Category: Opinion

Opinion: The Apple HomePod is coming in a few days and there are still so many questions about it. It supports only Apple Music? It doesn’t even do AirPlay 2 yet? It’s $500 AUD? I’m still excited about it.

Okay, maybe not so much specifically about the HomePod. I’m more excited about this movement of home speakers and audio assistants overall because it’s pointing towards a resurgence in audio entertainment becoming a more popular medium.

I’m a sucker for podcasts. I love the absolute simplicity of them. The personality and humour you get from the hosts as well as being a source of news in a laid back manner. I’ve replaced a lot of my old media habits with podcasts. For example, I deleted the YouTube app from both my iPhone and iPad. I was watching way too much junk that YouTube’s algorithms kept recommending me and keeping me on their platform. Procrastinating.

Top view of black HomePod

You control the podcast feed. You customise exactly what you want to listen to and where you spend your time. If you put a bit of research in you can find some incredible podcasts out there in the wild. You don’t waste your time.

Another example of audio as entertainment, that I’ve had experience with, is using an Amazon Echo. I no longer have one where I’m living right now but I had access to an Echo for most of 2017. What I liked to do with the Echo was ask it “what’s in the news” and it would give you a really detailed summary of the news straight away. This was great in the morning during breakfast or as soon as I arrived back from work and sat down in the kitchen.

I’d still use this feature today if I had an Echo but I’d also listen to my podcasts. To be able to walk into a room and say play ATP or The Talk Show and have the episode play from an exact spot where I was up to previously would be the dream. This already works really well when you use something like Overcast which syncs between devices perfectly.

The beauty of the podcast is that in this type of scenario you’re able to do other stuff whilst you consume the content. Yeah you can watch TV and eat or even read and eat, but arguably need to be quite switched on to keep up with what’s happening. You certainly can’t do other stuff like write an article or code whilst reading or watching TV whereas a podcast is perfect. It might just be background noise but you pick up things here and there. Plus, I personally like having some ambient noise around me whilst working which is why I often get coffee and write.

Home audio devices aren’t the only thing driving up a resurgence in audio as entertainment. You also have AirPods which are making it easier than ever to listen to audio on the go. This growth (on iOS anyway) is dependant on the improvement of Siri because it still sucks at taking commands and doesn’t integrate properly with third party apps. Google Assistant and Alexa are way ahead in this regard.

Amazon Echo Dot

It would be great if the HomePod supported third party apps like Overcast or updated their own podcasting service so it was on par. In saying that, I like that HomePod has this huge focus on having really clean audio (and nothing else yet) as this is what will set it apart from the Echo and the Google Home. Get this right and it will sell; then focus on the other stuff later seems to be the tactic.

I’m predicting a big couple of years for audio as entertainment if things like Siri and Apple Podcasts improve. We might even be harkening back to the days of gathering around the radio to be entertained (1950s style) but now instead of a radio it’ll be something like the HomePod.

Alright here we go, we’ve saved the best for last – of course! Although after reading through what the other guys have written up I have to say they’ve done an absolute cracker job and if you haven’t checked them out already I seriously encourage you to do so. Big thanks to Anthony, Pete & James for putting together some awesome ideas that’ll be sure to put a smile on someone’s face Christmas morning!

OK, praise heaped upon, now rip them to shreds!! AirPods are junk, don’t buy them for anyone you really care about, they’re not worth it, especially if they’re an active. If you want great quality sound, prefer having an actual seal with well fitting in-ear headphones and the ease of use & battery life that Apple’s W1 chip provides then look no further than Beats’ Powerbeats 3. At A$229 they’re cheaper than AirPods too and for the active person with their over-the-ear hooks, will actually stay in your ears!

If you want to get really serious about headphones though look no further than Sony’s WH-1000XM2 wireless noise cancelling headphones. Forget Bose, forget Beats (seriously forget them the Powerbeats are the only decent headphones they make), these bad boys are by far the best sounding and performing noise cancelling headphones out there! They’d wanna be too, retailing for A$499 these definitely aren’t the cheapest ones out there but you’re getting what you pay for.

Sony’s WH-1000XM2 wireless noise cancelling headphones

OK now lets talk games, I mean I’m supposed to be the one all in the know game-wise right?

I’ll kick it off like my headphones spiel. Don’t get a “mini” anything. NES, SNES, blerg, boring, old! We want bright, we want sparkly we want NEW and everyone knows what that is don’t they?! The Nintendo Switch has without a doubt become the darling of portable/home consoles in 2017 and it’s still in extreme demand. If you’ve got A$449 to pony up on someone special then it’s a total no brainer.

Nintendo Switch

When it comes to games there have been so many good ones this year it’s hard NOT to have a list of great stuff to pick up. If you’re buying for someone whom has a Switch or you’re very nicely about to buy one for then Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my pick as a “must have”. I personally think Mario Odyssey is basically garbage (an opinion not many agree with) but if you’re buying for a pre-teen it might be the better choice.

For the PlayStation person in your life the PSVR headset (A$549) it pretty damn cool and now that it’s had some time to settle in we’re seeing some really fleshed out titles like Farpoint and Superhot VR start to hit. Game wise “Horizon: Zero Dawn” is a crowd favourite for the year but my pick is easily “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy” which you could pick up for less than A$50.

Xbox One peeps, the ultimate gift I would want to receive if I was you is the Xbox Elite Controller. That thing is just magic, nothing compares to it in my opinion. It feels so good in your hands and can be customised not only to you but to the game you’er playing with a multitude of included snap-on parts. A$199 worth of perfection.

For the PC gamer in your life, what could be more fulfilling than seeing their face when they open their present to find a shiny new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070Ti GPU inside? Released in October the new card is available from the usual GPU suspects (ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, etc) as well as the “Founders card” from NVIDIA themselves. Ranging from around A$699 – A$799 she’s a little on the pricey end but can you put a price on love?

Oculus Rift Touch Bundle

Speaking of a “little” pricey but totally worth it. The Oculus Rift Touch Bundle has seen its price plummet this year. At just US$449 (A$600) you get the Oculus Rift headset, 2 sensor towers and 2 of the new touch controllers, it’s the ultimate VR gift to add to your loved one’s PC rig.

Another great (and much cheaper) VR gift is a ticket to Zero Latency VR. Now open in both Melbourne and Brisbane Zero Latency allows you to play a series of VR adventures completely wireless in a large open warehouse that you and seven mates can do together. It’s awesome fun and they have a series of different titles and scenarios to play from the generic zombie wave shooter to puzzle solving platformers. A$88 buys one session, which is around 40 minutes and totally worth it.

Ticket To Ride

OK enough of the expensive stuff lets see what other stocking stuffers I can find…

Board games are either coming back into vogue or I’m going deeper into nerd? Either way they’re awesome. There’s a whole heap of amazing ones out there that are so much more fun than those rainy day sessions of Monopoly you remember playing as a kid. James recommended Pandemic Legacy, which I whole heartedly agree with, but if you’re looking to dip your toe and want something super easy to wrap your brain around then you can’t beat good old “Ticket to Ride“. Around A$60 it’s dead easy to learn, lots of fun and a game is over in under an hour. Love it.

Tony Martin has a new book out that I’m just over halfway through and thoroughly enjoying. It’s his first fictional novel I believe and if you’re a fan of Get This, Martin & Molloy, TEAM Effort or anything Tony’s put his stamp on over the years than this will be right up your alley. Called “Deadly Kerfuffle“, the novel surrounds a Kiwi family that moves to suburban Melbourne only to be mistaken for radical Islamic terrorists by the local sticky beaks. I’m really enjoying it.

The Book of Mormon

For something a little more left of field why not take in a night of theatre. The Book of Mormon has been playing in Melbourne for a while now and seats are starting to come out at very reasonable prices (under $70 for some sessions). For those who’ve not heard of it or what it’s about, Book of Mormon is the story of how the Mormon religion was started and the book behind it all. It was written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame and is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Whether you’re into musicals or not this thing is worth seeing and a great gift to anyone in Melbourne or wanting to make a trip of it to come to Melbourne.

Another great, non-techy idea that I think a lot of people would enjoy is an indoor plant. I’ve really been enjoying growing plants and putting a little life into my apartment over the last year. There are a whole range of great indoor, low maintenance plants out there. One of the most popular and easiest to pick up is the Peace Lily, which you’ll find at any Bunnings for about $15.

Happy gift shopping!


 

*Let it be known that some of the links here shoot of to eBay with an affiliate code that helps us keep the site running.

To get you in the holiday spirit the Reckoner team have each compiled a list of holiday gift ideas. James, otherwise known around here as “The Bread Whisperer”, is up today. He’s put together a cracker list and even better broken it down into a series of price brackets for you. Good one pretzel! – Raj

< $100

James “Bread Maker” Croft

Artemis by Andy Weir ($25)

Andy Weir’s first novel was the critically-acclaimed novel The Martian (which was quickly turned into a blockbuster movie with Matt Damon). His second novel continues the practical-science-but-cool-scifi theme by focusing on humanity’s first moon colony. I haven’t read it yet, so don’t send me any spoilers.

 

Saga Book One ($57)

By the time you finish this sentence, the Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples comic series Saga will have won another fifteen awards. If you haven’t started yet, now’s the perfect time. It’s inventive. It’s funny. It’s gorgeous. It’s touching. Book One collects issues #1-#18.

 

Captain Sonar ($75, 2-8 players)

Get your captain’s hat. Two submarine crews hunt each other down on grid-based maps of varying complexity. Players (2-8) assume different roles within their team’s subs, like captain, engineer, or radio operator. The best part? It can also be played in real-time! This game is short, frantic, shouty fun, and one of those rare board games where more players equals more fun for everyone.

 

Middle Earth: Shadow of War (PS4, Xbox, PC – $80)

This sequel expands on the terrific gameplay ideas in the original Shadow of Mordor (like the Nemesis system), and gives you more, more, more. A no-brainer for anyone who likes open-world games that make you feel like a badass.

Anker 5 port USB charger

Anker PowerPort+ 5-Port Charger ($99)

Any nerd who travels with more than one device should have one of these in their bag. Get one from a reliable brand like Anker which probably won’t explode or start a fire. This one has 4 fast-charging standard USB ports, and 1 USB-C port.

 

Aesop Marrakech Intense ($85)

Don’t go through life smelling like a teenage change room. This fancy scent from Aesop is woody, spicy, but not too over-the-top. A bottle gets me through a year easily. Works for bros and ladybros alike.


$100-250

Aesop Proximity Gift Set ($110)

Let’s face it, we’re all getting older. I should be looking after my skin properly. I use it practically every day! People smarter than me say you should wash, tone and moisturise your face to prevent it from looking like a crumpled duffel bag. This kit has all 3, and it’s all high-quality stuff. I want you to feel a little fancy every morning. I want that for you.

 

Logitech MX Master 2S ($109)

This is an excellent mouse. It’s real comfortable to use. It charges via a sensibly-located micro-USB port, and lasts for ages. It has a bunch of buttons that can be mapped to useful things. It doesn’t look like a Transformer possessed a mouse. It doesn’t light up in weird colours. It isn’t made ‘by gamers, for gamers’. Thank god.

 

Super Nintendo Mini ($119.95)

I don’t know if these are even available anymore, but if you can find one, you should buy it. I have heard from a good friend that they can be easily hacked and a bunch of other fantastic retro games added. This good friend (who isn’t me) recommends buying the cable extenders too, those controller cords are stupidly short. He said that. Not me.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2

Pandemic Legacy Season 2 ($130)

Our board game crew just finished playing Season 1, and man, what a trip. What’s a Legacy game? Think of it like a board game campaign, where a storyline unfolds, rules change over time, the board itself is altered, cards are ripped up, new items introduced, and many actions have permanent consequences. When it’s done, it’s done. A totally difference experience from a regular board game, but well worth the price of entry.

 

Headspace Yearly Subscription (~$130)

There are a lot of meditation apps, but I think this is the best one. Andy, the main instructor, is apparently a Tibetan Buddhist monk. I dunno about all that, but he definitely has a gentle lilting British accent that I find calming. The pro version of Headspace unlocks all sorts of different focused sessions, like anxiety, motivation, stress, commuting, sleeping and heaps more. Try the freebies before jumping in.

Rosé Soirée

12pk of wines (Rosé Soirée – $139)

I like drinking a fucking fancy chilled Rosé in summer. There, I said it. This is a 12 pack of mixed Rosé from Vino Mofo, but really, I’m just endorsing the general idea of drinking more Rosé. Come at me.

 

AirPods ($229)

These are the best truly wireless earbuds, for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into. If you’ve got someone in your life with an iPhone and no AirPods, boom. This is your window to be a god damn gift hero. Take it.


$250-500

DJI Osmo Mobile ($299)

Cameras in phones are really good now. However, our stupid meat-filled bodies are constantly jittering from all that coffee you drank. Do you want to make vlogs on your phone that don’t look like they were filmed in an earthquake? Get a gimbal like the DJI Osmo Mobile, and make your footage buttery smooth.

 

Sonos One ($299)

I know, Alexa isn’t here yet. I know, they don’t have Google Assistant support yet. All that aside, Sonos is still the king of home speakers that don’t suck. Buy this one so that in twelve months you don’t have to buy an Echo or a Google Home thingy. (Edit: since I wrote this, the Sonos Play:1 has dropped in price to $229, and the Google Home Mini is $55. So I’d do that instead. – James)

Seiko SKX007

Seiko SKX007 ($270-$300)

It’s not easy to find a great mechanical watch for under $500. Seiko makes amazing diver’s watches, and the SKX007 is a steal for the price. Let me count the ways. It’s automatic. It’s well-made. It’s accurate. It can take a beating. It’s got a date window. It looks great on pretty much any strap you care to wear. I wore this watch at my wedding. No regrets.

 

iPad 32GB Wi-Fi ($469)

This might be obvious, but isn’t the not-pro iPad a total steal now? What other mobile device can you buy that can easily do the following: browse the web, read books, watch youtube, take photos, take videos, make documents, make music, edit movies, do multi-tasking, and has access to a huge ecosystem of other apps and games? And the battery lasts for days? Sure, it doesn’t have the fanciest screen, or a weird foldy keyboard, or a pen, but who cares? It’s the everything gadget for normal humans, and it’s under five hundy!

To get you in the holiday spirit the Reckoner team have each compiled a list of holiday gift ideas. Today it’s Pete’s turn and when he’s not schmoozing it up with Hollywood in Cannes he’s busy writing for The Sydney Morning Herald’s Digital Life. – Raj

Don’t be fooled, Pete’s on the left

What do I personally want for Christmas? Well, first of all a 4K HDR TV. Sure, there’s still not enough 4K content out there, but the last year I’ve spent way too much time in hotel rooms and demo areas testing the best from Sony, Samsung, LG and Hisense, and even the cheaper models make my current Sony look washed out and dull. I really just want that sweet, sweet HDR; if you’re upgrading, HDR is a must. But I know if I get one, then I’m going to have to buy a better soundbar – I’ll want Dolby Atmos – and a PS4 Pro, and up my Netflix to 4K – so the total cost of upgrading is terrifying me. But it’s all tax deductible in my line of work, right? Right?

Beyond that, I want an electric transport thing of some kind. I’m currently tossing up between Xiaomi’s Electric Scooter, and this Electric bike. I’d say the bike is far more practical, and $1500 is not crazy money for something that could get me to work faster and easier than public transport.

Apple AirPods

Like my learned colleagues, I fricken love AirPods, and think they’d make an awesome gift for any iPhone user in your life. I’ve cycled through at least 20 different Bluetooth headphones this year, and I always come back to the AirPods, they’re just that convenient and clever.

After a rocky start, I’ve really come to love the Apple Watch too, but that’s a bloody expensive gift – but if you know someone with an Apple Watch, perhaps surprise them with some funky new bands. And as James points out, the entry level iPad is such a bargain – that’s a fantastic computer for most people. You get all the fancy multitasking crap of iOS 11, without support for the Pencil or Smart Keyboard.

Moto G5

If you’re looking for an Android phone as a gift for a relative, the Moto G5 is still the best budget handset – it’s just $339, and runs a clean version of Android. If you want to spend big, the Pixel XL 2 is the best Android phone of the year – don’t believe the naysayers, the screen, camera and operating system make this a great Android experience.

Don’t be tempted by the nostalgia of the Nokia 3310 – the novelty wears off as soon as you realise there’s no easy way to sync calendars, contacts, emails, podcasts or music. I know this should’ve been obvious to me, but I was hoping they’d have some way to make it a read-only device for that kind of stuff – something you could take with you on weekends, without any of the social networking time sinks. Perhaps a re-released Nokia 8210 can do that next year.

Lark Whiskey – Tasmania

Who doesn’t love booze as a gift? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I’d love to receive a bottle of white rye or gin from Archie Rose, or if the budget allows, Lark from Tasmania is my all time favourite whisky. I’m also partial to a Woodford Reserve, the best bang for buck bourbon on the planet. A whisky (or insert favourite booze here) tasting event is also a lovely date night gift.

I’ve rarely used the SNES mini since it arrived, but seeing it always makes me smile, and the one night I spent getting crazy drunk playing Super Mario Kart with a friend easily justified the price. The Nintendo Switch is even better – this little console brings back all the feels of the Super Nintendo era, with new and improved graphics and gameplay. Zelda is a masterpiece, even if I’ll never finish it. Mario Odyssey is as bonkers as the trailers suggest, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a console in years.

The new Google Home Mini

I love the Google Home – and a Google Home mini would make a fantastic gift for any nerd in your life. Don’t worry if they already have one, as soon as you have one talking lady box in your house, you kind of want one in every room. Add to it the most reliable smart home bulbs I’ve tried – the Philips Hue starter kit. The starter includes one bridge and two bulbs, from there, buying extra bulbs isn’t expensive.

The HP Sprocket is a stupidly fun little gift idea. This pocket printer spits out Polaroid style photos – they’re tiny and not exactly something you’d hang onto for years, but that’s not the point. The point is to bring a sprocket to a party or wedding and let people print off their photos throughout the day.

HP Sprocket Printer

Speaking of photos, buy someone a fancy camera. It doesn’t matter which one, really. They’ll hardly ever use it, they’ll feel guilty every time they see it, but the three times a year they remember to charge it for an event, by gosh they’ll be happy with the photos they take. My year long search for a camera brought me to the Panasonic G85 – but Sony make some killer mirrorless gear, and I really love the new ‘tutorial mode’ built into Canon’s new shooters.

For a nerdy kid, get them something like a Raspberry Pi or Arduino, or even a little Sphero they can manipulate with an iPad and Swift Playgrounds. This kind of gift will require you to put in some time to help them, but what a great way to bond with a kid.

 

To get you in the holiday spirit the Reckoner team have each compiled a list of holiday gift ideas. Everyday this week we’ll be posting one up for you and we’re kicking things off with none other than Mr. Sizzle himself Anthony Agius. – Raj

Anthony “Santa Sizzle” Agius

If I stumbled across a hidden stash of drug money a careless junkie dealer left not very well hidden between drug deals, I would take that money and spend it on the biggest, fanciest TV available in Australia – an 88″ Samsung QA88Q9FAMWXXY featuring a QLED panel, HDR 1500, smart apps, blah, blah, blah. Sure, it isn’t OLED, but I’m enough of a bogan to take the extra 23″ in screen size over deeper blacks, so the $25,999 (I’m sure there’s some wiggle room on the price if I was to pay in cash), 88″ Samsung QA88Q9FAMWXXY is it. I don’t even really care what the image looks like, I just want to sit 30cm away and bask in its warm QLED glow.

Samsung 88″ QLED TV

I was skeptical about the Apple AirPods. $229 for the same headphones that came in the box with my iPhone, but without a cable? Yeah, nah, I’ll pass. But after getting the Apple Watch again (yes, I am a sucker for shiny Apple gear), I decided to give the AirPods a shot and they are way better than I expected. Sure, the sound quality is nothing to write home about, but they are so damn seamless to connect, don’t fall out of my ears at all, work great for hands-free phone calls and are perfect for roaming around the house whilst listening to a podcast or album. If there’s an Apple nerd in your life who hasn’t got a pair of AirPods already, fill the tic tac case sized hole in their hear this Christmas.

Apple AirPods

360-degree cameras aren’t something you’ll use every day, but if you’re on a holiday, or have an event you’d like to remember in a bit more detail than a simple photo or video, they add a bit of fun. That said, I also don’t want to drop too much cash on something I’ll only use sporadically and 4K video cameras are not cheap. That’s why the “Xiaomi Mijia 3.5K Panorama Action Camera” is such a good deal. Often found for under $300, this little camera takes decent quality 360-degree videos via a wide angle lens on both sides of the body. Here’s a video review. It’s not perfect, but for the price it’s a banger. Make sure you get the international version, so there’s English menus and stuff.

Xiaomi Mijia 3.5K Panorama Action Camera