Affordable technology that can keep your whole family entertained over the holidays

With the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 dominating the headlines – with nearly 50 million total confirmed cases reported in the US to date – many families may opt to “stay” over a winter vacation this year.

Whether it’s the fear of contracting the coronavirus or the travel headaches associated with mandatory testing, it seems many will be back home for the holidays.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

In fact, technology can play a vital role in keeping families entertained and occupied during the holiday season – all without breaking the bank.

Here are a few ideas for planning a great stay.

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Affordable streaming

Especially in colder states, many may prefer to spend the holidays indoors with their families, perhaps basking in the warmth of “combinable” TV shows and movies.

Starting at $ 19.99, a Roku stick is a great way to turn a regular TV into a smart TV. Then check out the most popular subscription services like Netflix and Apple TV +.

If money is tight, you can cancel at any time after the 30-day trial period – or access free channels such as the Roku channel, Pluto TV, Tubi, Crackle and YouTube (now a deal has been made to keep the service on the Roku To hold platform). . Speaking of saving money, check your carrier’s website to see if services are free with your plan. For example, some AT&T subscribers are eligible for HBO Max, while Verizon offers Disney +, and T-Mobile has a deal for Netflix.

Our pick: the Roku Streaming Stick 4K ($ 39.99), which has more powerful WiFi than its predecessors and adds Dolby Vision support for HDR10 + (on compatible TVs).

Speaking of affordability, how about a 150-inch image for a few hundred dollars?

The Kodak Luma 150 Portable Wireless Projector ($ 219.99) is a versatile gadget that can stream 16: 9 video content from an iPhone, iPad Android, or Windows device wirelessly (via Airplay or Miracast). Alternatively, you can insert a microSD card filled with content or use the integrated HDMI or USB ports.

It supports a resolution of up to Full HD (1080p) (and a contrast ratio of 1000: 1), a brightness of 60 ANSI lumens and an integrated 1.5 watt loudspeaker.

The battery life is more than 2.5 hours (or just leave it plugged in).

Free games and books

Age of Ashes is a free multiplayer dragon fighting game that is available to download from Steam for PC players, but has optional in-game purchases (just like other free titles like Fortnite: Battle Royale).

There are tons of free games for all platforms, including Fortnite: Battle Royale, Dota 2, League of Legends, and EVE Online.

A brand new version is Century: Age of Ashes, a soaring, dragon-riding, fire-breathing multiplayer action game.

This free fighting game from the developer Playwing is available for Windows PC players on Steam and lets you compete against each other in intense aerial arenas in different modes such as “Spoils of War” (steal gold and protect your gold nest) and “Carnage”. (a 6 verse 6 “Team Deathmatch” game with special power-ups) and “Gates of Fire” (a variation on Capture the Flag).

Of course, if you’d rather leaf through a great novel than play games, you can buy e-books and audiobooks for your smartphone or tablet, but did you know you can borrow them from your local library too? Yes, it’s free.

There’s no need to drive to the library or worry about late fees.

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If the budget is tight, you can borrow e-books from your local library and read them on your favorite tablet or e-reader.  First sign in to the Libby app with your library card.

As long as you have your library card and the Libby by OverDrive app installed on your device, there are tens of thousands of supported libraries worldwide. Just keep an eye on the expiration date – once it comes up, your book will no longer be accessible on your device unless you extend the loan period.

And no, there are not only old classics, but also many of the new bestsellers. Libby also has an impressive built-in e-book reader, graphic novel viewer and audiobook player.

In fact, several Kobo e-readers (starting at $ 99) have built-in OverDrive, which allows you to wirelessly reserve and download e-books from public libraries and read them on your device.

Funny projects

The KidiZoom PrintCam from VTech is ideal for children aged 4 and over so that your baby can take photos and videos of family and friends and then print them out in black and white.

Tinkering can keep the kids entertained for hours – and parents will appreciate the screen-free activity.

Use your inkjet printer to print coloring pages, puzzles (like the word search), mazes, dots to connect, and more. Just do a web search and you will find thousands of options including licensed characters from popular kids brands like Disney / Pixar, Marvel, Nintendo, LEGO and more.

Here’s a fun idea: buy magnetic sheets (about $ 20 for 5 sheets) and then print out and cut out photos of the family and decorate your fridge door or include them on holiday cards.

If you’re looking for a new printer, the Epson EcoTank family (starting at $ 299.99) offers ink for up to two years out of the box. When it’s time to replace the ink, it’s cheap bottles instead of expensive cartridges that will last up to two more years. And since one set of ink bottles is equivalent to around 90 ink cartridges, less plastic waste is also kind to the environment. These are wireless “all-in-one” printers that act as scanners and copiers at the same time.

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You may pay more for the Epson EcoTank printer (starting at $ 299), but it contains enough ink for up to 2 years of color and black printing - perfect for crafting with the kids or grandchildren.  It also works with smart speakers to print with your voice.

In fact, EcoTank printers let you print with your voice too – provided you have a smart speaker from Google, Amazon, or Apple – including several art and craft projects.

Speaking of projects, Epson also has its FastFoto Wireless High-Speed ​​Photo Scanner ($ 599.99) that can digitize paper photos – memories trapped in shoe boxes, albums, and frames – at speeds of 1 per second. You can also use the app to interview your loved ones (audio) to archive the stories of aging relatives and keep them for future generations.

For younger kids (ages 4+), another photo activity is the VTech KidiZoom PrintCam ($ 119.00), a rugged camera (with a flip-up selfie lens) that takes photos and videos on a 2.4-inch color screen can be viewed or copied to a computer – but you can instantly print black and white photos from the camera.

You can then use crayons, markers, or colored pencils to color in the photos, including the ability to create fun borders, special effects, and speech bubbles.

You can also print activities such as mazes and the like from the PrintCam or play digital games from the device’s screen.

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