Once the Thanksgiving tables have been cleared, a lot of folks are thinking about what to buy their friends and loved ones for the holidays. Rumor has it that there is a portly bearded man in the North Pole with an enormous database of what people want and what’s hot this year, but as far as I can tell, it’s well encrypted — otherwise it would probably already be on Wikileaks.
So, let me take a stab at what I think people might want this year.
I’m going to focus on mostly low-cost “stocking stuffers,” which can also be used for any of those eight nights of Hanukkah when you want to gift without shelling out too much gelt.
While it’s not very glamorous, every smartphone user needs a battery backup device they can use to recharge their phone when they’re away from an outlet. These range from really inexpensive (I saw some on Amazon for about $3) to over $100. Aside from price, the factors to consider include capacity (measured in milliamp hours (mAh), weight and connectors. Amperage can also be a factor. Higher amperage can equate to faster charging and the ability to charge larger devices like tablets.
There are tons of these little devices available — you can even pick one up at many chain drugstores. If you’re looking for something small and light, consider the Anker PowerCore+ mini 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger, which should be able to about double the battery life of most phones.
If weight doesn’t matter, you can go whole hog with something like the MyCharge Razor Platinum ($99) which has a whopping 13,400mAh built into an anodized aluminum case that’s rated for charging up to 8x. The company also makes a HubMax version that lets you forget about having to carry any extra cables. It has a built-in wall plug plus an Apple Lightning and micro-USB cables (for most Android phones) as well as a standard USB plug.
Everyone should have a smartphone case to reduce the chance of breakage should the phone take a fall. Before shopping make sure you know their exact model and, if you want to present someone with a unique case, consider going to Skinit.com or MyCustomCase.com to create a custom one with a photograph or illustration of your choice. It’s a great gift for someone who wants the world to see a picture of their new baby or perhaps romantic partner, every time they pick up their phone. Prices start at under $40. Both companies say to allow between 2 and 5 days for shipping but I’d give it more time during the holiday rush.
If you know someone who breaks the law by holding their phone while driving, consider getting them a hands-free car kit. Most, like the Motorola Roadster Pro ($79), connect to your phone via Bluetooth. Some have car mounts but I prefer using Velcro to mount my phone to my car’s dashboard (you can put it almost anywhere and it’s really really cheap).
Another option is just a simple Bluetooth speaker. I recently bought a Sony SRSX11 Ultra-Portable Bluetooth Speaker ($48) to listen to music in hotel rooms, but discovered that it can also be used as a speakerphone. It comes with a USB recharging cable that can easily be plugged into a car cigarette lighter USB adapter.
That little Sony speaker sounds quite good for something that weighs less than 8 ounces and is only 2.5 inches square, but if you want room-filling sound, consider the JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker ($128). I have one connected to an Echo Dot ($50) voice activated assistant and music player and it sounds quite good. It has a 20-hour rechargeable battery and you can use it poolside without having to worry about water damage.
Another way to get great sound on the go is with a Bluetooth headset. One nice thing about Bluetooth is that you don’t have to worry if your phone maker drops the headphone jack, like Apple did with its iPhone 7. They work with virtually all smartphones.
Plantronics makes the $179 Backbeat Sense that I like because it is lightweight and has pretty good battery life. The company rates the battery for up to 18 hours but I usually plug it into a USB connector when I get home from a walk so I’ve never fully discharged it. Like many (but not all) Bluetooth headphones, it also comes with a 3.5 mm standard cable which is handy if you want to plug into an airplane’s audio/video system or just don’t want to bother with Bluetooth.
As with most products, there are lots of other options, including some that might be a lot less expensive. If you search for Bluetooth headsets on Amazon, you’ll find a dazzling array of products starting at under $30. One trick for Amazon shoppers is to use the price search tool in the left column of a product search page that lets you specify the range of prices you’re willing to pay.
If you’re looking for more ideas, two of my favorite places for low-cost practical tech gifts are Belkin.com and Logitech.com. Both companies make high-quality accessories for just about every type of tech product ranging from keyboards to cases to mice and web cameras.
Whenever purchasing a gift, make sure you know the return policy and, if you’re buying it online and want it delivered directly to the recipient, make sure to see if you can get a “gift receipt” that allows them to return or exchange the item if it’s not exactly what they want,.