The best tech for people who appreciate practical gifts | Popular Science
Want More?

The best tech for people who appreciate practical gifts

Genuinely useful tech for the pragmatic people in your life.

Practical tech guide

best tech gift ideas

All I want for Christmas is you and a sensible solution to a problem that's been bringing down my quality of life in a subtle yet undeniable way.

Ben White via Unsplash

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.

Anker 10 Port USB Data Hub

Anker 10 Port USB Data Hub

It's like a bus for thumb drives.

Amazon

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.

Google Home Mini

Google Home Mini

Smarten up a stupid, idiot house.

Google Store

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.

Subscribe Now and Save 72%
Limited time offer. Popular Science for iPad included. Gift subscriptions available.

Lifx A19 Smart Light Bulbs

Lifx A19 Smart Light Bulbs

These light bulbs have 16 million different colors. How many do yours have? One? Oh. Sorry.

Amazon

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.

MagicFiber Extra Large Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

MagicFiber Extra Large Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

If you had to wipe diet coke spots off your screen to read this, probably get some for yourself, too.

Amazon

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.

Maxboost tempered glass phone screen protectors

Maxboost tempered glass phone screen protectors

Keep your blood inside your thumbs.

Amazon

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.

Adventure Medical Kits ADS Me and My Dog First Aid Kit

Adventure Medical Kits ADS Me and My Dog First Aid Kit

You don't want to have to MacGuyver a bandage out of chewing gum and Chinese food menus.

REI

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.

Mophie Charge Force Powerstation Wireless

Mophie Charge Force Powerstation Wireless

Wireless charging works by creating a community of small magic trolls that carry the electricity from the battery to your device.

Mophie

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.

Native Union Smart 4-Port USB Charger

Native Union Smart 4-Port USB Charger

Everything you own needs charging.

Amazon

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.

Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcore Medium Dotted Journal

Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcore Medium Dotted Journal

Maybe your friend just needs a place to practice writing the cursive Z. Boy, that thing is tricky.

Amazon

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.

Energizer Rechargeable AA Batteries

Energizer Rechargeable AA Batteries

They're food for robots and toys.

Amazon

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.

LuxFit

LuxFit Foam Roller

Be honest: How stiff do your muscles feel right now that we mentioned it? Sorry.

Amazon

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.

Tile

Tile Key Finder Two-Pack

Do you know where your keys are now? Any chance you know where ours went? It's been like three days since we've seen them.

Amazon

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.

Shedrain Wind Pro Umbrella

Shedrain Wind Pro Umbrella

It can keep you dry, but it's also good for dancing with.

Amazon

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.

Lifeproof Lifeactiv USB-A to USB-C Cable Lanyard

Lifeproof Lifeactiv USB-A to USB-C Cable Lanyard

Have you ever had to buy a USB cable with your own money? It's terrible and that's why it's a good gift.

Amazon

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.

Velcro One Wrap Thin Ties

Velcro One Wrap Thin Ties

The back of a desk shouldn't look like a bowl of delicious fettucini alfredo.

Amazon

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.

Western Digital MyPassport Ultra Portable Hard Drive

Western Digital MyPassport Ultra Portable Hard Drive

It's like the trap from Ghost Busters, only it holds your photos and music instead of Slimers.

Amazon

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.


Interested in talking about deals and gadgets? Request to join our exclusive Facebook group. With all our product stories, the goal is simple: more information about the stuff you're thinking about buying. We may sometimes get a cut from a purchase, but if something shows up on one of our pages, it’s because we like it. Period.

Latest News