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Holiday gift guide 2018 mixes fun with the practical

Image of a Tile bluetooth tracker tied to a teddy bear

Smart locks, key finders, sleepbuds, hand warmers, virtual reality and more

Rob Klovance
For bchydro.com

The technology sector wore more than the occasional black eye in 2018, from smartphone addiction and identity theft to Black Mirror-esque fears around artificial intelligence. But heading into the holiday season, we're here to talk about the good stuff: gadgets and tools that make our lives better and easier.

We've arranged this year's list of highly-rated products around price points, starting with a few $50-and-under items. And if you think early November is a little too early to start thinking about holiday gift giving, just try to find some of the more popular items on this list in a mid-December panic.

Under $50

Image of a Tile bluetooth tracker tied to a teddy bear

Lost key finder: Tile Bluetooth trackers

Teens do it. You do it. You don't need to be old to lose your keys, your wallet, and (temporarily) your mind. Tile Bluetooth trackers can be added to a key ring, a wallet, a smartphone, or the zipped pocket of an oft-misplaced jacket. Via a smartphone app, the tracker uses a loud audio alert that works as far away as 200 metres. Forget a jacket somewhere? Use the app to see – on a map – where the jacket was last detected. And in a pinch, you can send a lost item alert to the broader Tile community – anyone with the app running will hear the Tile's tell-tale audio alert if they're near. One tip? Only the newest trackers include a replaceable battery, so try to track down a new one.

Available at canadiantire.ca, londondrugs.com and online.

A little light action: Hue wireless dimming kit

Easy to install and use, this dimmer switch and Hue LED bulb comes with a remote that allows you to turn on/off or adjust the bulb from your bedside or anywhere you take the magnetic, detachable controller. Use with a Hue bridge for full smart home capability, including control of up to 10 HUE bulbs. Fantastic for low-light visits to the bathroom in the middle of the night that don't shock you awake with a bright light.

Available at londondrugs.com, homedepot.ca, bestbuy.ca and online.

Sing in the shower: VicTsing shower speaker

The VictSing gets a thumbs-up from my teenage son, who is now easier to persuade to shower after his soccer workouts. The big suction cup secures the rechargeable Bluetooth speaker to the tile wall. Just remember to limit those showers to a single song. After four or five minutes, any hot water-related energy savings produced by a shower rather than a bath quickly disappear.

Available at bestbuy.ca, canadiantire.ca and online.

Hands-free light: Coast FL11 LED headlamp

Regular flashlights rarely get used, but headlamps are so useful they're used as much as your favourite screwdriver. While you can spend well over $100 on headlamps, the budget-priced Coast FL11 does the trick for everything from chores around the house, to power outages, to camping. High and low settings adjust the light to your needs, and on the low setting the headlamp lasts up to 10 hours. For the runner or climber on your list, consider the upgrade to the Petzl Pixa 3 or the Petzl Reactik+ that offers Bluetooth and rechargeability.

Coast FL11 available at canadiantire.ca, homedepot.ca and elsewhere online. Variety of Petzl headlamps available at mec.ca and online.

$50 to $200

Image of a Belkin surge protector with a remote

Feel the power: Belkin surge protector with remote

Not the sexiest gift under the tree, but one of the most useful for anyone stuck trying to turn off multiple electronics in a hard-to-reach place. The wonder of the Belkin is that it comes with a remote that allows you to switch off several devices at the same time while – via two always-on plugs in this smart power power – ensuring the PVR or phone charger is left on.

Available at bestbuy.ca and elsewhere online.

Image of a woman wearing a Fitbit Alta

The picture of health: Fitbit Alta fitness tracker

When it comes to getting in shape, it’s all about motivation. A perennial big seller, the Fitbit Alta comes in at a price point as low as $100 but still offers customization to track activity, exercise and sleep. It also brings smartphone notifications to your wrist on an easy-to-read screen.

Available at londondrugs.com, canadiantire.ca, bestbuy.ca and elsewhere online.

Image of a man reading a Kobo Aura eReader

Buy the book: Kobo or Kindle eReader

There's a lot of buzz around the November 7 release of the new thinner, lighter, waterproof Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. But here in Canada, the go-to eReader remains the Kobo, in large part because Amazon doesn’t allow our libraries to loan titles for the Kindle. Not so for the Kobo, which offers its own library of titles (fees apply) while also boasting the ability to borrow titles from our libraries. And if waterproof is what you want, Kobo has it in the Aura H20 Edition 2 model.

Get Kobo eReaders at londondrugs.com, bestbuy.ca and elsewhere online. Get the Kindle at amazon.ca.

Image of a person holding an EnergyFlux handwarmer

Frozen fingers? EnergyFlux Ellipse handwarmer

The Ellipse fits in your hand and has a whole lot going for it, including rechargeability, up to 6.5 hours of battery life, and the ability to charge other devices, such as your phone. For skiing, use it while on the lift between runs.

Available at amazon.ca and elsewhere online.

More than $200

Image of a man sleeping while wearing Bose noise-masking earbuds

Too noisy to sleep? Bose noise-masking sleepbuds

If you're a snorer with a partner who angrily heads for the sofa during your most stirring performances, this splurge might be worth it. A pricey single-function device (no option to play music or other audio), the Bose Sleepbud is all about helping you sleep via a comfortable earbud that plays one of 10 sounds, via an app, for all or part of the night. You can choose from rustling leaves, a cascading waterfall, a crackling fire and more. One cool function is the alarm that only you can hear so you don't disturb your partner in the a.m.

Available at bestbuy.ca and elsewhere online.

Knocking at the door: Schlage Sense smart lock

The Schlage Sense just got an upgrade in 2018 with the ability to work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It still works with the AppleKit system, which means it's easy to use with your iPhone or other Apple devices. There are a lot of smart locks out there, but this one is one of the better ones based on price and its nice mix of electronic and keypad entry. It looks pretty good, too, but if you want to go smaller and more modern (try the Nest X Yale), or need something compatible with the likes of Wink, Samsung or Nest's systems, have a look around.

Available at rona.ca, lowes.ca, and a variety of other local and online retailers.

Image of the CASA Caleo smart thermostat ecosystem

Heat when you need it: Smart thermostats

A variety of manufacturers have rallied to the challenge set by Nest a few years back, and the winner is the customer. Nest and Canadian-made Ecobee3 Lite remain popular in B.C. for those who don't use electric heat. But several Canadian companies now offer electric baseboard-compatible thermostats, including the CASA Caleo, which performed well on a recent BC Hydro trial with homeowners in B.C. And Quebec's Stelpro is introducing its new Maestro smart thermostat this fall.

Available at various B.C. retailers and online.

Image of a man wearing an Oculus Rift headset

Great escape: Virtual reality headsets

Once you've had a taste of virtual reality, it can be hard to resist the temptation to make it a regular (if not real) thing. If you're thinking about taking the generally pricey plunge into a VR gift for a favourite family member or friend, you need to tailor that choice to your budget and to what that person likes to do. For gamers, Oculus Rift, Sony Playstation VR and HTC Vive tend to be the highest rated, while less expensive options for the VR-curious include Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR.

Available at bestbuy.ca and elsewhere online.

Rob Klovance is a contributing editor for bchydro.com.