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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Brad Moon, Contributing Writer
| June 6, 2019
Are you ready for Father’s Day? Sunday, June 16 will come quickly, especially if you haven’t found the perfect gift for Dad.
When it comes to picking that perfect gift, many Dads today are more likely to hope for something high-tech than traditional: wireless headphones, say, rather than a tie. That can make tracking down a gift that celebrates everything he does for his family a little challenging.
Not to worry, here’s a Father’s Day gift guide that contains nothing but the very best. Each recommended product, most of which were featured in published reviews, has been personally evaluated. With a slant toward high-tech, a few nods to traditional choices and prices starting at $15, there’s something here for every father this Father’s Day.
Image copyright Traeger
Starting things off on a traditional note, grilling is something that many Dads enjoy. So why not upgrade your father’s grilling experience with a smart grill?
What makes the $1,799.99 Traeger Timberline 850 Pellet Grill smart? It has a motorized auger that precisely delivers wood pellets into a hopper for perfect grilling and plenty of smoke for flavor. Its three grates hold nine whole chickens or eight racks of ribs. But the killer feature is Wi-Fi, or what Traeger calls WiFIRE technology.
The Timberline 850 connects to a Wi-Fi network and can then be controlled with a smartphone app. During testing, I put a brisket in the Timberline 850, then took my dogs for a long walk. Using my smartphone, I was able to monitor the meat temperature, remotely adjust the cooking temperature, and even hit the “Super Smoke” button. No more grill anxiety! It’s not cheap as far as grills go, but the wow factor is huge, it makes grilling and barbecue far more convenient, and the Traeger Timberline 850 is built like a tank, so it should last.
Image copyright Ryobi
Lawn mowing is another area that traditionally tends to be Dad’s domain.
The $299 Ryobi 18V ONE+ 16-inch Mower lets Dad go green, but offers the power to actually do a good job of cutting grass (something that hasn’t been the case with some other battery-powered mowers I’ve used). In addition, this mower uses Ryobi’s popular One+ Lithium batteries, making replacements relatively inexpensive and easy to find. It comes with two — in my experience, that’s enough for about an hour of run time on a charge — and it can share those batteries with over 125 Ryobi power tools.
As an added bonus, the Ryobi 18V ONE+ 16-inch Mower has a high-tech appeal that may actually encourage the kids to cut the grass, giving Dad a break. That angle has worked with my teenagers, at least for the moment...
Photo by Brad Moon
Does Dad like to read? If so, there is no better e-reader on the market today than Kobo’s Forma.
I have about a dozen e-readers in my collection including Kindles, Nooks, Sony e-readers and a few Kobo models (I may have a problem), yet nothing comes close to the $279.99 Kobo Forma. This premium e-reader has an 8-inch display — the largest on the market — and that makes a huge difference in the reading experience.
Other key features include IPX8 water resistance (yes, I’ve submerged it and it’s fine), both touch controls and physical page turn buttons, Kobo’s advanced ComfortLight PRO that adjusts lighting color by time of day, and the ability to borrow library books directly from the device.
The only potential downside is the Forma can’t read Amazon’s proprietary Kindle e-book format, so if Dad is already heavily invested in Kindle e-books it’s better to skip this one.
Does your Dad like playing mechanic on the weekend? If so, he’ll love the $79.95 OBDLink MX+ scanner.
Download the free smartphone app and plug this scanner into the OBD port on pretty much any vehicle (cars or light trucks sold in the U.S. since 1996). Connect with Bluetooth, and Dad can check error and diagnostic codes for the vehicle’s systems including ABS brakes, tire pressure monitoring and oxygen sensors. He can even clear error codes to get rid of that annoying “Check Engine Light” warning without having to visit the dealership.
Mount the smartphone on the dashboard and the OBDLink app can turn its display into an auxiliary gauge, showing real-time data such as RPM, fuel consumption rate and battery voltage.
A lot of Dads (new and old) are into records. Even in the age of streaming music, records and turntables continue to grow in popularity.
I’ve tested over a dozen turntables and record players over the past year, and nothing compares to the value proposition of the Fluance RT85. At $499.99 it’s not inexpensive, but this is a fantastic turntable built with high-end features such as a solid MDF plinth, servo-controlled motor, S-Type aluminum tone arm and vibration isolation feet. The big news is that the RT85 ships with several components that would be expensive upgrades for most turntables in this class: an acrylic platter and an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge that retails for $250 on its own.
The RT85 is so popular Fluance has had trouble keeping it in stock. So you’ll need to keep checking the company’s website, or find one at a local retailer if you want to land one in time for Father’s Day.
Image copyright NAD
If Dad already has a turntable, or you’d like the perfect addition to that Fluance RT85, renowned audio brand NAD has an amplifier any music-loving Dad would drool over.
While you can connect a TV (it has an HDMI ARC input), the $699 NAD 3045 Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier is meant to be at the center of the ultimate music listening system. No fancy 7.1 channel surround, this amp drives a pair of speakers at 60W per channel for perfect stereo bliss.
One of its key selling points is a mix of the best of old and new technology. The NAD 3045 has analog inputs, including a PHONO input for a turntable. But it also offers Bluetooth aptX HD with 24-bit Hi-Res audio support for high-quality streaming music. There is also a headphone jack up front, and with its premium DAC, music over old-school wired headphones never sounded better.
Image copyright Como Audio
It probably comes as no surprise that I evaluate a lot of wireless speakers. The one that’s really made an impression so far in 2019 is the Musica from Boston’s Como Audio. If you haven’t heard of the company, it’s the latest venture from industry veteran Tom DeVesto, an entrepreneur who previously founded premium audio brands Tivoli and Cambridge SoundWorks. So you know the Musica is going to be good.
The Como Audio Musica immediately makes a visual impression with its standard Walnut veneer finish, dual speaker setup (four drivers altogether, powered by a 30W per channel class D amp) and a 3.2-inch color display that shows off album artwork. There are also aluminum knobs instead of touch controls, for a serious retro vibe — adding to that are both FM radio and an integrated CD player.
This wireless sound system (you can’t really call it a speaker with so many features) also offers Bluetooth streaming, plus Wi-Fi connectivity for services like Spotify and support for multi-room audio. You can even use an Alexa-enabled smart speaker on the same network to voice control the Musica. Pricing starts at $599, depending on finish.
Image copyright Vizio
A new TV is always a big win for the family, and Father’s Day is a great excuse to buy one.
It’s pretty easy to spend a small fortune on a TV, especially when you start getting into technology like OLED displays. However, there is a great alternative that offers a premium quality viewing experience without the same expense. I’ve seen Vizio’s P-Series Quantum TV side-by-side with leading OLED televisions and it performed remarkably well, despite being a fraction of the price.
Instead of OLED the Vizio P-Series Quantum uses Quantum Dot technology, and 192 local dimming zones for deep blacks. The 4K resolution screen hits an amazing 2000 nits of brightness and it supports Dolby Vision HDR for brilliant colors. For voice control fans, it’s compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant. At a price of $1,499.99 for a 65-inch model, a Vizio P-Series Quantum TV will turn the family room into a home theater and makes Dad’s day.
Image copyright Polk Audio
The Command Bar from Polk Audio is a great way to dramatically improve the audio in a home theater, without the complexity (and expense) of a dedicated amplifier and multi-speaker setup. And it’s also a great addition to a smart home, with its integrated Alexa voice control and support for Amazon multi-room audio.
The $299 Polk Command Bar comes in two pieces: a sound bar that fits under a TV and a subwoofer that wirelessly connects to it. Altogether, the system features dual 3-inch drivers, dual 1-inch tweeters, a 6.5-inch ported subwoofer and a combined 260W of amplification. That means immersive Dolby/DTS surround sound for watching movies, or listening to music. And with 260W on tap, it can get really loud.
What sets the Polk Command Bar apart from other sound bars is its built-in Amazon Alexa support. You don’t need an Echo smart speaker on the network, the Command Bar has its own far-field microphones to respond to voice commands.
Wireless earbuds are always a popular gift, and the best I’ve tested in the past year are the Jaybird Tarah Pro buds.
Dad will love these because they’re great for jogging, cutting the lawn or just kicking back and enjoying some music. Jaybird excels at designing earbuds that fit comfortably and securely, using their innovative EarGels. The Tarah Pro buds are also rugged and with IPX7 water resistance they’re not only sweat- and rain-proof, they can even survive being submerged in water. Audio performance is excellent with solid bass, and Jaybird’s mobile app offers an impressive range of customization.
Perhaps the game-changer in terms of features is battery life. True wireless earbuds like Apple’s AirPods need to be charged every four or five hours. Jaybird claims 14 hours on a charge, which is pretty incredible for wireless buds. However, when testing the $159.99 Tarah Pros, I regularly exceeded Jaybird’s claim, getting 15 hours on a charge.
Image copyright Sony
If Dad is looking for noise cancelling headphones — for commuting, air travel or to drown out background noise at work — Sony’s Sony WH-1000X M2 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones used to be the ones to beat. That is until this year, when the company released the all new WH-1000X M3s.
The $349.99 Sony WH-1000X M3
headphones offer the same best-in-class active noise cancellation technology and 30-hour battery life that has made this series so popular. But the latest version is an ounce lighter, the ear cups add touch controls, charging is via USB-C and the big upgrade is a new analog audio amplifier that greatly improve audio performance, including deeper bass, crisp treble and a greater sense of depth.
We all use our smartphones for taking photos, and in many cases they have replaced cameras altogether. If Dad has an iPhone but wishes Apple’s cameras could do a little more, Lemuro’s add-on lenses make for a great Father’s Day gift.
These are high-quality glass optics that are engineered in Germany and housed in attractive, Italian-designed anodized aluminum bodies. They securely fasten to a special Photo Case ($29 and up) to give an iPhone DLSR-like flexibility, but without the bulk or need to haul around a camera bag. Lemuro offers wide angle, telephoto, macro and fisheye versions, with prices starting at $85.
Lemuro lenses are available in black or silver, and case options include a range of glossy colors, plus several leather models.
Image copyright SNAP Power
Puttering around the house is something many Dads enjoy, especially when that involves home improvement projects.
SNAP Power offers a series of high-tech upgrades to standard electrical outlets and light switches that make for great, affordable Father’s Day gifts. These replace standard covers with versions that feature built-in LED night lights or USB chargers. Colors match standard covers (white, ivory and light almond). They start at just $15, and there are discounted prices when you buy multi-packs.
One of the great things about the SNAP Power replacements is that you don’t need to be an electrician to install them. They’re designed to be installed in a matter of seconds with no wiring required — just a screwdriver to remove the existing cover.
If Dad spends a lot of time staring at a screen, glare and blue light may be causing some unwanted side effects including headaches, dry eyes and difficulty in sleeping. Felix Gray makes affordable, stylish glasses with lenses that are treated to eliminate screen glare and filter out blue light.
That’s right, you can update Dad’s look while also improving his sleep and helping him to avoid headaches. The company offers prescription and non-prescription lenses, and their frames start at $95. There are also sunglasses available. Order online (you’ll need Dad’s prescription) and shipping is free, with free returns and exchanges.
I sit in front of a computer all day, and I’ve been wearing a pair of Felix Gray glasses for six months. They make a big difference, but without the dorky look of many specialized computer glasses.
Image copyright Apple
Finally, what is likely to be one of the more popular gifts this Father’s Day: the Apple Watch Series 4.
Apple has had the world’s best-selling smartwatch since the Apple Watch first launched in 2015. And every year, Apple has relentlessly improved it. When the Apple Watch Series 4 launched last fall, it got its first major re-design, with a display that’s 30% larger and higher resolution (without getting physically larger). Apple also added new health and safety features, with a built-in ECG app for heart testing and fall detection. So this smartwatch doesn’t just look cool and do cool stuff, it also offers a bit of peace of mind.
One qualifier: if Dad owns an Android smartphone, then the Apple Watch isn’t such a great choice. It’s really designed for those who embrace all things Apple. The Apple Watch Series 4 starts at $399.