The 10 best tech gifts to give in 2021

22nd November, 2021.      //   General Interest, Market Intelligence, Technology  // 

Clockwise from upper left: AeroGarden Harvest Elite Slim, Fitbit Charge 5, GridStudios, Ember Mug, Wyze Headphones, DJI Mini 2.

It’s a common misconception to think that “tech gifts” are good only for “tech people.” You don’t have to love gadgets to appreciate, say, a digital photo frame or self-heating mug. Such items would make wonderful gifts for people who, you know, like family photos and warm beverages.

So don’t eliminate tech from your shopping list just because you’re shopping for non-techie types. Below I’ve rounded up 10 of my favorite tech gifts, many of them suitable for just about anyone. I’ve tried most of these myself; the others are included based on reputation and popularity (and/or how much I wish someone would gift them to me).

For each item I’ve linked to the store offering the lowest price (as of this writing). However, with ever-evolving Black Friday sales happening at Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and the like, it makes sense to shop around.

For anyone who aches through the winter months because they can’t enjoy fresh-picked basil, parsley and more, an indoor garden can’t be beat. This particular model — which employs energy-conserving LED lights to cultivate mini-crops — has room for six seed pods and comes with everything needed to grow an entire salad.

I own something similar and I’m watching a fresh batch of basil sprout as we speak. This from a guy with a decidedly brown thumb, but these indoor gardens are pretty dummy-proof: You literally just add water and plant food every so often. When the greens are all grown, you can choose from a large variety of replacement seed pods.

The Harvest Elite Slim normally sells for $180, but right now it’s on sale at Best Buy for $100. Definitely a great choice for your favorite chef, gardener or salad-lover.

Plucked from my list of the best AirPods Pro alternatives, the Soundcore Life P3 ranks among my favorites in that category. For just $80 you get great-sounding earbuds in your choice of some fun colors (as opposed to the usual black or white).

Like AirPods Pro, the P3 provides active noise-canceling (ANC) to reduce outside sound, like the drone of an airplane engine. The charging case can be recharged via a Qi wireless pad or USB-C; the earbuds are good for about 7 hours on a charge, according to Anker.

Meanwhile, Soundcore’s excellent companion app lets you modify touch-control settings, toggle between multiple noise-canceling modes and choose between various equalizer presets (or customize your own). It also has about a dozen white-noise sounds you can play to help fall asleep.

So, yeah, there’s a lot to recommend here — not the least of which is the $80 price tag, literally one-third what you’d pay for AirPods Pro.

Speaking of best-lists, the Aura Mason Luxe was my pick for the “best digital photo frame to give as a gift” (from the list of best digital photo frames). That’s not only because it’s a stylish addition to any bookshelf or coffee table, but also because you can actually set it up for the recipient ahead of time.

Yep, you can stock it with photos (and videos!) and even configure it for the recipient’s Wi-Fi network so it’s ready to go right out of the box. The Mason Luxe is also noteworthy for its razor-sharp 2K display, which produces a lot more pixels than most frames.

I consider this perhaps the single best gift you can give a parent or grandparent, as it puts precious memories on display for round-the-clock viewing. What could be better?

Look, I’m not just putting this on the list because I’m secretly hoping my wife, boss or a total stranger will decide to buy me one. I mean, that’s a totally legitimate hope, because the DJI Mini 2 is pretty much the best consumer drone to date. I think anybody would like one, is my point.

That’s because it’s not only a fun thing to fly, but also the coolest sky camera ever. It can record 4K video and perform some amazing tricks while doing it: circle around a subject, rocket up and away and so on. Family-vacation snapshots and movies will be, dare I say, elevated to a whole new level.

The Mini 2 comes with everything you need to get started, but if you’re really pulling out all the stops, gift-wise, consider choosing the DJI Mini 2 Fly More Combo ($600), which includes extras like a carrying case and two additional batteries.

The Ember Mug is one of my favorite tech products. Ever. Is it on the pricey side? Yes. Would I sooner cut off my arm than live without it? Also yes.

See, I don’t gulp down my morning cup of coffee; I drink it leisurely over the span of half an hour or so. No ordinary mug will keep the coffee hot for that long. Indeed, you’re lucky to get a 5-minute window where it’s “just right.” Same goes for my afternoon tea.

The Ember, however, heats your beverage to whatever temperature you like and keeps it there from first sip to last. This may sound like a minor thing, but once you try it, you can’t go back. And how can you not love a coaster that doubles as a wireless charger!

The mugs start at $100 for the 10-ounce version; I’m a 14-ounce man myself ($130). It’s available in several different colors and finishes.

Some might argue it’s risky to give someone a fitness band as a gift. I disagree. Everyone wants to be healthy, and something like the Fitbit Charge 5 can provide plenty of incentive to get those steps in, monitor those stress levels, check sleep habits and so on.

The Charge 5 debuted just a couple months ago to overwhelmingly positive reviews (including this one from Engadget). It features a snazzy new design and lots of useful tools, including GPS, heart-rate monitoring, a color touchscreen and a battery that can last for up to seven days (depending on how you use the watch).

This is just the time to buy, too: Walmart has the Fitbit Charge 5 for $130 right now, a $50 savings and the lowest price since the band debuted. It’s available in black, blue or white.

Grid Studios takes classic electronics — phones, Game Boys and the like — and “explodes” them, splaying out every component like a kind of 3D blueprint. The framed result is something to behold.

Indeed, while this is definitely a “techie gift” aimed at techie types, it’s super-cool and totally unique — the kind of thing that really “sparks joy” (to borrow from Marie Kondo). I have one hanging next to my desk and I get a kick out of it every day.

Prices start at $139, and take note that these are made in small batches. You’ll see several items that are already sold out. So if you know someone who would appreciate an inside look (literally) at, say, the iPhone 5, grab one before they’re gone.

Here’s a hot take: Forget the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5 and Xbox; the Oculus Quest 2 is the best modern gaming console, period. Sure, you have to wear it on your face, but that’s how you get to experience standing toe-to-toe (and light-saber-to-light-saber) with Darth Vader.

Seriously, if you haven’t experienced this VR headset, prepare to be blown away. The games are remarkable: I wasn’t kidding about Vader, but you can also climb virtual mountains, strum virtual guitars and even play virtual ping-pong against other Oculus users.

In some experiences the Quest 2 also lets you put down the two wireless controllers and rely on hand-tracking instead, with your actual hands recreated in those virtual environments. It’s extraordinary.

Yes, this is a Facebook (soon to be Meta) product. That’s the only downside to what is otherwise a genuinely special item and an amazing gift for kids and adults alike.

Everyone misplaces things from time to time. Keys, phone, wallet, TV remote. If only those items could have some kind of electronic tether, a way to shout out, “Hey, I’m over here!”

That’s Tile trackers in a nutshell. The little battery-powered gizmos pair with your phone to enable short-range location and, in the event something gets truly lost out in the world, community-powered location help.

My favorite real-world example: My wife is constantly misplacing her phone in the house. But she always knows where to find her keys. So all she has to do is go the keys and double-press the single button on the Tile on her keychain. Instantly her phone starts singing, at high volume, even if it’s set to mute.

Starting at around $25, Tiles come in a variety of shapes and sizes; any of them would make a great gift for anyone. There are some multi-packs on sale for the holidays, but you should also check out the new-for-2021 Tiles that promise better range, louder sound and more.

Some folks prefer earbuds (like the Soundcore Life P3, above), and some like larger, more traditional over-the-ear “cans.” For anyone in the latter camp, the Wyze Headphones are an amazingly good choice despite being amazingly affordable.

Indeed, although priced at just $70, Wyze’s product competes favorably with Bose and Sony headphones costing 3-4 times as much. They’re comfortable, they sound great and they offer ANC that works really, really well. (In one informal test, I found that the Wyze Headphones reduced fan noise better than Sony’s much-ballyhooed, much costlier WH-1000XM4.)

I particularly like Quick Conversation mode: Cover the right earcup with your palm to instantly pause playback, disable ANC and activate the microphone — thus allowing you to converse without actually removing the headphones. And speaking of speaking, onboard Alexa support lets you utter hands-free voice commands.

Icing on the cake: Audiophiles can take advantage of the Wyze companion app to tweak equalizer settings.

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