Congratulations: you’ve outdone the chip shortage and conquered the crowds, or maybe Santa’s due to be very good to you. Either way, you’ve got some new technology under the Christmas tree.
But these aren’t wooden blocks or teddy bears. Tech toys often need a little preparation before Christmas morning.
Here’s a quick crash course in what needs to be done before the day.
Power: Batteries, bricks, and cables
The oldest piece of Christmas advice still stands: bring batteries.
It’s not just light-up toys – a surprisingly large amount of modern technology still runs on AA batteries, such as game controllers, remotes, wireless speakers.
That said, lots of things now have built-in rechargeable batteries, and that brings its own checklist.
First things first – anything that can be charged should be charged before Christmas morning to avoid disappointment.
Not being able to use a new phone at the breakfast table because it’s tied to a wall socket in another room is not ideal, and neither is running out of power on a game controller because it only had 10% charge coming out the box.
If a Nintendo Switch is on anyone’s list, remember that it is a hybrid portable/docked console – so unlike other consoles, the machine itself needs charging too.
All of which should spark the question – do I have the right chargers?
Some electronics manufacturers are following a trend – led by Apple and its iPhones – to stop including charging bricks and cables in the box. They say it’s an environmental move, since many people already have the right cables – but do check.
And if you’re buying a charger separately, get a reliable one – some cheap items sold online might not meet safety standards.
Updates and downloads
If you’ve bought anything with a computer in it, it’s very likely that it will try to download updates as soon as you turn it on.
Phones packed in factories several months ago won’t have the latest security patches, and even smart home tech like streaming boxes and smart plugs can need to update their internal software.
Most of those updates are pretty small, but there is one area where downloads can take hours: gaming.
A new Xbox or PlayStation might want to update its own system software before letting you play any games. And some console bundles might come with codes for downloadable games – for example, a new Xbox that comes with “Games Pass” is a membership to a library of games you can choose to download.
These games range from 20-100GB+ in download size – which could take hours on some connections. It might be worth pre-downloading games ahead of Christmas – though note that if you’re using a membership to do so, you’ll have to start that membership.
Sadly, the same logic applies even if you have a disc for the game. “Day one” patches have become an industry standard in recent years, meaning that on release day, there is somehow an “update” before you can play. They do tend to be smaller than the entire game, though.
While we’re on the topic of big game downloads – they can use up a lot of the console’s storage space. Some consoles, such as the Switch, have relatively little storage – so many players end up buying an extra storage card soon after they get their machine. Worth thinking about.
Choose compatible partners
One odd knock-on effect of modern tech is that nothing lasts forever – so you need to think about whether the person can use what you’re buying.
New smartwatches might only work with newer phones that they pair with. The latest Apple Watch, for example, “requires” the user to have an iPhone 6S or newer. And the well-reviewed Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 has some features that work best with a matching Samsung Android phone, although it will still work with other devices.
The same logic applies to lots of smart home tech – if the person you’re buying for is already heavily invested in Amazon Alexa devices, for example, more of the same might be a better idea than your other favourite brand.
If you’re a privacy-conscious type, it might also be worth considering what extra terms and conditions you’re shackling a loved one to alongside a gift.
For example, while tech-loving gift-givers might love the idea of a Google Home or an Amazon Alexa smart assistant, some recipients might not want an always-listening microphone in their bedroom or kitchen.
If you’re gifting one of these useful gadgets, it might be a good idea to read up online so you can explain what it does and doesn’t do when it’s unwrapped on Christmas morning.
The same is true of almost any “smart” or internet-connected gadget.
The Mozilla Foundation has a useful website that lists all sorts of techy products with easy-to-read summaries of what’s good and risky, with each of them.