Practical tech guide
When you’re a kid, practical gifts are the worst. Sure, you needed those pens for school, but you asked Santa for Nintendo or a Ninja Turtle, not office supplies. They might as well be vegetables. But, things are different when you’re an adult. Practical gifts become pretty great. You get useful gadgets that improve your life without having to shell out your own hard-earned cash. This carefully curated collection of products will turn you into Santa’s much more sensible brother, Tom, who brings useful, handy presents to the people in your life who can appreciate the value of a good pair of tube socks.
Computers are getting slimmer, but that means they’re also getting stingier with their USB ports. This 10-port dock has seven high-speed USB-3 data and charging ports, as well as three high-power 2.1 Amp charging-specific ports for faster top-offs. Not bad for a device the size of a candy bar. Note: Actual candy bars also make good gifts, but they’re not very practical. $39.
Once you’re addicted to bossing around a digital assistant, you want it in every room of your house. Now, Google offers a mini version of its Home device that costs just $50, putting it in prime gift-giving territory. It has a built-in speaker, so it can play music, answer questions, make whale sounds, and control your smart home without taking up a lot of space on a night stand or dresser. $50.
There are lots of smart light bulbs on the market, but the Lifx bulb simplifies the process of upgrading. They don’t require a hub like most of the other Wi-Fi bulbs, they throw out the equivalent light of a 75-watt bulb, and best of all, they work natively with all of the different smart assistants, like Google Assistant, Alexa, and Apple HomeKit. $52.
Honest question: How much gunk is stuck to your computer or smartphone screen right now? It’s a lot, isn’t it? That’s OK. We’re not here to judge. We can help, though. These extra large microfiber cloths are about the size of a hand towel and can clean the crud off just about anything with a screen or lens. It may seem like a lame gift until your recipient sees their screen in brilliant, soy-sauce-speckle-free clarity. $10.
There’s a specific, visceral terror with dropping your phone and picking it up only to find a fresh crack across your device’s beautiful face. These tempered glass protectors can absorb those impacts and save the giftee from obscured texts and bloody thumbs until the end of their contract. They’re self-adhesive, so applying them is simple, and you get them in packs of two so once one gets the spiderwebs treatment, you can scrape it off and slap on a new one. $10.
Have you ever given the gift of not bleeding to death? You can with this compact, 1.5-pound first aid kit made for you and your pooch. It includes all the stuff you want in an emergency kit, including bandages, meds, and tape. But, this kit also includes dog-specific stuff like a tool for removing ticks. $50.
One day, we’ll all have giant battery banks built into our bodies that can wirelessly charge our gadgets using power harvested from our own movements. Until then, we’re reliant on portable battery backup. This 10,000-mAh pack—that’s about three to four times the juice in your smartphone battery—has a standard USB port, but it also has a wireless charging coil inside so you can set a compatible phone on top and let it power up without the need for a cable. That’s especially handy for people who can never find anything in their bag. $99.
The number of devices we need to charge each night is growing all the time, which makes boring old outlets woefully unprepared with their measly pair of AC sockets. This stylish gray box adds four high-speed USB charging ports as well as a pair of AC outlets so it can charge an entire arsenal of gadgets at once. Plus, it looks a whole lot swankier than most power strips. $39.
It would be great if we could give our friends gifts that explicitly say, “please get your life in order,” but it’s better to do it subtly. This 249-page notebook has dotted pages, perfect for taking notes, making schedules, sketching or whatever else a person needs to organize their thoughts. It comes in a litany of different colors and lays flat so it’s easy to write in any situation. $20.
Batteries have always been the perfect stocking stuffer and these rechargeable AAs can power everything from a camera flash to an Xbox controller. The included charger pumps the cells full of juice in roughly five hours, and its compatible with AAA batteries, too, if you need something slightly smaller. $16.
It’s not technically a gadget, but this foam tube can start the long process of undoing all the device-specific damage that your body has endured over the years. Throw this tube on the floor—it comes in lengths from 12 to 36 inches—and roll around on it, letting your tense muscles melt over it. The process hurts, but it’s a good hurt. So, the person receiving this gift will alternate between cursing your name during the stretches, and thanking you when they walk around without the laptop-induced hunching. *$9 and up.
Not since the fart sounds keychain from Spencer’s Gifts has a keychain been this good for giving. Tile has a built-in Bluetooth connection and an alarm inside, so you can trigger it from up to 200 feet away with the app. It’s waterproof and rugged so it won’t break like your poor fart machine keychain, which worked for three days and then you sat on it. $59.
Buying an umbrella when you’re already soaking wet from a rain storm is the worst, which is why they make such great practical gifts. This hydrophobic canopy folds down to less than a foot, so it can sit in a bag or a car or desk drawer with no problem. When it’s open, however, it provides a sweet 43-inch cover to keep your giftee and that fancy new coat they got from Santa safe from the elements. A sturdy internal structure, wind vents, and a lifetime warranty make it a gift that lasts forever. $37.
That drawer full of old USB cables you and everyone else who buys a lot of gadgets has acquired is all but obsolete now that USB-C has rolled into town with its oval connector and smugly fast transfer speeds. But, buying a USB cable is about as exciting as putting your money in a wood chipper, which is what makes this 15-inch cord such a great gift. It’s waterproof, dirt proof, and snow proof, so it will last forever, and it converts into a handy lanyard when it’s not in use. 3 Amp charging also promises to fill your giftees' gadgets with juice fast, so they won’t be late next time you’re supposed to hang out because they’re waiting for their phone to charge. $39.
Most computer desks are a lot like the world of Stranger Things. On top, everything is nice and tidy, but look underneath and you’ll find a shadowy nightmare world of tangled wires and random, unplugged USB connectors. These half-inch-wide Velcro straps can get that spaghetti mess cleaned up and organized without resorting to a bunch of hard-to-cut zip ties that you’ll regret down the road. $10.
External hard drives are the quintessential boring useful gift. Everyone needs them to store all their photos, music, and what have you, but buying them is about as fun as paying your monthly insurance premiums. Western Digital has gussied up the outside of its MyPassport Ultra drives with a slick design, and filled them with 7200 RPM hard drives up to 4 TB. They don’t require an external power supply, so they go anywhere. Your giftee may not specifically thank you for saving all their cherished memories when their computer crashes three years from now, but they will think it. $67 and up.
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