Here's a look at a few of the best and brightest gadget gift ideas for home and health.
Bites: A video camera and food dispenser
Gift group: Traveling humans who love their pets. Price: $249
Santa's scoop: The company Petcube offers a clever way for pet owners to stay in long-distance communication with their furry friends. Bites is a device that not only allows an owner to talk to and watch a pet in real time, but it even spits out a treat to the lucky four-legged mooch.
The unit, shaped like a Nintendo Wii, rests on a table or can get mounted to a wall. It requires a smartphone app (iTunes and Google Play compatible) as well as home Wi-Fi network connection and power source (USB power supply and cord included).
The device features a motion- and sound-sensitive camera that delivers crystal-clear, 1080p, wide-angle (138-degree) visuals with a 3x digital zoom; and an onboard, two-way microphone and speaker. It also has night vision and comes in three colors (matte silver, rose and carbon black).
Bites can store up to 2 pounds of dry, hard treats that are spherical and smaller than an inch in diameter and uses a slide-shaped dispenser to fling (owners swipe on their smartphone) the tasty morsel at the animal up to 6 feet away.
Owners can also easily share any too-cute or wacky videos via Facebook Live or the Petcube community, or get four hours of free video cloud storage (a 10-day history is $10 a month) to keep track of behaviors.
Owners should also be aware in multi-pet households of an occasional fight over the treats.
The great news is that it works, and it takes long-distance pet communication to a fun, new level. Now, what would make Bites complete is if it had a video monitor to show the owner's face for the complete virtual bonding experience.
Orbi: A whole home wi-fi solution
Gift group: Online-connected, multitasking families looking for speedy broadband to play video games, watch shows and movies, and multitask in a home office. Price: $399
Santa's scoop: Netgear offers an elegant solution to homes lacking Wi-Fi speed, and those with dreaded dead spots, by using a pair of futuristic-looking devices delivering 4,000 square feet of coverage through its high-performance AC2200 Wi-Fi solution.
Owners get a pair of white, curved units standing 8 inches tall. One serves as the router connected to a modem and the other as a satellite to expand the Wi-Fi signal when placed up to roughly 60 feet away. Each also has a lighted LED ring at the top that glows different colors for figuring out when the system is connected properly.
The Orbi units use Tri-Band, Wi-Fi mesh technology with four internal antennae to maximize Internet coverage with speeds for 4K streaming and strong connections when multiple devices are online. Owners living in larger house can hook up additional satellites (example, $249 for an extra 2,000 square feet of coverage) to spread the superhighway signal.
Usually, installing a new Wi-Fi system can be a painful endeavor for non-tech folks, but through the use of a smartphone or tablet-compatible app (iTunes and Google Play), set up was plug-and-play easy with roughly 15 minutes of configuration time required.
The units include Ethernet ports (three on the router, four on the satellite) to hard-wired devices and advanced settings for the software, include blocking sites, speed tests and a Traffic Meter to monitor stats, and even set download and upload limits.
Dreampad: A soothing pillow
Gift group: Humans looking to be serenaded to sleep. Price: $129
Santa's scoop: Dreampad offers a line of pillows with an embedded speaker array that allows music and sounds to reach the sleeper but theoretically not bother a partner.
Based on natural conductivity science (i.e. our ear bones act as conduits to sound vibration, for example), the sound comes from the pillow and passes from the head to the ear.
It actually works with a few caveats. First, download the Dreampad app (iTunes and Google Play compatible) for access to a timer as well as a limited collection of 10 white noise sounds ranging from waves to a low-frequency, harmonic overlay.
I would skip traditional music or podcasts to fall asleep via your iTunes music library, as the white noise selections were specifically enhanced with frequencies to work well for dozing off.
Next, keep the volume to about 60 percent to not annoy a partner. Despite the claims, there is some sound bleed through at higher volumes.
Dreampad's standard-sized pillow choices include slim, medium, firm and memory foam support. Go with the memory foam version for the most comfortable experience.
Also, for those who hate hard-wired connections, the pillow needs to be plugged in via short cord to a smartphone or tablets speaker port -- a Bluetooth receiver is available for additional cost ($19.99).
For those dubious that the pillow provides a calmer and more restful sleep that even includes a claim that it stimulates the vagus nerve (one of the 12 cranial nerves) activating the parasympathetic nervous system to help distress the body, the Dreampad also comes with a 30-day, risk-free trial.
TouchPoints: A pair of stress-relieving devices
Gift group: Humans looking for a quick way to reach an inner calm. Price: $150
Santa's scoop: No one can claim that he exists in a stress-free universe, and TouchPoint Solutions looks to relieve levels of anxiety with its "better living through neuroscience" products.
Specifically, the company's Basic Value Bundle offers two watch-shaped devices with wristbands, to be worn on either side of the body, that emit an alternating buzzing vibration, similar to a pager being set off.
The company says that through this B.L.A.S.T. (bilateral alternating stimulation-tactile) technology, affecting the brain and altering the body's fight, flight or freeze response, owners should feel a drop in stress levels within 30 seconds of use, potentially even helping with lack of attention span, cravings and overstimulation.
Depending on the magnitude of an episode, the TouchPoints can de-stress through three settings: slow, medium and fast.
For example, if the boss just unloaded a scream fest, tap the device for "fast" (glowing purple light) for a couple of minutes; or to help fall asleep after a stimulating day, go with the "slow" (glowing blue light) setting for about 15 minutes before bed.
The package includes a USB charging cord (a two-hour recharge should last roughly seven hours of use), linen carry bag and clips to use the units without the wrist straps.
This is not a medical device and does not require approval by the FDA. After testing, I can't 100 percent vouch that this product will reduce stress or treat any other ailments being claimed, even including reports to calm some effects of autism.
However, the high-tech lifestyle device is certainly worthy of a gift for the high-strung family member and will make an interesting conversation piece. Owners do get a 30-day, money-back guarantee, but they pay for return shipping.
Purple Bed: A mattress made of high-tech materials
Gift group: Humans requiring a comfortable night's sleep. Price: Starting at $699
Santa's scoop: Purple founders Tony and Terry Pearce dabbled in aerospace materials for over a decade before finding the right combination to craft a perfectly cushioned bed.
The result is a mattress made of 4 inches of 2-pound polyurethane foam, 3.5 inches of 1.8-pound polyurethane foam and 2 inches of hyper-elastic polymer.
The tech magic is in the gridded, hyper elastic, purple-colored portion of the mattress that offers free airflow, motion isolation, spine support as well as pressure relief for a more relaxing and cooler night's sleep.
The surprisingly heavy mattress (111 pounds) that is not easy to maneuver once opened up might be a bit too firm for some folks but should deliver comfort for many owners.
Purple is so sure it has a perfect mattress that owners can try it out for 100 days and return it for free if not completely satisfied.