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There’s a never-ending debate as to whether technology has helped or hindered humankind, but this guide to the best tech gifts is not the forum for that dispute. Instead, let’s accept the status quo — a market saturated with gadgets vying for holiday dollars — and help steer those dollars toward deserving devices that stand out from the annual glut of new technology served up at year’s end.
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The best tech gifts on the market will almost certainly be of interest to all but the most hardcore luddites on a holiday shopping list. It is, of course, certainly still possible to drop thousands on a top-of-the-line computer, a comprehensive smart home setup, or a high-end piece of stereo equipment, but it’s also possible to spend less on a gadget that can have a big impact.
What the Experts Say
Sources within the tech industry — geeks (complimentary) — are full of recommendations for the less plugged-in among us. For this story, SPY spoke with Mark Steinberg, senior technologist at B&H Photo Video, to help sort through the best tech gifts for the 2023 holiday season.
“Tech gifts, in and of themselves, are electronic, battery-operated, fabricated from synthetic materials for the most part, or they go through a heavy manufacturing process. They tend to be, ‘cold,’” Steinberg said. Giving a tech gift that feels like a meaningful gesture and not just a tool requires the second step of understanding how the recipient will use that tool — for example, knowing that a solar phone charger would improve the life of a friend who’s a hiker.
Another thing to think about? Compatibility. The Mac/PC schism of the ‘90s became the Android/iOS schism of the aughts and is now accompanied by the Google Home/Alexa schism of the 2020s. Steinberg says you can either find out what ecosystem your recipient uses and buy tech gifts that are compatible. If that’s not possible, “[Go for] a best-in-class type of product,” he adds, “or something that’s a little bit more brand-agnostic that maybe doesn’t buy into an ecosystem.”
Price-wise, the scope of tech gifts is wide, from $20 charging docks to high-end audio-visual equipment that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. How much to spend is a personal preference, but there are good options at all price levels for a simple reason: the “tech gifts” category is both massive and diverse.
Cleer Alpha Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
All wireless headphones exist on a spectrum between tiny earbuds and big, beefy over-ears, which are products that serve opposite purposes: compact convenience and immersive luxury, respectively. Apple AirPods dominate the former category, but there isn’t an obvious winner on the other end of the spectrum. Steinberg thinks Cleer’s Alpha headphones deserve a shot at the title.
“They’re really, really good,” he says. “They’re the only ones that rival Sony in terms of battery life, and they charge quickly — in 10 minutes, you get four more hours.” They also have a reputation for comfort that Steinberg says is well-earned. “They are comfortable and very cushy with some nice built-in features,” he adds. “You can use them wired, if you want, and they come with an airplane adapter.” (Those features include the recent if not state-of-the-art Bluetooth 5.1 standard, adaptive noise-canceling, and a wear sensor with auto-play pause.)
Overall, they’re a great gift for someone who spends a ton of time with their AirPods — a reminder that slowing down and savoring an album, movie, or podcast with immersive sound (via actually comfortable headphones) is a nice thing to do every once in a while.
VIZIO 50" Class V-Series 4K LED Smart TV
Buy Now $248.00
VIZIO’s line of affordable TVs are some of the highest quality you can get for the price point, and this 50-inch model at Walmart is discounted $70 ahead of the holidays for a great tech gift that doesn’t break the bank. It’s engineered with 4K UHD picture quality including Dolby’s Bright Mode and full-array back pixel tuning for a high-definition viewing experience. It has a V-gaming engine designed to minimize lag as much as possible and it comes with Watch Free, a cable-like streaming interface for easily navigating between thousands of TV show and movie titles.
BEST PHONE CHARGER
Anker Magnetic Portable Charger
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Made For: That friend whose phone is always running out of juice at the most inopportune times. “Though compact and relatively inexpensive, portable chargers deliver incredible convenience but also offer peace of mind,” says IGP marketing manager Durgesh Maurya.
Coolest Feature: This Anker model charges an iPhone via MagSafe, but it can also be used as a wired charger for other phones, so it doesn’t violate Steinberg’s ecosystem-agnostic rule.
BEST FOR ACTIVE PURSUITS
Made For: Dead-simple 360-degree captures. Steinberg is quick to call out the features on this compact camera: “It’s waterproof, it slips in your pocket, it has an LCD touchscreen, and it’s very user-friendly,” he says. It also stitches clips in-camera using AI-powered software, so there’s no need to connect to a computer or pay for more software.
Coolest Feature: There’s an on-board physical gyroscope to stabilize shots, which is far superior to the digital stabilization that’s typically found on something of this size.
Bang & Olufsen Beosound A5 Portable Bluetooth Speaker
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Why It Stands Out: The first thing you notice about this Bang & Olufsen portable speaker (after its price tag) is its woven exterior that, when combined with the wooden handle, makes it look more like a picnic basket than a piece of tech.
Made For: Audiophiles on the go. “Everyone needs a good portable speaker, and this is really one of the very best,” says Rex Freiberg, CEO of Gadget Review. “It has excellent sound quality with its 360-degree design. You can also connect other speakers to it with ease, and with a high-quality design and long battery life, it’s a speaker that’s meant to last you a long time.”
BEST FOR BIKERS
JBL Wind 3 Handlebar Bluetooth Speaker
Made For: Cyclists of all stripes. “You can put it on your motorcycle, put it on your bike, or put it on your exercise bike at home — you could wrap this thing around anything,” Steinberg says of this Bluetooth speaker that comes with a special handlebar mount. “It’s a great little thing.”
Why It Stands Out: It’s a piece of tech released in 2023 that isn’t a car and comes with an FM radio — and it’s great
BEST DIGITAL FRAME
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Why It Stands Out: Duy Vo, founder of personalized gift purveyor Sandjest, says that this picture frame “allows everyone in the family to email photos to it directly, creating an ever-evolving collage of memories.” The collaborative nature of this frame means that it’s easy to be surprised by new photos from far-flung family members and those closer to home.
Made For: A digital picture frame that scrolls through family photos is the rare exception to Steinberg’s tech is “cold” maxim, so it’s a great gift for the less tech-savvy (or less tech-interested) people in one’s life.
BEST FOR READERS
TCL NXTPAPER11 Tablet
Why It Stands Out: Freiberger says that the screen on this tablet from TCL, a brand best known for its televisions, is predictably great. “These tablets have enhanced brightness for use under direct sun,” he says. “They have low blue light and are designed for viewing in a way that’s similar to e-readers, so they help prevent eye strain.”
Made For: Old eyes that get tired easily or young eyes that have been overexposed to screens. “This would make a great gift for someone who likes to read or is looking for a new tablet,” Freiberger says.
BEST FOR GADGET FIENDS
LG StandbyMe Go
Made For: People who prefer the James Bond scenes where Q arms 007 with a slew of soon-to-come-in-handy gadgets to the action sequences. That’s because this new product is a 27-inch HDTV that slides into an attached hard-shell suitcase. The use cases are hazy but myriad, from watching movies while traveling (it runs on a battery and has Bluetooth) to stashing away in a consciously screen-free room in the house to setting up parallel to the floor and using the massive touchscreen to play games.
Why It Stands Out: It’s the first product of its kind. “It’s interesting and unusual,” Steinberg says. “This is not something you’re going to find all over.” For the person who has everything, tech-wise, it’s a pricey but surefire way to get them something new.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tech Gifts
Should you buy a tech gift for someone who isn’t tech-savvy?
“That can be a conundrum because as much as we love our tech, some people are resistant to it and they’re not able to change it,” Steinberg says. “They may want to, but they don’t have the patience or the wherewithal to read the manual.” Stick with simpler options that you think can really appeal to their interests (e.g. an e-reader for your aunt who has read every Man Booker winner).
How can you make a tech gift more meaningful?
You can opt for gifts that foster warm feelings, like the Skylight frame above, but it’s also worth considering most tech gifts as what they are: tools. “If you bought a smart cooking device for someone who helps prepare meals, they might think of you when they use it in the kitchen,” Steinberg says. The same can be said for tech gifts like cameras — tools that, when used, could make the recipient think fondly about the person who bought it for them.
Are there any tech gifts you should definitely avoid?
The first piece of technology was likely a hand ax made by bashing a rock into a sharp point around two million years ago. That would still be a better tech gift than any gadget from some weird only-on-Amazon brand like AOXIMONA or RHEIDUFF that will be broken by Boxing Day.
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