This holiday season’s gonna be different for many of us, and not by choice. You might not be able to go home to see your family and laugh over a tasty home-cooked meal. Gifts may be opened from across state lines via Zoom or FaceTime. Honestly? That all sucks and there’s really no way around that. But even so, a good gift can help spark at least a little joy in a pretty awful time, as long as you get the right one.
Not everyone needs a new gadget to tinker with, but for those who will appreciate an upgraded speaker or shiny new toy, it can be tricky finding the right one. You’ve got a lot on your plate right now, so we’ve done the digging and picked out the best gifts you can grab for the techies in your life this holiday season.
Apple HomePod Mini | $100
If Apple is at the core of their lives, they’ll appreciate a HomePod Mini or two to plug around their crib. Like most smart speakers, you can talk to the HomePod Mini for things like turning your lights on or off, getting the day’s weather forecast, checking a few unread messages, or just blasting your favorite playlists. It won’t put out quite the same sound quality as its larger sibling, the HomePod, but it should still sound great for a tiny, $100 speaker—you can even pair them up together for stereo sound. The biggest drawback is that the HomePod Mini only supports Siri for voice assistance, which can be hit or miss, and really works best when you’re fully bought into the Apple ecosystem.
Sonos One | $199
If your loved one isn’t on such great terms with Siri, or they prefer a little versatility, the Sonos One supports Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa to cover all their bases. At $200, it’s not as cheap as the HomePod Mini, but Alexa and Google Assistant have more widespread support with third-party hardware and services, and the One can tie into the entire line of Sonos products. It also supports AirPlay 2, so you can stream your podcasts and audiobooks straight to your speaker without too much hassle (though it can be a bit finicky).
With most of our outings these days consisting of walks to the park and days out in nature, it’s not a bad idea to have a tiny speaker to bring your favorite playlists along for the adventure. The UE Wonderboom 2 is a tiny little Bluetooth speaker that can plop right into a bag without taking up too much space and is durable enough to last long into the most rugged hikes. It even has a mode that’ll boost the volume for noisy outdoor environments.
For many, working from home this year has been a tricky adjustment. Among the many frustrations and inconveniences are the many noises your housemates will make as you try to focus on your work. Asking to keep the noise down might work, but it can also cause some tension, and it’s never any fun. Spare them the trouble with the Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones.
In his review, Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski says they provide the best noise-canceling experience, and your recipient can easily switch between two paired devices, so they can toggle from their laptop to their phone before getting started on a home workout or heading out for a walk.
iPad Air (4th Gen) | $600
For an all-encompassing mobile workstation, a laptop’s still the way to go. Many people don’t need all that power, though, and the new iPad Air is an impressively capable tablet that can serve as a good portable computer. It starts at $600 for 64GB of storage, and offers nearly all the same features as the more expensive iPad Pro—including support for the Magic Keyboard and Pencil 2—save the better display refresh rate and FaceID, though the Air has TouchID integrated into the power button to compensate.
It’s missing a few other things like an additional camera lens, LiDar sensor, and two extra speakers, but for $200 less, you’re getting a tablet that’s just as powerful, minus a few bells and whistles.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 | $630
If your person needs a more traditional computer but still likes the idea of being able to snap the keyboard off and have a tablet ready to go, give them a Surface Go 2. In Gizmodo’s guide to the best laptops for 2020, it’s ranked as the best cheap laptop that doesn’t make too many sacrifices. It starts at $400, but you’ll want to upgrade to the Intel Core M3 model, which brings the price up to $630 but gives a significant speed boost that your loves ones will thank you for.
The $100 Surface Go Type Cover Keyboard turns it from a tablet into a fully capable laptop that’ll suit any needs from typing up a few Google Docs to running weekly Zoom DnD sessions.
Sonos Arc | $800
Whether they’re already invested in the Sonos ecosystem or not, the Sonos Arc is a great way to bring home theater sound into an apartment without taking up too much space. At $800, it’s not an easy gift to splurge on, but it’s easy to set up, sounds great on its own, and like the Sonos One it can be tied into all of Sonos’s other products for a full 5.1 surround sound setup if they so choose. Maybe don’t get this for the friend who rewatches Bojack Horseman once a month, but your film buff pals will certainly appreciate the treat.
With so much of 2020 spent in front of our TVs, it’s worth making sure the special folks in your life have the best way to get their favorite shows. Amazon’s Fire TV is fine and you can snag one of those if you’d rather, but Roku’s offerings are missing HBO Max right now. That might change in the future, but right now HBO Max’s library is pretty great, and it’s still available on the Chromecast, along with all the other streaming services you could want. Plus, you can pick out whatever you want to watch right from your phone, which you’re probably already staring down at anyway. It’s only $50, too, making the perfect stocking stuffer to bring them hours of entertainment.
Not everyone needs a new phone. In fact, most phones are good enough to last for years. That said, if there’s someone who’s absolutely clamoring for a new phone to replace their barely-hanging-on clunker, get them an iPhone 12 Pro (AT&T, Verizon) or 12 Mini (AT&T, Verizon). The 12 Pro features a new design that ditches the rounded edges of last year’s models for flat edges and a larger display, 5G support, a LiDar scanner, and a few other nifty upgrades. The 12 Mini is about as powerful, minus the telephoto lens and LiDar sensor, but it’s also the tiniest phone Apple’s made in years, and it’s a delight to hold.
Samsung Galaxy S20 | $1,000
iPhones aren’t for everyone, though. Samsung’s Galaxy S20 features a crisp Quad HD OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, 12GB of RAM, and three-lens camera system that’ll cover most mobile photography needs.
Anker PowerCore III | $40
Staying at home means we aren’t as anxious about our phones dying mid-day as we used to be, but many of us are still using weekend outings as a way to bring a little joy to this not-so-great year. In those cases, it doesn’t hurt to have a battery pack like the Anker PowerCore III, which charges most phones twice on a single charge or provides an 11-inch iPad Pro with a full charge. It comes in some neat colors, too, so the person you’re buying for can add a bit of character to their weekend hauls.
If you know someone who’s complained about running out of outlets, or you just wanna get them a nice gadget to make their lives a little simpler, the Anker Powerwave charging pad has spots to charge both a phone and an Apple Watch, and it only takes up one outlet. It won’t charge as quickly as standard USB cable charging, but that won’t matter if they’re charging overnight.
Samsung 1TB SSD | $130
A computer without any storage space won’t do anybody much good, but that’s no reason to go out and buy a whole new rig. A portable SSD is a great way to expand your computer’s storage without having to pay a hefty upgrade fee when you’re configuring your new computer, and you can carry it with you wherever you go. Samsung’s SSD’s are fast, reliable, and small enough to fit in the tiniest pockets of your favorite bag.
Amazon Echo Show | $220
While the Echo Show probably isn’t the best option to get someone started in the Alexa ecosystem, it’s a nice addition to the ensemble. Unlike most smart speakers, the Show is accompanied by a big ol’ display that’ll show things like watching tv shows while you cook, keeping recipes handy without getting your phone dirty, or just setting up a quick call with the family.
eufyCam 2 Security System | $420
Even though most of us are still spending too much time at home, it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra peace of mind. The eufyCam outdoor cameras are easy to set up, and have excellent battery life that can last for months at a time. It also features a weatherproof design, 1080p recording, night vision, and Alexa integration, and it’s more reliable than texting your neighbor every few days to make sure everything’s still alright while you’re away.
Apple Watch Series 6 | $350
An Apple Watch is by no means a necessity, and if you’re looking for a not-so-subtle way to tell your friend to stop being late to everything, you could find a much cheaper watch to get the message across. That said, the Apple Watch Series 6 is an attractive piece of tech that gives easy access to notifications, health features like heart rate and sleep tracking, blood oxygen monitoring, and workout tracking, and support for third-party apps for folks who like to tinker.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 | $380
The Apple Watch won’t do anyone any good if they’re rocking an Android phone. That’s fine, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 is a pretty great smartwatch, according to Gizmodo’s Victoria Song. It’s stylish, packed with health tracking features, and the battery lasts around two days. It also has a nifty dial around the display that makes it easy to switch between screens.
Kindle Oasis | $250
For the pal who’s got too many books and not enough shelf, the Kindle Oasis packs a hefty amount of storage to hold all their favorite page-turners. It has a larger screen than the Paperwhite, has an added groove on the back for better grip, and has a light that auto-adjusts; there’s even a way to change the warmness of the light. Sure, it’s pricey, but it’ll give your loved ones the best reading experience they can get, and that’s pretty neat.