Let’s just get this out of the way: The holidays are likely to look a lot different this year.
From lining up outside a supermarket to buy a turkey and smaller in-home gatherings to near-empty planes and perhaps fewer gifts under the tree, Thanksgiving and Christmas during a global pandemic may seem more like “The Twilight Zone” than “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
But that doesn’t mean you still can’t create a memorable – nay, magical – time for your family this time of year.
In fact, tech can help with the holidays, in several ways, to make the most out of the situation.
The following are five suggestions to make this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas more festive than forgettable.
Stay connected with video
Fortunately, there are several ways to keep in touch with those who aren’t there with you.
Not only can chat with video – for a more meaningful connection to family and friends practicing social distancing – but you can often have several people on the call at the same time. And all the big services are free. This includes Zoom (even removing its 40-minute limit over Thanksgiving), Skype, Teams, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and more.
But be aware of some limitations. FaceTime, for example, only works with Apple products. Google Duo or Google Meet, on the other hand, require a Gmail account.
All you need is Wi-Fi and a device with a screen, such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, or smart display (like Google Nest Hub Max, Amazon Echo Show, or Facebook Portal).
Lean on smart speakers
COVID-19 or not, an inexpensive smart speaker – like the $29 Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini or new Apple HomePod Mini ($99) – help you prep for and enjoy the holidays.
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If you’re planning on cooking a turkey (or tofurkey, if you prefer), ask your personal assistant for a good recipe, which includes step-by-step verbal instructions. If you dare, use your voice ask for how many calories are in stuffing or pecan pie. You can also ask to set a timer, too, should you need one while in the kitchen.
While you’re waiting for your bird to brown, ask Alexa, Google or Siri to play some music for you, too. Maybe a little Frank Sinatra singing “Come Fly With Me,” as you dream of a jetting off on a vacation in 2021?
Or use your smart speaker to call a relative, for free, and hands-free, to any 10-digital number in North America.
High-tech cookery, too
Speaking of making food, there are some high-tech tools to help you along.
You probably know about the air fryer craze – appliances that simulate deep frying with hot air that circulates at high speed — but you might find this technology built into larger appliances. For example, the LG InstaView ThinQ Range with Air Fry (from $879) gives you more space than a countertop air fryer. Plus, you can knock twice on the glass to see inside, without opening the door. With integrated Wi-Fi, this appliance supports app and voice control (through a smart speaker), recipes and cooking instructions that can be sent to the range, and more.
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Speaking of app-controlled appliances, the Traeger Ironwood 650 Wi-Fi connected wood pellet grill ($1,199) allows you to smoke a holiday ham, bake an apple pie or grill veggies – using 100 percent real hardwood as the fuel source. Traeger’s Wi-FIRE tech lets you monitor or control the temperature from anywhere through a companion app or by using Alexa voice commands.
And for $19.99, you can also pick up the stainless steel Secura Electric Wine Opener with Foil Cutter, which, at the press of a button, quickly removes the cork from your bottle of cabernet sauvignon or pinot grigio. Compatible with most wine bottle sizes, the rechargeable gadget can unscrew about 30 corks before you need to plug it in to “juice” back up.
Capture, share memories
Today’s smartphone cameras are extraordinary, and so be sure to use them to capture still photos and home movies while celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas. Experiment with the different effects and filters, if you like, and remember it’s not easy to run out of storage, so snap away and review later.
If you’re comfortable to do so, upload your favorite photos and videos to social media, so your friends and family can get a glimpse into your home over the holidays.
Or why not take your best photos and take on a family project? For example, you can use software — built into or downloaded to your phone, tablet or computer — to create a sentimental slideshow, set to music, to share with others. Or create a digital jigsaw puzzle game with your best 2020 family portrait. Alternatively, print photos on magnetic sheets of paper (about $16 per 5-pack), which can be fed through any regular inkjet printer, and cut the photos into fridge magnets or keepsakes to pop into a holiday greeting card.
Finally, between new video game consoles – like PS5 and Xbox Series X – deep discounts on big-screen televisions, and new soundbars and other speakers that can fill your room with audio, technology can help you remain entertained indoors during a cold, COVID Christmas.
Plus, it’s worth noting there more streaming services to choose from than ever before couple – such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Apple TV+ – as well as free AVOD services, which stands for “ad-supported video on demand” content. Some of the more popular options include Vudu, Tubi, and IMDb TV, as well as YouTube, Crackle and Popcornflix – each of them offering thousands of TV show episodes and movies for free — so long as you’re willing to sit through some commercials.
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Also consider an over-the-air DVR, like the Tablo DUAL LITE ($149), which gives you access to live TV broadcasts – including news and sports – which isn’t available on most streaming platforms, like Netflix. To use this product, you’ll need an over-the-Air HDTV antenna, Internet connection, recording storage, like a hard drive (for watching live TV and recording), and Roku, Apple TV or a Wi-Fi-enabled device.