Our top picks for the perfect gift this Christmas

It’s hard to believe 2018, an exhausting year for many around the world, is already coming to a close. Just one look at any news media would tell you people around the globe put up with a lot this year, and that’s all the more reason to make this Christmas one that’s stress free and full of pleasant surprises. Gifts solve those problems, and we aren’t talking about pairs of socks full of disappointment or whatever novelty mug your grandparents thought would be “cute”. We’re talking top-performing gadgets, stress-relieving tech, fresh kicks, superior sound devices, customisable sunnies, and more.

With tech and fashion two of the biggest categories for Xmas gifts year after year we’ve listed some of our favourites that we’ve either already reviewed or played around with throughout the last 12 months. We’d be pretty chuffed to find any of these under the Christmas tree, so we’re hoping your family and friends will too.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

For the on-the-go worker

We here at the AU, like many people around the world, loved the Microsoft Surface Laptop when it was released last year. It felt like Microsoft had well and truly delivered the best laptop they possibly could at the time, with a few niggling anchors like the fact that the device shipping with the Windows 10 S operating system, which restricted third-party apps and only allowed you to download what was on the still growing Microsoft store. That was easily fixed by upgrading to Pro, but it was still an odd choice.

Now the Surface Laptop’s recently released sequel is out and it’s one hell of an upgrade. Microsoft claim that it’s 85% more powerful than its predecessor, and while this sounds a bit too ambitious, our own testing and all the existing reports indicate that the claim is valid. Microsoft made a few tweaks under the hood, introduced Intel quad-core processors (1.7GHz Intel Core i5-8250U, 6MB cache, up to 3.4GHz boost) and shipped this with the full version of Windows 10. Demanding tasks are no issue for this bad boy, with a good 8GB of RAM and storage up to 256GB. They haven’t really done much in the way of adding better connectivity and ports, but the design is still amongst the best on the market; couple that with the top performance and you’ve got hands down the best laptop of 2018. You can pick this one up from a starting price of $1,499 for 128GB, so it ain’t that bad of a price either.

For more info head on over to Microsoft.com.

Nespresso Barista

For the homemade coffee connoisseur

It’s now pretty much a law that Nespresso have nailed the home-made coffee, with them iterating on their machines almost every year. This time it’s a bit different though, they’ve just released what is possibly one of their most significant products to date with the Bluetooth controlled Nespresso Barista, a slick and very cool standalone machine that can use espresso milk and cream to whip up a variety of recipes, adding to the flexibility and variation that you just wouldn’t get without one.

Perfectly frothed milk is a given, and you can store up to 13 different recipes on the machine. You simply use a smartphone app to communicate with the device and you can flick and rotate recipes like those for iced nitros, perfect homemade hot chocolates, and frothy cappuccinos. If your loved one already has the latest Nespresso machine, picking this one up for a cool $249 is a must. It’s the next best thing to popping by your local hipster coffee shop.

Grab more info about the device over on nespresso.com.

ARISE Collective’s Customisable Sunnies

For the hipster

Every so often your fashionable friends are going to need a top off when it comes to Sunnies. They are so easy to lose, especially for travellers or festival regulars, that no one can ever have enough sunnies. Look into ARISE Collective for a very well-priced and nice looking pair, especially since they’ve currently got a Kickstarter running, which takes their adaptable and fashionable collection and adds a personal touch, allowing people to fully customise their Italian designed eyewear from personalised content on the frame to choosing from six high quality acetate frame shapes and five prescription ready lenses, all with an anti-scratch coating.

Head to the Kickstarter linked above for more info or shop the full collection at VisionDirect.


For that rare someone who doesn’t have one yet

Yep, a Fitbit. It’s become one of the most popular Christmas gifts for good reason, and it’s one of the only ubiquitous gifts that very well may change someone’s life, in the practical sense. The now classic smartwatch series has been through many expressions over previous years, so one of the recent models like the Fitbit Ionic ($399.95) or the Fitbit Versa ($299.95) should definitely be up for consideration when it comes to giving that slight push to someone who really needs the encouragement to go out and get some more quality exercise and track it seamlessly. Motivation is a cumulative concept, and the pay off for having a smart device on your wrist making it all so much easier, and gamified too. There are plenty of models to choose from now, even the kid-friendly Fitbit Ace ($129.95) so make sure you take a proper look at the full collection online at fitbit.com.

Fresh New Kicks

For the active sneakerhead

Instead of getting socks, move onto the more fashionable layer of footwear with some fresh kicks. And any sneaker head in your life can never have enough new expressions. It’s Christmas time, so look to the more dominant street wear brands like Adidas and Nike, because they’ve put out some excellent sneaks as of late.

On the Adidas tip you’ve got their beautiful PureBOOST GO silhouette which has been very carefully designed to strike the very fine balance between fashionable and practical. They are essentially street runners, but they look better than most lifestyle sneakers out there. For a pretty sweet $160 you should grab a pair for the street runner in your life since they are exceptionally comfortable, feature a wider forefront platform to help with stability and make it easier for multi-directional movements, and sport a smart rubbery outsole in a spiderweb like pattern for superior grip. This should be your top pick if you’re thinking both practical and fashionable. To check them out head to adidas.com.au.

On the other side of the same coin we’ve got the new Nike Air Fear of God collection which releases globally later this week (15th) and marks the brand’s first collaboration with Jerry Lorenzo, bringing in some new apparel and an NBA-ready basketball shoe that should easily satisfy for the sportier sneaker head in your life. The shoe, the Air Fear of God 1, is said to channel Lorenzo’s desire to remind wearers of the power sport once had in defining style, so you can expect some slickness from these high-tops with lacing that wraps around the angle and a black/white or white/white colourway. Keep an eye out on nike news for more information.

My Passport Wireless SSD

For the content creator

It may not be the first thought on your mind when you’re out shopping, nor the sexiest option for a tech gift. But if you know any professional photographers who regularly travel for work, this is one very valuable device that could make their life (and job) so much easier. And because it’s not the first thought photographers themselves have when shopping – stocking up on the latest lenses is always a priority – a hard drive could very well be the most perfect Xmas gift in the category. Released earlier this year, Western Digital’s highly advanced My Passport Wireless SSD is a major step up from previous models and peers, pushed as the perfect solution for photographers and drone enthusiasts (and let’s face it, in the age of Instagram, there are a lot out there) who want durable, reliable and high-performance media capture solutions.

The best function is that this SSD allows photographers to wirelessly upload all of their data over a WiFi connection, even without a laptop. There are also ports to connect over hard drives, and even charge devices making use of the 6400 mAh battery inside. Fast upload and download speeds, 4K streaming capabilities, and a comprehensive smartphone app that allows you to access and organised all of the hard drive’s content make up the features. Then you’ve got the built-in SD card reader and one-touch copy button, lightning fast USB 3.0 port, and RAW image support. They’ve thought of just about everything with the model, so if you’re handing it over to someone who needs it, just know that they are going to be very, very happy.

The device comes with storage from 250GB ($429) right up to a whopping 2TB ($1,399.99) so make sure you’re budgeting properly before you go splurging on storage. You can grab these at any JB Hi-Fi, Ted’s Cameras, or online at amazon.com.au.

Werks Traveler 6.0 Weekender

For the jet-setter

We travel a lot here at the AU. And by a lot we mean almost every weeks. Being on the move constantly has given us a fresh appreciation for the seemingly endless expressions of practical bags and luggage constantly revolving onto the market. We think we’ve found one that balances all the necessary ingredients of being cost effective, practical and pretty damn slick looking. That’s the Werks Traveler 6.0 Weekender from the those nifty Swiss folk over at Victorinox. The bag has a sweet drop down expansion panel just in case it’s spacious standard format isn’t enough (and you need to bring back all those overseas snacks), plus the minimalist surface, moulded haul handles, soft grey interior, and super durable lightweight nylon material keep it simple, reliable and efficient. One of our favourite features is the cool velcro back pocket that slips through so you the bag can be fixed snugly onto any upright luggage; taking this one as a carry-on is a smart move.

Most travellers these days, whether it’s for the long-haul or a weekend away, are shying away from ludicrously overpriced designer bags, so at $259 this could make the perfect affordable gift for the jet-setter – or aspiring jet-setter. Grab more information over at victorinox.com.

Google Pixel 3 XL

For pretty much anyone.

You already know that Google are going to go to all the lengths necessary to outdo themselves for their latest smartphone. And they’ve really focused on software this time, positioning this as one of the best Android phones to date and certainly one of – if not the – smartphone camera to beat. We can say from experience, this is the perfect travel camera, and it does wonders given that there’s only one on the rear (12.2MP, f/1.8 aperture) especially with the AI software which includes the best Portrait mode on a phone to date, and the very useful Night Sight mode. The 6.3-inch OLED display is also strikingly gorgeous, and smartly adjusted depending on environmental light.

One of the best features, and one which Google has emphasised in their marketing, is the wide-angle lens on the dual front cameras which make it so any selfie can zoom out even further, eliminating the need for a pesky selfie stick with a self-shot that really does fit in a more than standard. Another very valued selling point for this phone is just how damn fast the 3430mAh (2915 if you don’t go for the XL) battery charges, with 18-watt fast charging and Qi wireless charging enabled.

For the XL you’re looking at a starting price of $1,349, which isn’t too bad seeing as most modern smartphones have broken the 1k threshold now, and aren’t stopping anytime soon. For more information and to get your hands on one head to store.google.com/au.

The Perfect Speaker

For the music lover

Well we can’t have a massive music section without playing around with some speakers now can we? Across the last 12 months the AU’s tech and music teams have tested out quite a few of the newest Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers, and these have been our favourites so far.

At the higher end there’s the Google Home Max (our review HERE) which definitely brings the noise, and has the software to back that all up. Plus, Google Assistant is one of the smoothest and most seamless on the scene, and if you’re loved one is adding this to a bigger sonic ecosystem then snatching one of these for them at $549 is a no-brainer.

The famously design focused Bang & Olufsen put out plenty of high-end speakers worth raving about each year. They all dance around the top of the price range, like the Beoplay P6 (our review HERE) priced at $599. It’s distinctive vintage design and cassette player like buttons make it stand out aesthetically, but the performance – especially when considering it’s relative size – is without a doubt our favourite of all these picks. The bass is smooth and punchy, the mids and highs aren’t distorted, and the profile is just crystal clear. You’ve also got quite the volume on this, so if you choose this one the audio freak in your life will love you for it.

Sony have put some of their best products forward this year, and though all of them have terrible names (seriously Sony, give your products sexier names) the performance has been undeniable. For a fairly portable speaker look no further than The SRS-XB31 (our review HERE with a very reasonable price tag of $229. It’s our pick for the best value speaker of the year, and definitely one that should draw in the younger crowd too with it’s rimmed lights that dance with the music (the smartphone app even lets you choose different lighting profiles) and a feature that allows anyone to lightly tap the speaker to add their own percussive noises to whatever is playing. The standout is the bass though, and it really punches through without overwhelming the entire profile. Even if you know someone who already has this device, get them another one so they can pair it up and really have a party.

It ain’t all about the speakers here. Bluetooth headphones are getting better and better, especially with the bigger focus on noise cancelling that Sony have damn near perfected with their latest: the WH-1000XM3 (our review HERE, priced at $399. The noise cancelling works incredibly well, even if you’re not listening to anything at all, so slipping these cans on for someone who is flying will most definitely drown out plenty of that background noise. In terms of performance, they get major marks there two, with a profile that is clear and resonant. Give this to a frequent flyer and tell them to thank you again after they’ve tested them on a trip, they surely will.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.