15 things to help you stay connected to friends and family this summer
Near, far, wherever you are...
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Whether you live across the country or down the street, it can be challenging to stay connected with your friends and family (especially with everything that’s going on in the world right now). Life has a tendency of getting in the way, and before you know it, you might not have talked or visited your loved ones in a few weeks, a month, or more.
Even when you’re crunched for time, there are ways you can stay in touch with the people who are most important to you—many of which include the help of today’s latest technologies. With these 15 cool products, you’ll be able to stay connected to everyone in your inner circle, even when a pandemic, busy work schedule, or other life events are keeping you apart.
1. A smart display designed for video chatting
For the ultimate video chatting experience, you’ve got to get the Facebook Portal Plus, which has a huge 15.6-inch touchscreen display and built-in Amazon Alexa for voice commands.
Because this smart display is designed for video chat, the screen can be used horizontally or vertically, and it features a “smart camera” that automatically pans and zooms to keep you in the frame, even as you move around the room. And if you’re chatting with kids, you can use the Story Time feature, which lets you read along to stories with fun music, animation, and augmented reality effects.
2. A more affordable phone plan
The most common way of keeping in touch with friends and family is calling and texting, but if your phone plan limits your talk minutes, you might not be able to chat with as many people as you’d like. To save money and stay connected with loved ones, you may want to consider switching to Visible by Verizon, a phone service that gives you unlimited talk, text, and data on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.
The best part? It costs just $40 per month, and there are no annual contacts. Check out our full Visible review for more details.
3. A colorful stationery set for fun snail mail
When was the last time you wrote someone a letter? Not an email, but a good old-fashioned letter with a stamp and everything! It’s a forgotten art form for many, but you can bring back snail mail with the help of this adorable stationery set. It includes 32 pieces of brightly colored ombre paper, 16 envelopes, and a sheet of stickers—basically everything you need to write letters that people will proudly display on their fridge.
4. An Alexa-enabled smart display
If you already know and love the convenience of Amazon Alexa, the Echo Show 8 is a worthwhile investment for your home. This high-definition smart display has an 8-inch screen where you can video call your friends and family, as well as check in on your home's smart cameras, watch the news, follow along with recipes, and so much more.
Worried about privacy? The Echo Show 8 has a built-in shutter to cover its lens, as well as an option to electronically disconnect the microphones and camera.
5. A Nintendo Switch game you can play with friends
While you’ll still be hard-pressed to find a Nintendo Switch for sale online, those who already own this versatile gaming system can connect with friends and family via online play modes.
In particular, you can square off against other users in an intense game of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, even if you’re on opposite sides of the country. This top-rated game has new characters and courses, as well as returning features from past versions of the cult-favorite game.
- Get Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Amazon for $53.99
- Get the Nintendo Switch Lite in Gray at Best Buy for $199
6. This adorable box that lets you send love notes
This unassuming little box is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. You can send heartfelt messages to your far-away loved ones using the Wi-Fi enabled gadget. Just write a note via its app, and the heart on the front of the box will spin to let its owner know they have a new message. When they open up the box, the mirrored screen inside will display your sentiment, and they can then spin the heart to send you a shower of digital hearts. So. Cute.
7. An Alexa device that goes in your car
If you often miss calls or texts from your loved ones because you’re busy driving (safety first, people), you’ll definitely appreciate having an Alexa Auto in your car. Using voice commands, you can ask Alexa to change your music, find a nearby restaurant, call a friend, or remind you to text your mother when you get home. Plus, the device is designed to hear you over your music, air conditioning, or other road noise, so you won’t have to yell at it to get your message across.
8. Cute bracelets that let you interact from anywhere
These bracelets are marketed toward long-distance lovers, but you could also use them with your parent, child, or close friend. The Bond Touch bracelets look similar to fitness trackers, but they allow you to send subtle messages to the other wearer. Just touch the bracelet, and it will send a gentle vibration and custom color to the other piece of jewelry, letting your loved one know you’re thinking of them.
9. A smart photo sharing device for distant relatives
If you have relatives who never check their email and can’t figure out photo messages, you can share your favorite images with them using the Snap and Stream Photo Sharing System. This cool device plugs into their TV, and then you can send your favorite photos right to their living room. Their remote will light up to let them know you sent new content, and there’s no limit to how many photos you can upload.
10. A monitor that lets you video chat with your pets
Personally, I get to spend all day (mostly) every day with my dog and cat since I work from home, but I definitely miss them when I have to go out for the day. If you find yourself missing your furry friends while you’re working, traveling, or away from home, you can stay connected with them using the PetChatz HDX Camera.
This high-tech camera has two-way video, so you can see your pets and they can see you! It lets you talk and listen to your pets, and it has a treat dispenser, as well as a soothing aromatherapy release to comfort them while you’re gone.
11. A free app that lets you watch Netflix together
If you miss hanging out with your friends and watching Netflix, you can do it remotely with Netflix Party. This free app allows you to watch Netflix with friends online, synchronizing your video playback and allowing you to group chat at the same time. It only works on desktop or laptop computers, but you can watch any show on Netflix—perfect if you want to binge Tiger King together!
12. Cute friendship lamps that light up when you touch them
Even if you don’t have time to call, you can let loved ones know you’re thinking of them with these cute Friendship Lamps. After you set up the lamps, you can simply touch it, and the paired lamp will light up in a pretty color, no matter how far away it is. Your loved one can then touch their lamp, and your lamp will change colors to let you know they got the message. Plus, you can even add more lamps to the pairing to get more family members in on the fun.
13. A VR headset that lets you hang out with friends
When you can’t hang out in person, you can hang out with family and friends virtually with the Oculus Go VR Headset. You can use this VR headset to play games, watch live sporting events and concerts, and much more, and with Oculus Rooms, you can set up a virtual hangout space where you can invite friends to play tabletop games, watch movies, listen to music, and more—without ever leaving your respective homes.
14. Yummy chocolates with a sweet message
What better way to say “I miss you” than with a box of chocolates that literally say “I miss you”? (OK, technically, they say “I miss your face.”) These homemade chocolates will be a welcome surprise for anyone with a sweet tooth, and it’s the perfect way to let someone know you’re thinking about them. Plus, they’ll probably give you a phone call to thank you for the thoughtful gift!
15. A smart watch with walkie-talkie functionality
The Apple Watch Series 5 can do so many things—monitor your heart rate, keep track of your location, send texts, and so much more—but did you know it can also be used as a walkie-talkie? Just open the Walkie-Talkie app on your watch, and it will give you the option to chat with other Apple Watch users in your contacts. With a simple tap, you can connect with friends and pretend like you’re kids again, sending coded messages right from your wrist.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.