UPDATE: 11/12/17 - We're adding more as often as we can to this list, keep checking back!
DECK THE OFFICE with cardboard boxes, it's time to roll out the annual festival of loveliness that is the INQUIRER gift guide. Everything from hardcore gaming to things we think you might like but aren't strictly tech will be appearing the coming weeks with new additions every day, so bookmark and come back.
Today we're launching with things that you might want to grab now, either because of timing or because you'll want them for yourself. As we roll out more, we'll start to break it down into categories, but here's your first lot.
Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar
Chocolate is so 2016. Along with many other companies, Lego is jumping on the "alternative advent" bandwagon, with a calendar that builds up day-by-day into a scene from Star Wars, along with weapons, props and other cool stuff, including 7 mini-figures. The crafts aren't to scale with the rest of your Lego (or the mini-figures) but they're standard Lego pieces so you can use them to make something awesome.
Bit of advance warning required for this - why not make your own case? Casestation makes cases for many of the big brands - Apple, Samsung, Google Pixel, LG and Huawei and even does straps for the latest Apple Watch. Just pick a photo or even photos, upload them, use the online designer to do any editing and bosh - its printed and sent very quickly. You can choose between the Snap and Tough cases (the Tough is ridiculously strong).
Choosey AR greetings cards
Just when you thought it was safe to stop sending Christmas cards, Choosey makes it cool again. It's a pretty simple concept. You get a regular, funky greetings card, but when you view it using the app (for iOS and Android) it adds a whole new dimension and it's seriously cute. Upload a video of yourself, your family, the dog or whatever to add a personal video message to your scrawlings. It makes a lot of sense and is a heck of a lot nicer than a round-robin email about little Ipecac's clarinet lessons.
Lemon California Roll speaker
Amongst the many speakers that pass through these hallowed offices, there's not many that are as fully featured as the California Roll. First of all, it's solar powered, which instantly makes it appealing for camping trips and the like. Second of all, it can charge up to three phones. So ditto. Third of all, it's got enough drum-thwack to disturb the cows in the next field. You can connect two together for a bigger sound, and have multiple Bluetooth connections to take turns at picking the tunes. Oh, and it's IPX7 waterproof and shockproof. In short, it's pretty much the whole damn package.
Sphero Star Wars Droids
We all went bonkers over BB-8 in 2015, and he's now been joined by two pals. R2-D2 and newcomer Imperial droid BB-9E. The sheer amount of joy we've had with these little guys is huge. Apart from being able to control them with your phone, program them using the newly unified app for all Sphero Star Wars toys, make them come to you with the (optional) Force Band accessory and (let's prioritise here) terrify pets, you can also set them down while watching the Star Wars films (currently, IV, VII and Rogue One but with more to come) and they'll interact with the film, scurrying around and bleeping as you watch.
In terms of play value, they're perfect for kids, and in terms of cool value, they are perfect for adults. In fact, even a non-Star Wars fan would probably get a kick out of them.
They're already coming down in price - originally they would have set you back about £500 for the set, but we're starting to see them as low as £110 now, and they really are worth every penny. In fact, they're the droids you're looking for. (Sorry)
Even E1 headphones
The Even E1 in-ear headphones is the latest product to promise sound that's customised for your ears and INQ can confirm - it really works. The earphones make use of EarPrint technology, which customises each and every sound to your unique hearing profile. Pop them in your ears for the first time and you'll be rushed through a quick and easy hearing test that tunes music to fit your hearing. This extra tech does mean the earphones are quite weighty, but they do feature a cool two-tone design to easily differentiate left from right and - praise the lord - tangle-resistant, lightweight nylon cords.
Star Wars beanie hats
You're never fully dressed without a Hoxton Bonnet. Fortunately, Yellow Bulldog is on hand with a range of licenced Christmas jumpers and beanies to keep you snug as a bug in the festive season. We've been testing out the Boba Fett beanie and the At-At, and they are warm as toast with some lovely tooling on the fold. There's also designs from the likes of Marvel, Doctor Who, Pokemon - you know - the usual suspects.
STM Banks rucksack
One thing that we tech writers get given a lot is rucksacks. It's pretty standard practice to be given one as soon as you rock up to cover a trade event. But they're nothing like this. STM is an Australian make and in five words? They. Are. Built. To. Last. The Banks has been to four continents with us this year and it still looks like new. The stitching is lush, and more importantly, even when its full, it feels incredibly comfortable to wear. There's more though - amongst the many compartments, there's a place to store your phone battery pack, and clips to wire in so you can put your phone straight on charge from the bag. There's a separate pencil case type affair for your loose bits and a padded section for your laptop which is so sturdy, we've not needed a case or sleeve, just sling it in and go.
There's other in the range at different price points, but we just adore this one. They're not the cheapest, but they're also probably the last rucksack you'll ever need.
Eve V 2-in-1 laptop
It would be wrong not to mention one of our favourite products of the year. The first flash sale for what can now safely be called a "Surface Killer" is next week and you need to be there. 75,000 people are signed up for a few thousand machines from the first batch. And they won't be disappointed because it's a thing of beauty. You can read our full review here.
Twinkly Smart Christmas lights
There are smart Christmas lights because, well, of course, there are. These come with an Android or iOS app that allows you to create a whole bunch of different effects - not just twinkles and chases, but actual images like flags and so on - the does mean you have to be quite precise about how you put them on the tree, but the result, if you've got the patience is ruddy spectacular.
Electric Jukebox Roxi
You may recall Electric Jukebox Mark One - a simple way of getting streaming music on your TV, ideal for all those people that can't be doing with Spotify subscriptions - you pay one price and you're sorted for the year. Bosh.
It's successor (and first US product) builds on that idea - it's not aimed at us nerds. It's aimed at the family. The Wii-style remote doesn't just offer access to millions of songs and playlists curated by celebrity experts, but now it offers games (we're hooked on spotting the tune from the intro), yoga/meditation noises and the big one - karaoke.
The first ED had a great microphone and speech control. This uses it with bells on. A choice of songs from loads of eras and styles, and big whack of reverb for you to sing along to. The whole thing is designed around making music and the tv back into a communal experience but as the main event, not a sideshow to Call of Duty or whatever it may be. And it delivers in spades.
£200 sounds like a lot, But that's all you pay, then you can choose an ad-supported service or pay £52 for another year of ad-free bliss.
Something quite unique from the other part of Motorola - the not-phones part. The spherical speaker pumps out some quite spectacular sounds for a speaker of its size, using either Bluetooth 4.1 or an external 3.5mm jack. This would be pleasing on its own - it produces some room-filling sounds from something about the size of your head.
But it also holds a secret. The "head" is "wearing a pair of IP54 rated wireless headphones. Take them off the Sphere and the sound switches to the headphones - put them back, they go back on charge. There's a hands-free option for calls and up ot 20 hours playback.
It won't please the audiophiles, but for most of us, the sound quality will be more than we could ever hope for. We've got one perched on the desk, and it's the perfect combination for that.
An Indiegogo graduate (which means its guaranteed to ship), Damson offer some stunning headphones at sensible prices. These active noise cancelling phones have XD sound. This works by getting rid of the hiss caused by cancellation, meaning you get the quality of sound you'd expect from a £350 pair of phones, without the compromise. They're really comfortable and come complete with a full complement of controls on the phones themselves.
Damson is a UK company and they've come up with a pair of folding wireless headphones that belie their price point. Yes. They really are just over a hundred quid. Not 400. 100.
Flexound Humu Pillow
Why have we put a pillow in the audio section? With good reason. This is no ordinary pillow. It's not even a pillow with a speaker in it. That's been done. This is a pillow that allows you to not only hear the music but feel it too. That's right. It vibrates.
This Finnish product could so easily have been a gimmick, but using advice from medical and audio experts, Flexound represents not just a pillow but a whole ecosystem of products that can be made to resonate with audio. Humu is just the beginning.
And it's comfortable too - it sort of feels like a luxurious car seat and when you're listening to (and feeling) your music, it supports your neck in an unexpectedly comfortable way.
The best way to enjoy it we've found is to sync it to your TV, sit back and watch a movie. You'll feel the explosions and hear every word. Love it.
Itek Bluetooth Jukebox with CD Player and Radio
We didn't really expect too much from this, audio-wise, but we fell for its looks and here it is. But we're pleasantly surprised. Listening to the radio doesn't sound half bad, and music - well it's not stunning but it defies its price. But we love its looks. We love its flashing lights. We love it for what it is and if we got it as a gift, we'd be chuffed to bits. Great for a bedroom, a kitchen or in the lounge - even if just as an ornament.
Orbitsound One P70W
We're going to talk a lot more about Orbitsound in the new year, but for now we thought we'd let you know about its latest soundbar, an upgraded version of the P70 that adds wireless for the first time. Multiroom support comes from an existing ecosystem that includes the new Kitsound Alexa device (below) so you're not buying into something completely alien.
There's lots of common sense in the P70W - it can sit flat or be on its side, the system compensates for that, and you can even make sure the logo is facing the right direction when you do it. Little things matter.
Unlike other speaker manufacturers, the proprietary Airsound system means you don't get phase delay, but rather a full stereo experience from a single box wherever you are in a room. It also has Bluetooth, Optical and 3.5mm jack inputs. We wish it had HDMI ARC, but that's just us, it's still great.
Skullcandy Hesh 3
Skullcandy sent us a whole bunch of headphones and earbuds to review and they all have their charms, but the recently released Hesh 3s knocked our socks off. Not least of all because they can carry a 22 hour charge, so that round the world flight? Sorted.
Plus even if you get stuck, a 10 minute charge buys you another 4 hours of playback - and that's on Bluetooth. Plug in the cable for even more.
They completely cover the ear for passive noise isolation, but then are hinged so they fold down.
They have a stark, sleek design in a variety of colours, and they look a lot pricier than they are. Which is often what you want.
We've always had a soft spot for Skullcandy, and it's great to see their current offerings are well above par.
Master and Dynamic MW60
Tightwads, look away now. These are the beasts. This New York based company is all about high-end audio and you certainly won't find them in Dixons.
Lavishly tooled leather, lambskin memory foam earpads (sorry vegans), silent movement as they fold, luxurious feel on the ear, the MW60s are cocoons for your ears. As you'd expect the Bluetooth is aptX CSR profiled (that means its very good) or you can go with wired. They fold away easily too. One thing that bugs us though is the sheer weight of their quality, we found a bit much. It's like, OK - they're good quality - make em lighter already.
But they sound immense. Not the best sound here, but up with the best of them. And when they talk about getting decades of use, you know they want these to be the last pair of headphones you'll buy. At this price, you'd ruddy hope so. They're absolutely gorgeous. Maybe almost too good to be practical.
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