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Give the gift of an upgrade this year

High-tech gadgets and services can make life easier or simply more fun for your loved ones.

Aibo, the robot dog, from Sony.
Aibo, the robot dog, from Sony.Read moreKatherine Frey / Katherine Frey / Washington Post

What’s a better gift than the future? These are the innovative gadgets and services we’ve tried and loved over the past year.

Oculus: Go virtual reality headset

The Oculus Go is the first virtual reality gadget you might actually gift. It has no cables and requires no additional hardware. And it’s good for more than just games. It’s a self-contained portal to 360-degree experiences, from concerts to meditation experiences. Curl up and watch TV virtually with a faraway friend. Or on a long flight, you can use one as your private movie theater. Price: $199

Hulu: No-ads subscription

For the TV lover, what’s better than the gift of no commercials? Hulu streams the current season of shows from NBC, CBS, ABC, and other networks, as well as beloved back-catalog hits. For a bit more money, the often-overlooked commercial-free subscription lets you squeeze even more TV into your life. Price: $11.99 per month

Sony: Aibo

Sure, nobody needs a robot dog. But you’ll want one after meeting Aibo, the rebirth of Sony’s iconic robot companion from 1999. Aibo’s new litter comes with remarkably lifelike mechanical movement, its own cellular connection and artificial intelligence that learns faces and grows with you. Also: You’ll never have to take it for a walk - though it can still simulate taking a tinkle. Price: $2,899.99

iRobot: Roomba i7

The next-generation robot vacuum cleaner from iRobot has gained remarkable skills. Like a self-driving car, it creates its own map of your house to clean more efficiently - and so it can take commands to vacuum just one particular room. Even better: The i7 has a docking station that empties its own dustbin. Watch out, Rosie from “The Jetsons.” Price: $949.99

Sonos: Beam smart TV soundbar

The best upgrade you can make to your TV is better sound. This compact soundbar attaches to a TV and packs in a lot of great sound - but also has a few other tricks. With Amazon’s Alexa built in, it can take voice commands to play music or even control the TV. And it can wirelessly sync up with other Sonos speakers to give you music all over the house. Price: $399

Surface Go with Type Cover

Want the full capabilities of a PC in a package you can stick in a purse or knapsack? The Surface Go is a 10-inch tablet that weighs 1.15 pounds but comes with a keyboard cover and stand that transform it into a Windows 10 laptop. The smaller keys take a little getting used to, but this tablet is serious about business. Price: $626.95

TCL: 6-Series Roku TV

You might not be familiar with the TCL brand, but don’t let that turn you away from this amazing value. The 6-series TV boasts picture tech that rivals what you can get from bestseller Samsung - and costs half as much. It’s not only 4K, it supports high dynamic range (HDR) content. Price: $649.97

Sphero: Bolt app-enabled robot

What’s more fun than a ball? A waterproof robot ball you drive from an app with a rainbow LED screen inside. Even better, the Bolt teaches kids the basics of coding through its Sphero Edu app with drawing, using Scratch blocks or writing JavaScript. Price: $149.99

Apple: Watch Series 4

If you’ve been on the fence about a smartwatch, this one is finally worth considering. The Series 4 has a larger screen, faster processor and - for $100 extra - comes with its own independent cellular connection to take calls and receive messages while you’re away from your iPhone. This model also acts more like a medical device, with abilities to measure your heart and call for help after a hard fall. Price: From $399

Moment: Wide lens for smartphones

Help your favorite Instagrammers take their photo game to the next level with this detachable lens for the iPhone and Samsung and Google Pixel phones. This wide lens provides the most dramatic new view, but there are also telephoto, macro, and fish-eye lenses available. Cases that make it easy to twist on and off the lenses sold separately. Price: $117.99

Byrd & Belle: Laptop, tablet, and phone felt cases

This is really a gift for laptops, tablets, and cellphones. They’ll get to spend downtime encased in a luxurious, thick, protective felt — in one of 10 beautiful colors. Makers Byrd & Belle believe in simple, yet functional designs with quality construction. Price: $19 and up

Amazon: Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Tablet

Kids love tablets. But for parents, providing safe, age-appropriate experiences - that aren’t just rotting Junior’s brain - can be a lot of work. Amazon’s kids edition tablet goes further than iPads to give parents tools to reward learning time. It comes with a year’s subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, which provides access to over 20,000 popular apps and games, videos and books. Price: $99.99

Apple: AirPods

Sure, these totally wireless ear buds looked goofy when they first came out. But now they’re everywhere and with good reason: The AirPods work and sound great. An included case keeps them charged and from getting lost. The biggest downside is Apple’s one-size-fits-all design, so you should try on a pair and give your head a good shake before buying. Price: $159