In my last gift guide, I did a themed roundup of the best HomeKit gear to deck out your home this holiday season. This post is about my personal favorite items and accessories across all of iOS and Mac ecosystems, most of these products I use every day for work and for fun. My picks include the Gorillapod tripod, the Philips Hue HomeKit lights, Rock Jaw earbuds, MH30 earphones, MarsBox Bluetooth speaker, the latest Apple TV, an MFI game controller, some Elgato smart home gear and an iPad Pro. I love technology but I consciously refrain from buying too much stuff and have a relatively slim personal gadget portfolio, so these products are carefully chosen.
Read on after the break to see why I selected these ten items specifically …
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I have varied my picks but ultimately they revolve around my interests and things that enhance iPhone and iOS features. This incorporates several audio picks, some smart home accessories and more. The first product helps you take dramatically better photos. The iPhone camera is great, but coupled with a flexible stand, you can open a whole new world of possible shots and vantage points.
Do you ever find yourself using your iPhone to record a scene and need an extra pair of hands? This is where the Gorillapod comes in ($28.37). It’s a malleable tripod that can be configured to stand on tables, desks, windows and much more. Each of the three arms is independently articulated which makes it significantly more flexible and adaptable than most. The iPhone 6s camera is great in good lighting but still struggles in dusk or otherwise-dark scenes. A Gorillapod improves the quality of night photos substantially: the stabilization allows the phone to take longer ISO exposure shots without blurriness due to the lessened camera shake.
HomeKit lights are slowly becoming more common, but remain somewhat pricey. Their novelty means they make great gifts. The leading choice for iOS smart home lights is the Philips Hue range. Philips’ ecosystem gives you a bunch of bulb options: standard lumen white, multicoloured lights, strip lights, mood lights and more. Setup of the lights is reasonable simple — it’s mostly plug and play. Setting up all your HomeKit room modes is more annoying but once setup is over, you get a lot of fun stuff to play about with. Using services like IFTTT, you can have your lights respond to incoming notifications or automatically dim as the day turns to night. The best party trick? Siri. Asking your phone to turn the lights blue and instantly watching the walls wash with cyan tones is an experience that never gets old. You can pick up a Philips Hue bridge with 3 lights for $199.
I’ve become more invested in music gear across 2015 which has affected what devices I use to enjoy music. The Rock Jaw Alfa Genus Headphones ($49.90) are my new daily drivers. I picked this up earlier in the year and love them to pieces. It’s as simple as this: they are great sounding earbuds. Earbuds are great because they are small and lightweight — you can chuck them in a bag or pocket and get on with your day. The Rock Jaw’s are understated, modern and inexpensive. The gimmick is that these come with three interchangeable tuning filters. You can swap them out for more bass, more treble or neutral sound profile. They also come with four ear cup sizes and a leather carrying pouch. That being said, I found that I ended up choosing one filter and sticking to it. You don’t need to mess about and select the tuning filters that harmonize with what you are listening to. They sound great without any of that fussiness. Read my full review of the Rock Jaw Alfa Genus earbuds from earlier in the year for more information.
The Rock Jaws are perfect for people looking for replacement EarPods with better sound reproduction. For music enthusiasts, you will always get better sound with full size cans. My pick here is the Master and Dynamic MH30 headphones ($329). I think its hard to describe headphone sound in writing but rest assured these are fantastic with subtle mids, heavy bass where appropriate and strong treble. The music experience is engrossing, you feel like you have left the world when you put these on as they have some natural noise cancelling. They go very loud without distorting. Let’s be honest — headphones are as much about aesthetics as audio quality nowadays and this pair does not disappoint in that area. They are beautiful in the Gunmetal black finish, featuring aluminium housing and a leather band. Even the packaging box for these headphones feels incredibly premium. They are very premium and justify their $329 price point if you are looking for quality full-sized headphones.
Closing out my gift picks for music/audio is the obligatory Bluetooth speaker recommendation. Whilst at home I rely on AirPort Express AirPlay connections for stationary speakers, it’s also handy to have a portable speaker that can move around and travel. 9to5Mac’s roundup from earlier in the year chose the UE Mini, so check that out for a second opinion. My personal favorite is the Inateck Marsbox ($42.99). It’s housed in plasticky rubber and is very resilient to bangs and knocks. Sound is good with strong bass. Appearance-wise, it employs a funky slanted design that could appeal to children, teenagers and adults. It’s well suited for the family room enabling a shared communal music experience. Battery life is solid — it will last two days on a single charge.
The new fourth generation Apple TV has flaws, but I love it enough to warrant inclusion on my best picks list. Especially if you never owned an Apple TV before, the fourth generation box is a great device with access to iTunes movies and TV shows via Siri, Netflix, HBO Now and many other services. As I live in the UK, I use Apple TV in conjunction with a Now TV Entertainment Pass subscription to supplant my cable box: I get 13 premium live channels as well as catchup video on demand. The new Apple TV Siri Remote touchpad is a cool new way to browse content and media — tapping an arrow key five times to move across the screen feels archaic after using the touchpad. I also enjoy using the Apple TV for some casual games — check out my best apps and games roundup from earlier in the year. This leads nicely into my next production recommendation …
MFI Game controllers have universal appeal for anyone with an iOS device or Apple TV. The SteelSeries Stratus ($69.99) is my pick as the best of the bunch. MFI controllers let you play a selection of great iOS games with a real physical gamepad emulating traditional games consoles. You get tactile feedback because you are using real clickable buttons and your fingers no longer obscure the screen content, so you can become more immersed in the game. On Apple TV, pairing a game controller will actually change up game mechanics to add more depth to titles. For example, with the Siri Remote, Rayman Legends is an autoscrolling jump game. With an MFI controller like the Stratus, the game transforms into a fully-fledged platformer. Cool stuff.
The Elgato Eve Room is both boring and cool. It’s a cool gift idea ($78) for four reasons: it’s inexpensive, you are unlikely to already own it, it has genuine utility and who can ignore the novelty of an iPhone-controlled thermometer. The Eve Room uses a variety of sensors to measure temperature, humidity and air quality data every ten minutes. You can check these readings using the iPhone app. This has replaced my living room sensor because it is very practical and it is hard to find standard sensors that include air quality readings, let alone ones that work with iOS. The Eve Room also fully integrates with HomeKit so you can ask Siri what the temperature is at home and she’ll diligently read it back to you.
You could argue the Eve Room is a boring gift. I think it’s cool, even as a stocking stuffer, but Elgato sells another product that is more ‘fun’. It’s an iPhone-controlled moodlight called the Avea Flare ($94.09). Sadly, it isn’t compatible with HomeKit — instead using Bluetooth combined with the Avea’s proprietary iPhone and Apple Watch apps as controllers. You can choose from ten solid colors and a handful of preset moods: like the starry blues of the Northern Lights or the red/yellow tones of a hot fire. ‘Candyland’ mode is perfect for parties — it rotates between every color in the rainbow in quick succession. Buy two Flares and they will both change color in unison. Christmas is a great excuse to pick up fun home accessories like this one.
And finally, I have to mention the iPad Pro (from $799). This has some uses for work but for me, I bought it primarily as an entertainment device. A multitouch 12.9″ screen is as fun as it sounds for gaming, browsing the web and watching videos. The screen is crisper and more beautiful than any other Apple display I own (including the one on my 15″ Retina MacBook Pro) — I can’t put it in words, it just is nicer. Doing some sketching with Apple Pencil unlocks a whole new avenue of potential too, even though I’m not a great artist. If you know someone who has an iPad Pro, pick up a Pencil for Christmas and it will make their day. Even standalone, the iPad Pro is the best toy ever which makes it my top, albeit expensive, 2015 gift. We’ve spoken about the iPad Pro at length on the Happy Hour podcast and in 9to5 reviews, so check our previous coverage if you want more details.
2015 has been a pretty good year for tech, with some cool hardware announcements from Apple as well as new stuff from the accessory ecosystem. Check out our other gift guides for more picks in iPhone, iPad, Mac, photography, entertainment, audio, hot tech, stocking stuffers, and HomeKit. Happy Holidays!
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