Roundup: Top 8 connected tech items of 2013

Now that the holidays are over and everyone’s getting back into the swing of things (slowly, of course… we’re all catching up on our internet reading today it seems!), here’s a list of my favorite smart devices from the past year. If you have gift cards burning a hole in your pocket and/or have been thinking about getting a new gadget to start your new year fresh, this may spur some ideas.

#8 – Gibi Pet Locator – One of the finalists in Walmart.com “Get on the Shelf” 2013 contest for entrepreneurs (our own “Shark Tank” if you will), the Gibi Pet Locator is a wearable GPS tracking device that helps you locate your lost dog – particularly helpful if you have a beagle or other wandering breed and a hole in your fence. And even more urgent if people tend to speed down your residential street. This great product is so new, it is still in production but available to preorder for expected delivery in May 2014. Check out the video to learn more:

#7 – Dropcam – A simple, reliable wi-fi camera with a multitude of uses including as a nannycam, baby monitor, pet or wildlife camera, security camera when you go on vacation or just when you’re away from home. The Dropcam can be motion or sound activated, so you’ll get notifications on your smartphone only when something of interest is happening. One of Dropcam’s unique features is that it has 2-way audio – meaning you can talk to your pet, or whoever’s at the front door, or yell at potential thieves – through the camera.

#6 – Nexus 7 tablet – The 2013 version of this Android tablet is much speedier than its predecessor, thinner, lighter & sleeker. Plus with some of the recent upgrades to the Android OS, you can make this device more kid-friendly by creating separate accounts on it (learn how in this previous post).  It’s a slightly less expensive, fantastic alternative to the iPad Mini if you’re not tied to the Apple ecosystem, and one of the best in the Android category.  If you’re looking for an even more affordable tablet, check out these tips about shopping for the right tablet under $99.

#5 – Fitbit – Sure, you can use the built-in pedometer on your smartphone like I do, but even for sedentary louts like myself, a Fitbit would be helpful for 2 key reasons: it gently reminds you to get up and move about periodically throughout the day instead of just confirming that you barely did anything at the end of it, and the Flex wristband and One clip-on models both track your sleep habits as well as activity and calories, which can help you pinpoint and resolve problems to help your overall health profile. The optional Aria smart scale rounds out the system, tracking BMI and body fat percentage as well as weight, to get your entire diet & exercise routine sorted out.

#4 – Cube 3D printer – Folks have been buzzing about 3D printing for a couple of years now, with some dismissing it as a fad, others seeing huge potential. I tend towards the latter opinion, and really anyone who loves making things – whether that be crafting or tinkering around in the garage – has got to find 3D printing intriguing. The biggest issue for most of us laypeople/ tinkerers is barrier to entry – not cost so much as being able to actually make something with it in a reasonable amount of time without having a degree in CAD (computer aided design). In an ever-increasing sea of 3D printers, this is where the Cube gets high marks. It’s plug-and-play simple, with a number of sample designs ready to go out of the box, and high reliability and consistency of results.

#3 – Samsung Galaxy Gear – An early entry into wearable smart technology, this smartwatch is high on my list of coveted devices. I’m not getting my jetpack or hovercar anytime soon, so this is the closest we’ll get to the Jetsons-type future right now.  Read more about it here (and view the ad which never gets old).

#2 – Xbox One – I spent some quality time with the Xbox One over the holidays, and although there are still some things that take getting used to and I wouldn’t give up my Xbox 360 just yet, it’s still very exciting. My main reason for wanting this wasn’t so much for the gaming (although what I’ve tried so far is beautiful, fast & slick), but for the center-of-the-living-room entertainment console aspects, which allows you to control your TV by talking to it (“XBOX, watch Syfy” totally works!), multi-task by snapping a secondary window along the main one to browse the internet, see scores and other info while you’re watching sports, and similar combos of things. The beauty of the Xbox One is really the seamless, futuristic interface, using the Kinect for full-body motion sensing plus voice control; for example, in the game demo for “Zoo Tycoon”, you can wave to call over the animals, and then reach out to pick up virtual food to feed them – strangely awesome. It’s still a little unclear what the best experiences will be, but given that the product’s only been on the market about a month, it can only improve – and it’s already pretty impressive.

#1 – Chromecast – Hands-down my favorite new product this year.  Although it may not be a Roku-killer, at just $35 it definitely packs a lot of functionality and enjoyment into a very small package. Check out how we used it to share family time over Thanksgiving and Christmas visits, plus my initial assessment.

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