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Giving thanks for these budget-friendly tech gadgets

November 24, 2021, 6:12 PM UTC

Our list of affordable new tech we’re thankful for in 2021 could begin and end with a single product: the COVID vaccine. But that’d be boring. And you can’t put a shot under the tree. The only Christmas needles we like come on a Douglas fir. 

So to mark Thanksgiving—and Black Friday, of course—here are seven price-conscious tech gadgets for which we’re giving thanks.

At-home COVID tests

The next-best-thing to a COVID vaccine, take-home rapid tests keep getting better. Two new tools, from Cue Health and Detect, offer near-instant, PCR-quality results from the comfort of your home, albeit at a decently hefty price tag (three tests and a reusable results reader cost $186 from Detect and $225 from Cue). The more common antigen tests remain useful, accurately detecting COVID in roughly 85% of cases.

Apple AirTags

For the absentminded family member in your life, Apple’s new AirTags ensure your keys, purse and wallet never go missing. The secure Bluetooth signal connects to your iPhone—sorry, Android users—and requires just one new battery per year. At a price of one for $29 or four for $99, it’s worth the price to avoid the headache of replacing lost credit cards.

Fi Series 2 smart collar

The only thing more valuable than your keys, purse and wallet: Fido. For the dog owners perpetually fearful of your pup scrambling away into the dark, cold night—guilty as charged—this top-reviewed dog-tracking collar, which shows your pooch’s location on your phone 24-7, provides invaluable peace of mind for $149. Apologies, cat owners. This one goes only to the dogs.

Wyze lighting products

We’ve come a long way since The Clapper. Wyze Labs has taken lighting deep into the 21st century, offering a smart electric plug that is controllable by phone, motion-sensored night lights, and LED bulbs that can change colors with a tap of a screen—all for under $30 each.

Shower Power speaker

Environmentally-conscious shower-singers love this Bluetooth speaker powered by the water coming from the showerhead. Manufacturer Ampere boasts that the product attaches to nearly every showerhead in a minute, with no need for a plumber. The standard version runs $99, while a pro version with LED lights and app connectivity goes for $149. 

IKEA’s Symfonisk speaker frame

Taking a page from the TV-that-also-displays-artwork, IKEA has partnered with Sonos to create a picture frame with built-in speakers on the edges. This $199 audio-aesthetic conversation starter can be a bit finicky, requiring a nearby power outlet and strong wall anchor, and it only comes with two picture display options. But reviewers rave about the sound quality.

Yoto Player

Okay, we’re cheating a little bit. The Yoto Player doesn’t have any real new tech. But the $99 speaker for children invokes the nostalgia of a screenless music player—with audio-loaded cards in place of cassettes and CDs. A great way to “back in my day” your kids, with a still-modern twist.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Apple launches attack on spy tech firm. Apple sued the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group on Tuesday, hitting the beleaguered outfit with its second major lawsuit related to allegations of invading users’ privacy. Apple is asking for unspecified damages tied to NSO’s surveillance of its customers’ phones and computers, while also seeking to permanently ban the company from using any Apple software. NSO has sold spyware to governments for law enforcement-related activities, but a series of investigative reports has shown governments using the technology to spy on activists, dissidents and others. Facebook sued NSO Group on similar grounds in 2019 after finding the spyware had targeted hundreds of users of WhatsApp, which Facebook owns.

Elizabeth Holmes, day three. Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, testifying in her defense for the third day at her fraud trail, attempted Tuesday to portray some of her most misleading actions as merely advocacy for her fast-growing company. Holmes argued that she engaged in well-intentioned efforts to boost Theranos when she applied other companies’ logos to investor reports without permission and withheld crucial product information from potential partner Walgreens. Prosecutors allege that Holmes criminally deceived investors, business partners and customers, warranting conviction on 11 fraud charges. Holmes is expected to resume her testimony Monday, with cross-examination by prosecutors expected next week.

A committee is always the answer. Video game developer Activision Blizzard plans to create a workplace responsibility committee as it faces a barrage of sexual abuse, harassment and gender discrimination allegations, the company announced Tuesday. Activision Blizzard officials said the committee will be initially comprised of the company’s only two female board members, who will be responsible for holding executives accountable and changing the workplace culture. CEO Bobby Kotick, who has faced calls from some employees and investors to resign, will be required to provide regular updates on progress to the committee.

An anti-vaxx mini-revolt at Google. Several hundred Google employees have signed a manifesto aimed at beating back the company’s COVID vaccine mandate, which goes into effect early next month, CNBC reported. The anti-mandate group represents a tiny fraction of Google’s 150,000-plus employees, who are expected to notify the company of their vaccination status by Dec. 3 and partially return to offices in mid-January. Google continues to stand by its mandate, calling the requirement “one of the most important ways we can keep our workforce safe and keep our services running.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

COVID vaccines were only the start. The much-ballyhooed mRNA technology behind the two most-successful COVID shots portends potentially life-changing developments in gene synthesis, a burgeoning branch of science drawing more investment and support, The New York Times Magazine reports. The increasing ease of gene sequencing, which advanced leaps and bounds over the past decade and paved the way for COVID vaccines, likely will let scientists eventually write DNA strands from scratch. While that end result remains far off, early start-ups and their investors are intrigued by the possibilities.

From the article:

The possibilities captivate both investors and scientists, whether they are fabricating microorganisms to produce industrial chemicals or engineering human cells to treat medical disorders. 

If even a small percentage of these efforts succeed, they could lead to trillion-dollar markets. The analogy frequently used by biotech venture capitalists is that we are in the Apple II days of synthetic biology, with the equivalent of iMacs and iPhones still to come. 

It’s a grandiose claim—but not implausible, especially now that COVID has battle-tested some of the underlying technologies. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Kazakhstan welcomed the Bitcoin miners that China banned. Now an energy crisis is forcing some miners to relocate—again, by Grady McGregor

Crypto traders panic at India’s vague plan to ‘prohibit all private cryptocurrencies’, by Biman Mukherji

A.I. hiring software faces a regulatory reckoning, by Jonathan Vanian

NASA is crashing a rocket into an asteroid on purpose, by Felicia Hou

We can’t walk blindly into the Metaverse, by Wendell Wallach

BEFORE YOU GO

Brrrrrroadband everywhere. Every continent has access to fiber optic cable, with one understandable exception: Antarctica. That could soon change, as The Verge reported the National Science Foundation is “seriously exploring” running a cable along the seafloor to Antarctica from Australia or New Zealand. The development would mark a huge upgrade for scientists on the McMurdo Station, who use low-broadband satellites for their work. The NSF still needs to conduct a feasibility study before deciding whether to pursue the idea.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct cost of at-home COVID tests from Detect and Cue.

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