Perfect Christmas gifts for the tech fan in your household
Having tested hundreds of gadgets in 2019, Adrian Weckler has picked a few of the very best earbuds, smartwatches, headphones and phones to consider as presents this Christmas.
1. Apple Watch Series 5, From £399
If you're an iPhone user and looking for a do-it-all smartwatch, this is really the best option you can get.
It is, by some distance, the most feature-packed smartwatch on the market. From paying for things in shops to using it as a boarding pass, to music and notifications, this is the top performer overall.
The most up-to-date model, the Series 5, adds a pivotal main feature that I find indispensable: an always-on display.
This means that you can glance at it without having to twist your wrist around to 'wake' it (which seems rude when in conversation), as is the case with previous Watch models. The display is dimmed, but still clearly visible; the actual brightness level on the dimmed display depends on the ambient light levels around it.
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Having to wake the watch's display into life has been the thing that bugged me most about previous Apple Watch models. Glancing at it now without lifting or twisting my wrist makes it feel easier.
This should impact on battery life, but Apple has managed to bring to a bare minimum the amount of energy used in its dimmed mode, through the adjustment of the display's refresh rate down to 1Hz (from a high of 60Hz). Battery life, by the way, is around two days.
2. Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire, £699.99
If you're not too fussed about some of the more elaborate uses for a smartwatch and want to zero in on health and fitness, Garmin's Fenix 6 is very hard to beat.
It's light, powerful, has plenty of storage, and relatively excellent battery life. If you're a runner, cyclist, swimmer or any variation thereof (triathlete, iron-man and so on), this defeats almost all comers.
I got well over 10 days on a single charge, although if you switch the GPS on, it will be closer to 24 hours (this is not a bad tally in comparative terms). The Sapphire version is tough as nails as well, with extra scratch-resistant glass.
Coming from Oled-screen smartwatches (such as Apple's Watch, Samsung's Gear or Huawei's GT), I appreciated the Fenix 6 Sapphire's always-on 1.3-inch display (which is slightly bigger than the Fenix 5's 1.2-inch display, despite being a tad thinner). However, the compromise you'll make is that the display has nothing like the brightness or punchiness of a conventional Oled smartwatch.
Even though there's a light you can turn on from one of the side buttons, the device's strong battery life simply wouldn't exist if it was a shiny, sharply contrasting display. It's not an issue, but it does mean that I needed to take a second look at the watch face to tell the time on occasion.
3. Huawei Watch GT 2, £199.99
If you're looking for something that does a reasonably good job for health and fitness and has excellent battery life but also a bright Oled screen, Huawei's Watch GT 2 is surprising. This is one for those who want something with a superior display to a Fitbit and who don't need all the apps that an Apple Watch gives you.
But it's also for someone who doesn't want to be bothered recharging their watch more than once every week. In fact, mine usually lasted over 10 days between charges. For me, this is a very strong reason to consider this smartwatch, especially given its excellent, sharp, colourful 1.4-inch amoled display.
It comes in two sizes: 46mm and 42mm. The test model I had was the 46mm 'classic' version with a leather strap and metallic silver watch frame. I'll admit that I did check that it was metal, as you might be forgiven for thinking it's plastic. To me, anyway.
1. Huawei Mate 20X 5G, £799.99
To use 5G, you need a 5G smartphone. One that I've used for a while is Huawei's Mate 20X 5G.
Ironically, the 5G component may only be its second most notable feature. Because The Mate 20X 5G has a whopping 7.2-inch display, the biggest phone I've ever tested.
Amazingly, it doesn't feel as overwhelmingly massive as you might expect.
It fits into both my jeans and trouser pockets, partly because the bezels (edge material between the display and the side of the phone) are so thin.
It is amazing for video and other uses that benefit from a large display.
This is also something of a curse: the display is so good that it's harder to pull yourself away than for more conventionally sized smartphones.
Because the phone is physically bigger to accommodate this large screen, the battery is bigger too.
2. Apple iPhone 11, From £729
If you want the absolute tip-top iPhone, the iPhone Pro Max is the one to go for. But it comes at a massive price premium. By contrast, the iPhone 11 is a relative bargain. In terms of an upgrade, this is one of the best mid-tier iPhones I've ever used. The highlights are the substantial boost in battery life and a new extra ultra-wide camera.
Other than that, this model doesn't have the 2x telephoto camera on the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. And it has an LCD 6.1-inch display rather than the slightly higher-end 5.8-inch or 6.5-inch LED screens of the iPhone 11 Pro range.
What surprised me most about the phone was the extra battery life. As long as I've been testing iPhones, this has been something of an issue.
But I didn't run into any battery life issues at all with it, except when I spent an inordinate amount of time using the camera for its new night mode and extra ultra-wide-angle camera. This is genuinely a breakthrough phone for Apple in that regard.
3. Samsung Note 10 Plus, £874.99
If you're looking for a treat in the Samsung range, the Note 10+ is it. It has a 6.8-inch screen, which is big enough to watch movies (comfortably) or look at spreadsheets, but doesn't actually feel as big in your hand or your pocket as you'd imagine. This is because of the wafer-thin bezels on each side.
The quality is, unsurprisingly, superb. Small design features help navigation too. There's a tab on the side of the screen you can tap to access frequently used apps, saving you a potentially two-handed requirement.
One of the more distinct things about the Note 10+ is the angularity of its design. Instead of rounded-off corners, it proudly sports something closer to resembling 90-degree corners. At first I worried about the wear and tear this might cause in my pocket, where I keep the phone 99% of the time. But the effect is somewhat tempered by the cylindrical shape on either side of the phone.
So far, no pocket holes.
1. Microsoft Surface Headphones, £319
Microsoft burst on to the market with an excellent pair of noise-cancelling headphones this year. The Surface Headphones have what amounts to about the best audio quality on the market, even if they're pipped to the title of absolute quietest noise-cancelling performance.
The attention to detail given to these cans is amazing. It's not just the smooth, well-adjusted sound. Slightly superior connection technology, together with cool little controls around the ear cups, make it hard to beat for someone who's looking for everyday headphones to cut out the cacophony around them (especially when trying to work).
Other than the audio quality, my favourite feature is its ability to connect to several devices at once and then seamlessly transition between them.
The most common benefit for this is when you're watching something on a laptop or tablet and a call comes in. You can take the call on your headphones without skipping a beat, then return to your original content on the first device. In this way, the Surface Headphones are particularly suited to people who now use headphones as an everyday prop or accessory (like this reviewer).
2. Sony 1000XM3, £220
The best overhead noise-cancelling wireless headphones you can get right now remain Sony's 1000XM3. They combine incredible sound quality with best-in-class noise cancellation and superb comfort.
The upgrade from the previous 1000XM2 wireless headphones is that the current model is lighter (a big advantage for long periods on your head), has slightly larger ear cups (another big advantage for men with above-average ears, like me), and marginally better noise cancellation.
If you're not familiar with noise-cancelling headphones, they're well worth considering. The headphones measure the sound around you and are then able to turn the specific audio frequencies back on one another, thus 'cancelling' out the noise to your ear. It's a little like neutralising a bad smell with an air freshener, except rather than just replacing the stink with 'pine scent' or 'sea breeze', it chemically dilutes the original smell, at least as far as your senses go.
They're especially useful for people who are sensitive to noise (like me). I find them utterly invaluable when travelling (especially) and sometimes in the office or in a cafe when there's a din going on that's disrupting my concentration (or my sense of calm).
3. Huawei Freebuds 3, £129.99
Huawei's new Freebuds 3 give you something approximating Apple's new AirPods Pro in a package that costs a good deal less.
They look, feel and sound very like Apple's wireless earbuds, but the sound quality on the Freebuds 3 is more than passably good.
It's immersive and sonically faithful to the component bits of the music you probably know well.
Of course, some of this depends on how well these fit your ear. But for me, it was just fine.
The Freebuds 3 come in a smooth, pill-type box that holds the earbuds and also recharges them, while itself being rechargeable.
Instead of the AirPods case's slightly rectangular shape, the Freebuds case is round and flat, like a smoothed-out pebble or the waxy shell of a miniature wheel of cheese.