Here’s a look at a few of the best gift picks for learning and edutainment.
What is it? The world’s smartest chessboard
Gift group: Budding Bobby Fischer’s in the family
Santa’s scoop: Telerobotics and artificial intelligence company Infivention have combined the traditional and digital to deliver a chess game that Harry Potter fans would love.
Let’s start with the weighty board, a 19-inch square adorned with a rosewood finish. Owners plug it in, with the included power adapter, and let its battery fully charge to eventually play roughly 15 matches
Next, place the handcrafted chess pieces on the board and connect the board to the free Square Off app (smartphone required). It’s worth noting the chess pieces are of a very classic design (the king stands 2.5 inches high), and the app requires an email registration. It also painlessly connected, after an update on the first try.
COVERAGE: Zadzooks 2021 Holiday Gift Guide
Now the fun begins. To warm up, choose the Square Off computer as a challenger, select from one to 20 levels of difficulty, and your digital opponent moves a piece on the board to begin a game.
Making the slightest grinding noise as the piece glides across the spaces, it’s magic is as eye-opening as it is head-shaking. Now, press a piece down on the space, hear a beep and move to another space and slightly depress the space to hear the beep. Square Off then makes its move and so on.
When Square Off takes an opponents piece, it actually moves by itself to the side of the board. Are you kidding?
Better yet, chess players can scour the Internet for other Square Off players and challenge them to matches. I found a dozen folks ready to play during my session. And, players can also share their live matches so others can watch their own board make the challengers’ moves.
Suffice it to report, Infivention’s developers have created the ultimate chess experience with Square Off. It will quickly turn curious players into grandmaster-seeking fanatics.
The One Pro
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What is it? An educational, electronic piano keyboard
Gift group: Devotees of Bach and Chopin in the family
Santa’s scoop: The One Music Group gets serious with its latest keyboard offering a full-sized, heavy-duty musical instrument for those wanting to learn to play the piano.
The keyboard offers a generously loud pair of speakers and a full, normal-sized 88 keys with graded hammer action that replicates the type of response found when playing a classic acoustic piano.
The magic arrives after downloading the free One Light app and hooking up the keyboard to a computer tablet (Android or Apple) via a USB connection (cables included).
Now owners can attempt to conquer thousands of songs via interactive sheet music by following LED lights above each key that illuminate to hit the correct combination of keys and stay lit until the notes or chords are played.
The app also features nine video lessons, a deeper dive into playing a dozen songs, more than 100 “Guitar Hero”-like rhythm games and sheet music to thousands of more songs.
The keyboard features a grand piano tone sample, but an additional 88 onboard sound choices and almost another thousand can be enacted from the app.
Additional ports on the back of the keyboard include an output to plug into sound systems, sustain pedal jack, headphone jack, microphone input and a MIDI output.
Up and running in minutes — literally plug in tablet, tap the power button and use volume dial to turn up volume or choose a sound — the One Pro makes it easy to learn classics such as “Auld Lang Syne” and Beethoven’s “Turkish March.”
Of course, simply pushing keys in tandem to lights will not make someone a virtuoso. Dedication and a simmering devotion to practice will only allow new players to master the instrument.
The only bummer is the keyboard does not come with a stand ($39.99 extra) and many of the songs on the app need to be purchased with prices as high as $3.99 for such ditties as Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” or the Beatles’ “In My Life.”
What is it? A handheld language translator
Gift group: World travelers in need of communicating
Santa’s scoop: You’re in a foreign country and in desperate need of an illusive bathroom, but you don’t speak the language. What will you do? What will you do?
Fear not weary bladder-bloated traveler, Sourcenext offers a device the size of a withered bar of soap that will not only help get that question answered but supports the visual and audio translation of 74 languages by each human simply speaking into it.
Users first charge the device with the included USB cable to get roughly seven hours of communication and then pick both languages using the onboard buttons.
Touch the left side button and speak, the system responds back in the language required and offers a text translation also. The other speaker now does the same with a button on the right side, and let the bonding of humans begin.
Languages include English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian and not-so-commons dialects as Basque, Cantonese, Polish and Pashto.
The smart device becomes more accurate as the users talk to it, has a Bluetooth connection for louder volumes using an external speaker and can handle up to 30 seconds of recorded voice.
The only catch is the issue of defining “built in mobile data” required for the Pocketalk to work. For the $299 price, owners get two years worth of translations flowing data within 105 countries.
Once that data plan runs out, either purchase another two years for $100, use a compatible SIM card to grab the data (extra charges will apply depending on the provider) or rely on Wi-Fi hotspots (probably tricky in some of the less developed countries).