Stories & Features

BC Hydro holiday gift guide 2017

Image of an Ohm electric bicycle
Ohm electric bikes are B.C.-designed, in North Vancouver. At least two other B.C. companies are also building electric bikes, including Burnaby's Volt and Nelson's Pedego.

From bikes to Lego robots, smart ideas with wow appeal

Blaine Kyllo

It's the time of year when we remind ourselves that it's better to give than to receive. Here are some examples of some of the latest and greatest in technology. And if you see something you'd like to add to your wish list, we won't tell anyone.

Oh, and if you're a Team Power Smart member, don't forget to log in to your Member Tool Box starting December 1,  to enter December's contest for a prize pack of two items on this list: A Google Home Mini and a Nest Thermostat. Not a Team Power Smart member? Join today.

Electric bicycles

We love our bicycles in B.C. They're a great way to experience the super, natural outdoors and an excellent form of alternative transportation.

Electric bikes make it even easier to consider commuting by bicycle because they provide you with the extra power to travel further and to conquer those hills you might find daunting. As long as the electric motor is under 500 W, no license or insurance are required.

Bicycles with electric motors are popular in Europe, but there are companies right here creating models made for our environments.

North Vancouver's Ohm Electric Bikes have bikes made for commuting and others that are built for hitting the trails.

Motorino has nearly a dozen bikes, including step-throughs, a cruiser, and a fat tire model for sale in the Vancouver headquarters.

Based in Burnaby, Volt Bike has designed folding models and mountain bikes that are built for winter weather.

And Nelson's Pedego builds and sells a range of electric bikes including a tandem and a trike that comes with a large cargo basket.

Image of Bose SoundLink Micro speaker on a backpack
The Bose SoundLink Micro speaker isn't just small and made to hang from the likes of backpacks. It's also waterproof.

Wireless speakers

You don't have to give up your favourite music or podcast when you head into the back yard to build that tree fort, meet your friends for a picnic at the beach, or when you need to pump up your hockey team before the game. There are a number of small, weatherproof Bluetooth speakers that last for hours on a charge and which can deliver plenty of sound.

The Ultimate Ears Roll 2 wireless speaker is completely waterproof and comes with a built-in bungie cord so you can hang it, attach it to a backpack, or even your handlebars. The battery will keep you going for about nine hours, and it comes with a little inflatable tube so you can float it beside you when you're in the pool at vacation time.

The Bose SoundLink Micro delivers excellent sound in a slightly smaller package. Also waterproof and with a silicon-based strap, it can go anywhere you want it to. In addition to playing your podcasts, the SoundLink Micro has a microphone so you can use it to take calls when you're on the road. That's important because you need to be hands-free while riding a bike, too.

Available in a variety of stores and online.

Google Home and Google Home Mini

Google Home gives you the opportunity to create your own smart home experience. The speaker is connected to the Internet through your home's wireless network, and gives you access to information and the ability to control other connected devices including thermostats and lights. Google Home Mini is the little sibling that fits in the palm of your hand and sits quietly waiting for you to say, "Hey, Google."

And with the ability to distinguish between six different voices, everyone in your household can have their own favourite playlist set up; Google Home and Google Home Mini will know exactly which one to play when it hears, "Hey, Google, play my favourite songs."

Available in stores and online, and at Best Buy.

Nest Thermostat

This is the third generation of smart thermostat from Nest, and they just get better every time. Nest works with nearly all heating systems now, including electric, gas, solar, and even those with heat pumps.

And as a learning device, Nest can help you control your heating and cooling costs without forcing you to do a lot of programming. Nest knows when you're home and when you're away, learning your schedule and your home comfort preferences.

You can also view your historical energy use with Nest mobile and web apps, and the mobile app can be used to monitor and make adjustments. Or, you can use Google's Home and Home Mini devices to use vocal commands to change the temperature, or even to ask what the weather's like outside.

Available in stores and online, and at Best Buy.

Image of LIFX LED lights in a living room
LED lighting goes big on design with the LIFX LED light kit, which can emit 16 million different colours, comes with a dimmer control and can be operated by wireless network on your smartphone, Google Home or Google Home Mini.

LIFX LED light kits

These snappy LED light kits connect to your home's wireless network so you can control them with your smartphone or smart home hub, such as the Google Home and Google Home Mini.

The LEDs can emit 16 million different colours, and each kit includes a dimmer control so you can adjust the brightness. And while they output light at 2100 lumens, a bit more illumination than a 100 W incandescent bulb, the kits only use 34 W of electricity.

The Beam kit includes a package of six tubes, including a corner, and each component has 10 zones that can be individually configured. The Tile kit includes a package of five squares each with 64 zones.

You can arrange the beams and tiles in any pattern, simply by clicking the different pieces together.

Available in B.C. exclusively at Best Buy.

Belkin WeMo dimmer switch

Among the line of WeMo smart home devices from Belkin are dimmer switches, which connect your lights to WiFi. Simply replace your existing switch – you do need a neutral wire for this – and you can use the WeMo smartphone app to adjust your lighting and to set a schedule to have the lights adjust automatically.

WeMo switches also work with Google's Home and Home Mini hubs so you can have voice control over your lights.

Available in a variety of stores and online.

Kindle Oasis e-reader

Digital readers give you entire libraries in your hands, but one knock against them is their limited usefulness when you want to read in the bath or at the beach.

Along comes the new Kindle Oasis from Amazon, which is waterproof.

It also comes with the biggest screen yet on a Kindle reader, and is thinner and lighter than previous models. It delivers crisp, high resolution text that can be read in the brightest sunlight.

The Oasis also has improved battery life. A new hibernation mode minimizes the amount of electricity used while still keeping your book marked. Altogether, you may go months before needing to charge again.

Available from Amazon.

Image of a Samsung QLED TV
The annual upgrade in TV picture quality marches on, and the Samsung QLED took a big step this year.

Samsung QLED TVs

There's a revolution going on in televisions, but it's not what you think. Yes, ultra high definition screens are the new normal, but while 4K TVs do provide four times more resolution than regular high definition, what makes Samsung's new line of QLEDs different is high dynamic range (HDR) technology. With an HDR TV, you can see details in pictures that have always been there, but you've never been able to see before.

The QLED series sport some other nice features, too, including the ability to mount the screens flush against the wall. This wouldn't work except that Samsung has moved all the cable connectors from the TV to a separate box, sending everything to the TV itself through a nearly invisible optical cable. It's form and function, all working together beautifully.

Available in a variety of stores and online.

Image of an Xbox One X gaming console and controller
Ultra high-definition video arrives for the Xbox One X, which is fully 4K.

Microsoft Xbox One X

Microsoft claims the new Xbox console is the most powerful console ever made. Certainly it is an advanced system, with heavyweight processing power and tremendously improved visuals.

The Xbox One X is fully 4K, delivering games and video in ultra high-definition whether they come from streaming or from disc. And HDR is also supported by the console, giving you greater detail in the images, especially in the light and dark parts of the images.

What all this means is that the games you'll be playing on the Xbox One X look better, run faster, and can pack in more excitement than ever before.

Available in various stores and online.

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo's latest console is a delight. You can use it with a TV like any other game console, but you can also pick it up and take it to play anywhere. It's the only system where you can play Super Mario Odyssey, the newest platformer, the clever Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and the vast epic The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Available in various stores and online.

Image of Lego Boost toys
Build it, program it, and make it move. Lego Boost is bound to be a big hit this holiday season - and the kids learn a bit of programming to make it all work.

Lego Boost

Lego is always a good bet for holiday gifting, and the new Lego Boost set is perfect for kids with an interest in robots and programming. It contains a full set of bricks for constructing models, as well as an opportunity to program the models to move around and interact.

The Boost is paired with a mobile app for smartphones and tablets which provides the step-by-step building instructions as well as providing the system to code movements and actions in the models. Kids start by constructing Vernie the robot and can then build a cat, a playable guitar-like instrument, and a couple of vehicles.

The genius here is that kids are never doing the same thing for too long. After they build for a bit they learn some coding, and then get to play with the object they've built and programmed. After your kids master Boost, they're ready for Lego's Mindstorms.

Available in various stores and online.