More Great Holiday Tech Gifts That Deserve Your Attention

In last week’s column, I highlighted some great tech gifts for the upcoming holiday season, ranging from a game-changing smart oven, stylish smartphone cases and an innovative “occupancy sensing” home sensor that can enable a whole host of home automation tasks. In this post, I will shed some visibility on another handful of new smart tech products that make ideal holiday gifts.

LifeDoor might save you and your family’s life

LifeDoor automatically closes a bedroom door when a smoke detector goes off.
LIFEDOOR

Let’s face it: many people (especially children) don’t close their bedroom doors while they’re sleeping. The UL Firefighters Safety Institute reports that a closed door makes a 900-degree difference and can buy precious time for firefighters to arrive during a fire emergency.

LifeDoor is a common-sense small, square device that easily affixes to a bedroom door hinge with double-sided tape. The ingenious, spring-loaded device coils up when the door is opened, and activates when it detects the sound frequency of a smoke alarm, releasing the spring to close the door. LifeDoor is powered by a 9V battery and includes a light LED for visual alerts. 

Aided by the excellent setup videos on the product’s website, I installed the device on my bedroom door in less than 5 minutes. Every LifeDoor includes a pin mechanism that replaces the existing pin at the top of your door. All in all, it’s a terrific peace of mind solution that every homeowner should consider, especially if there are children in the house. I’m surprised that something this ingenious for the home has taken so long to come to market. LifeDoor is available in sets of 1 ($129), 3 ($359) or 10 ($1,150).

Sony’s Immersive Wearable Speaker is not as strange as you might think

Sony’s new SRS-WS1 Immersive Wearable Speaker.
SONY

Every once in a while, a company reaches out to me with a product that on first blush provokes the question, “Why on earth would anyone need that?” Candidly, that question crossed my mind when Sony asked me to check out its new SRS-WS1 Immersive Wearable Speaker. Unlike headphones or earbuds, the wireless SRS-WS1 sits around your shoulders. It is primarily designed as a device to be used with your TV, connecting via a small AC-powered transmitter that plugs into your TV’s headphone jack. In fact, it can only be used with a smartphone or tablet if it still has a legacy headphone jack—a fact that rules out all post-iPhone 7 models. Despite my original skepticism, after using them for a few days, I’ve concluded that Sony may be on to something—with a few caveats.

Like all Sony products, the construction quality of the SRS-WS1 is high. It’s made with soft materials that wrap comfortably around your shoulders. Weighing only 2.47 ounces, they did not feel awkward, heavy or uncomfortable during my initial 3-hour test: watching my hapless New York Giants play the New York Jets. I appreciated this fact, since I’m not fond of wearing my trusty (and excellent sounding) over-the-ear Bose 700 Headphones for more than ninety minutes or so at a time. The device’s 7-hour battery life is reasonable, and the SRS-WS1 includes a convenient small charging cradle that makes charging effortless—typical Sony being Sony.

Since they are wireless, I was able to roam as far as 50 feet away from my TV, and the audio stream never stuttered. The SRS-WS1 provides a significantly higher immersive experience than other wireless headphones I’ve tried, thanks to its passive radiator plate’s vibration. This stands out particularly when you watch live events or action movies. Another key advantage of the SRS-WS1 is that, unlike most headphones or earbuds, you can still hear your complete surroundings.

The fact that the Bluetooth connection is limited to devices with a legacy headphone jack is not trivial, so I can’t recommend them as the only audio device in your home. They are also a bit pricey at $300. That said, they do make an interesting secondary sound solution for your home, and I suspect elderly consumers with hearing difficulty may prefer a solution like the SRS-WS1 to headphones when watching the TV. The sound quality of this wearable speaker is excellent and provides a superior immersive experience not possible with traditional headphones. Bravo, Sony.

Beddr helps you monitor and improve the quality of your sleep

The affordable Beddr SleepTuner for sleep monitoring.
BEDDR

One of the currently hot smart home subcategories are sleep-monitoring devices. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 45% percent of Americans suffer from poor or insufficient sleep. There have been several hit-and-miss sleep monitoring apps for the Apple Watch over the past several years, and now Apple is rumored to be working on a next-generation model that will include native sleep tracking. Consumer electronics giant Philips also jumped into the sleep care category last year with its expensive SmartSleep DeepSleep Headband ($399 MSRP)—one of the more elaborate (and strange looking) products on the market.

The more affordable Beddr SleepTuner ($149 MSRP) is one of the more recent (and certainly less obtrusive) sleep tracking devices to hit the market. Among other things, it tracks your sleep position and nighttime breathing and provides you with data-driven insights on how to improve the quality of your sleep. Beddr also provides an analysis of your risk for sleep apnea, and if you are already being treated for sleep apnea, Beddr will provide insights on how well your treatment is performing.

The device is about the size of a large postage stamp (33.7mm x 24.5mm) and thick as a keychain garage door opener (9.55mm).  Simply pair Beddr with your smartphone and literally stick it to your forehead to monitor your sleep. While you’ll certainly look a bit odd while you sleep, it works well. Beddr’s adhesive strips are strong, and the device did not get dislodged while I was sleeping. Most importantly, at .19 ounces, the device is extremely light; once applied to my forehead, it did not feel uncomfortable. Beddr’s rechargeable battery life is rated for 20 hours of use between charges.

The magic with Beddr is its iOS smartphone app (Android support is not currently available). After a few days of using the product, it provided me with an enormous amount of useful data and trends: breathing quality, stopped breathing events, oxygen saturation, heart rate, sleeping position (and its impact on breathing) and even alcohol consumption. This data was historically only available to individuals who underwent professional sleep monitor studies, and those generally involve overnight stays at staffed sleep facilities—not a particularly convenient or cheap way to check in on your sleep.

Products like the Beddr SleepTuner are a powerful and affordable way to glean this data. While this product will not eliminate the need to consult a physician, it will arm you with valuable data that could help you made positive adjustments in your sleeping rituals. In my book, $149 is a modest price to pay to improve the quality of your life. 

The Whistle GO Pet Tracker: the perfect smart gift for your 4-legged friend

Whistle’s GO Explore pet tracker.
WHISTLE

Smart home technology is also on the rise in the pet domain, with many affordable devices that can help you track your pet and monitor its health and fitness. As someone whose beloved dog was killed by a car when I was a teenager, I know all too well how traumatizing the loss of a pet can be.

Whistle’s GO Explore and Go devices are, in my view, the best pet trackers on the market. Small, discreet and lightweight (only 0.96 ounces), the Whistle trackers can even be worn by small dogs or cats without causing them discomfort. Both of the company’s devices utilize a dual-satellite system approach (GPS and GLONASS) that leverages local Wi-Fi and cell tower data to provide highly precise location data.

Selling for $130 MSRP, Whistle’s GO Explore is the premium model. It features very good battery life (up to 20 days on a single charge), waterproof support (it can track a pet even if the device is submerged in up to six feet of water) and an integrated 3-mode light that can be activated remotely via its smart app so your pet can be found in the dark. An entry-level $100 model, the Whistle GO, has all the tracking and pet health monitoring features of the more expensive unit, with shorter battery life (up to 10 days on a single charge) and minus the built-in light. Both iterations require a subscription that starts at $6.95 per month.

Like with all the best smart home devices, the real magic of Whistle’s products is its smart app (available in Android and iOS), which is intuitively designed and easy to use. In addition to providing location alerts when your pet leaves your backyard (or other predefined area), the app provides real-time tracking, a cool 24-hour timeline to see where your pet went and for how long, and breed and age-specific fitness metrics (e.g., calories burned, distance traveled, minutes active). It also tracks other activities that could indicate that your pet is sick, such as excessive licking, scratching and sleep.

Pets represent a huge emotional investment for people and families, and the Whistle’s tracker solutions have the potential to provide peace of mind and deliver an innovative, useful health monitoring dimension. It is unquestionably one of the most useful holiday tech gifts you can give this year to the pet-lover in your life.

Netgear Meural Canvas II: a smart frame for your home or office

Netgear’s Meural Canvas II 
NETGEAR

Netgear is a well-known and highly respected brand name in the router and wireless communications space. Last year, in order to expand its footprint into and better leverage its wireless technology portfolio, Netgear acquired Meural, a company that made some noise in the “digital connected canvas” segment with its original Canvas solution.

Netgear’s Meural Canvas II is a follow-up to an already very good product. Available in 16” x 24” (21” diagonal) and 19” x 20” (27” diagonal) sizes, the Canvas II is a connected digital frame that can stream picture and image content. While th concept is not new, the Canvas II represents the best of the category in my opinion. Canvas II’s screens are a full 1080p HD resolution, giving it great image quality from both close and short distances. Image brightness is automatically tuned via an ambient light sensor, making photos and artwork extraordinarily lifelike. The new Canvas II also includes built-in Wi-Fi (802.11ac), Ethernet and full-size SD ports for local access to content. Canvas II’s handsome frames come in black, white, dark wood and light wood. Swivel mounts are available for an additional $200, enabling users to quickly flip Canvas II between portrait and landscape.

Though you can perform most of the image management in your desktop browser, the Meural companion app is the preferred way to utilize Canvas II. The app features diverse curated collections of artwork, available via a monthly or yearly paid subscription ($9 or $70 respectively). While I’m most certainly not an art aficionado, at a cursory glance it looks as though there is enough art (more than 30,000 images) to please most people. Motion sensors on Canvas II allow you to quickly “air swipe” up or down to flip through interesting images. The app offers several customization features, and you can change art playlists at will, just as you would do with a music playlist. While I think the artwork subscription is cool, my guess is that most consumers will use Canvas II to display their own images, which you can crop and add titles or descriptions to. High-resolution images look spectacular if you use Canvas II in 16 x 9 (landscape) aspect ratio orientation. While the SD card reader makes it easy to load up local images, I found that a connected Wi-Fi device (like my iPhone 11 Pro Max) was much more versatile. Undoubtedly, Netgear’s expertise in the wireless space played an important role in this capability’s implementation).

The only downside of smart digital frames (and Canvas II is no exception) is that you have to use AC power. This means you need to be mindful when you mount it. For my testing, I set Canvas III against a shelf that happened to have an AC outlet on top. so it was easy to hide the power cord. If its important to you to hide the cord, and this fortunate shelving situation isn’t available to you, you may have to have an electrician install an outlet several feet above the floor. You could also mount the Canvas II on a floor easel.

Putting these few caveats aside, Canvas II represents the best of the smart digital frames on the market from an image quality, ease of use and connectivity standpoint. At $400 (21”) and $600 (27”), Canvas II is certainly a sizeable purchase. Most consumers won’t buy one for every room. Regardless, Netgear and Meural deserve kudos for setting the bar that other competitors have to beat. It would make a great holiday gift.

Coming soon

As I wrote last week, my final column before Christmas will focus exclusively on what I believe are the best technology “components” for the ultimate entertainment and productivity experience. There will be some familiar names in my column, but you might be surprised by some of my recommendations. Cord-cutting commentary, which I’ve provided many times before, will also play a significant role in my column. It continues to be one of the most popular topics I cover and I can assure you’ll learn something from it. Stay tuned!