All I want for Christmas is: top 5 tech gifts for Crimbo 2015 that won’t break the bank

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 9:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 December, 2015, 10:58am

By the end of the holiday season, you may end up with two piles of gifts: Those that are interesting until the novelty factor wears off, and those that can actually make your life better. New technology, if chosen carefully, tends to fit in the second category.

We have picked five holiday gifts that are fun, practical and easy to use. They all have that wow-factor to merit their place in any self-respecting Christmas stocking.

Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard: affordable virtual reality headsets

By putting a screen very close to your eyes, virtual reality devices create the illusion that you are in a different world. Games and movies will no longer be the same. Technology giants such as Facebook, HTC and Microsoft are getting ready to release their virtual reality products, but they are not likely to hit the shelves in time for this Christmas.

A cheaper and simpler headset like the Samsung Gear VR lets you peek into the future while having some serious fun.

The Gear VR adopts technology from Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, the biggest name in virtual reality. It uses a Samsung smartphone as its screen and has control buttons at the rear of the device.

The biggest problem with virtual reality technology right now is content. Samsung has built a library of more than 150 titles of apps and games, including those available on Netflix.

Watching movies on a virtual cinema alone may justify its price of US$115. Premium-priced Samsung smartphone are required, but are sold separately.

For those on a tighter budget, consider snapping up one of Google’s cardboard headsets.

Parrot Rolling Spider: a drone designed for family fun

Drones have dropped onto the public radar in a big way this year but they are still mainly for hobbyist photographers and amateur filmmakers. But leading models like Shenzhen-based DJI’s Phantom series and 3DR Solo are still too expensive for many users, at least in China.

In light of its price and performance specs, the Parrot rolling spider is a good choice for Christmas. The four-propeller drone is as big as your palm and is controlled by a smartphone via Bluetooth.

It can fly as fast as 18km/h and can do acrobatic moves such as a 180-degree or 360-degree flip. It comes with two wheels that are bigger than the drone itself. These add more protection as well as more tricks such as allowing it “walk” up walls.

One drawback is that the battery only lasts eight minutes. To ensure the whole family gets to play, consider investing in an extra battery and/or a charger.

It retails in Hong Kong for HK$778.

Xiaomi No 9 Self-Balancing Scooter: an affordable hoverboard

Nowadays it is easy to spot people gliding along on two-wheeled motorised scooters on running trails or playgrounds in Hong Kong. These self-balancing devices caught on thanks to their cool design and relatively cheap prices.

The problem is that there are too many copycats in the market.

A hoverboard with a similar design makes a nice alternative given that they start from as little as HK$1,500 - up to HK$7,000 - and there is less risk involved in buying from an established brand like China’s Xiaomi. Xiaomi has invested in Ninebot, which bought US rival Segway in April.

The company’s No 9 Self-Balancing Scooter costs 2,000 yuan (HK$2,400) on the mainland. It can travel at speeds of up to 16km/h and cover 22km on a single charge. It has not yet been officially released in Hong Kong, but many stores are still selling it for a slightly more expensive price.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4: a tablet and laptop hybrid

The Surface Pro deserves a category of its own: tablet-laptop hybrid.

As a tablet, it is light and thin with a 12-inch touchscreen and one of the most accurate styluses in the market. Meanwhile, it offers the computing power and OS of a decent laptop so it has no problems with programmes such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop.

It should make a great gift for students who need to take note and read PDFs. It is also a production workhorse capable of putting smiles on the faces of office workers sick of their hernia-inducing laptops.

The Surface Pro 4 costs from HK$6,988 to HK$10,288 depending on the spec. This is not a cheap computer. Its detachable keyboard, which also functions as a cover, costs another HK$1,048.

If you are not a big fan of Windows then maybe consider Apple’s iPad Pro. Just don’t expect a full laptop experience.

Apple watch: count down to convenience and fun

There are now many wearables on the market and some are very distinguished. Wearables are great for two things: monitoring health pushing notifications.

Premium wristbands that only serve the first function cost around HK$2,000. Spending another HK$1,000 to get a smart watch may be a better choice, especially as this gives you the full package.

The Apple watch is well-designed and highly customisable. As an Apple product, it integrates with iPhones quickly and easily. It also has a wide range of apps.

However, as the device is  fairly new it is not problem-free. It suffers from poor interface design and slow performance with some apps, but it is still arguably the best of the bunch.

Android lovers may prefer the Moto 360 or Samsung Gear S2.