Holiday Gift Ideas for Techies
For those who go gaga for gizmos, these gift ideas for techies, including a robotic vacuum, headphones, speakers, and more, are as much fun to use as they are useful.
Need more holiday inspiration? Check out some of our other gift guides: Best White Elephant Gifts for Under $35, Top Gifts Under $50, Top Tech Gifts Under $100, and Best Fitness Tech Gifts Under $200.
Go to Consumer Reports' 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.
CR’s take: The Eufy 30C is an extremely quiet vacuum. Our testers note that they couldn’t even tell it was on or running, which makes it a great choice for those who might need to run a robotic vac while they’re home. This is one of the cheaper vacuums that really does the job: It earns an Excellent rating for bare floors. Like the LG Hom-Bot, this vacuum is compatible with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa; you can also program the robot through the manufacturer’s app.
For more options: Best Robotic Vacuums of 2019
CR’s take: Apple’s Series 5 watches get top ratings from our testers for basics such as ease of use, step counting, and heart rate tracking. They offer built-in GPS for tracking distance workouts and oodles of apps to help you customize your device. Pay for the version with cellular service and you can field calls and stream music from your favorite app—all without lugging your smartphone. The watch’s microphone will let you dictate replies to text messages, as well as summon Apple’s digital assistant, Siri.
For more options, check our buying guide and ratings for smartwatches.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
CR's take: Even diehard techies enjoying going analog once in a while, right? And whoever gets the Fujifilm Instax 9 in their stocking will start having fun immediately. The Mini 9 spits out physical photo prints with the slightly overexposed look of old Polaroids, giving people and faces the gauzy haze of a good time that plenty of smartphone camera apps try to fake digitally. And the price makes it ideal for a gift or even a bulk buy for a holiday party.
For more options: Best Instant Cameras: How Six Would-Be Polaroid Replacements Stack Up
CR’s take: The Bose Smart Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the long-awaited successor to the company’s flagship QuietComfort 35 Series II headphones (which are usually at least $100 cheaper), and the two models are almost identical in performance: Both deliver superb sound quality and noise cancellation. However, the Bose 700 earphones have a much slimmer profile when folded up, and they have a few updated elements, including more integration with digital assistants, touch controls, and sensors for Bose’s “augmented reality” apps. Bose has kept some of the best-loved features from its older models as well, such as adjustable levels of noise cancellation, a monitoring mode to let in sound from your environment, and an advertised 20-hour battery life.
For more options: Best Noise-Canceling Headphones to Buy Right Now
CR’s take: Amazon's Echo Buds have many of the same benefits of Apple's new noise-canceling AirPods Pro, but they're a lot cheaper. The Echo buds come with noise-canceling technology designed in collaboration with Bose, and feature hands-free integration with Alexa. Amazon claims the Echo Buds have 5 hours’ worth of battery life, and the included case has a built-in battery that will recharge the headphones four times on the go (CR doesn't test battery life in headphones). With a Very Good rating for sound quality and superb noise reduction, they're a decent choice for the more critical listener for both music and movie soundtrack playback.
For more options: Noise-Canceling Headphones on a Budget
CR's take: The Grado Prestige SR325e is the company's flagship model, and it's a sound-quality champ, according to our testers. Keep in mind that the open-back ear cups—a design choice intended to add clarity to the audio and give it a more natural feel—aren't meant to block sound from bleeding in or out. That means they’re best for quiet environments where you won't bother your neighbors and they won't bother you.
For more options: Best Over-Ear Headphones
CR's take: The newest version of the Amazon Echo Show illustrates how truly useful a touch screen can be on a smart speaker. The second-generation version of the Amazon Echo Show is a much more useful product than the first: A larger touch screen makes it great for reading a recipe or watching a quick how-to video, tasks that you might otherwise consign to a phone or tablet. But the Show sits on the counter at an easy viewing angle, and with its voice-command capability you can avoid touching it with messy or busy hands. The Show is also the best-sounding smart speaker that Amazon has ever brought to market.
For more options: Best Smart Speakers of 2019
CR's take: The Google Home Max was the first really good-sounding smart speaker, and it remains the best-sounding model on the market. Our testers like its solid bass and clean midrange—that all-important sonic window where most instruments and vocals lie—along with plenty of volume. The Home Max’s smart functions work seamlessly with Google Assistant. It doesn’t have the same number of skills as Amazon’s Alexa and doesn’t work with as many smart home devices, but some users find Google’s interface to be more user-friendly. You can also integrate several Home Max speakers throughout your home, either singly or in stereo pairs, and supplement them with smaller and less expensive Google Home speakers or other speakers with Chromecast capability as part of a multiroom system.
For more options: Best Smart Speakers of 2019
CR's take: The versatile Heos 7 makes it easy to set up a flexible multiroom speaker system so you can play a podcast in the kitchen, while your kids blast Billie Eilish in their bedroom. The Denon features a Bluetooth connection that allows users to, say, quickly pair a guest's smartphone to share a playlist during an impromptu listening session. Sonically, the Heos 7 is a winner. It pumps out more than enough volume to fill a room. The bass is deep and you can hear all the detail in the trebles. And the Heos 7 does a credible job of re-creating the ambiance of the room in which the music was recorded.
For more options: Best Wireless Speakers of 2019
CR's take: One of the highest-rated phones tested by CR, this Samsung model is a 5G capable phone that features a very sharp AMOLED display that reviewers rated an Excellent. It also does well with stills and video, too. It has a unique feature that allows you to zoom in the mic in conjunction with the video. It features five camera lenses, and it can shoot video at 4K UHD. The Note10+ survived CR's durability tests, too. It works with both Verizon and T-Mobile's 5G networks.
For more options: Fabulous Phablets: Best Large-Screen Smartphones
CR's take: Apple's updated iPad Mini delivers a 7.9-inch tablet that not only tops our ratings of sub-8-inch tablets but does so with a huge amount of daylight between it and its nearest-scoring competitors. The display, arguably the single most important part of a tablet, is bright, accurate, and has a large viewing angle. That means you don’t need to look at the dead center to see the clearest image. The 10-hour battery life and performance for web-browsing and file copying are also best in class.
For more options: Best Tablets of 2019
CR's take: This 12.3-inch, 2-in-1 detachable laptop is new to CR's ratings as of November. Compared with the previous year's Surface Pro model, its updated Core i5 processor shows faster speeds in our tests, suitable for complex school or office work; however, you might notice a lag when performing media editing or playing video games. The display is bright, has wide viewing angles, and shows lifelike colors. Battery life is reasonably long at 10.5 hrs in web- browsing tests, and at just 2.4 lbs, it's lighter than typical laptops of this size category. And of course, there’s something to be said about the versatility of being able to remove the keyboard to use it like a tablet.
For more options: Best Laptops of 2019
CR's take: You might not think a printer would make a good gift, but the Canon Pixma G4210 could be the exception. This inkjet printer is a "super tank" model, meaning it uses refillable ink reservoirs instead of cartridges. That can make for some serious savings. Our tests show the average printer user will only use about $6 worth of ink per year, which is exceptionally low considering that typical costs are closer to $100. The G4210 also does well in our performance tests for factors like text and photo quality. It's pretty expensive though: This model usually costs around $300. For something a little cheaper that still won't drown your giftee in hidden costs over time, try the Brother MFC-J775DW, which retails for about $130 and has an estimated yearly ink cost of $27.
For more options: Best Printers of 2019
CR’s take: The Abode Essentials Starter Kit is a superb home security system. It’s one of only two systems to rate Very Good for its breadth of security add-ons, such as its acoustic glass break sensor, $49, and smoke alarm monitor, $45. It works with digital assistants Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control and functions as a smart home hub for lights, thermostats, and more. It also works with the Abode Cam security camera, $150, which will automatically record when the alarm goes off. Additional contact sensors and motion sensors cost $25 and $40, respectively.
For more options: Best DIY Home Security Systems of 2019
CR’s take: The RainMachine Touch HD-12 is a stellar controller that’s capable of handling 12 different watering zones. It receives an Excellent rating for weather responsiveness—the only system in our tests to do so—and is easy to physically install, too. To set up the WiFi, you’ll have to use the controller itself; you can't connect via the smartphone app. The RainMachine features a 4.3-inch touch screen display for manual control, but of course, you can turn it on and off using Alexa instead. A 16-zone version is available for $269. This model lacks a weatherproof enclosure, but RainMachine recommends an Orbit controller box (around $30) for outdoor installation.
For more options: 5 Things to Know Before You Buy a Smart Sprinkler Controller
CR’s take: The Google Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the best smart thermostats in our ratings. While this thermostat is made by Google, it works well with Amazon Alexa. It rates Excellent for automating your heating/cooling and offers a wealth of smart features to enhance its functionality, including an occupancy sensor (so it can adjust the temperature based on whether people are present in the room) and geofencing (which allows it to use your smartphone’s location data to turn the temperature up or down when you leave and return home). One caveat: Our testers find that the manual controls aren’t the easiest to use.
For more options: Best Smart Thermostats Under $200