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Polaroid instant camera
Photograph: Courtesy Polaroid

11 essential Hong Kong gadgets you need to survive the city

Our pick of the best tech items to help get you through the day

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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It’s no secret that Hongkongers love their gizmos and gadgets. There are all sorts of oddities peddled by streetside sellers and reputable retailers alike, and while the practicality of some of these gadgets is debatable, technology is firmly ingrained in the city’s DNA. Here are the tech picks that we think any self-proclaimed Hongkonger should have, as well as a few exciting extras. By Ethan Lam

RECOMMENDED: Speaking of survival, check out these weather-proof beauty products that should definitely be your weapon of choice to survive Hong Kong’s unpredictable weather.

Essential Hong Kong gadgets you need to survive the city

Smart TV box
Photograph: Courtesy Google

Smart TV box

It’s increasingly hard to find any TV – even on the cheaper side of the spectrum – that doesn’t call itself a smart TV. So it’s particularly disappointing when they turn out to be, well, not so smart. Their purported smartness comes in the form of terrible proprietary operating systems, apps that nobody will ever think about using, and a myriad of poorly designed interfaces.

Thankfully, there are a variety of aftermarket products that bestow any TV with the gift of some actual brains. We think the refreshingly simple Google Chromecast is unbeatable, as it works near flawlessly with Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows devices, allowing users to stream content from most platforms – yes, even dodgy third-party streaming sites – to their TVs. To top it all off, it has a shockingly low price tag to boot ($349 for the HD version, $670 for the 4K version). Rumour has it that there are also smart TV boxes that unlock paid channels and content, although the quality and legality of these are dubious at best.

Ring light
Photograph: Courtesy UBeesize

Ring light

As it turns out, most webcams and cameras – including the ones in your phone – are actually capable of producing great results, but often don’t have the lighting to let them do their jobs. Take a cue from professional photographers and keep a ring light handy.

Whether you’re trying to look good for your office crush on your WFH call, making sure your selfies really stand out from the crowd, or even just trying your hand at some live streaming, a ring light will add even and diffused lighting to any setting, instantly creating a more professional and polished look. These lights can be purchased in the form of miniature clip-ons for your phone, but let’s be real – anybody who buys one of those is already a step away from purchasing a proper stand-mounted one, so they might as well go the full mile. Ring lights can be bought from most local tech stores – you know, those random ones that pop up temporarily in vacant storefronts you see everywhere.

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Battery pack
Photograph: Courtesy GP

Battery pack

Between endlessly trawling the internet to find your next meal and watching tv dramas on your lunch break, it’s easy to drain your phone’s battery dry in Hong Kong. And with the widespread adoption of 5G on the horizon, the speed at which phone batteries drain is only set to increase, which is why it’s a good idea to invest in a good battery pack. Sure, you can always ask one of your more responsible friends to borrow theirs, but the peace of mind that comes from carrying your own battery pack is well worth it. 

Battery packs are available in all shapes and sizes to suit your lifestyle. If you’re the forgetful type, pick up a battery case that slips right over your phone – plugging your phone into the wall will simultaneously charge the case. If you only have modest requirements, you will find battery packs that could easily fit in your bag or purse. And if you’re an absolute power freak, you can even get battery packs that are powerful enough to literally jump-start a car. One thing to note – it’s important not to skimp on quality when it comes to battery packs. The last thing you want is a shoddily made battery pack that might overheat and catch on fire!

Portable mini fans
Photograph: Courtesy Momax

Portable mini fans

These were ridiculed when they first became popular in 2015, but as it turns out, the aunties and uncles – in all their infinite wisdom – who proudly used them were right all along. Louder than a jet engine, these fans will cool you down when you’re out running errands on a sweltering day (which are beyond plentiful in Hong Kong). They can be found in a multitude of configurations, so you might as well pick up a few of them. And at such affordable prices, why the hell not?

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Tempered screen protector
Photograph: Courtesy Casetify

Tempered screen protector

Few things are as embarrassing as dropping your phone in an MTR station and suddenly drawing the attention of your fellow riders. They’ll silently watch with anticipation as you – visibly panic – and pick your phone up off the ground, say a little prayer (or most likely a curse word) to yourself under your breath, and turn it over, just waiting to see whether or not your screen survived the fall. 

The aftermath only gets worse – you bring your shattered phone screen to a repairman in a computer mall, only for him to tell you that it’s not just your screen that’s broken, and it’ll cost you $1,000 to fix it all. To avoid this scenario, you need a tempered screen protector, which essentially acts as a bodyguard for your screen. In the event that you drop your phone, the protector will absorb the impact of the fall, and dropping your phone will no longer be your most embarrassing moment of the day. A word of advice: never try to apply a screen protector yourself. You will fail.

Skincare gadgets
Photograph: Courtesy Dr Dennis Gross

Skincare gadgets

Constant heat, humidity, and high levels of pollution make Hong Kong an unforgiving place for your skin. And while we’re completely spoilt for choice when it comes to skincare, thanks to the dizzying array of skincare brands and products readily available, it might be worth it to supercharge your routine using some skincare gadgets.

There are devices to solve almost every skin problem imaginable – derma rollers and vibrating cleansing brushes are particularly popular – but the new trend this year is LED light therapy masks, which use different spectrums of lights to treat a range of skin concerns. They also have the added benefit of making you look like a futuristic movie supervillain.

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Water repellent shoe spray
Photograph: Courtesy Reshoevn8r

Water repellent shoe spray

Ok, so this one isn’t quite a gadget. Regardless, water repellent shoe spray is one of the more immediately practical items on this list. There’s nothing quite as unpredictable as Hong Kong weather, but making your shoes water repellent might take some of the guesswork out of it. Water repellent sprays are available for a variety of shoe materials – even delicate ones like suede and nubuck – giving you a bit more confidence when you step outdoors on a cloudy day. Depending on the brand and the level of treatment, most sprays will give your shoes a water-repellent coat for up to three to nine months.

It should be noted that water repellent shoe sprays do exactly what they say on the tin – they make your shoes repel water, but not impermeable. They will leave your shoes well suited to shrugging off light showers and even moderate rain, but if you’re caught out in torrential downpour, your feet are still going to get wet. You can get your shoes treated by companies like The Polishing Lounge, or buy your own can to apply by yourself.

Instant cameras
Photograph: Courtesy Polaroid

Instant cameras

The film camera revival has been in full swing for years now, and no device has benefited more from the trend than the humble instant camera. There’s no better option to document a night out with your mates – instant cameras are casual, youthful, and spontaneous, and the photographs they produce will make for great memories when you’re older. Physical photos just have something special about them that the digital equivalent can’t emulate.

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Toilet rush app
Photograph: Courtesy Ethan Lam

Toilet rush app

Toilet Rush is one of those apps that could only be invented by people who swear by the city’s playful and cheeky spirit. It’s a simple yet effective and ingenious concept – it tells you the location of public toilets nearby should you be in desperate need to conduct some 'business'. Hopefully, you’ll never be caught out in a situation where you have to use this app, but in the event that you are, Toilet Rush could very well save the day.

Available for both iOS and Android

Noise cancelling headphones
Photograph: Courtesy Sony

Noise cancelling headphones

As much as we love how lively Hong Kong is, sometimes you just need a break from it all. It can be hard to catch a moment of calm in the city, but a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones is probably the most convenient option, allowing you to temporarily block out the sounds of idling engines, yelling hawkers, and crossing signals. 

Might we suggest a few alternate uses though? Since Hong Kong is such a cinematic city, if you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re the main character of a movie (admit it, we've all been there), try putting on some moody music while taking the bus, tram, or ferry. And if you’re sick of being approached by aggressive and persistent salespeople – no, we are not interested in looking at a million-dollar flat that we'll never be able to afford – nothing deters them like a customer with a pair of headphones on. It works like a charm.

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Karaoke microphone
Photograph: Courtesy Bonaok

Karaoke microphone

Oh yes, you know the ones. While the city is full of phenomenal karaoke venues, sometimes, the occasion calls for a karaoke party at home instead (or even just a jam session for one – no shame in that) These goofy-looking microphones hook up to your phone via Bluetooth, allowing you to sing along to any song of your choosing. They also come with built-in speakers and reverb effects, essentially capturing the full karaoke experience in a single compact package. It sure beats pretending that your shampoo bottle is a microphone.

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