TechCrunch’s Favorite Things of 2018

As we do each year, the TechCrunch Staff — our writers, our illustrators, our editors and more — have gathered together and come up with a mega list of our favorite things of 2018.

2018! We did it! Way to go, Earth! We’re number one! We’re number one!

As we do each year, the TechCrunch Staff — our writers, our illustrators, our editors and more — have gathered together and come up with a mega list of our favorite things of 2018.

“Things” here is intentionally defined rather loosely. “Things” here can be a book, or a game, or a concept, or a thought, or an album, or anything else. It can be something that popped up for the first time in 2018, or it can be something we’ve had for a while but found a new appreciation for this year. We tried to limit it to things you, too, might be able to enjoy (so no people from our respective lives, for example) — but beyond that, if it left a positive mark in our lives in 2018, it can make the list.

Here goes!


Greg Kumparak, Editor

Google’s Night Sight Mode

Google recently added a low-light photography mode to its Pixel phones, and it’s just ridiculously good. It’s one of those “Hahaha there’s no way it really works like thaaaOH MY GOD WAIT HOW DID IT DO THAT” features. Other phone makers will be chasing this feature in 2019.

The magical combo that is the Kindle Oasis with a PopSocket

I liked my Kindle Oasis in 2017. It’s light! It’s waterproof! The battery lasts for-freakin’-ever! But the more I use it, the less certain I am that it was actually designed for human hands. The back is slippery smooth, with a weird ridge that looks like it should be easy to hold onto for extended periods of time but isn’t really.

In 2018 I stuck a PopSocket on the back and it changed everything — I’m reading more often, and for much longer stretches. My Kindle has gone from something that lives on my nightstand to something that is always with me. Between the light weight of the Oasis and the flexibility of the PopSocket, it’s the most comfortable reading experience I’ve ever had.

99% Invisible

I’ve been commuting more this year, with the upside being that I’m finally able to catch up on a thousand podcasts I’ve been wanting to listen to forever.

My favorite right now is 99% Invisible — it’s one that friends have been suggesting to me for years, and now I’m sort of mad I didn’t start listening sooner. Each episode focuses on something that we tend to overlook; the history of the places around us, the clothes we wear, the tools we use, etc. They start most episodes with a bit of narrative, then throw you face-first into a rabbit hole. They present a little dangling thread, then spend the next 20-30 minutes tugging on it until your understanding of that thing unravels and reforms. I’m hooked.

Spider-Man for PS4

This game. Just… damn.

I can’t remember the last single player game I enjoyed quite this much. It’s the first game that convinced me to pre-order all of the DLC long before I was even done with the main campaign. It’s the first game I’ve been drawn back to after completing every storyline, side quest and collectible.

There’s too much right about this game to fit into a little blurb like this, but above it all: that webswinging, though. Insomniac Games built a webswinging system that’s intuitive enough to immediately make sense, but complex enough that you can get more adept and precise every time you sit down to play. What could’ve been deeply frustrating instead feels very natural and, before long, wired in. Sequel please.


Devin Coldewey, Writer

Return of the Obra Dinn

At once an interactive storybook, a maddening logic puzzle and a beautiful game, Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn bucks pretty much every gaming trend and is a resounding success. Tasked with investigating the fates of all hands aboard the derelict Obra Dinn using an artifact that shows you the scenes of their deaths, you work your way backwards and forward through a strange, compelling story told in freeze frame, snippets of audio and your imagination. Not for quitters — this game is hard.

Vita Nostra

I’ve been disappointed by modern sci-fi, fantasy and magical realism for years, and thought I’d try my luck with this newly translated novel touted as “Harry Potter meets metaphysics in backwater Russia.” A girl is approached by a mysterious stranger offering entrance to a mysterious school… but instead of magic the students seem to be having their minds systematically broken. I was very pleasantly surprised by the freshness, weirdness and intelligence of Vita Nostra, which is nothing like anything else I’ve read, and certainly not in the increasingly overcrowded YA genre, which this only barely fits into. I’d recommend this to anyone over 16 who’s okay with having their mind bent a bit.

My trusty iPhone SE

As everyone in the world fusses about the latest, largest phones, which notch is best and how to get the most out of your virtual assistant, I’m content with my years-old, pocket-sized iPhone SE, in my opinion the zenith of Apple’s design philosophy. It’s been discontinued (I suspect because it was still showing up newer models) and that’s a shame. I wish more things in the tech world worked as well and lasted as long as this phone.


Catherine Shu, Writer

Trekz Air

I belong to a group for fans of true crime podcasts who are also parents of young children. We were wondering how to indulge that interest without traumatizing our offspring and someone suggested bone-conduction headphones, which send sound vibrations through the bones of your cheeks and jaw, keeping your ears open so you remain aware of surrounding noises.

I bought a pair of wireless Trekz Air and they have totally changed my life. Fine, that’s hyperbole, but I love being able to listen to things while keeping an ear out for my toddler, deliveries or traffic. Not surprisingly, the sound quality doesn’t match traditional headphones, but it’s more than clear enough for spoken words. Trekz Air are lightweight and a good option for people who find earbuds uncomfortable but don’t want to lug around over-the-ear headphones. The vibrations tickle at first, but you get used to them.

Paprika (the app, not the spice)

Before downloading Paprika, using online recipes meant printing them out or smearing grease, flour and possible traces of salmonella on my iPhone. Paprika makes everything easier by downloading recipes, cutting out the 2,000 word essays and dozens of photos many food sites publish, and sorting ingredients and directions into organized sections. You also can keep an inventory of ingredients you already own and match that against meal or menu plans to automatically create grocery shopping lists. The iOS and Android apps cost a very reasonable $4.99.

NPR’s Believed podcast

Believed is often painful to listen to, but it is one of the most important podcasts released this year. Through interviews with survivors, their parents, advocates and law enforcement officials, Michigan Radio reporters Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith not only examine how Larry Nassar was able to get away with sexually abusing hundreds of girls and women for so many years, but also how his young victims eventually found their voices and succeeded in bringing him to justice. (For people raising kids, the “Gaslighting” and “The Parents” episodes are essential listening.)

BBC Radio 3 Slow Radio’s episode “Forgotten Sounds”

The episode captures many of the noises that once formed the ambient soundtrack of daily life, but are disappearing as technology advances, including typewriters, printing machines and looms. All are combined by composer Iain Chambers into a gentle medley that’s awesome for background noise if you find music too distracting while you work.


Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Lee, a designer, breaks down the aesthetic elements that induce feelings of contentment, wonder and glee: lush bouquets and bright colors, balloons bobbing in the air, gardens hidden in the city neighborhoods, the glow of sunlight against pale yellow walls, a silly pair of socks, the perfect harmony of a Rockettes’ kick line. Her book makes a solid argument for the link between good design and social well-being, while serving as a guide for how you can create more moments of transcendence and joy in your life.

Rookie on Love edited by Tavi Gevinson

I’m more than a decade older than their target age bracket, but I loved Rookie, the online magazine for teenagers edited by Tavi Gevinson, because it was the kind of thing I longed for in high school and I was just happy it existed. It also brought exposure to an amazing group of young writers and artists, including Jenny Zhang, Hazel Cills, Petra Collins and Rachel Hodgson (to name just a very truncated list).

Though the site recently announced it will stop publishing new content, this year also marked the release of  Rookie on Love, an anthology of essays, interviews and comics about all kinds of love — romantic, platonic, familial, self — and heartbreak. It is just as remarkable as the Rookie Yearbook series and cements the legacy Gevinson and her colleagues built over the last seven years.

Bougainvillea

Photo by Leonora (Ellie) Enking

Want a plant you can’t kill? Screw succulents. Get a bougainvillea instead. I bought four potted ones and they make me feel like a gardening genius. The bright pink perennial blooms also add a happy note to my balcony on cold and grey days.



Romain Dillet, Writer

VanMoof bike

2018 has been an interesting year for people living in Paris and who love bikes. In 2017, I was using Paris’ bike-sharing system (Vélib) constantly, but couldn’t anymore because the new provider made the whole system unusable.

After a lot of Ofo and Mobike rides, I became frustrated with the unpredictable nature of free-floating services. Will I find a bike? Is the bike broken? And let’s be honest, those bikes tend to suck.

So I switched to a VanMoof Smart X and I love this bike. It’s a solid, connected bike that doesn’t need a ton of attention.

People

This weekend, maybe you can leave your phone in your pocket and talk with people around you. After countless examples of Facebook missteps, multiple digital well-being dashboards and many #quitfacebook hashtags, it’s time to act.

If you were waiting for proof that social networks, ad companies and addictive engagement tricks were hurting your social behavior, now you have it. A tiny little red number shouldn’t stop you from engaging in an interesting conversation with your family, your neighbor, your Uber driver or the person waiting in line in front of you for a concert.

I’m not perfect on this front. The goal isn’t to reach perfection — being mediocre at something is OK. But trying to talk a tiny bit more with people around you is already better than clearing your Instagram feed multiple times a day.


Natasha Lomas, Writer

Open DMs on Twitter

It’s a bit of a love-hate “favorite” because my Twitter account’s noise to signal ratio has inexorably taken a (small) hit after I opened up DMs this year. But, on balance, having to tune out a bit of spam PR/worthless crypto pitches/random “suspicious” photo-messages (which are helpfully autoblocked from being displayed by Twitter anyway) has been worth it to allow some interesting new signals to filter through via direct message.

Email is an alternative channel for this, of course. But the level of inbox noise makes it challenging for this type of “alien signal” to break through. Ditto LinkedIn, which also only offers the messaging feature to paying users or existing contacts. So Twitter — at least for now — offers a decent alternative where interesting strangers can whisper in your ear. There’s no predicting what might happen to the calibre and cadence of these alien signals in the future though. Much like Slack used to claim to aid productivity until it became a self-replicating, attention-sucking virus, comms technologies work until they break from overuse (and/or corporate growth targets…).


Travis Bernard, Audience Development

Sonos’ 5.1 Surround Sound Set

My sound system stopped working this year, so I looked into getting a Sonos system. The price was initially a turn-off, but after using it for the last few months I can honestly say it’s well worth the steep price tag. The sound is stellar, but what’s more impressive was that it only took 30 minutes to set up a 5.1 surround sound system.


Megan Rose Dickey, Writer

OWL Two-way Dash Cam

It’s an always-on camera for my car that gives me peace of mind that no one is smashing my windows or towing my car.

Otter, a transcription service

These transcriptions are the actual best. This tool has become my go-to for transcribing recorded interviews.

Super Mario Party for Nintendo Switch

It’s a fun, pick-up-and-play kind of game that’s great for groups — even if half the group isn’t usually super into games.



Brian Heater, Writer

Hell-On by Neko Case

“God is not a contract or a guy / God is an unspecified tide” is one of the great opening lines, on-par with Patti Smith’s “Gloria” and Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms.”

I don’t know how, but seven records into her solo career, the sometime New Pornographer keeps getting better. Hell-On is an intricately layered and deeply personal expression from an immensely talented singer-songwriter.

Sorry to Bother You

If you haven’t had this spoiled yet, congrats. Turn off all internet notifications and go watch it immediately. Sorry to Bother You is such a beautiful brainfuck in ways the trailer, thankfully, doesn’t begin to approach. True, there’s all of the social commentary one would expect from the directorial debut of Coup frontman Boots Riley, but the movie explores the subjects through shockingly hilarious unexpected avenues.

Muse 2 headset

I’m bad at meditation. Like really, really bad. I may be the only person in the world who actually gets MORE anxious when I sit quietly with my thoughts. I’ve had mixed results with apps (Calm has been my go-to, of late), and while I initially balked at the idea of gamifying the process, I’ve actually found this wearable a useful tool in helping regain my focus, even when not wearing it.

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes

Nancy, Olivia Jaimes’ take on the octogenarian newspaper strip, feels too good for this world. Or at very least, too good for the hate-spewing comments section that follows it around on GoComics.com. You see, newspaper strips are like Ghostbusters or Star Wars. People want a fresh take on something familiar that’s somehow exactly the same as the original. Jaimes has the unenviable task of being the first woman to take on Ernie Bushmiller’s beloved strip, and some of the angrier corners of the internet have not been so kind — causing her to take on a forced anonymity. It’s not for lack of brilliance. Her take on the strip is often hilarious and frequently meta — exactly the sort of stuff we’d hope for Nancy and Sluggo.

Sharp Objects

I travel a lot and do around 75 percent of my movie watching on planes. Turns out you run out of reasonable movie choices pretty fast. Thankfully, I discovered this Showtime series at the beginning of a 16-hour flight back from Hong Kong and proceeded to watch the entire thing, front to back in one leg-cramping binge. It’s the only show that’s held my increasingly short attention span since last year’s Twin Peaks reunion. Sharp Objects leans less on the weird, but has enough left-field twists and turns to make it one of the most engaging series in recent memory.


Sarah Perez, Writer

DoublePane for macOS

I’ve used this for years as a window manager for when I have to drop from 2 screens to 1. I realized how important it was to me this year, when it was one of the first installs on a new Mac.

This $11 clear case for my iPhone XR

I mean, I drop my phone a lot and it’s not cracked yet, but feel free to spend 3x more on Apple’s version.

(also, +1 to what Greg said about PopSockets)


Bryce Durbin, Illustrator

All the Answers by Michael Kupperman

Michael Kupperman is known for hilarious, absurd comics such as Snake ‘n’ Bacon and Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010, but the author opens up about his own family history in this graphic memoir. His father is “quiz kid” Joel Kupperman, who became world-famous in his youth but retreated from the spotlight after adolescence. The memoir is beautifully rendered in stark black and white drawings as Kupperman tells his father’s life story in an effort to understand his own. Buy it here.

Meet My Friends The Friends

Meet My Friends The Friends is ostensibly a recap podcast about Friends, but you don’t have to like or know the ’90s sitcom to enjoy this.

Tom Scharpling (who also hosts The Best Show) tries to run a smooth ship that seems to be coming apart right from its launch due to infighting with his engineer(s). Running jokes about music cues, sound effects bumpers and fake ads for ridiculous companies and products build throughout the series. Unlike the sprawling Best Show, each episode of MMFTF is about 15 minutes.



Jordan Crook, Editor

Nanette by Hannah Gadsby

I’m a huge fan of stand-up comedy, but no special has ever touched my heart the way that Nanette did. Hannah Gadsby reimagines what a stand-up special can be. She feeds information to the audience bite by bite, whether it’s the sad reality of art history legends or her own personal stories, all the while narrating the underlying meaning of the special. Bottom line: Is it funny? Yes. Very. Does it go beyond funny to something more meaningful? Indeed, it does, and with a combination of authenticity and grace that are rarely paired so well.

Red Dead Redemption 2

If the holidays are a time for rest and reflection, heading into the new year means taking on new challenges. Red Dead Redemption 2 is great for both. It’s a laid back beautiful game that at times feels much more like a movie than a game, and yet the sheer volume of the game is most certainly a vast undertaking. It follows the story of a man, Arthur Morgan, but also the story of a time and place.

Brooklinen sheets

Growing up, my parents’ bed was always the best bed in the house. Not only was it a giant California King (which feels like a cruise ship to a six-year-old), but it was beautiful and had the most luxurious, soft sheets. The older I get, the more I feel pushed to make my bed just as luxurious, and Brooklinen has paved the way. The mix-and-match sheet sets are adorable, and they feel amazing. Plus, they’re pretty affordable.


Lucas Matney, Writer

Apple HomePod

I am what most would call a smart speaker power user. Despite living in an apartment with few distinct rooms, I’ve somehow gotten addicted and am situated with a dwelling that has twice as many smart speakers as it does doors.

As such, I was super intrigued by the HomePod when it came out. I was already an Apple Music user because of the enhanced support for other devices, but I’ve really enjoyed the capabilities of the HomePod beyond its nepotistic relationship with Apple Music. The voice command isolation usurps similarly priced speakers, and the speaker is incredibly well-balanced, with solid bass and volume that fits my needs. Siri’s capabilities are getting there and hopefully Apple gets a little bit more aggressive with what bits are Siri-enabled in the next iOS release. Overall, I am still a big fan of Siri’s most custom-built hardware home.

Logitech Harmony Home Hub

Combining home theater gear into a unified smart system is often the most frustrating tech task you can attempt. This year I picked up a Harmony Home Hub for about $50 and made everything a lot easier. The idea of controlling all of your gear with your phone is sometimes better in theory than it is in practice, but by using the IFTTT app you can create custom Google Assistant or Alexa controls for the Harmony Hub so that you can easily switch between audio and video outputs. I still keep my remotes around, but I’m able to do a good chunk of what I want with my voice.

Oculus Go

The perfect flight companion. I have spent a ton of time with VR headsets and, for the most part, it’s been time I wish I could get back. That being said, I’ve really liked traveling with Facebook’s Oculus Go headset on my last couple long-haul flights. A lack of self-awareness is something Santa can’t put under your tree, but spending 7 or 8 hours with a VR headset strapped to your face binging movies on an airplane is borderline magical if you can stomach the fact that you’ll end up being ridiculed in about a dozen tweets by the end of your flight.


Anthony Ha, Writer

The Leftovers

Friends — and regular listeners of our Original Content podcast — know that it takes a lot for me to stick around for more than one season of a TV show, even a show that I’m enjoying. (There’s just so much else to watch!) But this year, I finally caught up on seasons two or three of HBO’s The Leftovers, and I can now confidently state that it’s one of the best shows ever made.

Aside from maybe Twin Peaks, I can’t think of anything else that mixes goofy humor and existential despair, the surreal and the mundane, so effectively. Carrie Coon delivers an all-time great performance as Nora Durst, a woman whose entire family disappeared in the mysterious Sudden Departure, and when Justin Theroux sings “Homeward Bound,” it’s probably the most emotionally devastating karaoke performance you’ll ever see.

Forest

Like everyone whose working life has moved online, my concentration has been shot to hell, which is why I’ll happily try out anything with a halfway-decent chance of making me less distractible and more productive.

The Pomodoro technique (basically: you work without interruption in 25-minute intervals, then take short breaks) turns out to be less-than-ideal for covering breaking news, but it’s great for other, longer-form writing, like fiction. And while there are plenty of Pomodoro timers in the App Store, Forest has become my favorite, thanks to its playful design, and the cheerful scolding you get when you’re tempted to break concentration by checking your phone.

TechCrunch Gift Guide 2018 banner


Gift Guide: 13 last minute gifts that you can still get in time

Whoops. You goofed up. It seemed like you had plenty of time before Christmas was here and now there’s four days left and all the shops are slammed and you’ve (mostly) missed the shipping window.

It’s okay! We’ve all been there.

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

Whoops. You goofed up. It seemed like you had plenty of time before Christmas was here and now there’s four days left and all the shops are slammed and you’ve (mostly) missed the shipping window.

It’s okay! We’ve all been there.

We’ve compiled a list of things we think are great but that you should still be able to get in time, be it online or in a local big box store.

Amazon Kindle Oasis

The Kindle Oasis ($249 on Amazon) is a really, really good Ebook reader. It’s lightweight, the battery lasts forever, and as a very welcome bonus, it’s water resistant — so a quick unexpected dunk in the bath tub won’t fry it.

Plus, as one of Amazon’s flagship devices, they keep it heavily stocked at all of their shipping centers… meaning even on the Friday before Christmas, you should be able to swing same-day delivery.


Your favorite books, sent right to their eBook reader

(Photo Credit: Andrzej Wojcicki from Getty Images)

Oh, they’ve already got a Kindle? Utilize it! Send them your favorite book(s) of 2018. Amazon makes it straightforward to have a Ebook delivered as a gift; you can either email a code to yourself which you pop in a card, or have it sent straight to their inbox.



Chromecast or Fire TV

The Chromecast has found its way onto our Gift Guides for three years running now, and with good reason: it’s just excellent. Plug it into any TV, and you can now send content from most of your smartphone’s popular apps (Netflix/Hulu/HBO/Spotify/etc.) with the tap of a button. There’s no remote required, because your phone is the remote. The standard HD model goes for $35, while the 4K friendly model bumps the price up to $60 — but both models should be available at your local Targets, Best Buys, etc.

(If your gift recipient is more about that Alexa-life, Amazon’s $35 Fire TV 4K stick is also a super solid media streamer — and the remote has Alexa built in!)


Subscription Boxes!

You forgot to get them something for Christmas, so why not get them something for the next few months? A card explaining whats on the way with an ETA on the first delivery, and bam, you’re set and no one knows you totally forgot about Christmas.

And there are so many options now! Friend got a green thumb? Succulent Studios delivers 2 hearty plants each month for around $16.50. Sweet tooth? Japan Crate (pictured above) airdrops all sorts of fun/whacky goodies with prices ranging from $12-$35 a month. LootCrate brings the geeky goods. TryTheWorld nurtures their inner-foodie.


Gift Cards for services they already use

Does your friend binge watch The Office on Netflix on loop? Do they never have Spotify turned off? Why not subsidize those habits for them for a few months? Gift cards are normally the classic “Eh, I didn’t know what to get you, so buy your own thing” gift — but in this case, you’re saving them money you know they’re gonna spend otherwise.


A really long charging cable for their phone

No one has enough charging cables for their phone. I have probably 30 lightning cables, and I still find myself digging around for one a few times a week. Meanwhile, most people use the cable that comes with their phone, which are usually hilariously short and start to fray in about 30 seconds.

Anker’s PowerLine+ II cables are awesome, especially for the price. $10-$20 gets you a 10ft cable to let your friend actually use their phone comfortably while it charges. The insulation is braided, which in addition to making it look fancy also means that it’s super tough. I’ve been using one for well over a year now and it still looks brand new. They’ve got options for whatever port their phone might use, be it Lightning, microUSB, or USB-C.

Is it the most touching gift? Nope! But its suuuuper practical, and they’ll probably use it all the time.


A massive (or intentionally small!) battery pack

Phone screens are getting bigger. Phone processors are getting faster, and more power hungry.

Phone batteries, meanwhile, are hardly keeping up. I don’t know many people, at this point, who can get through a full day without worrying about their phone’s battery at least once. Why not take that stress away?

If they tend to carry a big bag or backpack, consider something like the Anker PowerCore ($55). With a 20,000mAh battery inside, it’ll juice up pretty much any phone multiple times before the battery itself needs a recharge. If they tend to go with smaller bags (or just their pockets), the PowerCore+ Mini ($20) is about the size of a tube of lipstick. It’s only 3350mAh, but that’s enough to get most phones back up to nearly 100%. In case of emergency, batteries like this can save your life.


Your favorite apps

Know someone is getting a new phone for Christmas? Why not help them load it up? Think of all your favorite apps/games of 2018, and send them over as gifts.

Apple makes it easy to send specific iOS apps/games as gifts, assuming you know the recipients email address. If your friend’s on Android, it’s a bit trickier — you’ll probably want to just buy them a Google Play gift card, and write your recommendations in a card.


Tile Trackers

Got a friend who’s always losing their keys? Or can never find their wallet?

Tiles are little Bluetooth-powered widgets that you strap to anything you tend to misplace. When that thing goes missing, you just pop into the app and ping it. If it’s close, it’ll start chirping away. If its not nearby — like, say, if you left it at a restaurant — it’ll go into “Community Find” mode; if anyone else using the Tile app happens to walk by and detect it, it’ll ping you with its exact location.

This year Tile released a new model that fixes one of the products only pain points: battery replacement. Whereas previous models lasted a year before requiring you to ship it in for replacement, the new Tile Mates ($60 for 4) use CR1632 batteries that can be swapped by the user.



Raspberry Pi

If your friends a coder/builder/tinkerer, giving them a Raspberry Pi is like giving an artist a big, beautiful blank canvas. It’s a surprisingly powerful itty-bitty computer, capable of powering an infinite number of DIY projects. It can be a media server! Or the brains for a self-driving RC car! Or the conductor of your Christmas Light symphony!

There are lots of options for the Raspberry Pi — from the tiny-but-powerful Pi Zero W (~$10) to any one of a ton of clones. If you’re not sure which ones right, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B ($35) is probably a safe bet; it’s powerful and flexible, but still small and cheap.


PopSocket

If you somehow haven’t seen one of these out in the wild, a quick breakdown: PopSockets ($10) are collapsible grips that stick to your devices (phones, tablets, eReaders, etc) and make them easier to hold for extended periods of time. Slide the PopSocket between two fingers, and your device pretty much holds itself. The PopSocket pops out (hence the name) when in use, but fold into itself and become super slim when it’s time to go back in your pocket.

I wasn’t super sold on these things at first; I was perfectly content just holding my phone the normal way, thank you very much.

Then I added one to my Kindle…and, well, it’s changed the way I read. I read more often, and I read everywhere. The Kindle is very light, but can be awkward to hold for hours on end. The PopSocket makes it so that the Kindle basically just floats along with my hand. It took about a day before I’d ordered another one for my phone.

They’re easy to find at Target or Best Buy, with a lot of locations dedicating entire aisles to them. They’ve got thousands of different looks (plus licensed stuff from Marvel, Star Wars, etc.) so you should be able to find one that fits your friend’s style.


Smart Plugs

Smart plugs are a perfect first dip into the smart home waters. They let you use your phone to toggle the lamps and other myriad non-connected devices you’ve got around the house. They’re super simple to setup — unplug your lamp, insert smart plug, reconnect the lamp through the smart plug, then get the plug on your WiFi.

I’ve used a bunch of different plugs, but my current favorite is the Belkin Wemo Mini Smart Plug ($25). It’s easy to install, and stable enough that they’re more or less set-and-forget.


Board Games!

If you hear “board games” and nothing but pained memories of hours-long Monopoly and Scrabble battles fill your brain, you’re in for a treat. Board games have been going through a wonderful revolution over the past decade or so, and some recent games are just incredible. You can team up to escape a sinking island in Forbidden Island , wear out your brain with Anomia, or spend weeks (seriously!) saving the world with Pandemic: Legacy.

Need help finding the right game? Most big cities have a dedicated board game shop, and I’ve never been to one where the employees weren’t eager to help. We also have a list with some of our favorites for both 2018 and 2017.

TechCrunch Gift Guide 2018 banner


Gift Guide: 12 really useful gifts for the friends who just had a baby

Buying the right stuff as a new parent is tough. Buying the right things for a new parent? Even harder.

There’s just way, way too much junk out there marketed at new parents. A lot of it seems useful until you realize it’s just taking up space.

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

Buying the right stuff as a new parent is tough. Buying the right things for a new parent? Even harder.

There’s just way, way too much junk out there marketed at new parents. A lot of it seems useful until you realize it’s just taking up space.

As it turns out, Team TechCrunch had a lot of babies this year. Really — backstage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF was like a lil’ temporary nursery. I chatted with the new moms and dads of TechCrunch (past and present) to figure out the things that helped them the most in the early months.

We won’t get into things like carriers and car seats and strollers; those are pretty personal, and there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation. Instead we focused on the things that surprised us with their usefulness. Some of them aren’t necessarily marketed toward parents, but make their lives easier. Some are things they didn’t think they’d need, but ended up using on the daily.

Here are some of the things that came up most:

Headrest mirror

Age range: until the baby is moved to a forward facing car seat

For the first stretch of a baby’s life, their carseat is supposed to face the rear of the car. That means, of course, that you can’t see your baby in the rearview. That’s no fun.

These plastic (so no glass shards if it somehow breaks) headrest mirrors bring the baby back into view. I thought it was just comforting to us, until we were traveling and using a rental car. Our baby, who always seems to love car rides, was suddenly upset any time we placed him in the rental. We eventually realized it’s because his friend — the baby in the mirror — was nowhere to be found. As soon as the mirror was back, he was happy again.

We use the Go by Goldbug ($12). It’s easy to install, adjust, and move from car to car, and it feels super secure once it’s in place.

Philips Hue Bulbs

Age range: All ages.

We’ve had Philips Hue bulbs in our house for a few years, but I honestly can’t believe how useful they’ve been since our baby arrived. Being able to turn on the light from your phone when the baby cries without going across the room to the switch? Magic. Being able to dim the light a bit with your voice (with the help of something like Google Home or an Amazon Echo) when your arms are occupied by an upset newborn? Sorcery.

A 2-bulb starter kit (including the required hub) goes for $70 on Amazon.

(There are lots of alternatives to Hue at this point, many of them cheaper. I like Hue because of the flexibility provided by the Hue line’s extensive options/accessories, because it works with Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Home, and because the app is nice and stable.)

Portable/Moveable Philips Hue Switch

Age range: All ages.

If you get the bulbs above, grab one of these Philips Hue Tap switches ($44 on Amazon) too.

I’ve probably poked this goofy little hockey puck a thousand times in the past four months.

That example I used earlier with the light switch being on the other side of the room? That’s my life. This thing, however, lets me bring a light switch anywhere; in our case, my wife and I each have one stuck on our nightstand. It has four buttons, each of which can set a Hue light to a different preset (like bright/dim/even dimmer/off). It lets me turn the light to just the right level of brightness without waking anyone up, without looking for my phone, and without wandering across the room in the dark.

Oh, and the neatest part: it doesn’t need batteries. The action of pressing a button charges it up just enough to send the command to the Hue bulb.

Portable white noise machine

Age range: First year, at least.

White noise (think the sound of radio static) helps some babies fall asleep, and sleep more soundly.

There’s about a thousand options for bringing white noise on the go, but the Cloud b Sleep Sheep ($32) has become my go-to.

It turns off automatically after 45 minutes, has an adjustable volume level, has velcro tabs to hook it onto a stroller, and multiple melodies/sound options like ocean sounds and lullabies in case the white noise gets tiring. And when it’s not in use? It just looks like a cute stuffed animal, rather than a whacky techno doodad. It requires two AA batteries, so consider also buying them some rechargeables.

Google Home/Amazon Echo

Like the Hue Bulbs, usage of my Google Home ($100) has skyrocketed since our baby came along.

Got a baby on the edge of falling asleep? Hey Google, play rain noises.

Want to watch your shows but the baby is already nursing in your arms? Hey Google, play The Good Place on the upstairs TV.

Hey Google, add “freezable teethers” to my shopping list. Hey Google, play lullabies from Spotify. Hey Google, dim the lights.

(Amazon Echos are a totally solid alternative. I like Google Home because it plays friendly with Chromecast, but if the recipient is more a Fire TV fan, go with the Echo)

A (more secure!) baby monitor

Age range: Any age, but extra useful in the first year or two.

Baby monitors are great! Sometimes it feels like baby’s naps are the only times in which you can get anything done, but you still want to keep an eye on them.

Unfortunately, a lot of baby monitors are insecure junk (see Rapid7’s report on baby monitor security here) requiring anyone who might want to eavesdrop into your house to use only the most basic of tools (like, say, another baby monitor.)

One option is to use a Nest camera ($199) as a baby monitor — especially if the house already has Nest cams setup elsewhere. Built by Google and battle tested by countless security researchers, it’s pretty dang secure. It’s not built specifically to work as a baby monitor, but it’s nice that it can just be used as a security camera once it completes its baby monitor duties.

Want something a bit more baby-focused? A few TechCrunchers use Nanit. The base model ($229) does HD Audio/Video, IR-based night vision, plus some neat bonus tricks like sleep tracking and temperature/humidity sensing. A slightly more expensive Plus model ($279) brings in two-way audio, if that’s a thing you ant.

And, as a huge plus, the company is pretty open about their security practices and self-auditing efforts.

Instant Pot

Age range: Any

When baby comes, free time becomes a precious commodity. It becomes way easy to fall back to microwaveable meals or DoorDash every night. And hey, no judgement! If you’re finding time to eat most meals, you’re doing just fine.

But when you feel like making something for yourself but want it to be tasty and fast and relatively easy to cleanup, pressure cooking is a great option. InstantPot ($80 – $100, depending on the size) makes pressure cooking less daunting — prep ingredients, pop them in, close the lid, press a button.

Get’em a good pressure cooking recipe book too, while you’re at it.

Meal delivery Kits

Age range: Extra useful in the first few months, but ask ahead

See above. If finding time to cook is hard, finding time to shop might feel impossible.

Meal delivery kits like Blue Apron and Sunbasket (both of which I used, the latter of which I ended up preferring) bring the ingredients to you, taking the least fun step out of the cooking process. They’ve boiled the instructions down to just a page or so, with most of the meals taking about an hour to do right. One month of meal deliveries will cost around $200-$250, depending on which service you go with.

As for which service to go with: this is the kind of gift that you want to consult the gift recipient about before. There are all kinds of different options now, with services that tailor to everything from veggie to keto to gluten-free. Don’t go sending them three months of meat if they’re herbivores, you know?

A really good protective phone case

Age range: Literally any time before or after the baby arrives

I’ve asked a bunch of friends about this, and it seems wildly common: when the baby comes along, suddenly your phone gets dropped 10x as much. When the baby starts crying, it’s easy to forget that your phone was sitting on your lap before you stood up. And when the baby gets older, they will grab your phone and throw it off the table.

A good phone case — something that beefs up the phone without adding a ton of bulk, like an Otterbox Defender ($50) or a LifeProof Slam ($50) — will save your friends hundreds of dollars in screen replacements.

Snoo

Age range: Newborn to “about 6 months” says the company (our son grew out of it at around 4.5 months)

Lets just get this out of the way: $1,200 for a bassinet is a little bananas. That’s one helluva expensive gift.

With that said, the Snoo is… just wonderful. Invented by pediatrician Harvey Karp (author of The Happiest Baby on the Block) and designed by Yves Béhar, it detects when a sleeping baby is starting to fuss, and plays a bit of white noise to try to shush’em back to sleep. If the baby continues to cry, it’ll gently rock them for a few minutes, gradually increasing the rocking through two additional stages. Baby still crying? It turns off and buzzes your phone in the off chance you’re somehow still asleep. It’s by no means a substitute for loving arms providing snuggles and warmth in the middle of the night — but when a baby is still in the early days of figuring out how to transition between sleep stages and is accidentally waking themselves up in the middle of the night, the Snoo might help everyone get a bit more sleep. Plus, the built-in swaddling system keeps the baby on their back while sleeping (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics)

We went 50/50 on ours with some close friends who were having a baby a few months before us, and it worked out just perfect — our son came along just as their son was growing out of it. Our son is just about to grow out of it and into a bigger crib… and, well, we’re gonna miss the Snoo.

Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play

Age range: Until a baby is 25lbs or can pull up or sit up unassisted, says the manual.

This is one of the few things we bought, fell in love with, then bought another. When the crib is in another room and you just need a place for the baby to layback and hang out for a few, the Rock n’ Play (~$60) is fantastic. It can gently rock the baby and play white noise (but, unlike the Snoo, it’s constant — not just when the baby is fussing). It’s great for smaller homes/apartments, with a relatively small footprint and a super lightweight design that can fold right up when it’s not in use.

Keekaroo Peanut Changing Pad

Age range: Newborn to around 3 years

Before our baby arrived, I didn’t quite understand why I needed a $100+ dollar cushion for our changing table. Any flat surface will do, right?

Turns out, babies are wiggle worms. They don’t understand why you’re pulling them out of their nice cozy crib just to set them on a cold table. Nor do they understand that falling from a few feet up would be bad news for everyone. They’ll roll right off, given the chance.

The Keekaroo Peanut helps make the changing table a bit more comfy, but also gives you a buckling strap and raised edges to help keep your lil’ acrobat from tumbling off (You still need to stay close to the table, of course.) It’s also SUPER easy to clean, thanks to the water-resistant surface.

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Gift Guide: Indie games for players worn out on AAA titles

2018 has been a big year for big games, and with new titles from the Assassin’s Creed, Red Dead Redemption, Call of Duty, and Battlefield franchises all competing… it’s enough to make a gamer want to just quit and play something a little more low key. Here are some of the smaller, independent games we […]

2018 has been a big year for big games, and with new titles from the Assassin’s Creed, Red Dead Redemption, Call of Duty, and Battlefield franchises all competing… it’s enough to make a gamer want to just quit and play something a little more low key. Here are some of the smaller, independent games we liked from this year and who they might appeal to.

Bonus: many of these can be gotten for less than $30, making them super solid/easy gifts. They aren’t for any particular platform or in any particular order, except that I’ve been playing the heck out of Ashen for the last couple days, so it’s first.

Ashen – for “Souls” lovers

Available on: Xbox One, Windows

(To be fair, this is less of an “indie” than the others on this list, some of which were made by one person, but it’s just off the beaten path enough to qualify.)

If you’ve ever heard your loved one talk about “builds,” really hard bosses, or which helmet completes their outfit best, they probably play games of the Dark Souls type. Ashen is a new action-adventure-RPG in the same vein but with a few notable twists. It has a lovely art style, a streamlined (but still byzantine) progression system, and an interesting multiplayer style where other players drop into your game, and you drop into theirs, with no real warning or interaction. It works better than you’d think, and I’ve already had some great experiences with it.

Yoku’s Island Express – for people who like both pinball and Metroidvanias

Available on: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Windows

Don’t be fooled by the cuteness of Yoku’s Island Express. This game is both unique and well-crafted, a fusion of (believe it or not) pinball mechanics and gradual exploration of an enormous map. It’s definitely weird, but it immediately clicks in a way you wouldn’t expect. It’s a great break from the grim environments of… well, lots of the games on this list.

Dead Cells – for action fans who won’t mind “roguelike” repetition

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Windows, Linux, macOS

The “roguelike” genre has you traversing procedurally-generated variations on a series of levels and progressing farther by improving your own skills — and sometimes getting a couple shiny new weapons or abilities. Dead Cells takes this genre and combines it with incredibly tight side-scrolling action and platforming that never gets old even when you’re going through the sewers for the 20th time. The developers were very responsive during Early Access; the game was great when I bought it early in the year, and now it’s even better.

Below – for atmosphere fans who won’t mind “roguelike” repetition

Available on: Xbox One, Windows

In some ways, Below is the opposite of Dead Cells, though they share a bit of DNA. This game, the long-awaited follow-up to Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP by Capy, is a slow, dark, tense descent into a mysterious cave; it’s almost totally wordless and shown with a pulled-back perspective that makes things feel both twee and terrifying. The less said about the particulars of the game, the better (the gamer should discover on their own), but it may be fairly noted that this is a title that requires some patience and experimentation — and yes, you’re going to die on a spike trap.

Cultist Simulator – for the curious

Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux

It’s very hard to explain Cultist Simulator. It’s an interactive story, different every time, told through cards that you draw and play, and which interact with each other in strange and wonderful ways. One card might be a place, another an action, another a person, all of which can be used, investigated, or sacrificed to other cards: ideas, drives, gods… it’s really quite amazing, even if you rarely have any idea what’s happening. But the curious and driven will derive great satisfaction from learning the way this strange, beautifully made machine works.

Return of the Obra Dinn – for the observant (and dedicated)

Available on: macOS, Windows

This game absorbed me completely for a few days earlier this year. Like the above, it’s a bit hard to explain: you’re given the task of determining the identities and fates of the entire crew of the titular ghost ship by using a magic watch to witness their last words and the moment of their death. That task, and the story it reveals as you accomplish it, grows increasingly disturbing and complex. The beautiful 1-bit art, great music and voice acting, and extremely clever construction make this game — essentially made by one person, Lucas Pope — one of my favorites of the year. But it’s only for people who don’t mind banging their head against things a bit.

Dusk – for connoisseurs of old-school shooters

Available on: Windows, Switch

If your loved one ever talks about the good old days of Quake, Half-Life, Unreal and other classic shooters, Dusk will be right up their alley. The chunky graphics are straight out of the ’90s but the game brings a level of self-awareness and fun, not to mention some gameplay improvements, that make it a joy to play.

CrossCode – for anyone who spent more time playing SNES Classic than AAA games this year

Available on: Windows, Linux, macOS

This crowd-funded RPG was long in the making, and it shows. It’s huge! A fusion of SNES and PSX-era pixel art, smooth but furious top-down action a la Secret of Mana, and a whole lot of skills and equipment. I’ve played nearly 20 hours so far and I’m only now starting to fill out the second branch of four skill trees; the overarching story is still just getting rolling. I told you it was huge! But it’s also fabulous.

Celeste – for the dexterous and those not inclined to anger

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, macOS, Windows, Linux

Celeste is one of those games they call “Nintendo Hard,” that elusive combination of difficulty and control that cause you to be more disappointed in yourself than the game when you die. And you will die in Celeste — over and over. Hundreds of times. It gleefully tracks the number of deaths on each set of stages, and you should expect well into three figures. The platforming is that hard — but the game is also that good. Not only is its pixel art style cute and the environments lovingly and carefully crafted, but it tells a touching story and the dialogue is actually pretty fun.

Overcooked! 2 –  for friendships strong enough to survive it

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Windows, macOS

Much like the first Overcooked, the sequel has you and your friends attempting to navigate chaotic kitchens, hazards, and each other as you try to put together simple dishes like salads and hamburgers for never-sated patrons. The simple controls belie the emergent complexity of the gameplay, and while it can be frustrating at first, it’s immensely satisfying when you get into the zone and blast through a target number of dishes. But only do it with friends you think you can tolerate screaming and bossing each other around.

Into the Breach – for the tactically minded

Available on: Switch, Windows, macOS, Linux

The follow-up to the addictive starship simulator roguelike Faster Than Light (FTL), Into the Breach is a game of tactics taking place on tiny boards loaded with monsters and mechs — but don’t let the small size fool you. The solutions to these little tableaux require serious thinking as you position, attack, and (hopefully) repel the alien invaders. Matt says it’s “perfect for Switch.”

Gift Guide: 6 rugged gifts for outdoorsy friends and family

Shopping for someone who prefers hiking and camping to the great indoors can be tricky. Not only are outdoor enthusiasts usually less impressed by traditional gifts (clothes, games, etc.) but their preferred realm of technical gear is vast and confusing. If you’d rather not go deep on the research yourself, we’ve got some solid touchpoints […]

Shopping for someone who prefers hiking and camping to the great indoors can be tricky. Not only are outdoor enthusiasts usually less impressed by traditional gifts (clothes, games, etc.) but their preferred realm of technical gear is vast and confusing. If you’d rather not go deep on the research yourself, we’ve got some solid touchpoints for expert outdoor gear gifting.

1. Party tent

Okay, hear me out. As a pack weight-conscious backpacker the idea of a light-up tent sounded ridiculous at first, but Big Agnes is onto something with their line of mtnGLO tents. I’ve been camping with the 2-person Big Agnes mtnGLO Copper Spur tent for more than a season now and these things are really cool. The company has embedded thin strips of LED lighting into the tent itself, illuminating the inside more evenly than you can pull of with a headlamp alone without overpowering your hard-earned nature vibes.

Photo via Big Agnes

A small detachable battery pack powers the lights and you can jettison that bit if you’re really looking to shed ounces. If not, enjoy tent-bound activities like reading and looking for your prescription medication with the newfound freedom of ample light. If your special giftee prefers car camping then even better: insta-party tent. Or you know, they can fish last night’s socks out of the bottom of their sleeping bag in record time.

If this is too gimmicky (I’m telling you, it’s not!) but you’re looking to gift a tent, check out REI’s in-house brand. They make super solid tents that are generally priced well below the competition and even offer a backpacking bundle and a camping bundle that make the perfect starter set of gear for someone new to losing themselves in the great outdoors.

2. Solar Charger

goal zero solar charger

If you’re shopping for a car camper or a day hiker, battery life isn’t much of a concern, but if your special someone likes to get lost in the wilderness overnight, they’ve probably stressed about battery life. Many people rely on their smartphone as their primary camera in the outdoors, so keeping it charged deep into a hike, climb or backpack is key. In most of these circumstances, a traditional portable battery back would be too heavy and wouldn’t be rechargeable in the field, but solar chargers can solve those problems.

Some people swear by solar panels by Suntactics and the Suntactics sCharger-5 Solar Charger is a reasonably sized option. Goal Zero is another prominent brand in the solar gadget market and the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel could make a good personal panel option. For car camping, #vanlife or something else epic yet experienced by car, check out the Goal Zero Yeti 400 Lithium Portable Power Station, a compact beast of a charger that’s priced accordingly ($599.95).

Note: Of course, solar chargers don’t work where sunlight is limited, so if you’re in the Pacific Northwest maybe skip this section.

Garmin Fenix 53. GPS watch

Why not an Apple Watch? Well, a lot of reasons. For anyone who does much extensive hiking, climbing and camping in the backcountry, Apple’s smartwatch is far too puny and fragile. Sure, it’s fine for running, but you need something with battery life worth writing home about and GPS features that help keep you safe — and on route — outdoors.

Garmin makes a lot of solid options here at different price points, including the Garmin Fenix 5 ($449.99) which happily comes in three sizes to accommodate small wrists. Garmin claims up to to 2 weeks of battery life in smartwatch mode on the Fenix 5, up to 24 hours in its GPS mode and up to 60 hours in battery saver mode. The Fenix 5 is configurable depending on your activity of choice, with profiles tuned to hiking, snowboarding and mountain biking.

Compass-maker Suunto also offers a few well-liked watches in the space, including the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak which boasts “route altitude profile navigation and extremely long battery life” i.e. the stuff you really need.

4. Compact camera gear

We covered camera gifting more extensively in out dedicated photography gift guide, but we’ll toss in a few ideas here just for fun. For anyone into the extreme outdoors (backcountry skiing, mountaineering, climbing etc.) a GoPro is a no-brainer. The company’s latest offering, the GoPro Hero7 Black, is top of the line for $399.99, but other GoPro models are available for significantly less.

GoPro Hero 7 Black

If you’re looking for something more geared toward photography rather than video, Sony’s RX100 line offers a killer compact camera that won’t take up much space in your pack. The new Sony RX100 V ($899) and RX 100 VI ($1,199) offer a higher end tiny pro camera, but the still-excellent older models of the Sony RX 100 can be had for a fraction of the price.

5. Satellite messaging

Garmin InReach Mini
This one might sound a little morbid, but if your loved one gets into a sticky situation miles from civilization they won’t be complaining. A handful of different devices can allow you to send an emergency signal when your phone can’t and many of them also allow for non-emergency satellite messaging — handy for coordinating meet-up points or checking in from the backcountry. Among these, the new Garmin InReach Mini ($349.99) is well regarded for its diminutive size and well-rounded feature set, though the Garmin inReach Explorer and Spot X are also solid options.

6. Small Stuff

Okay, so you need a gift for someone outdoorsy but you want to find something a little more low key. Maybe a stocking stuffer or a casual friend gift. We can do that. A lot of people have touchscreen-friendly gloves but do they have technical touchscreen-friendly gloves? Snag a pair of the North Face’s ETip gloves which are both cute and functional or pick up a set of Mountain Hardware’s Power Stretch Stimulus Gloves, which make a nice grippy glove liner.Gaia GPS apps

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend the Gaia GPS app, available for both iPhone and Android at $19.99. For navigating outdoors with topographical maps and even fairly complex routefinding, Gaia can’t be beat. Of course, we’d also be remiss if we didn’t remind you to bring a paper map — just in case.

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Gift Guide: the 16 best board games for holiday family fun

Ah, holiday board gaming. A roaring fire. A glass of nog. And a raging debate over whether the blue guy was next to the red square or vice versa. Buying a gift for a board game fan? Just need something new to bring along to the get together? In this roundup we highlight some of […]

Ah, holiday board gaming. A roaring fire. A glass of nog. And a raging debate over whether the blue guy was next to the red square or vice versa.

Buying a gift for a board game fan? Just need something new to bring along to the get together? In this roundup we highlight some of what we’ve been playing lately – from the easy to the immensely complex – and give you and your family fodder for your next bout of holiday fun. Some new, some old, all great.

 

Machi Koro

This super-cute card game involves building a city using special buildings and attractions. Will your city have a power station, a noodle bar, and a playground? Or will you focus on a TV station, a bakery, and city hall? Think of it as a whimsical Sim City in physical form.

 

King of Tokyo

Who do you want to be today? A giant lizard? A mech? An alien invader? With King of Tokyo you can take over a Japanese metropolis with your giant monster and, with the right moves, take out other players with your spiky tail or teeth. A great game for middle-schoolers, it offers some of the fun of card gaming with board game play.

 

Codenames

Codenames is a wildly different experience with each new group of players. You lay out a grid of cards, each with a single word on it. You pair off two-versus-two, with one player being the clue giver, the other being the guesser. The clue giver is trying to get their guesser to pick as many of their team’s cards as they can each turn, but there’s a catch: the clue giver can only say one word per turn… and there are sudden death cards on the board. Lead the guesser astray, and your team’s done for. There are all sorts of variations of Codenames at this point — including a picture-heavy Disney remix for when the littles want to join in.

 

Anomia

You pull a card. It has a seemingly random symbol on it, along with a category — like “Shoe brand”, or “Occupation”, or “Pop Star”. Look at the top cards of the other players at the table; does your symbol match anyone else’s symbol? If so, the race is on. The first one who can name something, anything that fits the category wins that round. It sounds simple, but it’ll leave your brain exhausted and your body sore from laughter.

 

Bohnanza

In this German card game, you’re dealt a hand of assorted types of beans (some more rare than others) that you must play in the order they’re dealt. You have a limited number of fields in which to plant your beans, which you can then harvest for money. The trick of the game is that as new cards/beans are introduced, they must be planted or harvested by someone at the table for play to resume, so a big part of the game is negotiating bean trades with other players to make the most of your own hand. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins. If you enjoy haggling and negotiating (and goofy cartoon beans) this game is for you.

Waldschattenspiel

I’ve talked about this game before on TC but this version, in the original German, is one of the coolest versions. The gameplay is simple: you turn off the lights in the room and hide little elves behind tall trees. Then one player moves her candle through the forest, trying to catch the elves at play. Once all of the elves are caught – or all the elves hide in one spot – you win. The best part? Fire!

 

Viticulture

Given that most games are played while drinking a bottle or two of wine, Viticulture is the drinking person’s board game. You and your family run a small winery in Tuscany and you have to grow your business by picking grapes, making wine, and getting visitors. Another building game with a great premise.

 

Secret Hitler

Secret Hitler is a game about the rise of fascism. While it’s not a light-hearted game, it does teach us about the fragility of political systems and what it takes to go from a peaceable state to a fascist one overnight. Influenced by Werewolf/Mafia style games, one player is Secret Hitler and other player is a secret Nazi. Together, without telling they other players, they must work together to convert the government to fascism. It’s well worth a look if you like thinking games.

Spaceteam

Spaceteam is a cooperative game — you win, or lose, together. But just because it’s cooperative doesn’t it’s a calm, friendly hang. Oh, there will be yelling.

Spaceteam has you working together to repair your failing spacecraft. Everyone at the table has a set of goals they need to accomplish… but everyone else at the table has their own goals, too. And everyone seemingly has the wrong tools. Gather all the tools you need from other players, and that goal is complete… but everyone else needs their tools too, and with the timer counting down, you’re going to have to all go simultaneously if you’re going to survive. It’s frantic and ridiculous and OH MY GOD SOMEONE PASS ME THE CENTRIFUGAL DISPOSAL, I’VE ASKED FIFTEEN TIMES oh nevermind i have it right here.

 

Carcassone

Carcassonne is one of my absolute favorite games. This city building game lets little ones take part in the fun and, because it is so visually arresting, it can engross you for hours. This massive box includes almost all the expansions. I cannot recommend this game more highly.

 

 

Twilight Struggle

This massive game lets you play the USSR vs. the USA in a struggle for world domination. Designed to simulate the Cold War – I know, exciting! – it’s actually a truly engrossing title and well worth a look.

Scythe

Scythe is a sprawling game that uses cards and miniatures to describe a world of alternate reality. As a farmer in this broken world you must rebuild your armies, reclaim lost lands, and start up the great gears of progress. It’s a long game – about 115 minutes – but it has gotten rave reviews.

Gnomes at Night

Gnomes at Night is a cooperative kids game with a twist. One player sees a maze while other player cannot. The players work together to move through the maze to the treasure, encouraging communications and interaction that online games lack.

 

 

Risk Legacy

Risk Legacy offers all the complexity of Risk with even more complexity! In each game the board and pieces themselves change, allowing you to create long stretches of gameplay that promise repeat bouts. While old fashioned Risk is a still a classic, this amazing game is a great expansion to that military world.

 

Last Night On Earth

Last Night on Earth is a board game with multiple playthrough scenarios. Players get to choose if they play as humans or zombies. If you’re on the human team, you get to pick a hero card before the game starts. You then move around the board to solve the scenario — for instance, you can be defending a manor, escaping a location and more. Zombies will get in the way and you’ll have to find the best weapon to get rid of them.

 

Gloomhaven 

If your friends and family take board gaming serious, consider Gloomhaven. It’s a good bit more intense (and, at $140+, more expensive) than anything listed above, but it’s one of the most popular games of the year for a reason. A ready-to-play dungeon crawler in a box, its got thousands of cards, dozens of playable classes, and nearly 100 playable scenarios. You’ll want to lock in a group of friends who can meet up regularly to play this one with before diving in — but if you can do that, you’re in for something special.

Hero Realms

Hero Realms is like a trading card game (think Magic: The Gathering) but also quite different. If you hate buying card packs to build the best deck ever, Hero Realms is for you — everything is already in the box. Each player starts with just a handful of cards and slowly builds a deck by acquiring cards from the central pile. After that, it’s a matter of combining the effects of multiple cards to attack your opponent and destroy their heroes.

 


Gift Guide: So your [friend, partner, kid, parent] wants to be a Twitch streamer…

Though many people still scratch their head at the idea of watching people play video games, Twitch and its content creators have proven that the platform is attractive (even beloved) to tens of millions of people. Got a friend or loved one who believes they have the skill, personality and wide open schedule to be […]

Though many people still scratch their head at the idea of watching people play video games, Twitch and its content creators have proven that the platform is attractive (even beloved) to tens of millions of people.

Got a friend or loved one who believes they have the skill, personality and wide open schedule to be successful on Twitch? The right gift might get the ball rolling.

(Note: It should go without saying that there is one piece of gear that a Twitch streamer truly needs, and that’s a computer or console to play the game on. Generally, this will either be a gaming PC, a Playstation 4, or an Xbox One. Chances are if someone wants to stream games, they’ve already got a platform of choice, so we’re not going to go into detail on what type of PC or console to buy.)

Microphones

The best place to start when investing in a streaming set up is the mic. Yes, webcams are important (and we’ll get to that) but it’s really taxing to listen to poor audio for any lengthy amount of time, and most gaming headphones just won’t cut it.

Our top choice for a reasonably priced, high quality mic is the Blue Yeti Pro ($250). It’s a relatively simple plug-and-play product that sounds great. It supports both USB and XLR, giving users plenty of flexibility if they want to use it for multiple purposes (like, say, podcasting) or across various audio interfaces.

It’s not cheap — the Blue Yeti Pro costs $250 on Amazon — so folks looking for a less flexible mic that will simply work with a PC or console, the stepped-down Blue Mics Yeti ($130) should get the job done.

Webcams

Logitech C922 HD Pro StreamWhile the point of streaming is arguably to watch the game, and not the gamer, there is something special about seeing someone’s reactions to the game or to the Twitch chat on a stream.

General consensus among the community points to the Logitech C922 HD Pro Stream ($99). It captures 1080p/30fps or 720p/60fps video and offers a 78-degree field of view, with particularly good low-light capabilities and solid autofocus. Oddly, streaming under the blue light of the monitor in complete darkness is pretty common, and this webcam can handle just that. As a bonus, the C922 offers background replacement, letting users green screen out everything behind the streamer to show even more of the game. The lower-cost alternative is the Logitech HD Pro C920 ($79), which doesn’t offer background replacement or some other bonus features like 720p/60fps capture, or autofocus.

The C922 also comes with a three-month free trial of XSplit (broadcasting software that will likely be necessary for PC gamers/streamers, but is less necessary for console streamers.)

Monitors

ASUS VG245H 24” Full HD 1080p gaming monitorMost people think of a couch and a TV when they think of playing video games, but that is most certainly not ideal for a streamer. For one, where does the webcam go? Secondly, your vision just isn’t as good from 10 feet away on a 40-inch+ screen. Many pros tend to use a 24- to 27-inch monitor roughly two feet away from the face — so sitting at a desk is often preferred.

Super high-performance gaming monitors are very expensive, and there are very real trade-offs each time the price comes down. But the ASUS VG245H ($190) is a solid contender at a reasonable price point, managing to pack a punch where it counts.

The 24-inch monitor comes with a TN type panel (which can wash out colors more than ISP) but has a 144Hz refresh rate at a 1920×1080 resolution. At $190 on Amazon, this monitor is a bargain.


Beyond strictly streaming equipment, there are plenty of gadgets that can take a skilled gamer to the next level. Here are a few suggestions:

Inputs

A gamer that dominates the competition with entry-level inputs (be it a mouse or controller) will absolutely crush it with a gaming-specific mouse or controller.

Finalmouse Ultralight Pro gaming mouseThere are many schools of thought when it comes to PC gaming mice — some think customization is king, while others are drawn to RGB lighting or wireless functionality. At the end of the day, personal preference plays a huge role. For folks switching over from a standard mouse, the best option might be the Finalmouse Ultralight Pro ($70).

It acts and feels like a standard mouse, but happens to be just 67 grams, with the Pixart pmw3360 eSports sensor, integrated illumination, enhanced tracking and a higher framerate. And as a bonus, this is the same mouse that streaming star Ninja uses. If it’s good enough for him, it’s probably good enough for your dear recipient.

For console gamers, there is a clear favorite if you’re looking to upgrade beyond the standard Xbox or Playstation controller. Scuf Gaming controllers (starting at $150) allow players to use paddles on the underside of the controller. This means that gamers can use their middle and ring fingers instead of multitasking with their thumbs, meaning their thumbs never leave the joysticks.

Headset

Stealth 700 Headset - PS4Switching from standard headphones to high-quality gaming headphones feels like cheating. Suddenly, you can hear everything around you. I’ve personally played with a wide variety of headphones, and my favorite by a mile is the Astro A50 wireless headset with base station ($300). Tech specs aside, these are some of the most comfortable headphones out there, perfect for those hours-long streaming sessions.

For folks looking for something more affordable, Turtle Beach also has a nice selection of wireless headphones including the Stealth 700 ($150).

Smaller Stuff

Once they’re streaming, then what? The best thing you can do for your new favorite streamer is interact with their new channel. Subscribe. Watch the broadcast and chat in the stream. And if you have a little extra cash to spare, gift subs to the channel so folks who show up and want to subscribe have no barrier to entry when they get there.

Gift Guide: Ideas for bullet journalers

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub. Since digital product designer Ryder Carroll’s list-based method for organizing his life first went viral five years ago, bullet journaling has become a movement of its own, helping people take charge of their time with a notebook and […]

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

Since digital product designer Ryder Carroll’s list-based method for organizing his life first went viral five years ago, bullet journaling has become a movement of its own, helping people take charge of their time with a notebook and pen.

The system’s flexibility means it can be used for many things: time management, academic note taking, mental health tracking, meal planning, project management, scrapbooking, and more. While Carroll’s own approach is minimalistic — a simple system of lists and symbols — others have turned their bullet journals (or “bujos”) into elaborate works of art, with hand-lettering, embellishments, and illustrated “trackers” for to-do lists and goals.

In his new book, The Bullet Journal Method, Carroll explains that he began developing his “cross between a planner, diary, notebook, to-do list, and sketchbook” that eventually evolved into the bullet journal to cope with attention deficit disorder. Much of bullet journaling’s effectiveness comes from writing tasks out by hand: researchers have found that handwriting activates parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, helps people retain information, and, as Carroll puts it, “allows us to form new connections that can yield unconventional solutions and insights.”

If you know someone who’d be into bullet journaling, the end of the year is a great time to help them get the ball rolling. Veteran bullet journalers, meanwhile, probably won’t mind some new pens or stationery. This list also has suggestions for people who prefer digital journaling, too.

The definitive guide to bullet journaling

Sure, there are already a lot of bullet journaling guides online, including the original tutorial on Carroll’s site, but even seasoned bullet journaling fans can still get a lot out of his new book “The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future.”

It includes the basics, but also motivation for people who are turning to bullet journals to help overcome hardships or achieve major life goals. Carroll is a thoughtful writer and his chapters on how bullet journaling can guide people to live more intentional, meaningful lives is a big step above the standard productivity book. The print edition ($17 on Amazon) is a beautifully produced hardback that makes a great gift.

The best notebooks

Many bullet journalers prefer to use notebooks with dotted grid paper that helps them keep things neat but also gives them more flexibility than lined or graph paper. Notebooks by Scribbles That Matter (shown above, about $23), a new U.K. brand, are gaining popularity among bullet journalers because their 100gsm paper allows them to be used with a wide variety of pens, markers, and even watercolors. Hardcover Moleskine ($12 on Amazon) and Leuchtturm1917 notebooks ($20 on Amazon) are often used for bullet journals because of their durability and paper quality. In fact, Leuchtturm1917 offers a bullet journal edition ($25) with a guide, three page markers, and stickers for labeling entries.

Bullet journals include “collections,” or individual sections dedicated to specific projects or goals. Since collections can become lengthy, some bullet journalers prefer to use traveler’s notebooks, which are several slim notebook inserts gathered in a flexible cover. The inserts can be swapped in and out, making the journal even more customizable. Japanese stationery company Midori makes the original and best-known version with leather covers (starter kits begin at $58 from Baum-kuchen). For non-leather ones, check out Cadeneta (starting from about $31) on Etsy.

Writing tools

A lot of bullet journalers prefer fountain pens because they perform especially well on the high-quality paper used in notebooks like Moleskines and Leuchtturm1917s. The Lamy Safari (starting from $30 at Goulet Pens, one of the most comprehensive fountain pen stores online) is a popular “starter pen” because of its ergonomic grip and wide variety of colors and finishes, while the Pilot Vanishing Point (starting from $148) has a retractable nib, making it ideal for people who like the feel of a fountain pen, but prefer the convenience of a click pen.

Pre-filled ink cartridges are available for Pilot and Lamy pens (and many other fountain pen brands), but if you really want to get fancy, give your recipient a set of three mini Pilot Iroshizuku ink bottles ($32 for a box of three), known for their unique colors, smooth ink flow, and quick drying times.

If your recipient does a lot of sketching, they will appreciate a set of eight Sakura Pigma Micron pens in different sizes ($14.50). For marathon journalers, gel pens are a good option because the ink, pigment suspended in a water-based gel, glides onto the page and can help alleviate writer’s cramp. The Uni-ball Signo UM-151 is one of the most popular versions and comes in many colors. JetPens currently has a set of 12 new colors for $34.

Highlighters help keep bullet journals organized, but if your recipient isn’t into blinding neon colors, try a set of Zebra Mildliners ($18 for a set of 15). As their name suggests, Mildliners are highlighters that come in subtle colors.

Stationery

One of the biggest draws of bullet journals is how customizable the system is. If your recipient is a stationery fan, consider giving them a subscription to ZenPop’s Japanese stationery pack, starting from $30 for one month. For artists, Artsnacks is packed with four to five full-sized art supply products each month (subscriptions start from $24 each month for U.S. plans and there are international options available, too).

Photo Supplies

Many people turn their bullet journals into a personal scrapbook or use it for project planning. Fuji Instax is a simple way to add photos and its Mini 70 model (starting from $60 on Amazon) weighs just 10 ounces. For diehard smartphone photographers who still want the look of instant film, the Instax SP-3 photo printer ($150) lets them print photos on Fuji Instax mini film ($44 for a pack of three).

Other options include the HP Sprocket ($100 on HP.com), which prints photos onto HP ZINK sticker paper ($10 for a pack of 20 sheets), and the Canon Selphy CP1300, one of the most popular compact photo printers ($168 on Amazon).

Digital Journalers

Pen and paper not your recipient’s thing? Consider gifting GoodNotes ($8 on the App Store), a popular app for digital bullet journalers because it does a great job of replicating the experience of writing on paper (its handwriting search function is also very useful). The app has a marketplace of downloadable bullet journaling spreads and templates created by other users. Digital bullet journals are also a good excuse to gift a stylus: an Apple Pencil for iOS users ($99 on Apple’s site) or Adonit Droid ($25 on Adonit’s site) for Android fans.

Organizers

Your bullet recipient will probably need a way to keep their notebook, pens, and other supplies together. Vitra’s Toolbox ($70 on Vitra) is a desk caddy that comes in 11 colors and is an attractive and portable alternative to clunky desk organizers. The Lihit Lab Teffa Bag in Bag ($11.25 on JetPens) fits an A5 size notebook and keeps stationery, coins, and other small things from getting lost in the bottom of their bag. Japanese stationery company Raymay’s Topliner ($16) is like a lightweight, grownup version of the pencil cases kids use in elementary school.

Gift Guide: Black Friday tech deals that are actually pretty good

Black Friday is, for the most part, bad. People are awful, retailers pull all sorts of shenanigans to make it seem like you’re getting a better deal than you are, and a lot of people end up buying junk they don’t need to make the day feel like a “success”. But you know that. If […]

Black Friday is, for the most part, bad. People are awful, retailers pull all sorts of shenanigans to make it seem like you’re getting a better deal than you are, and a lot of people end up buying junk they don’t need to make the day feel like a “success”.

But you know that. If you’re gonna do this, you might as well go in with some sort of gameplan. Our advice? Stay inside and shop online where you can, be aware that most of the best deals are stocked in hilariously low quantities, and don’t be stubborn and buy some no-name Android tablet just because the sign says its 80% off and, well, they’re out of the TV you wanted anyway.

We’ve had roughly 4 billion Black Friday deal emails hit our inboxes over the last month. We’ve sifted through most of them to try to sift out the junk. We’ll keep adding new deals as we find them, so check back on the regular.

Many (most?) of these are already live, unless otherwise noted.

Amazon

If you’re trying to load up on Amazon’s own gear (things like the Fire TV stick, or the Echo), Black Friday is one of the best days to do it. Plus, since it’s all online, no waiting outside in the cold for you!

If you’re buying something else on Amazon on Black Friday because it seems like a good deal, punch it into CamelCamelCamel to check the price history first.



Audible

Amazon’s audiobook service, Audible, is usually $15 per month. This week they’re selling 3-month plans for $7 per month. That gets you one audiobook per month (plus 2 Audible Originals)… so, in a roundabout way, you’re getting 3 audiobooks for roughly $21.

Just remember to cancel when you’re done if you’re not using it, as the price jumps back up to $15 after 3 months. Set up a calendar reminder or something, if you have to.

Google

If you’ve put off buying a Pixel 3 or updating your Chromecast in hopes that there’d be some sort of deal, you’re in luck. Google says the sale won’t start until 11/22, but they’re pretty solid

  • Buy one Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, you can get a second one 50% off.
  • Just need one? The Pixel 3 will be $150 off its normal price ($649 instead of $799), while the Pixel 3 XL will be $200 off ($699 instead of $899).
  • Google Home Hub, Google’s first Home device with a big ol’ screen on it, is being dropped from $149 to $99
  • Google Home Mini, usually $49, is dropping to $25
  • The standard Google Home will drop from $129 to $79
  • Chromecast is going from $35 to $25, while the 4K-friendly Chromecast Ultra is going from $69 to $49
  • The Pixelbook will drop from $999 to $699

All of these will be available on Google’s own store but, again, they don’t go live until 11/22.



Samsung

Living that Android life, but don’t want a Pixel? Samsung has cut a few hundred bucks off both of its current flagship Android smartphones. The Galaxy S9 (64GB, Unlocked) is currently $520 — down from $720. The bigger, beefier S9+ (64GB, unlocked) is down to $639, usually $839. The same $200 discount applies to all capacities, so you can bump it up to 128GB or 256GB if you need the space.

Sony

Sony is making a huge push this season by selling the 1 TB PlayStation 4 Slim, usually $300, for $199 at most major retailers. Better yet: it comes with a copy of Spider-Man, the new(ish) and absolutely fantastic PS4 exclusive that ate hundreds upon hundreds of hours of my life.

They’re pushing this sale at all the big box stores, so you have your pick. You can find it at, for example, GameStop, Target, Walmart, or Best Buy.

You can also get a year of Playstation Plus, usually $60, for $40 from Walmart or Amazon. It’s a digital renewal code, so even if you’re not ready to renew right now, you can hang on to it for later.

GameStop, meanwhile, has PS4 controllers marked down to $38 (usually $60)

Microsoft

It’s not quite as good as the PS4 deal — but if you lean heavier toward the Xbox camp, Amazon has 1 TB Xbox One S with Battlefield V or with NBA 2k19, each for $230 (usually $299)

Need more controllers? Starting on Thanksgiving Day, Microsoft will also be selling controllers for $40 — down from the normal price of $60. Walmart is price matching the deal a little early, though the price isn’t showing until its in your cart.

Got your sight sets on the highest-end Xbox, the Xbox One X? It doesn’t come with any games, but both Amazon and Walmart have it marked down to $400 from its usual price of $499.

Apple

Apple doesn’t really play the Black Friday game. As a result, there are only a handful of Apple-related deals this year — expect stock to be super limited, and most of them won’t go live until Thanksgiving Day.

Walmart, Target, Costco, and Jet will all be selling the 2018 iPad (32 GB) for $250 — down from the usual price of $320. Best Buy, meanwhile, will sell the 2018 iPad (128 GB) for $329 — down from $429.

Target and a few other stores, meanwhile, are dropping the Apple Watch Series 3 down from $279 to $199…. but be aware that this is a generation behind, as Apple has already moved on to Series 4.



Sonos:

Sonos doesn’t often do sales on its speakers, but they’ve got a few lined up for this week. These ones won’t actually start until Thanksgiving day — but once they do, they should be available on Sonos.com and run until Monday, 11/26.

Sonos One, the company’s compact speaker with Alexa built in (and pictured above), will drop from $199 to $175.

Sonos Beam, their smaller sound bar, will drop from $399 to $349 (Alas, there’s no official deal on the company’s bigger, badder soundbar, the Playbar — but Amazon has a deal going right now that keeps it at the normal $699 price but also throws in a wallmounting kit and a $50 Amazon giftcard)

The Sonos SUB, meanwhile, drops from $699 to $599.

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Gift Guide: 10 suitcase-friendly gifts for frequent flyers

I’ve been traveling a lot this year — more than any year in the past. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, so thanks TechCrunch for that. Honestly, I should probably be packing for Asia instead of writing this.

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

I’ve been traveling a lot this year — more than any year in the past. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, so thanks, TechCrunch, for that. Honestly, I should probably be packing for Asia instead of writing this, but I’m looking out for you instead.

Rather than writing the standard Travel Guide or Holiday Gift Guide, we’ve opted to combine them into one. Because if there’s one key to making the most out of your time on the road, it’s efficiency. Technology can play an important role in helping streamline the packing process and generally making the most out of your trip.

Of course, as with everything, too much tech can also be a bad thing. I know I’ve found myself packing too many gadgets or jamming a messy rat king of cables in my carry-on, making a mess of things in the process.

What follows is a collection of gadgets, accessories and other products designed to remove some of the biggest pain points from travel and help you make the most of your trip, whether overnight or longer.

Amazon Kindle Oasis

Okay, maybe including a Kindle on here is a bit of a cheat, but very few devices have improved my travel life like an e-reader — and the Oasis is currently the nicest one you can get. It wasn’t all that long ago I used to jam several paperbacks into my carry-on. I do miss the tactility of real books from time to time, but when it comes to traveling, nothing beats the ability to jam thousands of books into a seat-back pocket.

Price: $249-$279
Available from: Amazon


Anker 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger

A lot of modern hotels are getting better about USB ports. I recently found myself staying at one in LA where every single link had a place for me to charge my iPhone. But it’s still a crapshoot — especially when traveling to a strange city — and hey, if you can avoid plugging your personal devices into a strange port, all the better.

I started traveling with my own combo mini power strip/USB hub years ago, but Anker’s 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger is a much more compact solution, bringing four USB ports directly to the wall. Best of all, like all of Anker’s products, it’s dirt cheap.

Price: $26
Available from: Amazon



BUBM Cable Bag

I’ve tried a LOT of cable organizers in my many years of gadget blogging. It’s the only thing that keeps my travel bag from turning into the Indiana Jones snake pit. At the end of the day, all of them ultimately suffer the same compromise: you can either have a lot of compartments for your various tech doodads or you can free up more space in your bag.

Ultimately, I tend to side with the latter. Especially when it comes to carry ons, anything you can do to free up space is a net positive. Lately, I’ve been digging this one from BUBM. It looks snazzy and the fold-over design helps free up precious bag real estate.

Price: $12
Available from: Amazon


Calm Subscription

This is one is admittedly an odd choice. Sure there are plenty of travel-specific apps out there, but when it comes to helping tamp down the stress associated with travel, the Calm app is a good place to start. This is coming for a very anxious flyer, mind you. It’s not a fear of flying — that part’s fine. It’s everything else. From the getting to the airport to the endless lines to the $3 airport water to the occasional middle seat.

I’m also, not coincidentally, an anxious meditator. I’ve tried a LOT of different apps to pursue mindfulness on my smartphone, and Calm is far and away the one I like the best. The guided meditation sessions are terrific and ditto for the the more freeform ones. It’s also a great way to get your bearings after waking up in a hotel room in some unknown city.

A year’s subscription runs $60, which is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Price: $60
Available from: Calm


Harman Kardon Traveler Speaker

This one admittedly feels like more of a luxury than many of the others, but don’t underestimate how much a small Bluetooth speaker can improve hotel time. The vast majority of laptops have pretty terrible built-in speakers and even middling Bluetooth speakers are a major improvement.

Harman Kardon’s Traveler fits the bill and won’t add much size or weight to a carry on. It also has a built-in mic for teleconference — a definite bonus for work trips — and doubles as a power bank for charging up devices. The 2,500mAh battery isn’t much, but on the road, every little bit of juice counts.

Price: $150
Available from: Harman Kardon


HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach

I travel with a LOT of gadgets. It’s kind of my job. As such, you’re no doubt catching onto the fact that lack of charging ports is a consistent theme in all of this. HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach is a clever take on TwelveSouth’s iconic PlugBug that brings USB ports directly to the MacBook’s charging brick. Here, however, you’ve got the decided bonus of a third active USB-C port for data transfer. At $50 for the larger version, it’s also priced to match TwelveSouth’s offering.
Price: $50
Available from: HYPER



Luna Display

As I noted in my write up last month, the Luna Display isn’t for everyone, but those who need it will find it to be a downright lifesaver. Once this thumbnail-sized $80 device plugs into a MacBook, it connects to a nearby iPad over Wi-Fi, converting the tablet into a second screen.

I’ve been using the hell out of it every time I’ve found myself working from the road or at home. I’ve become entirely dependent on my monitor at work, and now find myself being the guy with both a laptop and tablet out on the table at the coffee shop. Totally worth it for the ability to monitor my RSS feeds while working on a story.

Price: $80
Available from: Luna


RAVPower Wireless Portable Charger

Powerbanks are a dime a dozen these days, but RavPower is making some of the cleverest ones out there. It’s tough to narrow them all down, but this one lands on my list for its inclusion of a Qi charging pad that lets users wirelessly charge compatible handsets on top of the brick.

Keep in mind, some airlines and airports are limiting the size of batteries that can be stowed in a bag, so if the person you’re buying for is a frequent visitor to, say, China, double check the limits — though this 10400mAh battery should be fine in most cases.

Price: $50
Available from: Amazon


Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack

I always thought I’d outgrow backpacks, but aside from a brief flirtation with the messenger bag in the aughts, I’m rarely seen without one. Of course, no two are the same, and if there’s a frequent traveler in your life, a solid backpack makes all the difference in the world.

Timbuk2 makes some truly terrific bags, and the Never Check certainly fits the bill. It has a spacious interior for clothes, shoes and anything else needed for an overnight trip, while maintaining a small enough footprint to be stashed in an overhead bin or under the seat in of you.

Price: $200
Available from: Timbuk2


Twelve South AirFly

This is one of those travel concerns that doesn’t really dawn on you until you’re face to face with it. Love your Bluetooth earbuds? Great. But good luck listening to the movie on your flight. Twelve South, in all of its infinite wisdom, has designed a small wireless transmitter that plugs into headphone jacks, so you can use your go to headphones with the seat-back entertainment system. Turns out it also comes in handy for the TVs at the hotel gym.

The biggest downside here is pricing — $30 doesn’t seem like much, but you can grab a pair of wired headphones for pretty cheap these days.

Price: $30
Available from: Amazon

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