technology

The Best Tech Gifts to Buy This Year (Before They Sell Out)

Photo-Illustration: Strategist, Photos: Retailers

If you’re not a tech person, it can be hard to keep up with the hottest new gadgets. (It’s hard even when you are a tech person, but I do my best.) Luckily, people like Lesley Rohrbaugh, the research director at the Consumer Technology Association, are willing to help. For the past 27 years, the CTA has produced an annual report on consumer-technology holiday-purchasing patterns. I spoke with her for the second year in a row, and she says this year’s report provided insight into a whole new batch of must-have recommendations. There are some repeats from last year, like the new iPhone and various laptops along with newcomers like streaming services and smart-home devices. And while popular options like Spotify gift cards are never going to sell out, plenty of other items she mentioned will — especially when you consider the current supply-chain issues that are driving people to shop even earlier this year. (According to Rohrbaugh, 68 percent of shoppers are getting a bigger jump than ever on their holiday shopping.) To take advantage of this early push, retailers will likely offer sales earlier as well, which will get more people shopping early, which will make finding the perfect tech gift even more competitive. That’s why we assembled the following list of gifts that fall in the categories Rohrbaugh says will be hot this year. It’s probably best not to dillydally.

Smartphones

Rohrbaugh says screens of all types will once again be among the most desired holiday gifts. Apple, Google, Samsung, and others all released new phones this year that operate on the faster 5G spectrum, which wireless carriers are motivated to shift customers to. Rohrbaugh says the CTA also noticed an increased interest in foldable phones, which have improved in quality and are (slowly) becoming more affordable. If buying someone a new phone isn’t within your budget, you can also get them accessories like headphones, phone cases, and chargers.

The newest iteration of the iPhone doesn’t include any flashy changes, but everything under the hood has been improved. There’s a better dual-camera system and a faster chip, and Apple says the new iPhone 13’s battery should last two and a half hours longer than before. It also has 5G capabilities, wireless charging, and Apple’s MagSafe technology that uses built-in magnets on the phone to attach accessories. The cameras have larger sensors for better photos during the day and at night as well as better image stabilization while recording video.

Stepping up to the iPhone 13 Pro gives you an even better battery life, a third lens, and higher picture quality. Like the 13, the 13 Pro offers “Cinematic Mode,” allowing the camera to focus on objects in the background and foreground and add a seamless bokehlike effect. The 13 Pro has an improved screen with an all-new and more adaptive and responsive refresh rate. Instead of a constant 60Hz, the new phone can vary the screen’s refresh rates from as little as 10Hz all the way up to 120Hz.

The Verge deputy editor Dan Seifert writes, “The story of folding phones thus far has been one of compromise.” But the Z Flip3 is the first folding phone to challenge all that. “Its screen runs at a smooth 120Hz, just like Samsung’s other flagships. It has a new, allegedly more durable construction, plus IP water resistance, just like you’d expect on a modern phone,” he says. “And most important, its starting price is $1,000, $450 less than the launch price of the Z Flip 5G it replaces. That puts the Flip3 on the same price level as many high-end, non-folding phones.”

Laptops

Rohrbaugh says that laptops, once again, are on top of people’s wish lists, with an array of options from Apple and Google and some excellent gaming laptops.

Four of the experts we talked to in our laptop guide recommended the MacBook Air 13-inch as one of the top laptops. A word of warning: Apple is expected to announce new laptops in the upcoming months, so if you want the best available, you might want to wait. Those new laptops should also mean great deals on last year’s MacBook Air and Pro stock as retailers make space for the latest models. Of last year’s computers, Monica Chin, our colleague at The Verge, says, “The new processor is the star of the show here; it’s fast. In our testing, it handled intense photo- and video-editing workloads better than almost any Intel-powered laptop we’ve tried this year.” The 256GB of storage in the base model is plenty, too. Miguel Meléndez, a PC expert at B&H Photo Video, also recommends the latest MacBook Air. He says the 8GB of RAM in the Air is great “for people who like to have a lot of tabs open at the same time” or those who need to edit photos or videos.

The Macbook Pro is a step up from the Air thanks to its cooling fans. The built-in fans mean it can handle heavy workloads for a longer period of time without the need to lower its performance. They’re able to handle a lot of open windows and internet tabs and run multiple programs at once — perfect for anyone who wants to do any sort of audio, video, and photo editing.

The XPS 13 is well built with a powerful processor and a vibrant 13-inch screen with almost no bezel — which means you’ll have that extra bit of room on your 4K screen to move around windows, browse the web, and play games. In its testing, The Verge recorded seven hours of battery life and three hours of light gaming. The keyboard and touchpad feel smooth and responsive, and it weighs only 2.8 pounds.

This two-in-one Lenovo Chromebook serves as both a laptop and a tablet thanks to its detachable keyboard and kickstand. It has a ten-inch screen and a battery life of more than 11 hours, and it weighs barely two pounds. The processor is not designed for heavy lifting, so this laptop is better for people who primarily use their computers for email, word processing, or streaming shows.

Video-Game Consoles

The CTA says that consoles will still be among the most popular tech gifts this season. There’s only one problem: You’re going to have to get really lucky to find one in stock — especially if you’re looking for a PlayStation 5 or the latest Xbox Series X. After launching earlier this year, both consoles are experiencing constantly fluctuating stock. Finding one is no longer impossible, but it’s still plenty hard, so if you do see one somewhere, grab it.

The Switch is one of Nintendo’s most popular consoles, and its popularity has continued to grow. After a shortage last year that left us all scrambling, it’s a little easier to find a Nintendo Switch now. That’s partly because demand has gone down a bit, but also Nintendo announced an upgraded OLED-screen version of the Switch that is expected to launch on October 8 and will cost $350. Along with the new screen, that model will have a more adjustable stand, a built-in wire LAN port for online gaming, and enhanced audio. But don’t sleep on the OG Switch. It’s still considered one of the best gaming consoles around, with games like Animal Crossing, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokémon. You can easily switch from handheld to a docked mode, which allows you to play games on your television. It also has features that allow you to play classic NES games online.

If you don’t mind the inability to dock your switch and connect it to your TV, the Switch Lite is a fine (and readily available) alternative.

Our colleagues at The Verge describe the new PS5s as having “faster speeds and a more immersive controller, which all add up to a markedly better experience compared to the PS4 by every conceivable metric.” They also loved the responsive new DualSense controller and the user interface, which is more inviting compared to the last generation’s clunky menus. Load times for the new PS5s are slashed nearly in half, leaving you with more time to spend gaming and less time waiting.

Note: The PlayStation 5 and Digital Edition are both currently out of stock, but it’s always worth checking. We’ll be monitoring the situation and updating this story frequently in response