So Phillip was back last night with the second episode in this year’s series, looking at Gifts and Gadgets that you can buy for your loved ones this Christmas. Having dealt with toys last week, he was again joined by some famous faces and members of the public to see what companies have brought out this year.
First up we headed off to Cardiff to meet 3 neighbouring families to check out different ranges of Christmas decorations were on offer to light up your house and garden. Each family was given the same decorations – a polar bear, 5 sets of string lights, 2 stars, icicle lights, a wreath and some cluster lights.
Each family was given a set from one of the following – The Range (total price £191.89), John Lewis (total price £360) and Cox and Cox (total price £600). With over 3,000 lights for each house, it was definitely going to be a bright street!
First of all they looked at wreaths. The Range wreath, priced at £13.99, had pine cones and berries; the John Lewis wreath (£35) had mixed branches and the most lights; whilst the Cox and Cox wreath (£60) came with 30 larger bulbs.
Each family was also given 2 conifer trees in post to decorate with string lights. The Range string lights (£14.99) came with 600 lights each, whilst the John Lewis string lights (£28) only had 480 lights, although the strings were longer and so would cover a wider space. However the Cox and Cox lights (£55) had the most of all – 750 lights per string.
The stars varied immensely in price from The Range at £3.99, John Lewis at £30, and Cox and Cox at £35. In fact the John Lewis star was that family’s favourite item and certainly the bet of the three. The polar bears also varied – The Range at £39.99 (the family’s favourite item), john Lewis not much more at £50, and Cox and Cox at £75 – although that was somewhat disappointing!
Once each house was finished, all the neighbours from the road came out to view the lighting, and to choose the best decorations. And they voted for the budget decorations from The Range as their favourite overall.
We’ve all spent much more time at home this year, and our exercise has been limited to working out at home and walking, running or cycling in your neighbourhood for a large part of it. You can’t escape from hearing about people like Joe Wicks, who ran online PE classes for children (and adults!) every day for months.
So Phillip decided to enlist the help of 3 couple to test some space saving home gym equipment – ex-footballer and TV personality Chris Kamara with his son Jack; Team GB Olympic gymnasts Becky and Ellie Downie; and pub landlord Graham and musician Sharon. These were all very small so wouldn’t take up much room at home – I mean, how many of us has room for big exercise machines at home?
They were each sent 4 home workout gadgets for different types of exercises to test and evaluate, then rate them from best to worst.
Core exercises – Mirafit Core Exercise Sliders
The Mirafit Core Exercise Sliders (RRP £7.95) are a very simple design of 4 discs, designed to improve balance and the core of your body. The idea is you do a range of exercises whilst standing and leaning on the discs with your hands. They work on a variety of surfaces, so should be ok for almost everyone.
Each pair really found these good, and were very impressed with the simple design.
Strength exercises – Jaxjox Kettlebellconnect 2.0
The Jaxjox Kettlebellconnect 2.0 (RRP £229) is one kettlebell that is designed to replace having to store sets of kettlebells. It changes to 6 different weights electronically!
Obviously it’s pricey, but just a little more than the cost of 6 different kettlebells, and in a fraction of the space – perfect for working out from home. It connects to an app to count your reps too.
Co-ordination exercises – Beast Gear Premium Boxing Reflex Ball
The funniest and weirdest looking section was the co-ordination exercises with the Beast Gear Premium Boxing Reflex Ball (RRP £17.97). It’s a headband with a ball attached to a string, which you are designed to punch to improve your hand/eye coordination. Thank goodness it comes with safety glasses! Chris Kamara was not impressed but the other 2 couple liked it.
Warm down and stretch – The Morph Collapsible Foam Roller from Brazen Life
After every workout you should warm down and stretch, so Phillip included the Morph Collapsible Foam Roller from Brazen Life (RRP £59).Whilst you can get foam rollers for just a quarter of the price, this one collapses down in size and as such is much easier to store in a smaller space.
They all like it but Chris Kamara was particularly impressed – it’s good for us oldies, he said.
So which of these came out top in their votes? In 3rd place was the Beast Gear Premium Boxing Reflex Ball; joint 2nd was the Mirafit Core Sliders and the Jaxjox Kettlebell, and the Morph Collapsible Foam Roller came out on top.
Phillip asked animal behaviourist Ali Taylor from the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, along with her colleague Jane Warden, to test out dog toys designed to launch for games of fetch. With almost 30 years experience, Ali certainly qualifies as something of an expert in the field.
Man’s Best Friend Ball Launcher
First up was the Man’s Best Friend Ball Launcher (RRP £19.99). The pair were quite disappointed with the distance it sent the balls, although they felt it was a good design and strong – in fact a bit too strong to pull back the trigger. But the balls that it came with were destroyed by the dogs chewing very quickly and they felt this could be dangerous.
Nerf Dog Stomper
Nerf is a well known name in toy guns and launching, so it’s no surprise they have come up with a toy for dogs either. The Nerf Dog Stomper (RRP £14.99) claims you can launch the balls up to 75 feet, but the ladies were very disappointed as at first they just popped out a few feet away.
Eventually with a great deal of effort Jane managed to get it going about 30 feet. Again, the balls started to come apart fairly quickly, although not as bad as the Man’s Best Friend Ball Launcher.
Next up was a frisbee type toy, with a moulded foam material which is designed to be soft on dog’s teeth. The Ruffwear Hovercraft (RRP £25.95) is the most expensive of the fetch toys that were tested, but it also floats in water, and with many dogs loving to jump in rivers and lakes that’s a great feature.
The ladies thought it was a great design and safe to the dogs, but far too pricey.
Kong Wavz Bunji Ball Medium
The cheapest came last – advertised as a long distance fetch toy the Kong Wavz Bunji Ball (Medium) is priced at just £5.99. It’s basically a ball on a string with a handle – so you need to do the hard work of launching it yourself. The one downside they had with this was if the dog is one that will fetch but doesn’t like to give their toy up – the handle part may hurt when wrestling it away. This was the only toy that they guessed the price too high, so were very pleased with it’s affordability.
So which dog fetch toy was best?
Ali and Jane marked each toy based on price, the dogs’ reaction, and their own enjoyment. They put the Man’s Best Friend Ball Launcher in 4th place, with The Nerf Dog Stomper in 3rd, and The Ruffwear Hovercraft in 2nd. They awarded first place to the Kong.
After a hard time playing fetch, they headed home to test out the latest dog beds. Dogs can spend up to 14 hours a day sleeping (why am I jealous?), so a dog bed that is comfortable can be a great buy, and save your sofa for the 2 legged members of your family!
There were 3 beds on offer to the dogs to test out. First of all the ladies had a good look and whilst they didn’t know the prices, they felt the mid-range bed was the best. They then let the dogs in 2 at a time to see which they preferred, before letting in all 8 dogs at the same time.
Amazonbasics Pet Sofa Lounger Bed (L)
The Amazonbasics Pet Sofa Lounger Bed priced at £81.79 has polyesters sides to create a wall round 3 sides. It has a water resistant liner, and you can unzip the cushion so that it is washable – always handy to help remove dog odours.
Bedsure Orthopedic Dog Mattress (XL)
The Bedsure Orthopedic Dog Mattress (size XL) (£33.99) is a flat dog bed, made of orthopedic egg crate foam. They felt it was warm and snug, and were impressed that it too unzipped for washing.
Ralph & Co Balmoral Nest Dog Bed – Herringbone (XL)
The luxury option was the Ralph & Co Balmoral Nest Dog Bed in Herringbone, priced at £129.99. It is made of recycled polyester fibre, and although it has walls too the cushion does not unzip, so if you want to wash it you would need to put the whole cushion in.
Which dog bed will the dogs choose?
We’ve already seen that Ali and Jane liked the Amazonbasics Pet Sofa Lounger Bed , but which would the dogs like? As they were let in 2 at a time, Ali and Jane watched on from another room using the hidden cameras. Each pair of dogs settled on the Ralph & Co Balmoral Nest Dog Bed – the most expensive of the 3.
But then the ladies let all 8 dogs in at once. They all seemed happy to try all of the beds, so it was quite clear that each of the dog beds was good enough.
Gifts for food lovers
With the amount of time that we’ve all had to stay at home in 2020, it’s no surprise that cooking has become a favourite past-time for many. So Phillip sent 3 food making kits to author, broadcaster and restaurant critic Grace Dent to test with her friend Tom.
Honeywell Biscuit Co Rosemary and Cranberry Bread Wreath
First up was the Rosemary and Cranberry Bread Wreath kit from the Honeywell Biscuit Company. Priced at £15.00. you’ll need 3 hours to make this. It comes with the dry ingredients packed in brown paper to make the dough, but not the oil.
First of all the dough is made and then left for an hour to prove. The cranberries are then added and mixed in, before it’s divided up into 18 even pieces which are made into balls. The kits suggest buying a camambert cheese and using the cardboard base to shape the pieces into a wreath.It needs 30 minutes for it to rise, before being baked for 15 minutes.
After this brush with butter, and add the camambert in the middle before going back into the over for it’s final bake. Once out the tasting began and they loved it, especially with the gooey camambert. They were a bit shocked that it cost so much for what is basically bread, but felt it was delicious.
The Ultimate Cheese Making Kit
The most expensive gift was The Ultimate Cheese Making Kit, price ad £36.50, although you can make 40 batches of cheese, with 10 different types. They made the ricotta which takes around 1 hour. It comes with all the herbs required and a thermometer – the only thing not provided is the milk.
Stir (in an up and down motion) and when the milk reaches 85 degrees the curds begin to separate from the whey. Then cover it and leave to call for 20 minutes. After this separate the curds from the whey by using the muslin provided. Then the cheese is put into the basket moulds and left to set.
They loved tasting the cheese and Grace felt that you could use it for a dinner party without people realising it was homemade. They felt it was loads of fun and with 10 different cheeses good value for money.
Fudge Kitchen Fudge Making Kit
The final kit that Grace and Tom tested out was the Fudge Kitchen Fudge Making Kit, priced at £30 and taking around 30 minutes to make. This offers 3 different flavours -toffee, chocolate and plain.
Pour the ingredients into a saucepan and heat. Using the sugar thermometer that comes with the kit make sure it doesn’t rise above 235 degrees (not over 250 like Grace).
Pour out the hot liquid onto a chopping board and fold over using the paddles provided. After a few minutes of working it soon looks like fudge. When tasting they enjoyed it, but felt it was very sweet. They weren’t sure though of the price, although with 3 different flavours then it was judged to slightly give value for money.
But which did they choose as the best? Not surprisingly they both plumped for The Ultimate Cheese Making Kit .
Phillip was joined by chef Matt Tebbutt again this year to test out 3 kitchen gadgets that are all under £10 and designed to save time in the kitchen. Normally matt is highly unimpressed but will that change this year? First, he has to guess the use of each item just be seeing it.
|Name||Price||Use||Did Matt guess?|
|ChefN StemGem||£7.49||Strawberry stem remover||Yes, eventually|
|Culinare Magipull||£4.49||Ringpull Opener||No|
|Dexam Orange Peeler||£1.00||Orange peeler||Nearly – he guessed lemon peeler|
Matt was not impressed with the ChefN StemGem strawberry huller, especially the price, and felt that using a knife would have been easier. The Culinare Magipull Ringpull Opener was given a better reception, it would be good for people who struggle with ringpulls on tins.
But the Dexam Orange Peeler actually got a thumbs up. It has 2 parts, you slice the peel all the way round with one end, and then with the other you separate the peel from the orange and it should slide off in two halves. Saves getting orange peel under your nails!
Portable Coffee Makers
In the UK we drink 95 million cups of coffee a day apparently. Manufacturers have targeted the growing market for making coffee in all scenarios, and so have designed something to give us our brews anywhere.
Phillip set off in a cute blue coffee van to meet up with 3 sets of campers to test out portable coffee makers. Each family was given 3 machines to test, and the same ground coffee beans.
Hario V60 Dripper
The cheapest one was the Hario V60 Dripper, priced at just £6. The ground coffee beans are placed in the teacup looking top in a filter – note the filters are not provided and cost a further £6 for 100 filters. Pour the hot water on top and after 3 minutes it has brewed.
All the campers liked it – it is simple to use, doesn’t take up much space, easy to wash up, and makes a nice cup of coffee.
Barista & Co Brew It Stick
Next up was the Barista & Co Brew It Stick at £11.99. They all laughed at it’s appearance, reminding them of a toilet brush! To use fill the basket two-thirds with coffee and place in the mug, pour the water over it slowly, and brew for 4 minutes.
The coffee was nice, but not all enjoyed it. They felt the price was just about right.
The Aeropress Go was the most expensive tested, at £31.99. It comes in several parts which slot together inside the cup. It took quite a while for each of the families to work out how to construct it. The filters attach to the chamber, then add coffee grounds and hot water before stirring.
You can plunge immediately, there’s no need to wait for it to brew, which is one advantage. The campers liked the coffee, but felt it was far too complicated and expensive.
Which is the best portable coffee maker?
Technology always plays a big part at Christmas, and so Phillip was joined by technology journalist Georgie Barret to bring her best buys on offer this year.
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 Camera
Her first choice was the Instax Square SQ1 camera, made by Fujifilm. It’s a retro camera like an old polaroid. It is pretty basic but with immediate photos could be great fun. It doesn’t have a zoom feature but does have a selfie mode – turn the camera to face you and look in the small silver mirror on the front to line up the shot. I was a bit shocked at the price of £120 though, although it could be fun at a party.
Simplehuman Sensor Mirror Hi-Fi
The Simplehuman Sensor Mirror Hi-Fi is a mirror perfect for doing make up. It gives 5 times magnifcation, and has a light surrounding the mirror that replicates daylight. You can adjust this light with touch controls on the side to maybe soften down to candlelight. So this would be great for make-up artists – priced at £350 it is quite an investment. It also comes with a built-in speaker and Alexa.
Oculus Quest 2 VR
Phillip has the first Oculus Quest already, but this is quite a step up with 50% more pixels. cameras on the outside of the headset communicate with the 2 hand controllers. This version does not rely on being connected to your laptop or computer, which can be a real pain. With top of the range VR headsets going up to £1000, the Oculus Quest 2 is a great entry level VR headset at just £299.
This was Phillips favourite of the 3 technology gifts whilst Georgie opted for the Instax Square SQ1 camera .
Gifts you can post
The final section introduced Holly Tucker, founder of Not On The High Street and a big supporter of small businesses. With 2020 being such a difficult year, small businesses have really had to get creative, and being small they are more often able to adapt a lot quicker than their bigger rivals.
Many of the gifts that you can find on Not On The High Street are highly personal and you can get wording made just for the intended recipient. Some of the gifts that they detailed are below:
So that was the end of the show. Hopefully you found plenty of gift ideas to check out. What was my favourite? Well, this year I am seriously tempted to gift the Cheese Making Kit. How about you?
Don’t forget to check out the Toys episode here.