A well-gifted gadget isn’t just a futuristic toy. A good piece of tech can make someone’s life easier, or even save them money in the long run. Here’s the best tech you can give this year.
The headphone jack is dead as a doornail, and if you know someone who’s still clinging to their 3.5mm dongle, it may be time to get them on the Bluetooth train. Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro are the biggest names in the true wireless business, but if you’re on a budget—or your giftee isn’t an iPhone user—there are plenty of other options at whatever price point you can afford. Inventory favorite Anker has their Soundcore Liberty at $100, the more AirPod-shaped Soundcore Liberty Air at $80 (review), and the Soundcore Liberty Neo at $50. At the bottom end, TaoTronics has their own SoundLiberty 53 for $45, which I reviewed just this month. Pick whatever fits your budget, and introduce a friend to wireless freedom.
Tile was designed for the forgetful person that seems to lose everything—you know the one. You’re probably familiar with the company’s trackers by now, but just in case: stick them on (or in) the stuff you always lose, and with the tap of a button on your phone, you can locate your wallet, keys, or purse so you can get out the door. Tile just released a number of new shapes and sizes, too, from the credit card-sized Tile Slim to the compact Tile Stickers. For $70, you can grab the Tile Essentials pack to get someone started with all ends of the spectrum, ensuring they never lose anything again.
If your tech-obsessed friend is already buried under a never-ending pile of gadgets, consider getting them something that improves their life without taking up space. Maybe they could use a few months of Netflix or Disney+ to top off their usual subscription, or a year of Amazon Prime to keep up their tech-buying habit. Heck, Spotify Premium now comes with a Hulu subscription, so it’s hard to get a better bang for your buck than music, movies, and TV for $10 a month. Whatever you choose, they’ll thank you.
I know a lot of people with an iPhone 8, X, or 11, but they still haven’t discovered the magic of wireless charging. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to spend the money on charging pads, or they don’t like the way they look. Whatever the reason, I know they’ll be hooked once they try it. That’s where “hidden” charging pads like the Twelve South Powerpic photo frame or the TaoTronics bedside lamp come in handy: give a little decor that doubles as a convenient charging pad, and they’ll be shocked at how convenient juicing up their phone becomes.
For some people, the best gift is something they can build themselves. If you know a tinkerer, grab them an Arduino starter kit (for more single-task projects) or a Raspberry Pi kit (for projects that require more of a full computer). The Raspberry Pi 4 is awesome and powerful, but lots of software packages aren’t available for it just yet, so if you aren’t sure what they’d plan to do with it, a Raspberry Pi 3 kit is probably the best way to go.
Running out of battery is the great unifying experience of our generation. Everyone you know probably needs a good battery bank if they don’t already have one, and you have loads of great options to choose from. For something small, compact, and cheap, try Anker’s lipstick-sized PowerCore+ Mini. For something indestructible that can charge anything from a phone to a laptop, check out LifeProof’s Lifeactiv Power Pack (review). Or look at Aukey’s wireless model, which doesn’t require a cable. RAVPower’s FileHub (review) even acts as a power bank, external drive, and travel router at the same time.
Funny how retro tech always makes a comeback eventually. Whether your friend is a classic rock fiend or just craves the old-school ritual of putting the needle on a record, our friends at Gizmodo have a whole guide to getting started with vinyl—complete with turntable recommendations. Audio-Technica is the beginner brand to beat, with the $250 LP120 being the best balance of quality and price. If you can’t go that high, though, the $100 LP60 is a good budget option, too. Just be sure to grab them a few great albums to go with it.
If running out of battery is this generation’s greatest unifier, dealing with crappy Wi-Fi is a close second. You may have solved your own Wi-Fi woes, but if your parents, siblings, or other less tech-savvy friends have yet to achieve the holy grail of house-wide coverage, it’s time to upgrade their gear with a mesh system. Eero and Netgear Orbi are widely regarded as the best options around, but the budget-oriented TP-Link Deco M5 is great if you don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars. If you can go with Ethernet-capable models and wire them up, even better, but even a wireless mesh can make a big difference in coverage.
We all have that one friend. That friend who’s phone always look it’s been run over by a truck, or dunked in a lake, or scorched by a dragon. It’s time to give them a hint with the gift of a case. And I don’t mean a little plastic cover—I mean a serious case that can survive a nuclear holocaust. We’ve provided some options in this realm before, but my personal favorites include the classic OtterBox Defender, the water-resistant Lifeproof FRE, and the Urban Armor Gear Monarch. Coupled with a good screen protector, you’ll ensure they don’t have to plop down another few hundred dollars the next time they fall off their bike waving to a girl. (No, this definitely didn’t happen to me, why do you ask?)
Tech can be pricey, but if you’re on a strict budget, going to a white elephant exchange, or just need a little something to stuff in a stocking, we’ve got you covered with our Best Sub-$10 Amazon list (and it’s successor). Maybe you’re tired of your friend driving dangerously and want to give them a car mount for their phone, or you want to replace their fraying fire hazard cable with something a little more durable. Or you can Waterproof their devices, protect their privacy, or help them fix their tech toys without spending a fortune. They may scoff at the Dongle Dangler at first, but guaranteed they’ll come back two weeks later saying “hey, that’s damn useful.”