In the run-up to Christmas there's always a big rush on buying shit, because that's what this time of year is about. Obviously we've helped push that with all the deals and buying guides, but all that got us thinking; what kind of stuff should we actually be peddling? There's a lot of good stuff out there, and we figured it's worth recommending stuff we actually like and think people can benefit from.
So here are things we bought this year that you should also buy for yourself.
Tom Pritchard, Editor
Orbi Mesh Network (or Any Mesh Network For That Matter)
With the number of connected devices increasing, and the ISP-provided routers not doing a great deal, it's worth upgrading your Wi-Fi network to handle everything.
Going for a mesh network lets you link together access points to improve the overall Wi-Fi range seamlessly. So no having to manually hop between Wi-Fi networks because you walked a foot too far from the router. Honestly that's a god send, especially if you're limited in where you can place your original router.
I went for one of Netgear's Orbi networks, which works exactly as advertised, though they are rather expensive. Thankfully they're not the only mesh networks on the market, with just about every networking company offering their own version. BT even has one, which you can pick up for your BT-powered internet for a few more quid a month.
Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
It's been six years since Snowden leaked all that information and exposed the US government's mass surveillance systems that were put together in the aftermath of 9/11. The book is Snowden telling his story, on what led him to working for the US intelligence community and everything that led him to the historic leak. Plus a bit of stuff about what happened after the story broke.
What makes it worth reading is how Snowden breaks down the mass surveillance system and explains why it's a very bad thing - even if you're one of those "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" types. Seriously, he even calls them out at one point.
And you don't have to be a computing genius to digest everything. There was a lot I didn't know about the whole situation, and learning about it from the source was fascinating - and eye-opening. Considering mass surveillance is a problem that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, it's a good idea to swot up on everything that's going on.
Shabana Arif, News Editor
Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer
I've always thought this thing was overpriced. It's a hair dryer. It dries hair. The one I bought for £15 in Sainsbury's during a hair dryer emergency (the old one broke) does the same job just fine. And I didn't have to spend £300. But oh, how wrong I was.
The Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer is lightweight, a bloody joy to hold with that smooth, slinky form factor, and will dry your hair faster and leave it feeling unbelievably smooth when you're done. Because of its design, you don't have to worry about getting your hair sucked up in the filter - not that it ever does. I still worry, regardless and now I don't have to!
Admittedly, it's a bit steep at the price point, and sure, a cheap hair dryer will ultimately leave you with a bone dry mop, but if keeping your hair happy and healthy is near the top of your priority list, it really is worth splurging on. What's more, it has five attachments available, each specifically designed for a hair type and purpose, and Dyson does not piss around. It's a must-buy for me if you have the cash and don't want your hair frazzled to oblivion.
UNO cross device USB Type-C magnetic cable
I know, I know. Could there be anything more boring on this list than a cable? No. But this little bugger is great, so I reject your judgement. This was a crowdfunded product that was sent over for review and for a clumsy bastard like me, it's perfect.
The cable is touted as the world's first cross-compatible USB-C magnetic USB cable, and is a sturdy, braided nylon affair with anti-fray neck. You can watch the crowdfunding video to watch it being used to pull a car along the street, but full disclosure: I did not attach it to any vehicles, or use it to drag anything anywhere. It has an unobtrusive little LED light so it's not glowing like a mini radium lamp on you bedside table once the lights are off. It really feels like a quality piece of kit.
But what makes this one of my favourite things of the year is that it's saved a slew of devices from being dragged to their deaths by my clumsiness. The magnetic connector is strong. You can dangle your phone from it, no problem (but don't. That's stupid). Aside from the convenience of not having to worry about smashed or scuffed screens, is the sheer amount of different devices you can use it with. It has cross compatibility, meaning you can pop the cable onto the magnetic tips to connect to devices that utilise Micro USB, USB Type-C, and lightning connections. And it's just £17! Best boring present ever.
Kim Snaith, Production Editor
iPad Mini and Apple Pencil
I shook off Apple products when I finally got rid of my crusty old MacBook Pro a couple of years ago. But I was lured back into the ecosystem this year with an iPad. I'd been looking for a device I could use as a digital notepad for a while, and after plenty of research, it seemed that (unfortunately) an iPad was the best option. When Apple Arcade launched earlier this year, it was the excuse I needed to take the plunge: a device that I could use for taking notes and playing a host of great games seemed like a good purchase.
Indeed it was. I didn't opt for an Apple Pencil straight away: £100 for what's essentially a fancy stylus at first seemed ridiculous, so I opted for some cheap no-brand alternative from Amazon, that promised to be just as good as the real thing judging by the myriad of positive reviews. Clearly they'd all been bought off, because it was awful. It barely wrote on my iPad's screen; I had more luck with my finger on my smartphone. Finally purchasing an actual Apple Pencil though, the difference was like night and day. There's something so satisfying about flawlessly writing on a digital screen – not to mention the ease of being able to send notes straight to my PC. I'm not sure I could live without this thing now.
And yes, Apple Arcade's library was indeed a great selling point too.
I was sent an Oculus Quest to review earlier this year – sadly, the review unit only got to stay with me for a few weeks, but my time with the Quest left a lasting impression. I've wanted to like VR since I first tried a Rift DK unit some years ago. In principle it's always been great, but there's been too many limitations holding it back. Cables, sensors, needing to have a powerful PC. Quest does away with all that. It impressed me so much that I just had to buy one for myself.
Without being bogged down with cables and PC software, the joy of simply popping on the headset and getting straight into a game – with much better graphical fidelity than something like Gear VR ever offered – can't be downplayed. Sure, having to charge it every few hours is a pain, but it's a small price to pay. Even if it's simply to smash away at a few levels of Beat Saber every few days, the Quest gets way more use than any other VR headset has done in the past. Besides, it was worth it just to take it over to my parents' and seeing how amazed my mum was after trying it.
Gary Cutlack, Contributor
Google Pixel 3a
Look, sorry, I'm old, so most of the money I spend goes on boring stuff like shoes for children, replacement handles for garden spades, slightly more efficient light bulbs and lengths of fireproof rope to seal non-compliant DIY woodburner installations, all of which I then expertly fit myself with only occasional help from YouTube tutorials. However, my Old Man and the Sea lifestyle did lead to the accidental dropping of my three-year-old smartphone over the side of a boat in the summer, finally giving me a legit reason to get a new one, rather than just wanting a new one. I watched it sink. It was very sad.
I went for a Pixel 3a in the end, as it was relatively cheap, and I found one on a £20 a month Vodafone contract with 2GB of data; and that's fine for me where I live as there's still only a Vodafone 2G mast here, so I only need data when I go to exciting cities and towns and that hardly ever happens. It also meant that by owning my last phone for a record three years -- a Huawei P9 -- I managed to avoid ever having a phone with a notch. I successfully waited out that battle and won. Plus, for about a month until the new iPhones arrived, I had probably the best phone camera on the market to take photos of turnips and apple trees with.
My review: I love it but it could do with a notification light. 4/5.
Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski
This is well niche and for that I apologise, but as someone whose life has been defined by being a person who likes Babylon 5, the autobiography of its creator had to be read. There is quite a bit more in here covering the rest of Joe's life, as he overcomes a staggeringly toxic upbringing to eventually luck into dream job after dream job, accidentally redefining children's TV, then sci-fi TV, then comics, then doing a few novels oh and a beloved film script that passed on first draft, and brilliantly executing a writing career that shit bloggers for shit blogs can only dream of.
He calculates the odds of it all happening to one person and it's billions to one, and all the more remarkable for having a dad who enjoyed punching him in the face and smashing his teeth in, and being so reserved a person that he had to consciously try to copy what others do in social situations in order to get by. That's one thing we have in common.