3 Wise Gifts to Improve the Tech You Already Own

Stuck for gift ideas for friends and family? Or want to avoid being gifted yet another pair of novelty socks? Here you’ll find ideas for gifts fitting nearly any budget that will help you get the most out of technology already owned.

Untether Yourself from Your Charger Outlet

Stay productive while you charge your smartphone battery. Ever find you have to choose between charging your phone which is on low battery and actually using it? I used to charge up my iPhone in one of two usual places but found I constantly needed to use it to look something up or send a quick text. So I had to traipse several times to where the plug was in order to make quick use of the phone.

I don’t want to exaggerate the difference these long charger cables have made to my productivity and sanity, but they really are worth their weight in gold. And the best part is, they are super economical. Plus they work with the wall plug that came with your phone as well as being able to charge from your laptop. The link above will show you the 10ft/3m versions, and there is also a slightly shorter version (6.6ft/2m) you can find here. If your recipient uses an Android phone, here’s a highly-recommended alternative. Either way, for the price of a stocking stuffer, you’ll have 3 long cables and the freedom to charge your smartphone from almost anywhere in your home or work.

Because they are different in appearance to the standard issue cable that came with the smartphone, in my case, this has been an added advantage as it circumvents arguments with family members over whose cable it is. So “they” (the teens) can’t justify mistaken identity and take it for walkies.

Put Yourself in the Best Light

If you thought ring lights were only for Instagram influencers, think again! With FaceTime, Zoom and other video chats becoming the norm even for social calls, having access to a ring light is indispensable, especially if the calls take place after dusk. I’m sure you’ve experienced the situation where either the person you’re chatting with or you yourself look like a suspect lying in wait in a dark alley. Or whose glasses frames have now cast a strange pattern on their face due to the up or downlighting. Well no more with the simple addition of a ring light.

Unless you are looking to become the next influencer sensation, there’s no need to invest eye-watering sums on the kit either. You can find a ring light perfectly fit for purpose for less than $50/£30. You’ll want to look for one that offers height adjustment and grips the smartphone. Even better if it offers brightness options, as I’ve found it makes a big difference depending on the natural or overhead lighting in making you look blue or yellow vs. having a healthy glow. They plug conveniently into your laptop or you can use your standard issue wall outlet charger. Here is one I’ve been happily using for over a year. If you’re happy to invest a bit more, here’s an alternative with more color options.

Turn your TV into the “Big Screen” with Chromecast

When my daughter unplugged this little piece of kit to take with her to university (she had paid for it, to be fair), I swiftly recalled how uninteresting TV can be without access to the premium subscription services like Netflix, Apple TV or Disney Plus. Especially with the dearth of new filming during the pandemic, suddenly it seemed we had nothing new we could agree upon to watch together. We had the choice of whatever we could find on terrestrial or cable TV (some days frankly not much) or we could repair to our own mobile devices to watch a program or film on one of the above subscription content services.

It didn’t take me long to order my own Google Chromecast device. What is Chromecast? It is a small piece of kit that plugs into any TV with an HDMI port (similar to the one at the side of your laptop) and communicates with your smartphone or tablet so that you can “cast” or stream what you play on the handheld device onto your TV. You don’t have to pay any subscription fees to use a Chromecast, although you’ll still have to pay for services like Netflix and Hulu to access them. Your phone or tablet then acts as a remote control to play, pause or stop the program or film. You will still use your TV remote control for volume control. And word to the wise, keep it to hand as the default volume for Netflix shows when streamed to the TV monitor seems to be considerably louder than standard TV volumes.

Installing Chromecast couldn’t be easier. It comes with instructions, but you’ll barely need them. It’s as simple as finding the available HDMI port (there’s a diagram on the instructions, and I simply looked for the port that matched the shape of the plug) and then connecting the other end into the wall socket. Then simply use your phone or tablet to connect the Chromecast device to your WiFi and select a program on your existing subscription service (eg Netflix). Once it starts playing, you’ll see an icon like this, usually in the upper left corner of your phone/tablet screen. Tap it, and it will show you the available places to which you can cast (eg “family room TV”). Tap the selection and within 30-60 seconds you should see the program starting on your TV. Success!

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