Ars Holiday 2019

Guidemaster: 10 tech gifts to improve the home office

It's not easy to please everyone when it comes to gifting. But trust us, everyone could use a password manager.

Enlarge / It’s not easy to please everyone when it comes to gifting. But trust us, everyone could use a password manager.
Tara Moore / Getty Images

So far, our 2019 holiday gift guide series has covered gifts for those on a budget, gifts for frequent travelers, and gifts for the home. Today, we’re turning our attention to the office and general productivity needs.

Below you’ll find another hand-picked batch of recommendations based on a year’s worth of product testing. These are thoughtful yet pragmatic gifts to help improve your friends’ and family’s work spaces through technology. From password managers to keyboards to business-friendly laptops, we know firsthand that each of the products below can make productive time less of a slog.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

1Password

1Password

Most workplaces require you to have more usernames and passwords than you’d like. Instead of clicking that “forgot password” button once a week, 1Password can help organize and store all of your work and personal account credentials. As long as you can remember one password, the program will do the rest of the heavy lifting.

1Password keeps all of your usernames and passwords, along with secure notes, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information of your choosing, in a vault that’s secure using AES-256 bit encryption and a secret key that only you know. It also syncs across all of your devices, allowing you to quickly log in to any of your accounts with just a couple taps or clicks. 1Password also has browser extensions for the most popular browsers so, when you inevitably create a new account somewhere on the web, you can quickly save it to 1Password without thinking twice about it.

Solid security, seamless integration, and ease of use have made 1Password one of my most used programs on a daily basis. It’s sped up my workflow immeasurably, and I spend much less time fumbling with temporary passwords and emailed security codes thanks to it. And at $2.99 per month, it’s one of the most affordable ways you can make your work and personal lives a little bit easier.

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Nekteck 4-port 72W USB Wall Charger

The Nekteck 4-port 72W USB Wall Charger.

Enlarge / The Nekteck 4-port 72W USB Wall Charger.
Jeff Dunn

If your loved one has many devices that often need charging at the same time, the Nekteck 4-port 72W USB Wall Charger should make their day-to-day less of a headache. It’ll keep them in arm’s length of four USB charging ports, including a 60W USB-C Power Delivery (PD) port that’s capable of refilling nearly all recent smartphones and many Ultrabooks and MacBooks (15-inch MacBook Pro notwithstanding) at maximum speeds. Nekteck includes a three-foot USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, and there are three 12W USB-A ports alongside the PD port that can charge other accessories at a more traditional rate. (Just note that the whole thing can only output 72W total at a time, so you won’t get the full 12W out of each USB-A port if more than one is in use simultaneously.)

The charger connects via an AC outlet, but at 3.14×3.74×1.97 inches, the station itself won’t chew up a ton of room on a desk. It’s also been certified by the USB Implementers Forum—a body headed by Apple, Intel, and other tech giants that looks over the USB spec—so you can be confident that it won’t fry anyone’s devices over time. Plus, at $30, it’s good value for the amount of power it packs.

Nekteck 4-port 72W USB Wall Charger product image

Nekteck 4-port 72W USB Wall Charger

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Logitech Craft

The Logitech Craft keyboard.

Enlarge / The Logitech Craft keyboard.
Valentina Palladino

A good wireless keyboard can be hard to find, but Logitech’s Craft is one of the more luxurious ones that stands out. Primarily, it’s a solid keyboard that’s relatively quiet and has decent travel, and the experience doesn’t falter even after months of continuous use. It also has a great battery life—it charges via USB-C and will last weeks on a single charge, even when used every day for hours at a time. It conveniently connect to your PC via Bluetooth or the included universal USB receiver as well.

A peculiar perk is the dial that sits at the Craft’s top-left corner. It can be programmed using Logitech options (along with other mappable keys) to do different things like adjust volume, switch tabs, and edit a photo’s contrast and brightness, and more depending on the program you’re currently using. That makes it a natural pick for creatives who will find the dial’s precision better than that of a trackpad or a mouse, but it’s also just a convenient tool for regular users as well.

Logitech Craft product image

Logitech Craft

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Listing image by Logitech

Guidemaster: The best tech that will make your home an even better place

irobot roomba 980

iRobot

We could all use a little more help around our home, and luckily now there’s a lot of tech that can lend a hand. There are a plethora of smart home devices that can do everything from lock your doors, vacuum your carpets, or keep a watchful eye over your possessions while you’re away.

Wading through the ocean of smart home tech isn’t easy—and, admittedly, much of the smart home space is not worth your time or your money. However, we’ve tried (and personally purchased) many home tech devices that actually do deliver on what they promise. These items make keeping your home how you like it much easier.

Not all of the home tech we recommend falls into the large and nebulous category of “the Internet of Things,” either—some are kitchen appliances, home speakers, gaming accessories, and other devices that most people primarily use in the home in order to make that space feel more like our own. Some after a lot of lived-in testing time, here’s all of the home tech that we think would make great gifts this holiday season.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Philips Hue lights

Philips Hue color smart light bulbs.

Enlarge / Philips Hue color smart light bulbs.
Philips

One of the easiest ways to start making your home smarter is with smart light bulbs and Philips’ Hue line are a good option. First, you can get white or color bulbs—while most will be happy with plain, ol’ white, color bulbs can be fun if you want to add personality to a room with color-changing light scenes.

Second, all Hue bulbs connect to a bridge that comes with most Hue starter packs. The bridge helps the lights communicate with each other and with your home Wi-Fi, which is how you control them. Using the Hue mobile app, you can turn on and off individual lights or entire rooms lights, dim them to your liking, and set schedules. You can have all the lights in your home come on before you arrive home from work, so you’re not walking into a dark house.

Third, Hue light bulbs connect to a bunch of other smart home systems like Works with Alexa, IFTTT, Apple HomeKit, the Google Assistant, and more. That means you can control your lights using voice commands or other smart commands that you customize. Not only are Hue lights an easy and affordable way to get into smart home tech, but they also make the lights in your home even more convenient to control on a regular basis.

Philips Hue White and Color starter set product image

Philips Hue White and Color starter set

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Zojirushi rice cooker

Zojirushi rice cooker.

Enlarge / Zojirushi rice cooker.
Zojirushi

I make a lot of rice and I’ve gone through at least two rice cookers in the process. After my last $25 rice cooker broke on me, I decided to invest in the Zojirushi NS-TSC10 Micom rice cooker and—this is not hyperbole—it’s changed my cooking life. Gone are the days of burnt or undercooked rice as Zojirushi’s magical machine has propelled me into a world where all kinds of rice are cooked to perfection every single time.

I attribute this to actually reading the directions that come with the rice cooker. If you do this and follow the instructions, washing the rice before cooking and using the proper settings on the cooker itself, everything made in this machine will be tasty. In addition to rice, Zojirushi’s machine comes with a steaming basket for steaming vegetables and other foods, and it even has a cake setting.

But the machine truly shines make rice. You don’t have to guess how much water to include as the interior pot has indicators for that, and you don’t have to guess cooking times either. The machine senses how much rice and water you put into the pot and automatically sets the cooking time. All you have to do is wait for it to play a cute little jingle as soon as your rice is done and then experience rice heaven. I’ll never go back to a cheap rice cooker again, and I implore anyone who eats a lot of rice to consider a Zojirushi machine.

Zojirushi NS-TSC10 rice cooker product image

Zojirushi NS-TSC10 rice cooker

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)