Holiday Gift Guide for Epicurean Geeks
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People who equate holiday season gift giving with materialism miss the point. Many epistemologies by which people orient themselves posit sacrifice as a virtue. And gift giving is a small sacrifice. Winston Churchill, source of so many timeless quotes, may have put it best — “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Below you’ll find a list of high-quality tech products, the best of their kind according to me. Some I own, some I trust but don’t own. I note the distinction. As always, respond with your own picks.
I hesitate to say that headphones are a necessity but they’re close in today’s world. I’m a former audiophile with a particular interest in headphones. I’ve owned headphone amps. I was a beta tester for Ultimate Ears until it was acquired by Logitech. Back in college, I worked a summer at Harvey Electronics during its reign as the best stereo store in Manhattan. One of the staffers who specialized in turntables went by the nickname Dr. Stylus. That’s how serious a place it was.
Shortly after the Logitech acquisition, I became a heretic as I abandoned the audiophile world for the convenience of Bluetooth headphones. Here are my picks:
Apple AirPods ($159): AirPods can take frustratingly long to connect when your iPhone is ringing but they remain the gold standard for truly wireless earphones. The clever charging case is Apple design at its best. Read my review.
Google Pixel Buds ($159): Google’s answer to the AirPods for Android users are not quite as carefree but they can translate in real time, offering a Star Trek-like experience for jet setters.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II ($349): Many other headphone makers are within striking distance of Bose’s industry-best noise cancellation but why take chances? These new models include Google Assistant.
Wine snobs are insufferable. I should know. I’m one of them. I cannot order a glass of red wine in most restaurants because they’ll serve it at room temperature rather than the proper 55–62 degrees depending on the varietal. (Thankfully, ordering a bottle is usually a more civilized experience.)
With a wine storage unit, you can always pour at the temperature of your choosing. However, most storage units don’t accommodate open bottles. You should always store open bottles in your refrigerator overnight to minimize oxidation but it would be nice to stick them back in a wine storage unit the next day to bring them up to the correct temperature. These two units enable you to do that.
Whynter FWC-341TS ($365): This new 34 bottle unit has a removable inclined display shelf that can hold up to five open bottles (or closed bottles you want to show off). The use of a compressor offers a wide temperature range from 39–65 degrees.
Wine Enthusiast Silent 21 Bottle Dual Zone Wine Refrigerator with Curved Doors ($240): This perennial best seller holds six bottles standing up, and offers two temperature zones. The thermoelectric mechanism is quieter than a compressor but not as powerful or consistent though perfectly capable of achieving an optimal temperature for reds.
Zalto Stemware: Not a technology product in the electronic sense, but these wine glasses from Austria are a modern marvel of engineering. They feel weightless, like they might float away. See Do You Really Need $60 Wine Glasses?
I don’t know anything about drip coffee. But I know espresso. We’re fortunate to have Aroma Espresso Bar in our office building, and Blue Bottle Coffee and Eataly Downtown a few blocks south. All three make excellent espresso.
But all the same I’ve got two espresso machines at home. This is the only option for those without a good shop nearby. A homemade espresso will never win any awards unless you’re willing to spend $20,000. But for far less you can pull some pretty good shots.
DeLonghi Eletta ($1,995): I have an older version of this machine. Mine only makes espresso. This more elaborate model makes cappuccinos and lattes too. The killer feature is the ability to pull two shots simultaneously. DeLonghi has even newer models that work with with an accompanying app but they’re not available in the United States yet. (I mostly use Cafe Vergnano beans.)
Nespresso Essenza Mini ($149): This machine delivers the same espresso shots as its big brothers in a diminutive size perfect for small kitchens, guest cottages, offices, and even cubicles. The machine comes with a sampler of all Nespresso pods.
Too many laptops and desktops exist to make any recommendations, particularly since I’m a Mac user. But other categories in this vast market have a clear winner.
iPhone X ($999-$1,149): I don’t know where Face ID ranks in the artificial intelligence panoply, but it’s the first such technology that makes me feel like my device has a mind of its own. It’s creepy in a good way and makes TouchID seem like mouth breathing. More importantly, having a 5.8-inch display in a housing not much larger than the 4.7-inch iPhone 6/7/8 explains why the iPhone X is likely to be the hottest gift of 2017.
Samsung T5 Portable SSD ($130-$400): Samsung’s SSD drives are more portable than your smartphone. Available in capacities up to 2 TB, they run silently, don’t have any annoying operating lights, and the cables include a built-in velcro tie. Best of all, the new T5 series supports USB-C as well as the older USB 3. I use this drive for local backups.
LG 32UD99-W ($1,430): ($995): Dual monitors have a significant drawback — the bezels. This 32-inch 4K monitor has a split screen mode, offering the benefits of two displays without a bezel between the two halves. You won’t get as much space as with two monitors but plenty for using two applications side by side. My iMac uses a 5K LG display so I can confidently recommend LG.
iPad Pro 10.5 or 12.9 ($649-$1,279): I own both of these (12.9 at home, 10.5 at work and on the go). If you forced me to choose between them, I’d go with the 12.9 believe it or not. For a few years, I wrote this newsletter on an iPad mini using my thumbs so this is quite a shift. I’m glad I don’t have to choose as I prefer the 10.5 for giving presentations, writing on the go, and note-taking with the Apple Pencil. I prefer the 12.9 for email, research, writing longer pieces, and watching videos. I mostly use both iPad Pros in the amazing Apple Smart Keyboard.
Traveling to New York City this holiday season? The Citizen app is a must when you’re in New York. And it’s free. The app notifies you of nearby crimes in process so you can head in the opposite direction. Coming next to San Francisco.