While walking down the aisles of your local big box retailer you spot something awesome for a loved one. But then you remember that family member, friend or co-worker is more tech-shy than tech-savvy.
“Will they appreciate this gift?” you ask yourself. “Or worse, will it become a source of frustration?”
To err on the side of caution, you put it back and move on.
It’s true many of today’s tech toys come with a steep learning curve, perhaps due to a complicated setup or a not-so-intuitive interface.
But if you’re looking to pick up something for those intimidated by the latest gadgets – yes, you too could fit that description – here’s five suggestions that are super simple to use or low-tech enough to be undaunting.
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Facebook’s friendly Portal
Keep in touch with kids, grandkids and friends, with Portal from Facebook ($179), a 10-inch high-definition display, with camera, that lets you make free video calls over Facebook Messenger (and group calls, too) or via WhatsApp.
Simply join Portal to your Wi-Fi, log into your Facebook account, and then place a video call by tapping a Facebook friend’s icon on the screen or say “Hey Portal, call (contact).” Not only does the screen adapt to any room’s lighting condition automatically, but its Smart Camera pans and zooms to follow your movements, so you’ll always be in frame. Smart Sound, on the other hand, enhances the voice of whomever is talking, while minimizing background noise.
Portal can display Facebook and Instagram photos, as well as images on your smartphone (you cannot an optional Portal app). Plus there’s a built-in Alexa smart assistant to answer questions, a privacy switch to turn off the camera and mic (when desired), and fun augmented reality effects to spice up calls.
A lean, capable laptop
Someone on your list need a simple-to-use computer that won’t break the bank? On sale for $329.99 at Amazon, the ASUS Chromebook C425 is a 14-inch clamshell laptop (squeezed into a 13-inch body) and features an Intel Core m3 processor, 8 Gigabytes of system memory (RAM), and 64 GB of storage (but includes an additional 100 GB of free Google cloud storage for a year).
Running the lean and secure Chrome OS operating system, this laptop has popular Google apps already preinstalled, including Gmail and Google Maps, plus there’s access to the Google Play store to download additional apps and games.
Other features include a Full HD nano-edge display (with very little bezel), backlit keyboard, USB Type-C and Type-A ports, and free Amazon tech support included with purchase.
Manage your memories
One of the smartest tech products of 2019 centralizes all your digital photos and videos, and keeps them all in one place.
Whether you capture and save photos on a smartphone, iPad, or computer, SanDisk’s ibi ($109) is a small, white and cylindrical gadget that joins your Wi-Fi network, and automatically aggregates and organizes your photos and videos – wherever they’re stored – and houses them on its 1 Terabyte hard drive. It also pulls images from many cloud storage and social media accounts.
An app for your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop lets you easily find what you’re looking for and, if you like, lets you privately share individual images and entire albums.
You can also stream photos and videos from your ibi to your television through popular devices like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Google Chromecast.
A cache of video game classics
What man cave would be complete without a big screen TV, loud sound system, and beer fridge? But there’s one more item missing: a retro arcade cabinet with hundreds of built-in games.
The just-launched Legends Ultimate from AtGames ($599 at Walmart.com) is a full-sized, 66-inch tall cabinet with 350 built-in and licensed arcade classics such as Centipede and Asteroids, all playable on the 24-inch Full HD screen.
But that’s just the beginning. You can add more games (“ROMs”) via USB for a virtually unlimited number of single and multiplayer games, or connect an AtGames Blast!, Boom! or Flashback micro console to play additional games on the cabinet (sold separately).
This Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled Legends Ultimate cabinet also supports the ArcadeNet cloud gaming service (currently free) that lets you download games and compete for top spot on leaderboards, plus there’s regular updates delivered over the Internet, and support for local streaming from your PC, for digital services like Steam, Origin, Epic, and GOG.
Integrated into Legends Ultimate is two sets of joysticks and six action buttons, two spinners/paddles, a trackball, and customizable button mapping. And unlike the original versions, now you can even pause games.
Social networking is in these cards
Maybe it’s not tech you need, after all? Perhaps you’re looking to keep devices out of the family’s hands for a while?
The top purchase on Cyber Monday at Amazon’s Toys & Games section, Not Parent Approved ($24.99) is a hilarious word game of fill-in-the blanks, that encourages a screen-obsessed generation to unplug and socialize. Designed for players 8 and older, it lets tweens and teens (and parents) be silly – and a tad inappropriate – but nowhere as risqué as Cards Against Humanity (which inspired this game).
The core Not Parent Approved pack includes 455 cards (105 questions and 350 answers) with topics ranging from pop culture references (Fortnite dance battles to forgetting your parent’s iTunes password) to the challenge of burping a whole sentence. Optional expansion packs are $9.99 apiece.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at www.marcsaltzman.com.