Does tech figure into your holiday shopping? This gear is sure to please.

·8 min read

Nov. 23—The holiday shopping season is upon us, and tech figures prominently on many gift lists.

This shopping guide lists many of the tech products I've tried out over the past year — with, in some cases, links to my detailed articles about these gadgets.

Check back in the coming weeks since I'll be adding more products to this guide from time to time.

What tech gear are you buying this year, or hoping to receive? Let me know in the comments below.


For effortless video chats with friends and family, try one of Facebook's Portal smart displays with built-in cameras.

The newest versions include the $149 Portal Go, the first model that can be carried from room to room because it has a battery, and the $299 Portal+, a fancy model with a gorgeous 14-inch screen and a kick-ass speaker.

Portals are ideal for those who use Facebook's Messenger and WhatsApp, and they also support video chats via Zoom, Webex, GoTo and BlueJeans.

If Facebook video chats aren't your jam, consider Google's $179 Nest Hub Max. This smart display is compatible with Zoom along with Google's Duo and Meet services.


Apple's fancy tech products tend to be pricey, but some items won't break the bank.

Apple users on your list may already own $99 HomePod mini smart speakers, but you can't have too many of these, and they're now available in red, yellow and blue along with black or white. (Non-Apple mini-speakers include Amazon's $49.99 Echo Dot and Google's $24.99 Nest Mini; both are available in multiple colors.)

For those like my wife who constantly lose stuff, $29 AirTag doohickeys hang on a keychain or tuck inside a purse so their whereabouts can later be ascertained using an iPhone. Get a 4-pack for $99. (If you don't use an iPhone, try a Tile tracker.)

New AirPods are out, but also consider the $199.99 Fit Pro buds from Beats by Dre (which is owned by Apple). You might find them to be the better buy. Check out my monster chart comparing Apple and Beats earbuds and headphones.


When asked for laptop recommendations, I often suggest the following:

— MacBook Air. Similar in appearance to models from past years, but packing Apple's homegrown silicon, this laptop screams. This is the best machine for average users, and it starts at $999.

— Surface Pro 8. The Surface Pro has long been my fave laptop/tablet hybrid, and it's just been updated. It starts at $1,099.99.

— Galaxy Chromebook 2. Lots of these Google-y notebooks are out there, but this Samsung model has a great blend of style and performance. It starts at $549.99, but consider bumping up to the Intel Core i3 version for $699.99.

— Acer Spin 713. This is a Chromebook better suited for hardcore productivity, partly due to its screen's 3:2 aspect ratio. I've praised the laptop before, and it has won accolades elsewhere. Best Buy had it for $529 last I checked.

— ThinkPad X1 series. I have a thing for Lenovo's ThinkPads. In particular, I like the X1 Carbon, a no-nonsense notebook for getting work done, and the ultraportable X1 Nano. Pricing on these laptops tends to be all over the place, so keep an eye out for deals. I recently saw a Carbon for $1,221 and a Nano for $1,363.45. (Models with touch screens cost more.)


Looking into a tablet? Get an Apple iPad. Nothing else compares. Trust me on this.

Apple recently overhauled its iPad mini, a compact tablet starting at $499. This is a great device for content consumption (like watching videos or reading ebooks) but not so good for content creation (as in getting work done).

That's why I returned an iPad mini I'd recently purchased, and bought an iPad Air (which is more than a year old, but still great) with a clip-on keyboard that I plan to use heavily. The Air starts at $599, not including the keyboard.

If you're on a budget, Apple's recently updated entry-level iPad starts at just $329.

If you're not on a budget, check out iPad Pro models starting at $799 with the same M1 chips found in Apple's recent-model Macs. But these souped-up iPads are overkill for most people.


Apple's recently released iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro models are great, but are incremental updates (though with a few cool new features such as macro photography). Depending on your budget, look into older models that Apple provides at lower prices. Even the relatively ancient iPhone 11 is a lot of phone for many people.

If you're buying an iPhone, consider throwing in an Apple Watch. This is the best smartwatch on the market, and only works with Apple phones. I've long used an Apple Watch as a fitness tracker. Avoid the long-on-the-tooth Apple Watch Series 3 ($199), and check out at the Apple Watch SE ($279 and up). The top-end Apple Watch Series 7 is great if you can afford it ($399 and up) but you won't miss anything earth-shattering if you stick with the SE.

Also consider adding a stick-on battery pack to an iPhone user's stocking. These compact power banks, from Apple and other vendors, magnetically adhere to the back of an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 to keep the internal battery from running dry.

If you are leaning towards an Android phone, be sure to check out Google's Pixel 6. It's the first Pixel that seems like a worthy iPhone rival. At a starting price of it $599 it costs less than the most affordable current-model iPhone, the iPhone 13 mini, which starts at $699. I tried out a Pixel 6 provided by AT&T, and T-Mobile and Verizon also sell it.

If you feel adventurous, Samsung's $1,099.99 Galaxy Z Flip3 folding phone is worth a look.


If you spend hundreds or thousands on a computing device, you want to protect it from harm. Several companies I've followed for years are ready to help you out.

Byrd & Belle. This local company uses wool felt, leather and other materials to make sleeves for Apple's laptops, tablets and smartphones, as well as for Amazon's Kindles and Microsoft's Surface PCs. Each piece is designed, constructed and shipped out from a Minneapolis studio by company founder Angie Davis (who also answers all customer emails) and her team.

Pad & Quill. Also based in Minneapolis with some of its manufacturing facilities in St. Paul, this company specializes in folio-style leather sheaths for iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. Some of these products incorporate sturdy wooden frames that encase the devices for extra protection.

Nedrelow. This company's signature Magic Sleeve is a clever Merino-wool accessory that snaps tightly around an iPad courtesy of built-in magnets. Nedrelow also has Apple MacBook magnetic sleeves (but these are currently sold out), and even a Magic Sleeve Duo for your iPad and your MacBook. No Magic Sleeve is currently available for the iPad mini, but I got to try out a prototype, so such a product might become available eventually.

Waterfield. This San Francisco company sells extra-rugged laptop cases and sleeves. Versions of the laptop protectors are custom-fitted for computers from Apple, Microsoft, Lenovo and others. Waterfield sells iPad sleeves and cases, too.


Upgrade someone's home-office scenario at a reasonable cost. FlexiSpot's Crank Standing Desk H1 is a sturdy piece of work furniture that starts at only $189.99. As its name suggests, the desk rises and lowers via a hand crank to trim your power bills and give you green cred.

Throw in Vari's $275 Active Seat, a cushy stool-style contraption that whooshes up and down via an air-lift piston so the user can work in a sitting or semi-standing position. This thing also waggles in all directions to keep the user active and alert while having a bit of fun (I love this thing).

Need a standing desk on the go? Vari's Portable Laptop Stand sets up just about anywhere, folds up for stowing in a bag or backpack, and costs only $125.

If you're looking for a desktop keyboard and mouse, my gold standards are Logitech's MX Keys Mini (in versions for PC or Mac, $99.99) and MX Master 3 mouse (PC or Mac, $99.99).


The brand-new XClass TV sets are actually made by Hisense in a partnership with the Twin Cities' leading cable provider (and you need not be a Comcast subscriber to use these TVs). They're sold at Walmart.

I was a bit skeptical about these sets, but they have pretty nice 4K image quality for the price ($298 for the 43-inch model and $348 for the 50-inch version), and they support Dolby Vision HDR, HDR10 and Dolby Atmos.

The interface isn't anything special, but it has most of the usual streaming-service suspects, with more (such as Apple TV+) to come. You get a full year of Comcast's Peacock Premium streaming service.

The TVs' remote has the same voice-search feature found on Comcast's Xfinity X1 clickers.

If Comcast isn't your thing, Hisense also makes TVs with Android TV and Roku TV software.

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