NEW YORK — This year you can purchase a bit more of the sci-fi future.

Hoverboards aren’t quite what the name implies, but there’s bona fide virtual reality, a droid you should be looking for and a basketball that improves your throw, all one shopping-click away.

These tech gadgets make the pocket-sized computer that talks to you and dials your friends seem quaint. But don’t worry, there are plenty of smartphones on sale, too. Just ask Alexa.

Star Wars BB-8 ($149.99)

Sphero’s new $150 BB-8 droid is expected to be one of the hottest Star Wars gifts this holiday season. USA TODAY took it for a test drive.
USA TODAY

If you know a Star Wars fan, odds are this is at the top of his/her wishlist.

The promotional materials for The Force Awakens, out Dec. 18, have heavily featured a new droid called the BB-8. To create the droid, which might be the new R2-D2, Disney partnered with a robotics company called Sphero to create a real-life rolling BB-8 for use on set.

The companies have since partnered to release a miniature version that features all the sounds of the movie’s BB-8, but is instead controlled via Bluetooth through an app on an iOS or Android device, letting you race around with full control of the droid. There’s a mode that lets you record messages to play back when you point your phone at the BB-8 in a “hologram-like” fashion.

And if you don’t want to drive it, you can set it to “Patrol” mode, where it races around your room on its own. If it senses obstacles in front it, it’ll find ways navigate around them. It’s quite fun in its own adorable little way.

Available: Sphero.com, Amazon, Apple Store, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Disney Store, Marbles the Brain Store and others.

Price: $149.99

Samsung Gear VR ($99 plus supporting mobile device)

Samsung has a new and improved Gear VR virtual reality headset. Ed Baig takes a closer look.

Designed in partnership with Facebook’s Oculus, this virtual reality headset uses a Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+ or Note 5 phone and takes you into a new world. With 2016 poised to be a big year for VR, the Gear VR is one of the best ways to get into the experience. Samsung and Oculus have a growing apps library that will let you play games using your head, view videos from the moon, tour the skies in fighter jet or watch Netflix in a virtual movie theater. The NBA and others have even begun experimenting with livestreaming events, including regular season NBA games.

The interface is fairly easy to pick up and at $99 for the headset, it’s pretty affordable too, so long as the person you’re giving it to has one of those latest Samsung devices.

Available: AT&T, Amazon, Best Buy, T-Mobile, Samsung.com

Price: $99

Amazon Echo ($149.99-$179.99)

USA TODAY’s Ed Baig tests Amazon Echo’s personal digital assistant. It’s not an easy product to get and you have to wait for an invitation to buy the product. Find out how Alexa relates to Siri, benefits and flaws.
Produced by Robert Deutsch

With Siri, Cortana and Google Now, nearly every major tech company has a digital assistant. One of the best ones, however, isn’t yet in a phone, but rather the stand-alone Amazon Echo “smart speaker.”

Named Alexa, this assistant can do most of the things the others do. You can ask it for weather or traffic updates, to play music or podcasts, get the latest sports scores, find a random factoid and of course, order things off Amazon. Where Alexa stands apart, however, is in how accurately and easily it does these tasks using just your voice.

And Amazon has been pretty active in adding features to it, too. If you have a smart home, it can now control your lighting system. A recent update brought the popular IFTTT (“if this than that”) to the device for even more customizable voice controls.

Price: $149.99 from Black Friday through Cyber Monday (regularly $179.99)

Available: Amazon, Staples, Home Depot, Toys R Us, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sears, B&H and others

Wilson X Connected basketball ($199.99)

This year has seen plenty of classic devices get “smarter.” Why not a basketball, too?

Wilson’s new Wilson X Connected basketball features a small Bluetooth sensor inside the ball that can connect to an app on an iOS or Android device. The ball won’t keep score of your pickup games but is instead designed to help coach and improve your game. The sensor can track made or missed shots and from where on the court you take them, logging the data inside the app in real time so you can keep track of your progress. There are various game modes on the app to help you improve your free throw, jump shot or even “clutch time performance,” complete with pumped-in crowd noise, horns and clocks, to add a realistic feel to your practice.

Unlike other smart basketball solutions, the ball works on any 10-foot hoop with a net, indoors or outside, and doesn’t need to be charged (Wilson says the battery will last for 100,000 shots, or 300 shots a day every day for a year). Like other basketballs, it’s available in an official size (29.5 inches) and intermediate size (28.5 inches).

At $199.99, it’s not the cheapest ball on the market, but for those serious about improving their games, it’s a pretty cool gift.

Available: Wilson.com, Sports Authority, Dick’s Sporting Goods

Price: $199.99

Rif6 Cube projector ($249.99-$299.99)

While the holiday season is usually dominated with deals on TVs—and there are plenty of those this year— a projector is a great alternative for getting a large picture without taking up so much space. One of the most interesting ones is the Rif6 Cube. At $299.99 ($249.99 on Black Friday), this super small, portable projector looks futuristic and works pretty well, too.

Beyond its futuristic tiny square design, this 2-inch box can display an image up to 120 inches and comes bundled with an HDMI cable for connecting a cable box, game system or computer.

The Rif6, like many portable projectors, is not going to replace a 4K TV or even a good 1080p, as it’s a bit noisy and at 50 lumens, needs a pretty dark room and white wall for best results. The battery only runs for around 90 minutes and like most projectors, the built-in speakers aren’t that great, but for the price, it’s one of the cooler looking portable projectors out there.

Available: Amazon, Rif6.com

Price: $249.99 on Black Friday through Cyber Monday (regularly $299.99)

Hoverboards (between $300-$500)

Bound to be one of the most popular gifts this holiday season, hoverboards are starting to pop up everywhere. While they don’t float like the hoverboards in Back to the Future — they are more like a Segway/skateboard hybrid — they are a fun way to get around.

To navigate, lean forward, back, right or left on the pressure sensitive pads below your feet. Similar to first learning how to ride a bike or drive a car, there is a slight learning curve the first few times you ride, but one that you quickly overcome as you get more experience.

Most of these boards can max out at around 10-15 mph and have a range of up to 20 miles. They also come in a variety of colors.

The biggest challenge with them, however, is where to purchase them. Many can be found online for between $300-$500, though some that have been used by athletes and celebrities like Lamarcus Aldridge, Justin Bieber, and Kevin Hart are priced well over $1,000. There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the boards to justify the pricing—the features and functionality, according to posts online, are nearly identical.

While there are seemingly dozens of these boards for sale online at Amazon, one that USA TODAY has tried out, called the Swagway, is currently available at Target for $499.99, and at Modell’s and the company’s website for $399.99. Another board from Sharper Image runs $369.99 on Black Friday at Kohl’s (in store only) or $499.99 (its regular price) at Sharper Image’s.

Just make sure that if you buy online you purchase it from somewhere reputable or with good prior reviews.

Available: Amazon, Swagway: Amazon, Target, Modell’s, Swagway.com; Sharper Image: Kohl’s (in-store), SharperImage.com

Price: Between $300-$500. Swagway $399.99-$499.99, Sharper Image $369.99-$499.99

Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal

Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1HuRTEH