November 27, 2021

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The best tech gift ideas in 2021, according to an expert

Last year’s holiday shopping started earlier than usual and saw a surge in online purchases, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Holiday shopping this year appears to be on a similar trajectory: As port backlogs cause shipping delays and price surges, retailers are recommending that consumers make big purchases earlier in order to ensure gifts for loved ones arrive in time. To compound on the already strained shipping infrastructure are the newly implemented USPS standards lengthening deliveries. In other words, it’s best to start looking now for Christmas gifts — including for the family’s tech enthusiast.

The past year has seen a host of new tech products hit the market, which is great news for those who want to get started on Christmas shopping for their techy family members now. To choose the best tech gifts this year, we browsed our tech coverage for highly rated and gift-worthy options. As a tech expert with years of experience covering the industry, I also used my own expertise to filter through all the tech gift options out there. Tech has expanded in recent years to include smart home devices — including Amazon’s latest slate — but there are also more classic options fit for gift-giving like headphones and computer equipment, or even Apple’s latest iPhone.

SKIP AHEAD Gaming accessories | Headphones & earbuds | Phones | Smart home | E-readers | Wearable tech |Other

The best tech gifts in 2021

To source these tech gifts, we referred back to our previous coverage and rounded up both top-rated items and new releases in line with Select reader interest.

Tech gifts for PC gamers

2020 saw a .25 billion increase in PC gamers from 2019. There’s also been an influx of esports gaming at various colleges and universities, making this a growing way to relax, spend time with friends and even earn scholarships. Choosing the right equipment is essential, and below are some options we chose based on Select reader interest and previous coverage.

Steelseries Rival 5 Gaming Mouse

A gift worth considering for gamers who play first-person shooters like Fortnite or crafting games like Minecraft, the Rival 5 is a great option for the everyday gamer. Inspired by the adaptable chameleon, this gaming mouse was designed to be adaptable for every gamer. Every button is customizable, and a 5-button quick action side panel helps to toggle for fast in-game actions. It’s lightweight at only 85 grams and will last upward of 80 million clicks. You can also expect 18,000 CPI for precision when you need it. More than 3,500 reviewers on Amazon left the Rival 5 a 4.5-star average rating.

Logitech Pro X Gaming Headset

This headset is great for the super gamer who needs sound to win gaming matches. The 50-millimeter drivers deliver more accurate and clear sound with this Logitech gaming headset. That same sound can be customized to personal preference, and the memory foam is very comfortable and can be worn for long periods of time without aches or fatigue. The aluminum and steel frame is also incredibly durable. Best of all, the Blue Vo!ce technology reduces noise to deliver consistent voice communications in-game. This is the gaming headset I recommend, and I use it for my gaming setup — over 4,000 Amazon reviewers also gave it a 4.4-star average rating.

Razer Basilisk X Hyperspeed Gaming Mouse

Another great gaming mouse option for the everyday gamer is the wireless Razer Basilisk. It comes with a USB dongle and a Bluetooth connection to extend its battery life to up to 450 hours. You can also enjoy a 16,000 DPI optical sensor for minute precision when it matters most for any gamer. If your gamer isn’t using this mouse solely for gaming purposes, they can preset up to five different DPI settings for work, Photoshop, and beyond. More than 15,000 reviewers on Amazon left the Basilisk X with a 4.6-star average rating.

Steelseries Apex 3 TKL

Most PC gamers prefer a mechanical keyboard because, unlike most keyboards, they swap out a membrane key switch to a smoother, faster “mechanical” switch. This affordable gaming keyboard designed for the everyday gamer provides 20 million (silent) keypresses and offers multimedia controls for easily adjusting volume. It’s compatible with Windows, Macs, and even Xbox and Playstation 4 setups, so even if your gamer isn’t big on the PC setup, it can be used for other gaming systems. Its biggest draw is its IP32 water resistance, so gamers won’t have to worry if they spill snacks or drinks. Over 12,000 Amazon reviewers gave this keyboard an impressive 4.8-star average rating.

Tech gifts for audiophiles

The podcast listener base keeps growing: Q1 2021 saw the growth of podcasts as well as listeners, raking in 25 percent of Spotify’s 356 million monthly active engaged users. When listening to these podcasts — or to plain old music — having a set of quality headphones or earbuds is essential. Depending on your recipient’s needs or requests, options for these listeners come down to size, convenience and noise-canceling features.

Apple AirPods, 3rd Generation

One of the latest Apple releases, these earbuds provide adaptive equalizers that tune music to what you want. The latest generation of AirPods has a longer battery life and IPX4 water resistance for workouts. Tap controls from a force sensor will also provide users with an easy way to play songs and answer phone calls. The charging case also charges wirelessly. Apple enthusiasts who visit the gym or who enjoy listening to music as they’re doing the housework will enjoy these earbuds as a gift.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

For those techies who live in a noisy urban setting, these earbuds are a great option. From a quiet space to a busy street, the intelligent noise cancellation in these buds allows users to block outside noises to focus on the tunes or podcasts they love. Three built-in microphones will seamlessly swap to Ambient Noise settings, so your voice will come through crystal clear on the other side of the call. Samsung devices also provide a plethora of sound equalizer options when paired with the Samsung Galaxy Wear app, so users can enjoy a bass boost, dynamic listening, and a host of other sound options in three different colors: Phantom Violet, Phantom Black, and Phantom Silver. More than 12,000 Amazon reviewers gave these earbuds a 4.4-star average rating.

Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Designed for the casual listener or traveler, these noise-cancelling headphones are a great gift for those who want the music without a crazy expensive price tag. These affordable noise-cancelling headphones allow up to 40 hours of playback. The 40-millimeter drivers enhance bass and treble sounds for clarity through wind, traffic and everything in between. This is in part due to the three different listening modes the headset uses: outdoor, transport and indoor. If the battery runs low, a five-minute charge will provide up to four hours of listening. Over 2,400 Anker reviewers gave this a 4.4-star average rating. They come in three colors: Black, midnight blue, and sakura pink.

Sony – WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Over-the-Ear Headphones

Available in three colors — Black, Midnight Blue, and Silver — this Sony option can pair with two Bluetooth devices simultaneously. It’s a great high-end option for those who want a solid sound quality while being able to multitask. It’s also a great gift idea for commuters who want to enjoy music without background noise. Five built-in microphones and a speak-to-chat feature makes hands-free calling easy when you’re on the go. And with wearing detection technology, you can pull the headphones off the ears and not worry about losing your spot in your favorite podcast. It’s also compatible with Alexa and Google.

Tech gifts for phone enthusiasts

This was another really big year for phones, seeing new models of foldable devices as well as upgrades to fan favorites. Phone sales are also projected to increase to 1.5 million from 1.3 million in 2020. Most gift recipients will want a device that can take great photos, surf TikTok videos and FaceTime with family. All of these models offer all of these features plus little details that make them stand out from competitors.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro

For Apple enthusiasts, this phone combines the best of all the Apple phone releases at a more affordable price point. Users can enjoy a faster A15 processor and a higher resolution camera for regular and macro photography, so they can snap portraits and more detailed photos. And for the TikTok enthusiast, a cinematic mode shoots clear videos with a 120 Hz refresh rate, so they can enjoy playback without any video lag. It also has an incredibly long battery life with up to 28 hours of video playback.

Google Pixel 6

Announced on Oct. 19, the new Google Pixel 6 is the latest flagship smartphone from the tech giant. The phone comes with a new processor for faster touchscreen responses as well as an updated camera. More importantly, it comes with one of the highest security layers in any phone on the market. This is also one of the most inclusive phones on the market, using Real Tone technology to ensure photo image equity across all skin tones. It’s one of the best options on the market for someone that wants a smartphone and doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, especially since it offers 5G mobile data speeds and an upgraded camera that will suit most needs.

Samsung Z Flip 3

Released in October, the Samsung Z flip 3 phone is a great foldable phone at a solid price point for those recipients that want a fancy and modern design. It’s small enough to fit in the back of your pocket without jutting out. You don’t even need to open it for notifications — a 1.9-inch cover screen displays and allows interactions with them. The 120 Hz display refresh rate and the 12 MP rear cameras and 10 MP front main camera easily snap photos for posting while on the go. This would be a great option for anyone who wants a higher end model that isn’t an Apple device.

Tech gifts for the smart home

Smart home sales are only expected to increase as more people work from home and prefer a more secure space. There are so many different options to choose from, but the tried-and-true companies like Amazon and Google will give users peace of mind and the reliability that consumers want.

Amazon Echo Show 8

For those that want to be able to have a touchscreen smart home hub that’s easy to use, the Amazon Echo Show 8 will do just that. The 8-inch touchscreen provides HD footage for making video calls, watching Netflix shows, and checking reminders. It’s easy to use and even ask Alexa to pull up things so you don’t have to hunt an app down on the device. For video calls, the 13 MP camera automatically focuses on you, so when you move around the room, the camera will follow you. You can even review calendars, timers, and reminders and check news from this device. Over 10,000 Amazon reviewers gave this a 4.7-star average rating.

Google Nest Home Mini

If you prefer Google to Alexa, then the Google Home Mini is a great smart home technology product for your recipient’s home. It’s small enough to hide on an end table or display in the middle of your media center yet works across your entire home smart system. It’s compatible with 150 different brands so Google enthusiasts can customize what other smart home pieces they want or have in the home. It’s also at a great price point for those who want affordability with their smart home devices and for those that don’t want a touchscreen device. Over 3,500 Walmart reviewers gave this device a 4.1-star average rating.

Google Nest Learning Thermostat

Smart technology collaborates with sustainability in this smart home thermostat. This is great for those that want to add to their smart home and make it a smart system. Recipients can program this smart thermostat to work on a schedule, so when they’re going to bed at night and want to turn down the temperature for energy savings, they can just program it to do so automatically. They can also control the thermostat settings from their smartphone, so they can have peace of mind in case of unexpected temperature dips or rises.

For those who need an Apple-friendly smart thermostat, Apple offers a similar one here.

Tech gifts for the bibliophile

While it’s easy to go to a brick-and-mortar store to pick up a book, commuters and travelers alike will enjoy an e-reader’s slim design, which saves vital carry-on space while on the go. Some of these models have come out this year while others have been around for some time yet offer great features at a reasonable price point.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021)

The latest Amazon Kindle Paperwhite has a host of new features, but most importantly is the incorporation of the new warm light feature. It’s fully adjustable, so readers can enjoy the regular light or a warm ambient glow to offset blue light, which disrupts sleep cycles and can cause a host of health issues. It also comes with a USB-C charging port — not that you’ll be needing it that much since the battery lasts up to ten weeks. The reader in your family will enjoy the Amazon Kindle Store features, which offers daily deals on books for as little as $1.

If you want wireless charging and more than 8GB storage, the Signature Edition is available for purchase — as well as one designed for children.

Kobo Nia

An alternative to the Kindle, the Kobo Nia is an affordable e-reader that can hold up to 6,000 books. With its glare-free 6-inch touch screen, the adjustable ComfortLight feature means you can read at any time of the day or night. Users will be able to read crisp letters with a 212 PPI display. This model is not waterproof, but it’s easy to forget this detail with 12 different fonts and 50 font styles for complete reading customization. Readers that love to support their local library will enjoy this device since it can be connected with the ebook lending app Overdrive, so readers can enjoy free ebooks without the hefty ebook price tag.

Kobo Elipsa

This e-reader acts as a reading device and note-taking experience. It’s the best of both worlds with the 300PPI, 10.3-inch touchscreen that users can take notes on with the Kobo stylus pen (included with the purchase). For nighttime reading, the Elipsa has a dark mode as well as the signature ComfortLight mode. The device offers a massive 32GB of storage for reading, note-taking and everything in between, supporting 15 different file formats. It also works with USB-C charging devices. This would be suitable for those who like to mark up books for note-taking and studying.

Wearable tech gifts

Wearables are quickly becoming one of the big ticket items of the future, with overall sales increases expected for the next couple years. Devices under this category include earbuds and smart watches. These releases this year are great items for people who prefer to track their fitness and want to live healthier lifestyles.

Samsung Watch 4

The latest iteration of the Samsung Watch line, the Samsung Watch 4 runs for up to 40 hours and its fast charging will have the wearer on the go in a short amount of time. Users have the option to purchase a model with mobile data capability, and it comes with a dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity for checking maps and skipping songs seamlessly. This model is great for those gift recipients who want an Android smartwatch that has a more classic design. Samsung offers a host of band and color options, so getting that shade in silicone or leather is easy.

For a truly classic design, the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic can scratch that old-school itch.

Apple Watch 7 Series

Apple watches are a solid contender for the best design and functionality in any smartwatch, and building upon the great features of the Apple Watch 6, the bezel is 40 percent thinner for a 20 percent larger screen. A 50 percent thicker front glass protects the OLED display from breaking, so you’ll be able to read the crisp and bright interface while it works as a calculator, a blood oxygen monitor, and ECG reader. This is a new release from Apple this year.

For the techie who has everything

Sometimes it can be really hard to find that perfect gift for the tech member of the family. Maybe they came home and surprised you with the headphones you were thinking about purchasing and you’re back to square one for ideas, or they invested in a new PC and picked up all the equipment they already need. If that’s the case, there are still plenty of gift options for tech-minded folks.

Ember Smart Mug

For the person who likes their tea or coffee to stay warm, this is a great gift option. The smart bug maintains the chosen temperature for up to 80 minutes and it’s safe to hand wash. Coffee and tea enthusiasts can use the accompanying app to set the optimal temperature — an essential feature considering some teas require certain temperatures for steeping. Over 4,000 reviewers have awarded this with a 4.5-star average rating.

It also comes in a smart thermos option for the commuter.

Audible Subscription Gift Card

If your recipient has a Kindle, they can pair it with their Bluetooth headphones to listen to books. An audible gift subscription will provide them with one audiobook per month plus thousands of other titles that they can choose from including podcasts and Audible originals. You can purchase these in 3 month increments and it goes up to a full year.

Bose Portable Smart Speaker

For those who tend to host gatherings, this IPX4 water-resistant speaker has a 30-foot wireless range so they can enjoy 12 hours of playback in a large space. A wireless Bluetooth pairing coupled with a built-in microphone helps when phone calls come through. In a conference space, it can be used to take those calls to keep working while talking, so it’s a jack-of-all-trades speaker device. Because it’s a wireless speaker, it’s great to take on camping trips or to pool parties. It pairs with Google, Alexa, and Apple Airplay 2 and is controlled by buttons or the Bose Music app.

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https://www.nbcnews.com/select/shopping/best-tech-gifts-ncna1282967