all sorts of gizmos and gadgets that people will give to each other as presents this Christmas season. Everything from smartphones, like any of the Samsung Galaxy phones, to Apple's iPhone line, to more unique items, like LED light bulbs that have speakers built into them that can play music via phone or tablet computer's Bluetooth system, are available to make anyone's Christmas a little more tech-y.

Smartphones

Anderson said technology companies like Apple and Samsung sell a lot of smartphones this time of year.

"I know the iPhone 6S will be a big seller, very popular," he said.

Anderson said he thinks the Galaxy phone line from Samsung will also sell well, but he doesn't see any other smartphone line getting a lot of attention from consumers.

Anderson said he thinks phone companies like to put a lot of its existing smartphone lines on sale this time of year because right after Christmas and New Year's Day, the International Consumer Electronic Show is held in Las Vegas.

"Christmas (shopping) is a great way for them (the phone companies) to reduce their inventory and then get their new technology out in front of everybody at CES," he said.

Anderson said if he were to receive a smartphone as a gift, he would like the HTC1 model 9. It's an Android phone, and he said he likes the HTC because it's not as big as some of the newer smartphones like the iPhone 6S, which he referred to as a "phablet," or a phone almost the size of a tablet computer.

"I like the size of the phone, I love the screen, and it's an Android," he said. "The clarity is good and the camera on it is fantastic."

Travis Vinje, manager of I.T. Works Smartphone and Computer Repair in Jamestown, said he has seen more people wanting to get smartwatches, like the Apple Watch or the Samsung Galaxy Gear 2. Smartwatches work in tandem with a person's smartphone.

"You can listen to music, make or receive calls from the watch and even text from them," he said.

Vinje said people are also using smartwatches as part of their daily exercise routine. With fitness apps, a smartwatch can count how many steps a person has taken per day or how many miles a person has walked or run over a given time period. Vinje said there are also quite a few wearable devices like Fitbit that are designed specifically for the purpose of keeping track of a person's vital signs, like heartbeat and steps while exercising.

Video-streaming devices

Anderson said video-streaming devices, like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire, will be big sellers this holiday season. These devices use a wireless Internet connection to stream movies, television shows and live sporting events to a television without a cable or satellite hookup.

"More and more people are using these devices," he said. "People aren't just relying on a cable or satellite television subscription anymore to provide viewing choices."

Anderson said the major television networks—CBS, NBC, etc.—are moving in the direction of offering more content online through video-streaming services. For example, he said CBS will have a new "Star Trek" series next year and the show will debut on the regular CBS channel, but will then only be shown on the broadcasting company's online service.

"These devices are easy to use," Anderson said. "Even our most seasoned of citizens have no problems with the remotes on these devices. Once people experience the ease of using these devices, they never go back to watching regular television."

Virtual reality

Anderson said a gift people may want to consider for that person in their life who really likes his smartphone is a virtual-reality headset. These devices can run from very basic, like the one called "Cardboard" by Google, which costs about $9 or as little as $2 to $4 online, to the Occulus Rift, a virtual-reality headset that works exclusively with Samsung Galaxy phones.

Anderson said these devices are based on the same basic design: You insert your smartphone in a box that contains lenses to magnify the size of the phone's screen. By using headphones with the headset, the user will have an "immersive" experience watching a movie or playing a game on his or her smartphone.

"Google Cardboard would be a good stocking stuffer," he said.

LED light bulbs with speakers

A unique item just showing up on the market is LED, which stands for light-emitting diode, light bulbs with Bluetooth speakers built into them. Anderson said he just installed five LED lights in the existing light sockets around the outside of his house, and he can change the color of the LED lights if wants.

With the LED light bulbs with speakers, people can put in these LED lights and then play music from their smartphone, tablet or any computer using Bluetooth technology or wireless Internet.

"These LED light bulbs with the speakers are really amazing. The sound quality is remarkable," Anderson said.

The bulbs are not inexpensive, running anywhere from $40 a bulb up to $90 a bulb, depending on the brand and size of light bulb.

Televisions and computers

For people considering buying a new television for themselves or their family, Anderson said buying a television set with 4K picture quality over high definition picture quality is a good idea.

"If you're buying a television and you can afford it and you don't plan on buying a new one for five to 10 years, get the 4K set," he said.

Anderson said the difference in picture quality and clarity between a 4k television and an HD television is as stark and dramatic as the difference between an old analog television and an HD television.

No matter what kind of new television a person gets, Anderson recommended people also get a soundbar for it. While flat-screen televisions look great hanging on a wall, there isn't much room for a speaker system in the television box.

"Having a soundbar hooked up to a flat-screen television greatly improves the sound quality," he said.

Anderson said for someone looking to give a new computer as a gift, his advice would be to buy the most up-to-date computer possible versus buying the most expensive model.

"Spend what you can afford and get the most bang for your buck," he said.

For example, if you're looking at two comparable laptop computers and one offers more memory than the other, buy the one with more memory, Anderson said.

"I would rather buy something new more often than buy something more expensive that devalues too quickly," he said.

Anderson said if possible this holiday season, or really anytime, buy local when possible.

"Some of these items aren't available locally, but a lot are we should all support our local merchants," he said.

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454
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