March 2, 2024

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist;Photos: Retailers

If you’re the type of person who panics when it’s time to install a new operating system on your laptop, you might struggle to find a good gift for the tech-obsessed person in your life. Even I — a person who has written about this stuff for nearly seven years and regularly tests gadgets — find it hard to keep up with what’s new and great and really worth the splurge.

So to help you (and me) make sense of it all, I called up the team at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). They’ve pulled together an annual report on consumer technology holiday-purchasing patterns for over 25 years, and they expect demand for tech gifts to rise again this year, though only by 3.7 percent. That relatively small increase is because the market is fairly mature. Demand in categories like smartphones, laptops, and tablets, which have all been around for at least a decade, has mostly leveled out, according to Kyle Wandel, CTA’s manager of business intelligence. (In fact, 2023 was the first year in which smartphones overtook televisions for number of devices per household in the United States.)

That means a lot of the focus this year is on gifts that will complement their existing tech, like keyboards, headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and even subscription services and video games. (But if you’re feeling extra-nice, there’s plenty of splurges here, too.)

One of the biggest tech-gadget stories from the last six months was the launch of the iPhone 15 in September. Unlike every other iPhone since 2012, the new iPhone 15 has a USB-C port (standard on most modern laptops, and all Android phones), instead of Apple’s Lightning port, so a good gift for the new iPhone 15 owner would be the accessories to replace those cords. And as with recent years, many of the best must-have iPhone accessories take advantage of Apple’s MagSafe feature.

iPhone 15

Of course, you could be incredibly kind and get them the new iPhone 15. It’s not a massive upgrade over last year’s model, but if your recipient is sporting an older iPhone (or wants to make the switch from Android), the 15 has a better camera system and replaces the proprietary Lightning port with the standard USB-C port.

Casetify Impact Case for iPhone 15

If they’ve already gotten the new phone, a new case is a no-brainer. I’m picky about my cases, and this one from Casetify has been the only one that’s managed to stay on my phone longer than a month. It’s available for several iPhone models (and they also have cases for most flagship Samsung and Google phones), and countless designs to choose from so you can pick the case that’ll suit your loved one’s style.

Peak Design Everyday Case for iPhone 15

Most cases just give your phone some added protection and maybe a nicer aesthetic. This case goes a step further with a modular design that allows for attachments like a bike mount, car mount, or mini-tripod. If they rely on their phone for more than just emails and social media, they’ll probably find an attachment or two they’ll love.

Anker USB C Charger Cable, 6ft, 2 pack

Now that the latest iPhone 15 has switched to USB-C, those charging cables are going to be in high demand for a while. Even if they don’t have the latest iPhone, most Android phones and modern laptops support USB-C, so they’ll probably welcome a replacement for their frayed charging cord.

Moft Snap Phone Tripod Stand MOVAS
Strategist Tested

This stand works great for recording hands-free video, or making FaceTime calls, but it’s also an excellent tool for watching TikToks while sitting at a desk. It won’t help them cut down on screen time, but it’ll give their hands a nice break.

Mujjo Full Leather Magnetic Wallet
Strategist Tested

If they lose their wallet more than they lose their phone, this will save them some trouble.

While smartphones have matured as a category, this year has been an interesting one for Androids — especially given the advancement of folding phones. But these are nothing like the Razr you used back in 2005. Samsung has continued to hone its formula for a good foldable phone with the Flip5 and the Fold5, and Google released its first foldable phone with the Pixel Fold. They all provide a fun spin on a gadget with a relatively stagnant design, and though it’s a big commitment to get them a phone, it will wow even the most passionate techie in your life.

Google Pixel Fold
Strategist Tested

This is Google’s first foldable phone, and it’s also my favorite for switching from phone to tablet mode. (You’re basically giving the gift of fitting a nearly iPad-mini-size screen that’ll fit in his pocket.)

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5
Strategist Tested

This is the foldable phone everybody asks me about. Unlike the Pixel Fold, this phone has a clamshell design that folds just like a classic flip phone from the early 2000s. It has a small screen on the outside for peeping notifications, the time, and a few other customizable widgets, and a smartphone-size internal screen for getting things done.

Headphones are something I’m asked about a lot, anecdotally, and that’s backed up by the CTA’s data. Headphones and earbuds are the most gifted items, according to Rick Kowalski, senior director of business intelligence at the CTA. More and more companies (namely Google and Samsung) are following Apple’s model of leveraging their platforms to make earbuds that work better with their products than third-party earbuds do.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Strategist Tested

While the AirPods Pro haven’t changed much in terms of specs, the newest AirPods Pro also have a USB-C port for charging, bringing it in line with nearly all of Apple’s other products. And they still feature the same great sound and noise-cancellation as their predecessors.

Sony WF-1000XM5

If they’re optimizing for sound quality over platform, Sony’s latest wireless earbuds are a nice option. They came out in July, and have superb noise cancellation and sound quality. Chris Welch, a reviewer at the Verge, says they’re notably more comfortable than their predecessors.

Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro

These are basically Samsung’s version of AirPods; they just got a refresh earlier this year, and they sound excellent. They pair easily with a Samsung device but work with any other Bluetooth-enabled phone as well. I think they’re best for the person who likes their tracks with extra bass.

Jabra Elite 10 Wireless Earbuds
Strategist Tested

These are the latest release from Jabra and my go-to earbuds for workouts and bike rides. They’ve never fallen out, and even on noisy days, I can focus on my audiobooks or podcasts without a car horn interrupting me.

Kowalski says that in addition to smartphones, health-related devices like connected exercise equipment are just going to become more popular. Based on the CTA’s 2024 forecast, fitness subscriptions are expected to see a 20 percent increase in revenue. In other words, people are looking for more ways to keep track of and tend to their health via technology, according to Kowalski.

Samsung, Google, and Apple all released updated versions of their smartwatches, with Apple and Samsung both offering multiple different models. Apple Watches only work with iPhones, and wearOS watches only work with Android devices, so make sure you know what phone they have before hitting that buy button.

Apple Watch Series 9

I’ve been on the Apple Watch train since its debut, and it’s made my life notably better through health tracking and notification management. This year’s model features a brighter screen, a slightly beefed up processor, and a refreshed set of bands.

Samsung Galaxy Watch6 Classic
Strategist Tested

If they’ve got an Android phone but have some Apple Watch envy, Samsung’s newest smartwatch nearly matches the iOS experience. It has an excellent screen, all-day battery life, and a fancy dial that’s easier to use for scrolling. It’s more fun to play with, too.

Google Pixel Watch 2

Google hasn’t been making smartwatches as long as Samsung or Apple, but the Pixel watch has been my favorite thus far thanks to its sleek design. Victoria Song, a reporter at the Verge, says this year’s model provides better battery life and health tracking.

Whoop Membership

Nearly everyone I know without a smartwatch has a Whoop. Unlike most fitness trackers and watches, the Whoop doesn’t have a screen, so they can focus on their workout instead of their pings.

Oura Ring

If they’d prefer a more discrete tracker, the Oura Ring (which has been worn by Kim Kardashian and used by NBA players) can do everything from period tracking to sleep and heart monitoring.

There was some chatter about augmented and virtual reality in gaming, but nothing made a big splash in 2023. (Wandel noted that the big news is the Apple Vision Pro, but that isn’t getting released until sometime next year.) Instead, portable gaming has seen a boom this year. There’s the Switch, a now-classic holiday gift, as well as the Steam Deck — but this year, both Lenovo and Asus launched portable PC gaming consoles. These sorts of video-game consoles and games are tied for fifth- and sixth-most popular categories in consumer tech, according to Kowalski, and that mobile gaming is especially popular, making up about 50 percent of the market.

Backbone One (with USB-C)
Strategist Tested

My favorite controller for mobile gaming has now been updated to support the iPhone 15’s USB-C connector (it also works with Android devices). It’s like turning a smartphone into a Switch.

ASUS ROG Ally
Strategist Tested

Because they shouldn’t have to leave their favorite games behind just because they’re a PC gamer. ASUS’s portable gaming device is light, feels great in the hand, and supports Windows games as well as Xbox games (through Microsoft’s subscription service). Lenovo also released a new portable console this year, so there’s plenty of options to choose from.

Nintendo Joy-Con Controllers
Strategist Tested

If they’ve had a Switch long enough, they’ve probably suffered from Joy-Con drift, and could probably use a new set of controls. They come in a few different color variations, too, if they’d like to make their Switch feel fresh.

This year, just as PS5 stock started to replenish, it felt like a new, high-quality game came out every few weeks. Even the most devout gamers would have a hard time keeping up with it all, so there’s probably a game or two they would’ve liked to pick up but didn’t have the time for.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

The first Spider-Man game still holds up as one of my favorite games of all time, and its sequel just came out earlier this year. According to Grayson Morley, a contributor at Polygon, the game “plays like a dream, with smart additions to combat that enhance the power fantasy of being Spider-Man.”

Baldur's Gate 3

This game was all the rage earlier this year, but if they missed the buzz, this Dungeons & Dragons–inspired RPG is packed with enough quests to give them hours of fun. It’s Twitch streamer shroud’s favorite game of this year.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Nintendo rarely misses with its Mario games, and this year’s installment is no different. Whether they remember the days of 2-D Mario or the Super Mario Bros. movie was their first trip to the Mushroom Kingdom, this game is sure to delight them. Michael McWhertor, a correspondent at Polygon, says the game “feels energetic and inspired, and considerate of Mario fans both new and old.”

‘The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’

Given the high praise of 2017’s Breath of the Wild, this year’s Legend of Zelda game managed to live up to the hype by expanding its predecessor’s world-building and adding new capabilities like building steampunk-style mechs. Plus, what gamer wouldn’t enjoy another trip back to Hyrule?

Mortal Kombat 1

The second major reboot of the Mortal Kombat franchise, which came out earlier this fall, is a fresh take on the 30-year-old fighter games. Twitch streamer Kason Patterson loves it because its story mode lets you play as nearly every character.

It seems like a lame gift when you say it, but it’s also the category that the CTA thinks will grow the most this holiday season. “Services are such a huge part of the industry now, they have a huge role in how people use their devices and what they do with them,” Kowalski says. Wandel agrees, calling subscriptions “the new gift cards.”

Netflix Gift Card

If they just got kicked off their parent’s subscription, this’ll give them another month to binge their favorite show.

Sony PlayStation Plus Membership

In addition to enabling online play, this subscription will also give them discounts on games and the occasional freebie.

Max Subscription

Photo: Max

Now they can finally see what all the fuss was about with Succession.

Nintendo Switch Online 12-Month Subscription

Nintendo’s online service provides online play, plus the ability to download old school games from consoles like NES, SNES, and original Game Boy.

Microsoft Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

“I always tell people you’re a casual gamer and you just want to check these games out without all the commitment, get Game Pass,” Patterson says, as the service gives members access to a ton of Xbox games, including new releases.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

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