Tech Gifts to Delight but Not Distract

No more drones, please

Key Takeaways

  • Minimalist tech gifts offer lots of features but without bells and whistles. 
  • The $399 reMarkable tablet has a 10.3-inch E Ink display and is designed purely for taking notes and reading documents.
  • The Freewrite Traveler is a word processor that claims to have a four week battery life.
Woman using digital tablet sitting on a rock in Monument Valley, Utah, United States
 Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd / Getty Images

Gadgets are a crowd pleaser, but for the tech lovers on your gift list this holiday season you might want to consider giving something a little less distracting. After all, it’s been a tough year with coronavirus, politics, and wildfires demanding our attention. 

There are a wide range of gizmos that will come in handy but might provide a more soothing backdrop than the usual shiny laptops, smart speakers, and drones. We’ve rounded up items ranging from an electronic drawing pad to a distraction-free computer that might be just the thing to delight without going a little more mad than we already are under lockdown. 

The sweet spot is finding a device that offers enough features to be worth your money but doesn’t distract from your life. A stripped down smart speaker might be just the thing.

One good example of this genre is the new $49.99 Lenovo Smart Clock Essential. I found it to be easy to use with surprisingly good sound. There’s also the $49.99 Amazon Echo Dot, which gives you all the power of Alexa in a minimalist package. 

Write Without Stopping

For those who want to combine a sort of digital monasticism with a penchant for high tech, there are a number of devices that allow you to take notes and process words without actually using what’s normally thought of as a computer. 

Take, for example, the $399 reMarkable tablet, which has a 10.3-inch E Ink display and is designed purely for taking notes and reading documents. The hefty price might seem like an extravagance for such a single-minded device, but it could be well worth it for those who want to concentrate on what they are doing. In my hands on, I found the reMarkable to be a terrific device for scribbling down my thoughts and features in a sleek design. 

The reMarkable 2 tablet with "Hello Readers" written on it.
Lifewire / Sascha Brodsky

Other E Ink-based tablets include the Boox Max Lumi which has a similar design to the reMarkable but is less focused on note taking. This model also has an illuminated display, which the reMarkable lacks. 

But perhaps you aren’t ready to give up a keyboard even if you are sick of the bells and whistles in the Mac and Windows operating systems? Take heart, because there’s the recently released Freewrite Traveler, which looks like a cross between an Amazon Kindle with its E Ink screen mashed into a retro 1980s style laptop body.

The benefits of the Traveler are clear. No more worrying about browsing the web, checking Facebook or perusing Amazon when you should be writing. That’s because the Freewrite does none of those things. It’s meant only for typing. Some might balk at the $599 list price, but the device does claim a four-week battery life and weighs only 1.6 pounds  

One Man’s Journey to Productivity

Andrew Higgins has been using the Freewrite word processor to write content for his vanity comparison site. He says it’s helped him tune out distractions and concentrate on his work since he started working from home during the pandemic. 

"Before 2020, working in the office enforces great working habits," he said in an email interview. "I'm not going to go on Facebook or check my website statistics every five minutes if my colleagues are around. You're held accountable in person, which is why it's so easy to slip at home."

"The sweet spot is finding a device that offers enough features to be worth your money but doesn’t distract from your life."

"The second I realized I was getting a little less productive, I invested in the Freewrite word processor and started researching things like Microsoft's distraction free modes," he said. "I use an alarm on my phone, typically set in 45-minute sprints, and I force myself to stay heads down the whole time. It's so much easier this way and keeps me accountable."

For those on your gift list who might benefit from a little less distraction in their lives, consider a minimalist device this year. If they don’t like it, save the receipt and they can always return it for a drone.

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