The Best Tech Gifts to Buy This Year (Before They Sell Out)


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If you’re not a tech person, it can be hard to keep up with the hottest new gadgets. (It’s hard even when you are a tech person, but I do my best.) Luckily, people like Lesley Rohrbaugh, the research director at the Consumer Technology Association, are willing to help. For the past 27 years, the CTA has produced an annual report on consumer-technology holiday-purchasing patterns. I spoke with her for the second year in a row, and she says this year’s report provided insight into a whole new batch of must-have recommendations. There are some repeats from last year, like the new iPhone and various laptops along with newcomers like streaming services and smart-home devices. And while popular options like Spotify gift cards are never going to sell out, plenty of other items she mentioned will — especially when you consider the current supply-chain issues that are driving people to shop even earlier this year. (According to Rohrbaugh, 68 percent of shoppers are getting a bigger jump than ever on their holiday shopping.) To take advantage of this early push, retailers will likely offer sales earlier as well, which will get more people shopping early, which will make finding the perfect tech gift even more competitive. That’s why we assembled the following list of gifts that fall in the categories Rohrbaugh says will be hot this year. It’s probably best not to dillydally.

Smartphones

Rohrbaugh says screens of all types will once again be among the most desired holiday gifts. Apple, Google, Samsung, and others all released new phones this year that operate on the faster 5G spectrum, which wireless carriers are motivated to shift customers to. Rohrbaugh says the CTA also noticed an increased interest in foldable phones, which have improved in quality and are (slowly) becoming more affordable. If buying someone a new phone isn’t within your budget, you can also get them accessories like headphones, phone cases, and chargers.

The newest iteration of the iPhone doesn’t include any flashy changes, but everything under the hood has been improved. There’s a better dual-camera system and a faster chip, and Apple says the new iPhone 13’s battery should last two and a half hours longer than before. It also has 5G capabilities, wireless charging, and Apple’s MagSafe technology that uses built-in magnets on the phone to attach accessories. The cameras have larger sensors for better photos during the day and at night as well as better image stabilization while recording video.

Stepping up to the iPhone 13 Pro gives you an even better battery life, a third lens, and higher picture quality. Like the 13, the 13 Pro offers “Cinematic Mode,” allowing the camera to focus on objects in the background and foreground and add a seamless bokehlike effect. The 13 Pro has an improved screen with an all-new and more adaptive and responsive refresh rate. Instead of a constant 60Hz, the new phone can vary the screen’s refresh rates from as little as 10Hz all the way up to 120Hz.

The Verge deputy editor Dan Seifert writes, “The story of folding phones thus far has been one of compromise.” But the Z Flip3 is the first folding phone to challenge all that. “Its screen runs at a smooth 120Hz, just like Samsung’s other flagships. It has a new, allegedly more durable construction, plus IP water resistance, just like you’d expect on a modern phone,” he says. “And most important, its starting price is $1,000, $450 less than the launch price of the Z Flip 5G it replaces. That puts the Flip3 on the same price level as many high-end, non-folding phones.”

Laptops

Rohrbaugh says that laptops, once again, are on top of people’s wish lists, with an array of options from Apple and Google and some excellent gaming laptops.

Four of the experts we talked to in our laptop guide recommended the MacBook Air 13-inch as one of the top laptops. A word of warning: Apple is expected to announce new laptops in the upcoming months, so if you want the best available, you might want to wait. Those new laptops should also mean great deals on last year’s MacBook Air and Pro stock as retailers make space for the latest models. Of last year’s computers, Monica Chin, our colleague at The Verge, says, “The new processor is the star of the show here; it’s fast. In our testing, it handled intense photo- and video-editing workloads better than almost any Intel-powered laptop we’ve tried this year.” The 256GB of storage in the base model is plenty, too.Miguel Meléndez, a PC expert at B&H Photo Video, also recommends the latest MacBook Air. He says the 8GB of RAM in the Air is great “for people who like to have a lot of tabs open at the same time” or those who need to edit photos or videos.

The Macbook Pro is a step up from the Air thanks to its cooling fans. The built-in fans mean it can handle heavy workloads for a longer period of time without the need to lower its performance. They’re able to handle a lot of open windows and internet tabs and run multiple programs at once — perfect for anyone who wants to do any sort of audio, video, and photo editing.

The XPS 13 is well built with a powerful processor and a vibrant 13-inch screen with almost no bezel — which means you’ll have that extra bit of room on your 4K screen to move around windows, browse the web, and play games. In its testing, The Verge recorded seven hours of battery life and three hours of light gaming. The keyboard and touchpad feel smooth and responsive, and it weighs only 2.8 pounds.

This two-in-one Lenovo Chromebook serves as both a laptop and a tablet thanks to its detachable keyboard and kickstand. It has a ten-inch screen and a battery life of more than 11 hours, and it weighs barely two pounds. The processor is not designed for heavy lifting, so this laptop is better for people who primarily use their computers for email, word processing, or streaming shows.

Video-Game Consoles

The CTA says that consoles will still be among the most popular tech gifts this season. There’s only one problem: You’re going to have to get really lucky to find one in stock — especially if you’re looking for a PlayStation 5 or the latest Xbox Series X. After launching earlier this year, both consoles are experiencing constantly fluctuating stock. Finding one is no longer impossible, but it’s still plenty hard, so if you do see one somewhere, grab it.

The Switch is one of Nintendo’s most popular consoles, and its popularity has continued to grow. After a shortage last year that left us all scrambling, it’s a little easier to find a Nintendo Switch now. That’s partly because demand has gone down a bit, but also Nintendo announced an upgraded OLED-screen version of the Switch that is expected to launch on October 8 and will cost $350. Along with the new screen, that model will have a more adjustable stand, a built-in wire LAN port for online gaming, and enhanced audio. But don’t sleep on the OG Switch. It’s still considered one of the best gaming consoles around, with games like Animal Crossing, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokémon. You can easily switch from handheld to a docked mode, which allows you to play games on your television. It also has features that allow you to play classic NES games online.

If you don’t mind the inability to dock your switch and connect it to your TV, the Switch Lite is a fine (and readily available) alternative.

Our colleagues at The Verge describe the new PS5s as having “faster speeds and a more immersive controller, which all add up to a markedly better experience compared to the PS4 by every conceivable metric.” They also loved the responsive new DualSense controller and the user interface, which is more inviting compared to the last generation’s clunky menus. Load times for the new PS5s are slashed nearly in half, leaving you with more time to spend gaming and less time waiting.

Note: The PlayStation 5 and Digital Edition are both currently out of stock, but it’s always worth checking. We’ll be monitoring the situation and updating this story frequently in response.

According to The Verge, the flagship Series X brings a PC-like experience to a console. It is faster and looks nicer, with up to 8K resolution and a 120fps frame rate. For $200 less, the Series S is still an excellent experience. It can’t handle 4K, but most games currently play best at 1080p, The Verge says. And although the Series S hard drive is half the size of the Series X, it’s still a significant step up compared to the prior generation Xbox One X.

Note: Same deal as the PS5: The Xbox Series X and S are both currently out of stock, but it’s still worth checking. We’ll also keep an eye out and keep this story updated.

Content-Related Gifts

The good thing about the gifts in this category is that they are online and easily accessible, so you can share them with friends and family at a relatively low cost. Plus they never sell out.

Not only will they be able to go head-to-head against other online players, the recipient of this gift will also get access to a curated list of classic NES games that you can also play online.

Apple Arcade comes recommended by Andrew Webster, games editor at The Verge. It offers high-quality games and a more streamlined gaming experience compared to the regular games you might find in the App Store. When we interviewed gamers to find alternatives to the frequently sold-out Nintendo Switch, three of them recommended Apple Arcade as well.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is the best value when it comes to video-game subscription services. It gives you access to hundreds of games, discounts on future game releases, and an Xbox Live Gold membership, which allows you to play games online against other online players.

Similar to the Xbox Game Pass, the PS Plus membership gives you access to new games each month and lets you play online games against friends and other gamers.

When bought as a gift card, Spotify’s hugely popular music-streaming service costs $20 less than normal.

Perfect for that person who is desperately waiting for the new season of Ozark or wants to check out Squid Game.

Or maybe they still haven’t gotten a chance to watch Only Murders in the Building.

Smart-Home Technology

According to the CTA’s survey, 196 million people plan on installing a smart-home device in their home this year. The good thing is you don’t have to worry about getting smart gifts that are overly complicated. Many smart-home devices have been simplified so that everyone can benefit from them.

The smart speaker is the brains of your smart-home operation — the Professor X, Tony Soprano, or Iron Man of the whole situation. The Echo plays music and gives you news and weather updates, but most important, you can use it to control your other smart-home appliances, including the new robot, thermostat, and other devices Amazon just announced. All you have to do is be within earshot of your speaker and say, “Alexa, turn on the lights.”

If you prefer Google, try the Nest Mini. You can easily tuck the little hockey puck into a corner so that your smart speaker is less of a focal point in the room.

This device has all the features of the Echo but with a screen, which allows you to do things like cook along with recipes, watch TV and movie trailers, and take video calls. There is also a button to turn off the camera and mic whenever you want if you’re concerned about privacy.

The Sonos One is a smart speaker with a bit more flash. It’s not overly complicated to set up or use, and since it comes from an outstanding speaker company, the sound quality is much better than what you get with Amazon or Google.

The HomePod Mini works best if the person receiving the gift is already hooked up to the Apple ecosystem. If they can ignore Siri’s shortcomings (like supporting only Apple Music) and they already own a MacBook, an Apple Watch, or an iPhone, the HomePod Mini will be a seamless addition to their home. And like all Apple products, it’s beautifully designed.

This inexpensive and underrated smart-home gift “lets you set up simple daily on-off schedules,” says Strategist contributor Kyle Schurman. “You can have the Wyze turn on any time one of your other smart devices is activated. For example, if someone approaches your video doorbell, you could have a lamp in the window automatically turn on to make it look like someone is home.”

The Kasa has a Wi-Fi range up to 300 feet, and it’s water resistant, so itcan handle rain. The plug contains two smart outlets, which you can control independently, and the buttons on top allow you to control it manually when your smartphone isn’t nearby. You can also program it to turn on automatically at sunset and to turn off at sunrise.

Smart thermostats can now learn your habits and adjust your cooling and heating options depending on the time of day you wake up and when you go to sleep. This 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat has an easy-to-read and well-organized screen.

“It has a high-resolution screen, attractive design, and dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity, which reduces interference with other devices and improves overall performance,” says Strategist contributor Kyle Schurman. “Plus, it comes with a remote sensor that lets you base temperature settings on a room other than the one the thermostat is mounted in.”Schurman also says that the Ecobee has excellent voice-control integration, so you can easily ask Alexa or Google to change the temperature throughout your living space.

The Eufy RoboVac is designed to be ignored. Just plug it in and set the schedule. It’s smart enough to avoid ledges, it can alert you any time it gets stuck in a certain area, and it can adapt to cleaning carpets or hard surfaces automatically. You can also control it remotely using the app or your smart speaker.

“Compared to the Nest Hello, Ring video doorbells are generally cheaper — both the devices themselves and the subscription service, which starts at $3 per month,” writes Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson. They’re a natural choice for people already using Amazon smart-home products, as you can stream doorbell footage to an Echo Show or interact with the doorbell (by talking to someone at your door, for example) via Alexa.


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