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IoT gifts that don’t suck

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This year, I wanted to avoid giving IoT gifts, partly because I hadn’t tested as many products as I normally do and partly because I think everyone is pretty turned off by the potential for security risks and privacy encroachments. I have seen at least three stories on why you should never give a smart speaker or display as a gift. But people kept asking me for IoT gift ideas.

For me, a gift is something a person would enjoy but never buy for themselves because it’s too expensive or extravagant. So for all of you practical gift-givers out there, I suggest you find your recipient’s Amazon wish list and choose accordingly. However, for those with money to burn, and the willingness to take a risk, I’ve found nine really fun gift ideas. (Note that the photos are all from the companies.) And if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, might I suggest the Tile gift pack that includes four different item-tracking Tile products for $ 49.99.

Casper Glow, $ 129: This bedside table lamp/nightlight is expensive, but it’s a delightful companion because it does so much without forcing the user to learn a bunch of new commands or install an app. There’s no connectivity, but it has sensors that can detect ambient light as well as various motions that will control the light output, and more. And thanks to a 6-hour battery life, it also doubles as a nightlight or a lamp when the power is out. I like mine so much I’m getting a second one. —Stacey Higginbotham

Nanoleaf Canvas starter kit, $ 179.99: These lighted, square, touch-sensitive panels are completely superfluous in your life, but they make awesome wall art. The Nanoleaf people will argue that they can also double as a lamp, but I find that you’d need at least a 9-panel starter kit plus two more 4-panel expansion packs to really get enough light to feel sated. But for those who just want some cool art, these panels can respond to music, handle thousands of colors, and be controlled simply by pressing on them. I have the original Nanoleaf panels and I’m trying to rationalize buying this set, too. —Stacey Higginbotham

Philips Hue Sync Box, $ 229: This home theater accessory is great for those who crave an immersive experience provided by smart lights that sync with television content. Note that it does require both a Philips Hue Bridge and smart bulbs to work; I recommend the new Philips Hue Light Bars. Set-up is easy and, once completed, the Sync Box will surround the screen that is playing movies and video games with real-time lighting effects to match the on-screen content. If you use a smart TV with apps, this solution won’t work as it requires an HDMI connection. The device has four HDMI inputs.  I like the immersion so much that I stopped using the built-in apps on my TV and added a Chromecast just for the brilliant explosions and scene changes. —Kevin Tofel

Wyze Sense, $ 19.99: This three-pack of sensors is an excellent way to introduce someone to the potential of the smart home. They will also need a $ 19.99 Wyze camera to communicate with these sensors, so in total you’ll be out almost $ 50, plus shipping. But the motion sensor and two open/close sensors can be used in a variety of ways. For example, I have a motion/close sensor on my liquor cabinet, so I can get an alert whenever it’s opened. If I wanted I could have the camera record whenever the open/close sensor triggers so I get a video of the guilty party. We don’t have a doorbell at my rental home, so I set up the camera inside, facing the front door, and installed the motion sensor up high, by the door, so I can see when someone knocks or drops off a package. It’s handy. —Stacey Higginbotham

Airthings Wave Mini Indoor Air Quality Monitor, $ 55.99: This product measures humidity, temperature, and volatile organic compounds in the air and for the price, it’s a worthwhile investment. It doesn’t measure carbon dioxide or radon. For that, you’ll have to step up to the Airthings Wave Indoor Air Quality Monitor. Or you can invest in the Awair products, at a steeper price. But I’ve found this device handy for tracking the air quality in my daughter’s bedroom while I have a sensor downstairs that detects carbon dioxide as well. Pair this with a filter and you’ll be breathing easier in no time. And if you’d like to turn a dumb air filter smart, I suggest the Awair Glow C ($ 89) for the allergy sufferer or wellness freak on your list. —Stacey Higginbotham

Credit: Firewalla

Firewalla, $ 99-$ 199: For your die-hard gadget lover who is also a bit concerned about where their data goes or the security of their home network, the Firewalla is a wonderful gift. It’s a network security product that plugs into a home router and monitors the network traffic. It can notify you of devices that are behaving oddly, but it also just lets you know when your Echo calls back to Amazon every night and shares a few gigabits of data. The red version is for slower networks with less than 100Mbps speeds while the blue version is for gigabit networks and more than 50 devices. For people who care about that sort of thing, it’s nice to see what’s happening on your network. —Stacey Higginbotham

Ember Mug², $ 99.95: First up, Mom, I need you to stop reading. This mug comes in a 10-oz and 14-oz size and uses a charge to keep your beverage at a pre-set temperature for roughly an hour and a half. It sits on a charging coaster and must be handwashed. It also has an app that allows you to set the temperature. In other words, it’s pricey, complicated, and requires the consumer to jump through hoops in order to use it. And yet…my mom is constantly reheating her cup of coffee in the microwave an hour after she pours it because she doesn’t drink it fast enough. So the utility of this device in combination with the unique ability to help my mom enjoy her coffee meant I ordered this for her Christmas present. But this gift is a big risk, so choose your audience wisely. –Stacey Higginbotham

Illumiknobi, $ 49.95: I installed this recently in my rental house and I love it. Your more practical friends will not appreciate a doorknob that throws a smattering of light on the door when people approach, but I think it’s actually a nice item to give to teenage girls and maybe your design-minded friend who likes a bit of whimsy in their home. There’s no connectivity to speak of, but it certainly has tech inside, so I’m including it. If you feel like this is familiar it’s because I profiled the trend in non-connected “smart gadgets” two weeks ago. This doorknob is designed for indoor use and is a substantial piece of hardware. The designer thinks the battery powering the light inside the knob should last about a year, but we’ll see. —Stacey Higginbotham

Helium Hotspot, $ 495: OK, this one isn’t for your casual smart home geek, but I always like to put something on the list for the developer or production engineer trying to play with IoT in their work world. Helium is a company trying to build a decentralized peer-to-peer network for the IoT by convincing people and businesses to put hotspots in their homes and workplaces. It does this with a cryptocurrency that offers an incentive to share the network but also acts as a certification tool that will ensure the device works on the Helium network. For those interested in the concept, or who just want to play around with alternative forms of connectivity, snag a Helium hotspot and see what happens. Or for $ 99.95 give them a secure MCU that works with the cloud-based Azure Sphere service. —Stacey Higginbotham

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Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

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