It’s gift buying season: Get ahead of holiday shopping with the annual Holiday Gift Guide from Geared Up, the consumer electronics podcast and video show from GeekWire and Andru Edwards.
On this episode, Andru and Geared Up co-host Todd Bishop deliver their hand-picked gift recommendations for everyone from tech fanatics to those who are just getting ready to upgrade from their iPhone 5.
Watch video highlights above, listen to the full podcast in the player below or subscribe in your favorite podcast app, and keep reading for highlights and links to all our gift suggestions.
Gadgets all about convenience
If you’re looking for a gift that makes the receiver’s life more convenient, it’s hard to do better than smart home devices. From security to comfort, they run the gamut of usefulness and there’s huge variety.
“There’s more than one company that makes really good smart home stuff,” Andru said, explaining why he brought three different devices from various brands.
If someone is just starting to adopt smart-home technologies, though, it’s probably best to stick to the same brand, so do some research beforehand to see if the recipient has a preference.
Smart home devices also work with a variety of AI voice assistants, like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri. Andru pointed to the Ecobee4 smart thermostat as an example of a device that works well with multiple voice assistants.
Amazon Smart Plug ($25)
“I have spent hour and hours — possibly even, on a cumulative basis, days at this point — trying to get other smart plugs and smart home devices to work with Alexa,” Todd said. But this smart plug has totally changed the game.
“The reason I love this so much is because it is so easy to set up,” he said. The smart plug automatically connects to the user’s Amazon account and can use a pre-registered WiFi password to make it a breeze to start using.
The price is also a huge plus: A great stocking stuffer or add-on to another gift. The one downside is that it does require the Alexa ecosystem, so it’s less useful for those who are already in bed (metaphorically) with Google or Siri.
Read Todd’s full review of the Amazon Smart Plug for more details.
This one is already a favorite for Todd: A simple dongle that lets you transfer photos from an SD card onto a phone or tablet. He says it’s a great gift for someone who is an avid photographer or just likes uploading and sharing photos on the go.
Todd uses the Lighting-cord version with his iPhone X, but there are also USB C versions that work with a variety of other phones and tablets.
Full credit to GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg for opening our eyes to the advantages of this device.
This small but powerful portable charger can charge two different devices at once and even supports wireless charging, compatible with most recent flagship smartphones. It’s flexible and useful for almost anyone, Andru said.
Gifts for Apple lovers
iPhone XR ($749 and up)
For those in the Apple ecosystem, but not hardcore techies, this is the ideal phone to buy as a gift.
“It is the ultimate upgrade for someone who’s running an iPhone 8 or lower,” Andru said. “You’re getting, for all intents and purposes, the latest iPhone XS in a bit of a bigger screen with very few compromises.”
The vibrant colors are also a plus — although Andru was disappointed the coral version was more pink than orange.
Apple’s AirPods were the only device that both Todd and Andru put on their lists this year.
“Whenever I lose these, once a week, I don’t know what to do,” Todd said of the AirPods. “I can’t even believe that anybody uses earbuds with cords on them.”
The wireless earbuds are designed to be used with Apple devices, although they can also be paired with other phones and laptops. But Todd said they are an ideal gift for iPhone users.
“If somebody’s not thinking about getting these or isn’t in the know, you can get these for them and I think you’ll just blow their socks off,” Todd said.
Apple Watch Series 4 ($399 and up)
“The Apple Watch series 4 is probably the gift for an Apple fan,” Andru said. For someone who doesn’t need a new phone or laptop, the Apple Watch is a great choice.
It’s also Apple’s best bid to revolutionize a consumer’s life and use habits, Andru said. “The Apple Watch is probably Apple’s most important product right now.”
Luxury tech gifts
A laptop is one of the most high-end tech gifts you can go for, and this year Andru brought two new machines that are lightweight and practical for daily use.
“I’m a big fan of using the hardware from the maker of the software,” Andru said. “Both of these are good choices, whether you’re someone who just needs a light laptop on the go or if you’re a student… you don’t need something like a MacBook Pro.”
iPad Pro ($799 and up)
This device is great for entertainment and light everyday use, but it also has the tech horsepower to act like a work laptop if needed.
“It is more powerful than 92 percent of laptops that ship today,” Andru said. Peripherals like the new Apple Pencil and Keyboard case do add to the price, but they also make the new iPad Pros more functional.
This item made it onto Todd’s list, even though he’d never actually used it. “I have noticed that you come in every week with this amazing backpack,” Todd told Andru.
The bag isn’t exactly a cheap gift: It runs nearly $260 (the equivalent of ten Amazon Smart Plugs!) but its adjustable modular pockets inside make it incredibly practical, especially for those who carry gear with them for work.
“There’s something to be said for having a bag where your stuff isn’t just crashing into each other, especially if you have expensive things like a DSLR,” Andru said.
After the recording, Todd actually bought one for himself.
Oculus Go ($199)
The stand-alone Oculus Go VR headset has been a favorite of Todd’s since it launched.
“This is the beginning of the mass market for virtual reality,” Todd said. He admitted the games and other applications for the Go are limited, but said it’s a fun and easy entrance into the world of VR for those who are trying it for the first time.
And for those who have everything, Andru has one last recommendation:
The “Not a Flamethrower” from Elon Musk’s Boring Company. The giant, propane-powered blowtorch makes a less-than-10-foot flame and is designed purely for fun. They were manufactured in a limited run of only 20,000 devices.
“They’re all sold out,” Andru said, “but for the person who has everything, you gotta go to eBay or something and pick up a Not a Flamethrower.”
The devices are selling for up to $1,500 on resale sites. If you do pick one up for the holidays, please use it responsibly.