I didn’t pour a ton of money into upgrading my tech this year. Our flailing economy and my general unease about the impact of the pandemic on our already troubled news industry left me feeling a little more conservative than usual about how to spend my pocket money. Where I did invest, however, I believe I did so wisely. I’m getting a lot of mileage out of some of the relatively cheap devices scattered around the apartment where I’ve been in quarantine alone, for the most part, since March.
Admittedly, it’s a little late to be making holiday purchases, but if you’re still on the hunt for a quick buy here’s a short list of options based solely on devices I bought during the coronavirus outbreak to make my living space more bearable—plus one bonus non-tech idea—which are all good, according to me alone. Where possible, I’ll link to the products on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to the retail behemoth—maybe due to its interest in turning the U.S. into a massive corporate surveillance state or its generally deplorable treatment of its workers—I encourage you to DuckDuckGo for the products elsewhere.
If you do need a scapegoat, I recommend blaming your entirely-too-late gift on the enormous backlogs over at our postal service. (Sorry, USPS.)
The Anker PowerWave Stand
My whole charging situation is bit of a mess, which is probably why I haven’t seen my iPhone adapter in several days. I’m always lugging it around from room to room and its no surprise when it disappears. A regular scene in my home is me frantically searching under furniture and in piles of clothes while yelling obscenities mere minutes ahead of an important work call.
This summer, I decided I need at least one stationary charging station and decided my nightstand was the most opportune spot. I figure if I wake up at 100%, most days I can just forgo the whole exploration of my apartment. (It’s not even that big, I’m just a ridiculously disorganized person.)
Anker has been my go-to for adapters, chargers, and power strips for years and they’ve never let me down. The PowerWave Stand, which cost around $25, is probably the most useful buy I’ve made this year. It looks distinguished somehow with my phone resting on it, and I feel a little more “high-tech” placing it there instead of having to grab a cord off the floor. I don’t pretend to know how, but it also works just as well through a thick phone case.
It’s easy to reach over and tap the snooze button when my alarm goes off without picking up my phone and I can roll over and see the screen when I get a notification. I’m also a huge fan of the Rain Rain app, which fills my room with white noise at night. With the Anker stand, reaching over to adjust the settings, should I decide I want to hear a “crackling fire” instead of “rain on a window,” requires the barest effort.
The Panesor Electric Tea Kettle
There’s not a much to say about tea kettles: They boil water. As long as it does that and doesn’t burn me, or set my kitchen on fire, we’re good. Regardless, I did spend an inordinate amount of time looking for what I hoped would be the best electric tea kettle and the Panesor is what I landed on.
First, the $40 Panesor can hold and boil nearly half a gallon of water (1.7 liters) in the proverbial blink of an eye. Obviously that’s way more water than you’d need for tea, but if I do ever find myself in need of a half gallon of boiling water in a jiffy, I’m good to go in about 3-5 minutes. It’s generally a plus, I suppose, that I don’t have to refill the thing every time I need a perk-up.
The real selling point for the Panesor, however, is the fact that the inside is 100% stainless steel. There’s a lot of kettles on the market that, for whatever reason, expose the hot water to some form of plastic. I personally don’t like the idea of boiling water in plastic, whether it’s “BPA free” or not. Microplastic consumption, according to my friends over at Earther, is very bad. In fact, there’s evidence that it may be linked to increased risk of cancer, heart problems, and diabetes.
If you boil tap water and don’t regularly wash this thing out, after a few months you’ll start to notice residue on the steel. Just like a Keurig, you’ll have to descale it eventually. Descaling powder is fairly cheap and easy to use.
At present there’s only a single all-black Panesor left on Amazon, but the grey option is also pretty fetching.
The VooPoo Argus Pro Vape Kit
If you don’t vape, you can skip this. If you do, and you’re not one of those enthusiasts who likes to build their own vape, then I would like to highly recommend this starter kit.
Buying vaping products can be annoying. Every brand has its own parts and there’s a lot of technical mumbo jumbo involved that I personally just do not feel like learning. I have no aspiration to become an electrician, so I don’t really care about things like wattage, amps, or ohms. I’m also not interested in blowing “sick clouds.” I just want a product that works, is not messy, doesn’t break, and doesn’t require me to shop on four different sites for replacement parts, which are always needed eventually.
The Argus, which will set you back about $45, was a significant upgrade from any other vaping device I’ve purchased. There are various reasons for this.
Some history of my vape purchases: For years, I used the Innokin Endura T18, which I bought specifically for its pen-shape; I don’t like carrying something in my pocket that feels like a backup power supply. When the battery on the Endura, which cannot be replaced, eventually crapped out this year, I purchased a Smok Vape Pen V2 Kit, which has a similar appearance. That was a big mistake. The second time I tried to refill it the tank, the glass shattered into several pieces. Needless to say, I was pissed. (The Endura, by the way, never shattered, despite me regularly dropping it on my wood floor.)
That’s when I purchased the Argus. I was initially drawn to it because of the protective rubber mesh around the tank. But when I finally received the kit, I was impressed by the whole package. The tank is tough by itself, even without the protector, which admittedly doesn’t stay on too well (the only flaw I’ve noticed, which wasn’t too hard to MacGyver.) While the device is slightly thicker than I’d like, it’s also shorter than the others and still very concealable. The material on the handle—which, warning, I believe is leather if you’re vegan—has a kind of luxurious feel. The screen is bright and easy to read. It also counts your puffs and tells you the length of your last drag, for whatever reason.
My favorite feature is probably that the tank doesn’t screw on to the battery mod like most vapes. It’s held in place instead by a few tiny strong magnets. You just pop it off and peel back a small plunger when you need to add more liquid. I don’t feel like washing oily goo off my hands every time I need a top-off, so I appreciate the clean, clever design. The whole thing feels sturdy. Its weight, however, makes me wary of dropping it, which I confess hasn’t happened yet.
You can buy one of these at Vapor Beast, the shop I’ve stuck with over the past few years because of its sharp customer service. (Note: The Argus appears to be selling out fast.) I’ve had a few issues with packages in the past and they’ve always been super helpful. The site also has links to the right replacement coils at the bottom of the item’s page, if you want to pick some up in advance. If you’re giving this as a gift, I’d recommend it, since buying the right coils can be confusing for some.
The Stadler Form Peter Fan
Alright. This one is a bit more expensive than I remembered and there honestly isn’t much to say about it. It’s a tower fan. It looks nice.
My apartment only runs heat or air conditioning at any given time, but not both. I don’t know precisely what the deal is, but when winter rolls around, I lose access to cold air. The problem is I live in Texas and inevitably a few days out of the winter, it’s going to get hot. The A/C also has a knack for breaking down on the hottest day of the year and that’s when I need some of that glorious fake breeze.
The Peter Fan is $200. I might seem crazy for throwing that much cash at a thing I can easily get at Walmart for $30, but a top consideration for me was not having something hideous in my living room. Yes, I bought this fan for its looks. There’s really no way to discreetly place a 3.5 foot (about 1 meter) object in my living room, and if I’m gonna have to look at this thing all day, I don’t want it to feel like a piece of garbage.
The fan is a tall black column with a sturdy metal base. The plastic has a matte finish so it doesn’t gleam like a Stormtrooper helmet, which is something that makes products look cheap in my eyes. It’s got a remote, it rotates, it’s quiet, and it blows air. It also has a “natural breeze” option, which I never use, and three speeds. In lieu of buttons, the top panel is touch-sensitive with stylish blue LEDs. It also has a washable filter and will shut off on its own, if I accidentally leave it on all day, which conserves electricity.
The black version of the fan, the one I bought, seems to be out of stock on Amazon, but I’m sure you can find it elsewhere. If you wanna stick this thing in a corner by itself against a white wall, then the white version is probably what you want anyway.
The APPHOME Headphone Hanger
I lucked out this year and somehow managed to get my hands on a PlayStation 5. (The PS5 is not on this list because I’m not that kind of asshole.) With it, I bought the Sony Pulse 3D wireless headset. Now, I was initially tempted to make this about the Pulse 3D itself because it’s fucking fantastic and a third of the price of some of the luxury headsets I’ve owned. But for now, given the time that we have, I think a stocking stuffer makes a little more sense.
This tiny, L-shaped piece of metal holding my headset is really useful because the one thing the Pulse 3D is lacking is a stand. It’s kind of a bummer, but makes sense with the $100 price tag. Unlike the absolutely amazing magnetic stand that comes with the Turtle Beach Elite 800s—which has some great presets, but always seemed too quiet for me—the Pulse 3D seemed fated to just rest on top of my console table forever. That’s kind of annoying, because I like things to feel “put away” when I’m not using them.
So I had the brilliant idea of buying a headphone hanger, but virtually none of them worked with my setup. Most use a clamp to latch onto furniture, but none of them are large enough for my table. Luckily, I finally found one that I could actually screw into the table itself. The APPHOME Headphone Hanger is perfect, because it also folds up, if for whatever reason I don’t want it poking out conspicuously while not in use.
The area where the headphones rest has rubber padding so they don’t get scratched up. It also comes with adhesives if you don’t feel like using screws, though I can’t attest to how well they hold. The adhesives are 3M brand, supposedly, and not the generic cheap stuff. I’ve noticed in reviews for most stick-on items, most people recommend buying better adhesive strips. That’s something you might look into. But as a very smart person, I generally own a lot of ugly rustic-looking furniture. If I ever do decide to remove this thing, a few screw holes will only add to my table’s value.
Not sure what else to say. This thing was $8. It looks nice and it’s doing its job of making my console table feel less cluttered than it actually is.
Sony Mini Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer
I bought a 55-inch (140 cm) Vizio TV last year after a mishap with a belt buckle that left a huge crack in my last flatscreen. The only problem is the sound isn’t great. There’s obviously little to no bass and even high frequencies seem lost. With the dishwasher or my heater on, I’m cranking it all the way up to just hear what’s going on.
I’ve wanted to get a soundbar for a while. The only thing that stopped me was the price. A soundbar, as it turns out, is an annoyingly expensive purchase, which I guess is true of most stereo equipment.
Nevertheless, I was determined to pay less than $200 for a soundbar and managed just that in October by looking at some unused products on eBay. I eventually landed on a Sony Mini Soundbar for around $160, which is pretty much a steal. (It retails for around $225.)
Now, you might find other soundbars in this price range, but none that I saw at least came with a separate subwoofer. And you definitely want a subwoofer. This one (not pictured) is wireless, which is awesome, because the best place to stick it is under your couch. This will dramatically change your home entertainment experience. The sudden thud reverberating below me actually made jump-scares fun again, which is saying a lot.
This is far removed from the best soundbar on Earth, but it’s a huge upgrade for someone with no soundbar, and one they’ll certainly appreciate. As a bonus, it’s not so expensive that they’ll feel overly guilty about the shittier gift they got you.
A Surprise Cat
I’ve wanted a new pet for a while after my cat friend, Sam, passed away two years ago. My other cat, which my dad has renamed Tinkerbell—for reasons I care not to ponder—is a panicky little bitch. After she acclimated to living at his house, I decided not to move her. She’d probably just glare at me all day with those piercing, vengeful eyes and maybe piss on my stuff.
After months of isolation amid our ongoing national health crisis, I finally pulled the trigger and adopted a cat. I named her Lily. Her foster mother, who is a delightful woman, thought a name with four syllables was appropriate, when let’s be honest, no cat deserves more than two.
Lily is unique for a cat. Her favorite game is fetch. I’m told that’s bizarre. She just likes for me to throw stuff and whatever I do, she brings back to me. Over and over. All day. It’s her favorite thing in the world and I refuse her at my own peril.
Lily is the best thing I bought this year, hands down. For one, instead of talking to myself all day, I can talk to a cat, which is a little less crazy. She’s a beautiful cat, as all cats are, and I love her. If I could, I would give the gift of this love to everyone in the world.
Plus, just imagine it: “Surprise, it’s a cat!” What could possibly go wrong?
Disclaimer: Gizmodo does not officially endorse, nor is it liable for any damages resulting from, the gifting of a “surprise cat.”