Wireless is the word this holiday season. Here are some of the hottest new products for streaming, remote controlling, connecting and getting your Bluetooth on for the tech geek on your gift list.
Speakers of the House
Give the music lover on your list something to sing about with Sonos. This versatile wireless streaming speaker system, controlled by a simple app for MAC/PC, smartphone or tablet, allows you to play music in every room you have a speaker. Play the same song, or a different song, from your music library or any podcast, Internet radio station or service like Pandora or I Heart Radio. Give a Sonos PLAY: 1 Gift Pack ($199, including Sonos Bridge, http://www.sonos.com) compact speaker as a starter, which delivers powerful HiFi sound all by itself; or a pair it with a second speaker for truly rich stereo sound; or build it out year by year into an immersive multi-room set up that will rock the house.
For the frequent traveler on your list, keep them connected with Kanex mySpot ($49, http://www.kanexlive.com) a travel-sized access point that can turn a hotel live Ethernet connection into a wireless-g signal. Plug mySpot’s USB cable into your laptop or charger for power, and with a click you can safely and securely connect all your wireless devices to your own personal wireless network.
Lots of Hub Hub
Keep the plugged-in addict on your list powered up and connected on the go with the IOGEAR Wireless MediaShair Hub ($99.95, http://www.iogear.com). The paperback book-sized device charges up – using USB or included cigarette lighter charger — and then serves as a hub for media storage devices to stream music, movies, photos and files to up to seven Wi-Fi enabled devices. The hub doubles as an access point when connected to an Ethernet cable. Equipped to stream from a SD card, flash drive or external hard drive using a USB connection, the hub’s built in power station battery can charge other devices and lasts for up to five hours.
Three’s a Charm
The thrice-as-nice-as-the-original-Roku, Roku3 ($99, http://www.roku.com), raises binge TV watching to new heights. For the show monger on your list who can’t get enough streaming video, this amazing and diverse palm-sized powerhouse delivers Netflix, HBO GO, VUDU Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and over 1000 other free and subscription services to any HDTV. The simple hook up includes an HDMI connection to your TV and a wireless connection to your home network. The sleek remote control handset comes with Roku’s signature purple earbuds for personal listening – ideal for late night viewing that won’t wake the rest of the house. The improved and easy- and fun-to-use interface includes a one-stop search across multiple channels, so you can comparison shop those episodes of Breaking Bad or Downton Abbey.
For the Helicopter Parent (and Kids)
It’s been said the difference between men and boys is the size of their toys, but the MOTO TC and the HELO TC by Griffin Technology proves size doesn’t matter. Designed for users age 14 and up, and coveted by men (and of course women and girls) of all ages, the toy remote touch control monster truck and helicopter utilize free apps for IOS devices for control. Powered by a 4.8 V @ 600mAh NI-MH fuel cell, the Tonka-sized truck can slide, tilt and track with a virtual steering wheel and throttle or perform figure eights and laps. The twin-rotored HELO TC indoor helicopter app can record up to three flight plans and use a touch control throttle and joystick or tilt-and-steer control to move the helicopter forward, back and side to side. HELO TC’s built-in battery recharges from any USB power source. The Flight Deck module requires 4 AAA batteries. (HELO TC $49.99, MOTO TC $59.99, www.griffintechnology.com and retailers nationwide).
When my son had a play date recently at the home of one of his BFFs, the boy’s Perfect Mom (svelte figure, always beautifully dressed, finds time for yoga, baking and a career) gave me the five-cent tour of her new Apple TV. In seconds, Perfect Mom cued up the latest kids’ movie, “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” I was pretty impressed. But that was before I discovered Roku.
I plugged in my new Roku 2 XS, and followed the prompts to connect it wirelessly to my home wi-fi. It was simple. With my laptop on my rec room coffee table, I had my own customized suite of streaming services up and running within minutes. Unbelievably easy. I had Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and dozens of other channels at my fingertips.
While there is plenty of free content among the 600+ channels of movies and shows Roku offers, most premium services, like Netflix, cost about $7.99 per month for unlimited streaming. No cut to Roku, but the Netflix selection is not everything you can get from Netflix by mail; and I learned the hard way when I tried to resume a movie several days after starting it that movies come and go from the line-up without warning. Of course if you want the latest releases, you can get them on other services, such as Amazon Instant Video.
New release on-demand movies and shows are priced midway between the cost of renting from a video store – if you can find one – and buying the video to own. With most of the services you get the option for one-time viewing for a limited timeframe, such as 24 hours or three days for $3.99, or you can “buy” the video for unlimited viewing for around $12.99.
The hardware for Roku 2 XS is as amazing simple as the set up. The set-top box is palm size, even smaller than Apple TV. The Roku 2 XS remote is a cross between a simplified TV remote and a Wi game remote, with a wrist strap for those who get sweaty palms surfing through all the programming, dancing to music on Pandora or playing Angry Birds, which is free with the Roku 2 XS. Though I still can’t get into the idea of watching movies and shows on a tiny hand-held screen, there are also free aps available for streaming on your mobile device.
Roku is general is pretty cool. Not just the technology, but the company and its attitude. You get a sense that Roku is run by some fun-loving folks from the tone of first email you receive as a new user, “Welcome to Roku – your new best friend.” To their credit, Roku allows freedom of expression on their blog comments, even when the commenters are ranting disgruntled customers. I didn’t see a lot of interaction with the commenters, but I can only hope their customer service people are all over the reported problems and issues.
As for me, I have no complaints. In fact, when I ran into Perfect Mom the other day and began raving about my new best friend, my five-year-old chimed in, “Why do you always talk about Roku?”
Guess my enthusiasm is showing. And this time I think Perfect Mom was impressed with me.
Roku 2 XS retails for $99.99 on Roku.com and major retailers nationwide including Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Target.