The best gifts that plug in and play - from PS4 to Cuddles

  • Sony's PlayStation 4, Doctor Who's Sonic Screwdriver from the Wand Company and Roolen's Breath  (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times) Sony's PlayStation 4, Doctor Who's Sonic Screwdriver from the Wand Company and Roolen's Breath (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times)
  • Shark's Rocket Professional (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times) Shark's Rocket Professional (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times)
  • Hasbro's Cuddles checks out Dell's all-in-one computer tablet, the XPS 18 Touch. (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times) Hasbro's Cuddles checks out Dell's all-in-one computer tablet, the XPS 18 Touch. (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times)
  • Spinmaster's robotic pooch Zoomer and Uncle Milton's Grand Finale! Light Show (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times) Spinmaster's robotic pooch Zoomer and Uncle Milton's Grand Finale! Light Show (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times)
  • Black and Decker's LSW36 cordless sweeper (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times) Black and Decker's LSW36 cordless sweeper (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times)
  • The Auggiedog makes a pet owners life a bit less messy. (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times) The Auggiedog makes a pet owners life a bit less messy. (Photograph by Joseph Szadkowski / The Washington Times)

Appetites for high-tech gadgets continue to fuel gift giving. In fact, the Consumer Electronics Association reports average gift givers will spend $1,431 per person this holiday season on such magical products.

Here’s a look at some of the best and bizarre products for the technophile in the family.

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PlayStation 4
What is it? Sony’s latest and greatest home entertainment console.
Price: $399
Gift group: Gamers looking for a virtual adventure.
Santa’s scoop: Rest in peace PlayStation 3, Sony’s latest workhorse for gaming and multimedia lovers is only 2 inches thick and 12 inches deep with a compact, angular, black design that makes its predecessor feel as antiquated as a Magnavox Odyssey.

Ten times faster than the PS3, its under–the-hood magic includes 500 gigabytes of storage, 8 gigabytes of high-speed GDDR5 memory, an eight-core X86 CPU and a graphics processor boasting a unified array of 18 Compute Units which can generate 1.84 teraflops of processing power (bottom line is gorgeous games up to 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second). Connectivity is either through the Ethernet port or 802.11 Wi-Fi with an additional pair of USB 3.0 ports and integrated Bluetooth 2.1.

The wireless, redesigned Dualshock 4 controller (roughly the same size but weightier than the PS3 Dualshock) offers more responsive motion sensors, enhanced rumbling through multiple vibration motors, a light bar (that could potentially show if a player’s health is low during a game, for example), touchpad, integrated speaker, headset jack and, get this, a dedicated “button” to record and show off game play videos via popular sharing networks.

To further the PS4’s interactive functionality, Sony has redesigned its Eye camera (sold separately, $59.99) for better motion, audio and facial recognition, delivers Wi-Fi remote play for the gamers who own the handheld PS Vita system (sold separately, $199.99), and has the ability to use iOS and Android tablets as second screens.

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Of course, the key to the PS4’s continued appreciation is not just its Blu-ray drive to enjoy high-definition movies and online streaming of entertainment portals but, most critically, a continued release of great games.

Though only a smattering of launch titles exist, they are a potent bunch including Killzone: Shadow Fall, Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Expect dazzling epics in the near future through such games as The Order: 1886, Infamous: Second Son and PlanetSide 2.

Sonic Screwdriver
What is it? Doctor Who’s most trusted tool requiring 2 AAA batteries.
Price: $99.99
Gift group: Fans of BBC America’s legendary science fiction show “Doctor Who.”
Santa’s scoop: The Mark VII version of the sonic screwdriver was created by the Tardis (the hero’s interdimensional headquarters) for the 11th Doctor. This modified prop replica, from the Wand Company, is built with limited functionality, sans the psychic link and the security, medical and diagnostic applications. However, it does actually work as a nifty universal remote able to memorize 39 commands from nearly any infrared-based controllers and replicate responses through 13 motion-based gestures. Magical feats might include a flicking gesture to turn on a television, pull back on it to open a DVD tray, rotating to control volume through an iPod dock or swipe left or right to change a channel.

The nearly 9-inch long wand is copper-plated with die-cast metal and polycarbonate construction and includes a host of “Doctor Who”-style sound effects, a soothing voice of a female assistant and glowing green tip when engaged. This hefty device (with an included display case) is quite the technological marvel for any budding Time Lord in the family.

Now, this sonic screwdriver is actually also part of Doctor Who: The Complete Series 1-7 Limited Edition Blu-ray Gift Set ($349.98). This mammoth multimedia homage to the show, celebrating it 50th anniversary this year, presents 29 Blu-ray disks containing the recent televised BBC America adventures of the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith), all in fully high-definition glory.

Hours of bonus features are packed into the disks with 120 minutes of never-before-seen extras along and many of the “Doctor Who” specials. Additionally, the package come with art cards and an exclusive comic book.

XPS 18 Touch
What is it? A manageably massive, all-in-one computer tablet that makes the iPad look like its whining nephew.
Price: $999 to $1,449
Gift group: Serious mobile multitaskers in the family.
Santa’s scoop: Boasting to be the world’s thinnest, lightest (weighing under 5 pounds) and most portable all-in-one computer, Dell’s XPS delivers an 18.4-inch wide LED backlit display (1920x1080 resolution) with touch screen functionality. Offering an average five hours of battery life, this wireless, Bluetooth-enabled black beauty uses a 720p camera, dual digital microphone, two USB 3.0 ports and an SD media card reader slot for multimedia on the go.

The under-the-hood specifics of the tested unit includes the Windows 8, 64-bit operating system, a third-generation Intel Core i5-3337U processor (3M Cache, up to 2.7 GHz), 8GB of memory, a 500GB 5400 rpm SATA Hard Drive plus 32GB mSATA Solid State Drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4000 video card and an integrated 5.1 with Waves MaxxAudio 4 sound card.

Dell tosses in an adjustable stand (with a magnetic power connector) to quickly mount and charge the XPS 18 along with a wireless keyboard and mouse for a more traditional desktop experience.

The true test of its family friendly, addictive multifunctionality occurred after leaving the tablet (upright with its polycarbonate feet) to tempt passers by on a dining room table. Within 10 minutes, a pair of eager teens sat down, laid it flat and began playing a game of chess treating it like the ultimate game board. Within an hour, I took part in a round of Monopoly, air hockey and a huge Angry Birds session.

What is it? A multilingual, robotic dog
Price: $99.99
Gift group: A 6-year-old begging to have a puppy.
Santa’s scoop: Spinmaster gives parents a compromise to Junior’s pet demands with a feisty spotted Dalmatian about 9 inches long with LED eyes and rubberized wheels for paws. It’s loaded with infrared receivers, motors and sensors.

This precocious pup whines, pants and barks, follows owners with its lively eyes, understands English, French and Spanish and can completely roll over on demand. Tap Zoomer’s head to ready him for voice-activated commands such as “sit down,” “speak,” “look at me,” “play dead” and “protect me.”

Or use motion commands such as move a hand toward his paw to shake, scratch his belly for an outburst of doggy appreciation, shake an object in front of Zoomer for him to interact with it and slowly walk forward to have him follow. Just like a precocious pup, Zoomer will need to learn a child’s voice and commands, and when not in training will randomly explores areas.

Perhaps the best part of this mechanized pooch is he uses a USB cable hooked to a computer to recharge him in about an hour for 30 minutes or so of hard playtime. Zoomer is easily one of the coolest and feistiest robots of the year.

Grand Finale! Light Show
What is it? A fireworks display requiring no fire but 6 AA batteries.
Price: $39.99
Gift group: Pyrotechnic maniacs, 6 years and older.
Santa’s scoop: Uncle Milton makes fireworks safe for humans of all ages with a complex effect show combining sound effects and multicolored lighting. An owner assembles five cardboard cones (similar to what one might find when using actual fireworks sans wicks) and connects them to wire-tethered sensor units containing lights and controlled by a wireless transmitter.

The transmitter box offers a Live mode to launch each cone individually, a button to change colors for each cone, and a memory program mode to set a longer sequence of 150 combinations for the light display including triggering all five cones at once.

Set the cones 3 to 5 inches away from a white wall for best results to appreciate the red, green and blue combination lights go off in tandem with cracking and explosion sounds.

Parents looking to empower youngsters with the illuminating magic should expect about 30 minutes for assembly and another 30 minutes to instruct Junior on the ways of these faux fireworks.

What is it? A light-duty, cordless sweeper.
Price: $159
Gift group: Homeowners tackling a moderate leaf or grass-clipping dilemma on hard surfaces.
Santa’s scoop: Black and Decker harnesses lithium ion rechargeable battery technology to power one of the lightest (under 6 pounds), quietest and easy-to-use blower and vacuum combination machines on the market. Made for quick cleanup of patios, decks, walkways, garage floors and well-manicured lawns, the roughly 4-foot-long, black-and-orange machine quickly adapts to either blowing or sucking tasks with a twist and attachment of the pair of tubing extensions.

When in blower mode, the device unleashes a 120-mile per hour torrent of air to blast away at clutter. When in a sweeper mode, the owner also attaches a half bushel-sized bag atop the unit’s fan that collects the recently mulched debris. The 36-volt battery has a gauge on its top to monitor power life in tandem with an air-speed command button (with six settings) on the unit’s handle to manage the workload.

The battery can be left in the recharging unit (fast charging takes roughly 60 minutes) indefinitely between uses, and the unit offers about 60 minutes of continuous use. Here’s an added functionality tip. The LSW36 also works great as a mega-dustbuster for minivans and similarly sized vehicles.

What is it? The ultimate pooper scooper.
Price: $149.99
Gift group: Dog owners that love to walk their best friends but do not love the surprises they leave.
Santa’s scoop: I’ll delicately try to describe this without stepping into too many steaming linguistical piles here. This part power tool, part mechanical shovel is a waste collection and removal system to temporarily house and unload a dog’s recent smelly deposit.

Standing roughly 3-feet tall (with telescoping handle fully extended, it’s barrel is placed over a pooch’s pile and with a flick of the toggle switch grabs and grinds the excrement into its barrel. Use the switches reverse function to deposit the prize in a bag or acceptable place.

Once done with the walk and clean out, the barrel is placed in a cleaning station (250 ml of solution is included, visit to buy more) until next use. The Auggiedog’s handle also has a switch to turn on a headlight and a training whistle to call Fido back to the spot of his recent evacuation.

The Auggiedog includes an adapter to charge the unit, and it should run about two weeks during normal use. Despite the humor here, the unit actually works as promised (larger pooches will challenge the process) to help with a dog owner’s least favorite chores.

Rocket Professional
What is it? A bagless vacuum cleaner.
Price: $199.99
Gift group: Domestic engineers that need a device that really sucks.
Santa’s scoop: Shark delivers a high-powered, upright vacuum built to compete with Dyson’s famed DC41 model for half the price. With a removable handle, easy swivel steering at the base, headlights and a motorized brush roll (forget dealing with belts), it handles all major dirt cleaning quickly.

The switch between hard wood and carpeted floors is painless with the press of a button while cyclonic technology keeps dirt from clogging the filters, and HEPA filtration contains nearly 100 percent of dust and allergens.

At around 12 pounds, it’s also easy to move around the house, especially for other cleaning, with a collection of standard attachments, on-board extension wand and welcomed pet power brush being included.

It would have been nice to have a larger dust cup as, in less than 10 minutes, I sucked up enough dog hair to make a Greyhound look like a sheep dog.

Additionally, the Rocket’s sleek, rubberized, ergonomic handle along with shiny orange armor made me feel like a Clone Trooper wielding an advanced weapon built by the Republic as I battled dust mites across his galaxy.

What is it? An intelligent, ultrasonic humidifier.
Price: $129.99
Gift group: Humans prone to chapped body parts during winter.
Santa’s scoop: Roolen offers a compact, virtually silent and stylish (available in ivory white or jet black) cool-mist humidifier standing 10 inches tall and shaped like volcano a hip Bond villain might have built.

Its star feature is an auto mode that adjusts the device to disperse mist slowly over 24 hours or, for drier conditions, a higher mist rate over 12 hours. Modes can also be manually set, viewed by an LED indicator light, and if Breath senses a comfortably humidity level (40 to 55 percent), it goes to sleep.

Be careful with not only setting it to “high” (place a towel underneath it) but also the water choice. Filtered water is recommended but I would use distilled water to keep the unit as free of mineral deposits as possible.

What is it? An animatronic monkey requiring 4 C batteries.
Price: $79.99
Gift group: The perfect pal for a 6-year-old girl not ready for a real pet and tired of baby dolls.
Santa’s scoop: Hasbro’s Furreal Friends line-up expands with a Giggly Monkey ready for action. Outfitted with a pink bow, plastic banana bottle and removable diaper, the very plush and soft chimp offers more than 100 responses to a child’s interactions.

A host of sensors allow the furry babe to react to such movements as being tickled, fed, swung upside down, diaper changed, rocked to sleep and, of course, cuddled. The precocious primate laughs, coo, snores, softly mumbles and occasional belches as its head moves, eyes blink and mouth opens. For example, put the bottle in her mouth and watch Cuddles slurp away. If she drinks too much, she hiccups until its owner pats her on the back.

Too cute and always able to illicit a smile from a child, Cuddles won’t disappoint and requires no cleanup.

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Joseph Szadkowski

For nearly two decades, Joseph Szadkowski has written about video games, comic books and action figures for The Washington Times.  

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