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The surprise hit from the House That Mario Built is rolling strong in its second year. Yes, it works as both a TV console and a portable game tablet, but most importantly, it reminds us of how much fun co-op, same-room gaming can be, thanks to four-way games like Mario Kart 8 and Overcooked.
For anyone just getting into Xbox or looking to upgrade, the highest-end version of that console handles 4K and HDR content like a champ, and some internal hardware updates mean some (but not all) games will look even better on the latest model. Of all the game consoles, the Xbox One is also the most universally useful as both a media streamer and an entertainment hub.
The upgraded PS4 has 4K and HDR, so it makes a great gift for anyone with a fancy new TV. Some games get better graphics, but the most interesting upgrade may be better PSVR virtual-reality performance.
The basic 9.7-inch iPad is the right choice for almost anyone who wants a tablet. The price is right at $329, the latest specs are excellent, and Apple has finally added support for the Apple Pencil stylus.
Kano takes the popular DIY Raspberry Pi computer and uses it as the brains for this build-a-tablet kit for kids. The goal is to learn not only how to assemble parts, including circuit boards and wires, into a working gadget, but also basic coding for creating custom games, art and music. Usually $279, it's between $199 and $229 right now. (Or for around $100, you can try the Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit, which makes a programmable wand.)
It's the dream of every still-a-kid grownup in the world: your very own arcade cabinet. But high prices and that huge footprint mean most of us will never own one. These $350 half-size custom cabinets take up a lot less space, but still have that arcade feel, plus each one houses multiple games in a great-looking retro box.
Hyperice calls its Hypervolt "a cordless state-of-the-art vibration massage device that helps relax sore and stiff muscles to improve mobility." It has its competitors, including the Theragun and DYI versions that are based on a jigsaw design. But the Hypervolt is arguably the best massage gun at this price point, partially because it's relatively quiet.
With three different vibration speeds, it's shockingly powerful (top speed is 3200 percussions per minute) and it's great for breaking down lactic acid and loosening up sure muscles -- or just warming them up.
You get four head attachments and up to 3 hours of battery life from the built-in rechargeable battery. While it may seem expensive at $349, it's definitely a well-designed therapeutic device that's not just for serious athletes.
If you think 3D printing is too hard, or too expensive, to get into, this $400 model may be the perfect middle ground. It's a step above most entry-level machines in both features and price, and the setup was amazingly easy. Extras like a totally enclosed print bed, touchscreen commands and Wi-Fi make this an easy way to get into a fun, creative new hobby.
Electronic interfaces for music-making are nothing new, but most are in the shape of traditional keyboards, or else a box of pads for playing samples and programming beats. The clever, unusual Instrument 1 from Artiphon ($399) has a more guitar-like feel, down to frets and simulated strings.
You won't mistake it for a real guitar -- the neck is way too wide, and the digital on-off nature of MIDI controllers means string-muting and other analog-style flourishes don't translate. But it's awesome for Eddie-Van-Halen-style tapping. It'll take more than the week I've played with it to master, but so far I'm digging using a guitar fretboard to play dirty '70s electric piano chords.
Tired of your kids hogging your computer to watch YouTube videos? Maybe it's time you had them build their own computer.
Geared toward kids 8 years old and over, the Piper Computer Kit (normally $299) includes a self-contained computer running on Raspberry Pi 3 Project Board with 1GB RAM, a 1.2GHz quad-core CPU and Wi-Fi. After your child puts it together, they can then solve puzzles in the Raspberry Pi edition of Minecraft and get an introduction to coding.
This fist-sized little robot ($175) has got the cute personality part down, and he can also answer questions, Alexa-style, while shooting photos, learning people's faces and playing with his little plastic cube. I was concerned that it's a bit on the slow side to respond to voice commands, but I play tested it with several under-10 kids, and they absolutely loved it.
Update, Dec. 14: Anki now says official Amazon Alexa integration is coming to the Vector on Dec. 17.
Bose's new Alexa-enabled Home Speaker 500 is fairly pricey at $399, but it sounds great for its size, with deep bass, clear sound, and a wide soundstage. This multiroom speaker sounds better than Apple's HomePod and should go better over time as it adds other voice assistants as well as AirPlay 2 in the future.
A classic-looking (and classy looking) leather bag that can fit almost any laptop, or a lot else. The roll top, which folds over the front, keeps water out and your gadgets safe, while the padded shoulder strap puts lesser bags to shame. Yes, it's pricey for a bag at nearly $400, but it's hand made and comes with a 25-year warranty.
Not everyone needs a thousand-dollar iPhone. In fact, the iPhone 7, once the flagship of this popular line, is now the only "old school" phone Apple sells, and for a very reasonable $449 for the 4.7-inch version. If you know someone who wants an iPhone but hates the "notch," this is the only game in town.
Apple's $349 home audio device is more speaker than smart, but Siri can definitely tell you the weather or play songs from Apple Music on request. It's easily the best-sounding single smart speaker, and a pair of them can make a great stereo setup for even big rooms.
Laptops aren't known for their amazing sound, and frankly, most external PC speaker sets aren't that great, either. This amazing $499 2.1 set from Razer, with a huge trash-can-size subwoofer and two midrange/tweeter speaker, is bold, powerful and sounds great. And, like most Razer gear, it lights up in all sorts of custom color combinations.
Just the best-looking cheap TV you can get right now. The built-in smart apps are nothing to write home about, but with full-array local dimming and support for both 4K and HDR content, it's a steal at $700 for the 65-inch model.
Your other very giftable budget TV option. This sub-$300 TCL doesn't match Vizio in image quality, but it's still very good, and the built-in Roku software is the absolute best for streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu.
The $500 Swagtron EB-5 is both a pedal-assisted and fully powered folding electric bicycle, just in case you want every possible feature in a single package. Hitting a max of 15 mph, this one is designed for the commuter with a small living space, not speedsters.
This is just a little larger than your average portable backup battery. But that's because it can not only power USB and USB-C gadgets, but it also has a standard 120-volt three-prong plug for your TV, game console, hair dryer, whatever, thanks to a massive 40,300-mAh battery inside. Gift givers should keep in mind, you can preorder this for your favorite road warrior now, for $349, but it doesn't ship until January (we tested an early sample unit).
The Swagtron Swagger Elite is a nice alternative for short commutes. The scooter supports up to 320 pounds and can be fully charged in just a few hours. Swagtron says it's good for 11 miles on a full charge and a top speed of 15 mph, though that depends on the rider's weight and other conditions. The scooter folds down for easy transportation and weights about 26 pounds. It ships with a phone and cup holder, has front and rear lights for evening rides and has an iOS and Android app.
The $389 iStorage Diskashur Pro 2 is an external solid state hard drive that can be password protected -- and it ramps up the security with an alphanumeric keypad.
Features like AES-XTS 256-bit full disk hardware encryption make it a great gift for those who want to protect financial, medical or pretty much any personal information. Data transfers are fast, thanks to USB 3.1.
There's even an optional self-destruct feature that wipes the drive if the incorrect password is entered too many times. The DiskAshur is pretty durable -- it's IP56 rated for dust and water resistance -- and the enclosure makes it almost impossible to physically remove the drive without damaging it. This particular one is the 2TB, but models range from 128GB to 4TB and come in four colors: Phantom Black, Fiery Red, Racing Green and Ocean Blue.
The Ergo LeanRite Elite standing chair lets you sit, perch or lean as you're working. Great for those who are already using a standing desk, it gives you the added support you might need when trying not to sit all day.
It's made from durable lightweight aircraft aluminum and can accommodate people of various heights and weights.
On the base of the standing chair are two wheels that make it easy to move around. For an additional $39 there's a massage attachment that can be attached to the seat back.
This one tips slightly over the $500 budget, but at $529 it's a great choice for those who plan to get fitter in 2019.