Gizmos and Games as Gifts for Geeks
BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | Geeks can be a fickle lot, especially when trying to buy gifts for them. New paradigm-shifting tech sometimes arrives with little fanfare. Early adopters of new gadgets are often filled with buyer’s remorse when their new toy turns out to be a dud. We tried out a few of the gizmos and games that are available this season, and came up with these prime candidates for stuffing nerdy stockings.
AIR HOG CONNECT MISSION DRONE | Remote controlled drones are becoming more affordable each year. However, everyone secretly wishes that their toy was really a combat drone flying over a city being invaded by aliens. The Mission Drone combines a real drone with an “augmented reality” video game that lets players fly their drone around a virtual city full of adventures.
The drone is controlled with a phone or tablet, and the mobile device simultaneously runs a game that uses its camera to track the drone as it flies over a special mat on the floor. The screen on the phone then displays a city full of alien invaders, tiny marines, and civilians in need of rescue. Players can walk around the room, seeing their city from any angle as the drone flies through it.
The Mission Drone can also be used as a regular drone, without the mat and game. The game can likewise be played without needing the drone; a virtual craft appears in the game, and is controlled much like its real counterpart. This is a handy feature, because the Air Hog is also a battery hog, and needs to be recharged after about 10-15 minutes of play.
RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER: 20 YEAR CELEBRATION | For the gamer who doesn’t want augmented reality, 2016 saw the release of some of the best games yet for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. “Uncharted 4” was the swan song for PlayStation’s biggest franchise, while “Gears of War 4” revamped a classic Xbox franchise for a new generation. This year is also the 20th anniversary of the venerable “Tomb Raider” franchise, and “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is an excellent way for new players to jump in, or for lapsed fans to get re-acquainted with Lara Croft.
It was released on Xbox in time for the 2015 holidays, and for PC a few months later, but only just made its debut on the PlayStation 4. There has been a stream of downloadable content over the last year, and a new set of DLC just arrived for all platforms to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Tomb Rader.” With a year’s worth of DLC, plus the excellent base game, this is a great choice to join any new console under the tree.
DOOB 3D PRINTING | Your cosplayer friend who likes dressing up as a superhero at Comic Con already has thousands of photos on their Instagram account, and their refrigerator is covered in printouts. But what they really want is a tiny 3D figure of themselves in costume. The company DOOB will do a full body scan right in their store, then print out a color resin statue up to 14 inches tall. The printing is done at a factory in Brooklyn, and takes a couple of weeks — but the scanning is done right in the store, and we found no wait time at all when visiting their Soho location, one of two in New York City.
DOOB can create figures in a variety of sizes, the smallest of which is 4 inches and costs $95. They can print up to 14 inches tall, and can do multiple people together in a single sculpture. The larger the sculpture, the higher the price, and there is an additional fee for bulky outfits and props, like a cosplayer’s gigantic Buster Sword or plasma rifle. DOOB is also a great gift for pet lovers or newlyweds, and they have special Christmas items, such as tree ornaments with a tiny figure inside.
AERA | From evergreen trees to spices, the holidays have their own special smells. The Aera can fill a home with that distinct scent, without needing to bring in a tree or cook a feast. It’s a smart device that discreetly puffs out a variety of fragrances, and can be programmed with an app to activate on a schedule. The Aera recently launched with a selection of six fragrances “inspired by dreams” — but there are two new ones created specifically for the holidays.
Our experimentation with the Aera showed that it can easily fill a New York City apartment with its fragrance, and even the lowest setting will keep most rooms smelling fresh. The cartridges last for up to 60 days, and our heavy usage during testing only diminished the trial cartridges slightly. The Aera comes with one fragrance cartridge, and others must be purchased separately at $47 each.
MUSE BRAIN-SENSING HEADBAND | Muse is a gadget and app that helps with meditation. The headband reads brainwaves to measure how calm or focused users are during a meditation session, and sends this information via Bluetooth to the mobile device. The app then provides verbal guidance on how to meditate, as well as feedback during and after each session.
Users close their eyes during the experience, so it uses audio feedback in the form of nature sounds. When the user’s mind is restless, the simulated weather become more intense; branches rustle, wind howls, and waves crash. When the user is in a very calm state, they’ll hear birds chirping in the background.
The Muse app uses a system of points, badges and objectives, encouraging users to practice multiple times a week. It is similar to the way the addictive Fitbit works for exercise enthusiasts. Users earn points for being in a calm state while meditating, and can “level up” like playing a game. At first this seems counterintuitive to the notion of calm and peaceful meditation, but the badges and scores are only revealed at the end of the session, so users (or rather, players) won’t be distracted by their score while meditating.
The Muse headband is our favorite gadget from this roundup, but also the priciest, at $249. Yet, that’s a small price to pay for oneness with the universe.