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The best smartwatches

Just a few years ago, the case for smartwatches wasn’t clear. Today, the wearable world is filled with various high-quality options, and a few key players have muscled their way to the front of the pack. Chances are, if you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably already decided that it’s time to upgrade from a standard timepiece to a smartwatch. Maybe you want to reach for your phone less throughout the day, or maybe you want to stay connected in a more discrete way. The list of reasons why you may want a smartwatch is long, as is the list of factors you’ll want to consider before deciding which to buy.

What to look for in a smartwatch

Cherlynn Low

Compatibility

Apple Watches only work with iPhones, while Wear OS devices play nice with both iOS and Android. Smartwatches made by Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit and others are also compatible with Android and iOS, but you’ll need to install a companion app.

The smartwatch OS will also dictate the type and number of on-watch apps you’ll have access to. Many of these aren’t useful, though, making this factor a fairy minor one in the grand scheme of things.

Price

The best smartwatches generally cost between $300 and $400. Compared to budget smartwatches, which cost between $100 and $250, these pricier devices have advanced fitness, music and communications features. They also often include perks like onboard GPS, music storage and NFC, which budget devices generally don’t.

Some companies make specialized fitness watches: Those can easily run north of $500, and we’d only recommend them to serious athletes. Luxury smartwatches from brands like TAG Heuer and Hublot can also reach sky-high prices, but we wouldn’t endorse any of them. These devices can cost more than $1,000, and you’re usually paying for little more than a brand name and some needlessly exotic selection of build materials.

Battery life

Battery life remains one of our biggest complaints about smartwatches, but there’s hope as of late. You can expect two full days from Apple Watches and most Wear OS devices. Watches using the Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor support extended battery modes that promise up to five days on a charge — if you’re willing to shut off most features aside from, you know, displaying the time. Snapdragon’s next-gen Wear 4100 and 4100+ processors were announced in 2020, but only a handful of devices – some of which aren’t even available yet – are using them so far. Other models can last five to seven days, but they usually have fewer features and lower-quality displays. Meanwhile, some fitness watches can last weeks on a single charge.

A few smartwatches now support faster charging, too. For example, Apple promises the Series 7 can go from zero to 80 percent power in only 45 minutes, and get to full charge in 75 minutes. The OnePlus Watch is even speedier, powering up from zero to 43 percent in just 10 minutes. (Mind you that turned out to be one of the only good things about that device.)

Communication

Any smartwatch worth considering delivers call, text and app alerts to your wrist. Call and text alerts are self explanatory, but if those mean a lot to you, consider a watch with LTE. They’re more expensive than their WiFi-only counterparts, but data connectivity allows the smartwatch to take and receive calls, and do the same with text messages, without your phone nearby. As far as app alerts go, getting them delivered to your wrist will let you glance down and see if you absolutely need to check your phone right now.

Fitness tracking

Activity tracking is a big reason why people turn to smartwatches. An all-purpose timepiece should log your steps, calories and workouts, and most of today’s wearables have a heart rate monitor as well.

Many smartwatches also have onboard GPS, which is useful for tracking distance for runs and bike rides. Swimmers will want something water resistant, and thankfully most all-purpose devices now can withstand at least a dunk in the pool. Some smartwatches from companies like Garmin are more fitness focused than others and tend to offer more advanced features like heart-rate-variance tracking, recovery time estimation, onboard maps and more.

Health tracking on smartwatches has also seen advances over the years. Both Apple and Fitbit devices can estimate blood oxygen levels and measure ECGs. But the more affordable the smartwatch, the less likely it is that it has these kinds of health tracking features; if collecting that type of data is important to you, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

Engadget

Music

Your watch can not only track your morning runs but also play music while you’re exercising. Many smartwatches let you save your music locally, so you can connect wireless earbuds and listen to tunes without bringing your phone. Those that don’t have onboard storage for music usually have on-watch music controls, so you can control playback without whipping out your phone. And if your watch has LTE, local saving isn’t required — you’ll be able to stream music directly from the watch to your paired earbuds.

Always-on displays

Most flagship smartwatches today have some sort of always-on display, be it a default feature or a setting you can enable. It allows you to glance down at your watch to check the time and any other information you’ve set it to show on its watchface without lifting your wrist. This will no doubt affect your device’s battery life, but thankfully most always-on modes dim the display’s brightness so it’s not running at its peak unnecessarily. Cheaper devices won’t have this feature; instead, their screens will automatically turn off to conserve battery and you’ll have to intentionally check your watch to turn on the display again.

NFC

Many smartwatches have NFC, letting you pay for things without your wallet. After saving your credit or debit card information, you can hold your smartwatch up to an NFC reader to pay for a cup of coffee on your way home from a run. Keep in mind that different watches use different payment systems: Apple Watches use Apple Pay, Wear OS devices use Google Pay, Samsung devices use Samsung Pay and so forth.

Apple Pay is one of the most popular NFC payment systems, with support for multiple banks and credit cards in 72 different countries, while Samsung and Google Pay work in fewer regions. It’s also important to note that both NFC payment support varies by device as well for both Samsung and Google’s systems.

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Best overall: Apple Watch

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The Apple Watch has evolved into the most robust smartwatch since its debut in 2015. It’s the no-brainer pick for iPhone users, and we wouldn’t judge you for switching to an iPhone just to be able to use an Apple Watch. The latest model, the Apple Watch Series 7, has solid fitness-tracking features that will satisfy the needs of beginners and serious athletes alike. It also detects if you’ve fallen, can carry out ECG tests and measures blood oxygen levels. Plus, it offers NFC, onboard music storage and many useful apps as well as a variety of ways to respond to messages.

The main differences between the Series 7 and the Series 6 that preceded it are the 7’s larger display, its overnight respiratory tracking and faster charging. The slight increase in screen real estate allows you to see things even more clearly on the small device, and Apple managed to fit a full QWERTY keyboard on it to give users another way to respond to messages. The faster charging capabilities are also notable – we got 10 percent power in just 10 minutes of the Watch sitting on its charging disk, and it was fully recharged in less than one hour.

While the $399 Series 7 is the most feature-rich Apple Watch to date, it’s also the most expensive model in the Watch lineup, and for some shoppers there might not be clear benefits over older editions. Those who don’t need an always-on display, ECG or blood oxygen readings might instead consider the Apple Watch SE, which starts at $279.

We actually regard the Watch SE as the best option for first-time smartwatch buyers, or people on stricter budgets. You’ll get all the core Apple Watch features as well as things like fall detection, noise monitoring and emergency SOS, but you’ll have to do without more advanced hardware perks like a blood oxygen sensor and ECG monitor.

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Amazon - $399Buy Apple Watch SE at Amazon - $279

Best budget: Fitbit Versa 2

Dropping $400 on a smartwatch isn’t feasible for everyone, which is why we recommend the Fitbit Versa 2 as the best sub-$200 option. It’s our favorite budget watch because it offers a bunch of features at a great price. You get all of these essentials: Fitbit’s solid exercise-tracking abilities (including auto-workout detection), sleep tracking, water resistance, connected GPS, blood oxygen tracking and a six-day battery life. It also supports Fitbit Pay using NFC and it has built-in Amazon Alexa for voice commands. While the Versa 2 typically costs $150, we’ve seen it for as low as $100.

Buy Fitbit Versa 2 at Amazon - $150

Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

David Imel for Engadget

Samsung teamed up with Google recently to revamp its smartwatch OS, but that doesn’t mean Tizen fans should fret. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the latest flagship wearable from Samsung and it runs on WearOS with the new One UI, which will feel familiar if you’ve used Tizen before. Also, the watch now comes with improved third-party app support and access to the Google Play Store, so you can download apps directly from the watch.

We like the Galaxy Watch 4 for its premium design as well as its comprehensive feature set. It has a 3-in-1 biometric sensor that enables features like body mass scanning, bloody oxygen tracking and more, plus it has a plethora of trackable workout profiles. Both the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Watch 4 Classic run on new 5nm processors and have more storage than before, as well as sharper, brighter displays. They both run smoothly and rarely lag, but that performance boost does come with a small sacrifice to battery life: the Galaxy Watch 4 typically lasted about one day in our testing, which while not the best, may not be a dealbreaker for you if you plan on recharging it every night.

Buy Galaxy Watch 4 at Amazon - $250

Fashion-forward options

Fossil

Yes, there are still companies out there trying to make “fashionable” smartwatches. Back when wearables were novel and generally ugly, brands like Fossil, Michael Kors and Skagen found their niche in stylish smartwatches that took cues from analog timepieces. You also have the option to pick up a “hybrid” smartwatch from companies like Withings and Garmin – these devices look like standard wrist watches but incorporate some limited functionality like activity tracking and heart rate monitoring. They remain good options if you prefer that look, but thankfully, wearables made by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and others have gotten much more attractive over the past few years.

Ultimately, the only thing you can’t change after you buy a smartwatch is its case design. If you’re not into the Apple Watch’s squared-off corners, all of Samsung’s smartwatches have round cases that look a little more like a traditional watch. Most wearables are offered in a choice of colors and you can pay extra for premium materials like stainless steel. Once you decide on a case, your band options are endless – there are dozens of first- and third-party watch straps available for most major smartwatches, allowing you to change up your look whenever you please.

Cherlynn Low contributed to this guide.

The best gifts for dad under $50

Us kids know how hard it is to buy gifts for parents. It’s either a case of they don’t want anything or they’ve already gone out and bought the product you had your eye on without telling you. Especially tech-savvy dads. But there are some oft-forgotten, cheaper gifts that can do the job without breaking the $50 barrier. From console controllers to tracking tags, smart lights to charging accessories, our ideas will tick the list of even the most hard-to-buy-for father figure in your life.

8BitDo Pro 2 controller

8BitDo

It might look a bit retro, but make no mistake, 8BitDo’s Pro 2 controller is crammed full of tech. The Bluetooth handheld connects to your Switch, PC and mobile device, offering a familiar thumbstick and D-Pad layout, as well as back paddles and a profile switcher. That means dads will be able to use the controller in Switch or Android mode or pair it as an X-input or D-input device. Perfect for gaming while on the move.

Buy 8BitDo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

Roku Express 4K+

Engadget

Now that we’re truly in the streaming age, finding a TV with Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max etc built in is a lot easier. But we both know that at least one of your dad’s televisions probably doesn’t (and could use a little help with modernization). That’s where Roku’s Express 4K+ streamer comes in. With support for all modern streaming services, the Express 4K is easy to set up and with its simple remote just does the job.

Buy Roku Express 4K+ at Amazon - $40

LastPass subscription

LastPass

Does your dad have at least one password with “123456” in it? Instead of shaming him, consider getting him a password manager instead. While most browsers come with their own built-in password tools, a LastPass Premium subscription operates across a wide variety of devices, browsers and operating systems. It’ll save all of his passwords and suggest stronger ones all day long, but it isn’t limited to just that: Feed it addresses, card details and other important information and it’ll reduce the time and effort it takes to fill in those pesky online forms.

Buy LastPass Premium starting at $3/month

ThermoWorks ThermoPop

ThermoWorks

We’re big fans of ThermoWorks’ Thermapen Mk4, but spending $100 on an instant-read thermometer may not be in your budget. Luckily, you can still upgrade your dad’s cooking toolkit with the $35 ThermoPop, a compact, lollipop-like thermometer that is accurate and easy to use. It has a single button that turns it on and rotates its backlit digital display so you can always read it properly, regardless of how you’re holding it. Temperature readings pop up in about 3-4 seconds, so it won’t take long for dad to figure out if his brisket is cooked to perfection. With a temperature range of -58 to 572°F and a splash-proof design, the ThermoPop could end up being dad’s new favorite kitchen tool.

Buy ThermoPop at ThermoWorks - $35

Anker Nano II GAN Charger

Engadget

In this day and age, gadgets are getting better at holding their charge for most – if not all – of the day, but there are often times when dad’s smartphone (complete with folding case and belt clip) needs a quick top-up. The good thing about Anker’s Nano II GAN Charger is that it isn’t just a phone charger; you can hook this thing up to a MacBook (Air or Pro) and have it charged in no time. Anker says it’ll charge an iPhone 13 up to three times faster than an original 5W charger and juice Samsung phones at full speed via Super Fast Charging. It’s also compact, saving space on his outlets, but also making it a perfect accessory to throw in a backpack or store in a coat pocket for those on-the-move recharges.

Buy Anker Nano II (65W) at Amazon - $50

Rocketbook Eco-Friendly reusable notebook

Rocketbook

If dad isn’t one for to-do lists or electronic note-taking and instead prefers to write things down for later, the Rocketbook line of reusable notebooks are a solid choice. It works in two ways: the 32-page notebook features special pages that allow the Pilot Frixion pen to write like any normal pen. However, after fifteen seconds, you can use the microfiber cloth to erase any mistakes or wipe it completely, leaving a perfectly blank page. Before dad does that, however, Rocketbook’s AI app can digitize any of the writing or drawings, saving them to a phone or tablet for later reading.

Buy Rocketbook notebooks at Amazon - $34

Nintendo $50 eShop Gift Card

Engadget

If dad has a Nintendo Switch (or one of the company’s handhelds), then he’s probably already pretty up-to-speed on the Nintendo eShop. Every so often, the company will reduce a wide range of first-party and indie games, allowing you and dad to build out your collection for a lot less. The good news is that throughout the year, retailers will often offer discounts on eShop credit, which when combined with an existing sale, can lighten dad’s overall spend on games. Deals are often around 10 percent off, meaning you’ll be able to secure a $50 card for just $45.

Buy Nintendo eShop gift card at Amazon - $50

Blink Mini Camera

Blink

From unwanted intruders to porch pirates, security cams are a very useful tool not only as a deterrent, but also to capture irrefutable proof of wrongdoing. Blink (from Amazon), has a wide range of indoor and outdoor home security products, but its basic 1080p indoor plug-in camera is a solid choice for keeping an eye on pets, but also unwelcome guests in the dead of night. It comes with two-way audio, allowing dad to covertly startle a friend or family member, and motion detection, letting him focus on the specific areas of the home. The Blink Mini also ties in perfectly with Alexa, so it’s a solid choice for families who already own an Echo device.

Buy Blink Mini at Amazon - $35

iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit

iFixit

Not every dad is handy with tools, but if yours likes to take things apart just to be able to put them back together again or prefers to fix things rather than buying a new one, iFixit’s Essential Electronics Toolkit could come in handy. With a bunch of precision bits, tweezers, suction handle, SIM eject tool and sorting tray, this kit is perfect for DIY screen replacements or opening up a tablet or laptop to fix a worn-out component. It’s also perfect for eyeglasses, should dad need to repair them too.

Buy Essentials Toolkit at Amazon - $25

JLab Go Air Pop earbuds

JLab

Listening to music on-the-go doesn’t need to be expensive. JLab’s Go Air Pop wireless earbuds are a perfect example of that. For just $20 (sometimes less), these small but colorful Bluetooth buds offer on-board touch controls, the ability to use either earbud independently, EQ presets and IPX4 moisture resistance (meaning they’ll survive a low-pressure spray of water). They’re also really solid in the battery life department, too: the Go Air Pops will provide dad up to eight hours on a charge but the case will give you three additional charges before you need to plug the entire set in.

Buy JLab Go Air Pop at Amazon - $20

Fitbit Aria Air smart scale

Engadget

Nobody is saying that dad needs to lose or gain weight, but he’s looking for a better way to track his body measurements then a smart scale could help. Make no mistake: the Aria Air isn’t as fancy as some of the smart scales on the market – complete with body composition metrics – but it’s very accurate and nice-looking scale that tracks body weight and BMI. If dad already has a Fitbit smartwatch or tracker, it’ll put it alongside his existing exercise data, giving him a nice snapshot of his overall fitness and body health.

Buy Fitbit Aria Air at Amazon - $50

Amazon Smart Thermostat

Engadget

No smart home is complete without a smart thermostat handling all of the family’s heating and hot water needs. Everyone can argue all they like about the temperature inside the house, but dad can control the thermostat remotely with Amazon’s cheap Smart Thermostat. Sure, its usual retail price is normally a tiny bit higher than the $50 limit we’ve set here but we have seen it regularly come down to a low of $48, which is when you should probably jump on it. The Smart Thermostat itself is backed by Honeywell and ties nicely in with Alexa, which can do dad’s bidding for him (whether it be via an Echo smart speaker, display or app).

Buy smart thermostat at Amazon - $60

The best gifts for the new grads in your life

Surviving years of college is no small feat, so the graduates in our lives deserve rightful praise and celebration. Whether your graduate is going out into the world to get their first job or continuing with their education, there are a number of gadgets you can gift them that will make them smile and also come in handy on a daily basis. If you’re stumped on what to give to the tech-savvy grad in your life, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite tech for you to consider.

Chromecast with Google TV

Google

Recent graduates moving into a new place may not want to shell out money for cable or a satellite subscription. But just because they’ve cut the cord doesn’t mean they can’t watch quality content. Thanks to streaming sticks like Chromecast with Google TV, watching content on various streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and more is super easy, regardless of what kind of TV they have.

The latest Chromecast with Google TV works especially well for those with a YouTube TV subscription as its “Live TV” tab works as a channel guide for the service. Just like previous Chromecasts, they can also use it to “cast” their computer screen to the TV, too.

Another benefit over other streaming sticks is that it has Google Assistant integration. Your grad can ask it to display the five-day weather forecast, show the live feed from their Nest camera, turn their Philips Hue lights on or off, or play their favorite Spotify playlist. As a bonus, they can use Google Assistant to find shows to watch or to launch apps. — Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Walmart - $50

YouTube TV subscription

YouTube

Regardless of whether you gift a Chromecast with Google TV, we think a YouTube TV subscription will make an excellent present for them. The service essentially replaces cable or satellite, and your graduate can easily use their phone, laptop or connected TV to access it. The platform offers pretty much all the standard network and cable offerings including sports channels like ESPN, so they won’t have to worry about missing their favorite team’s game. You can either pay for the subscription directly or buy them a Google Play gift card. — N.L.

Subscribe to YouTube TV - $65/month

Apple Watch Series 7

Engadget

Watches make great graduation gifts, and the Apple Watch is arguably the best one to get for the iPhone fan in your life. As Apple’s latest flagship wearable, the Series 7 is packed with features both basic and advanced. On a daily basis, most will use the Watch for tracking activity, recording workouts, buying coffees with Apple Pay and checking iMessage alerts on the fly. But the Watch also has perks like blood oxygen tracking, ECG measurements and fall detection that your grad may only use now and again, but will appreciate in crucial moments. Plus, the Series 7 has the largest screen of any Apple Watch to date, as well as the best battery life and a faster charging time, too. And if your grad prefers the style of more traditional timepieces, they can customize their Watch with bands that give them that look. — Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Amazon - $399

Instant Pot Duo Plus

Engadget

Once they leave dorm life behind, graduates should learn how to make something other than instant ramen. For newbies, we recommend an appliance like the Instant Pot Duo Plus. This trendy kitchen device can be used as a slow cooker, yogurt maker, rice cooker and, of course, a pressure cooker.

Not only is it easy to use, it can be a huge time saver: just set it, do other chores (or just rest up) and your meal will be ready when it beeps. It’s a wonderful solution if your grad has a tiny stovetop in their first apartment, and it cuts down on dishwashing if you use the Instant Pot for a lot of one pot meals.

If you do get your loved one this excellent kitchen gadget, we suggest you send them a link to our Instant Pot guide so they’ll get the most out of their new toy. There are also a bunch of dedicated Instant Pot recipe sites and cookbooks that will keep them busy for a while – Rainbow Plant Life’s Instant Pot page and Dinner in an Instant are a couple of our favorites. — N.L.

Buy Instant Pot Duo Plus at Amazon - $120

Logitech Streamcam

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

While laptops’ built-in webcams are getting better, most of them still don’t quite cut it for all of the Zoom calls many of us continue to have nowadays. Your graduate will likely have to take calls like this on a regular basis and the Logitech Streamcam is a gadget that can help them put their best face forward. The webcam shoots sharp video in 1080p/60fps and its handy auto-exposure feature helps make dark rooms less cave-like on screen. It also has built-in microphones with noise reduction, so your grad should sound as good as they look on these calls. Additionally, the Streamcam was designed with game streamers and content creators in mind, and that makes it a great all-purpose webcam that your graduate can use for both work and play. — V.P.

Buy Logitech Streamcam at Amazon - $170

Sony WH-1000XM4

Billy Steele / Engadget

There’s a good chance that your graduate will be working from a few different locations when they start their first job. Maybe they’ll spend half of their time in an office and the other half at home, but you can help them stay focused anywhere by gifting them the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. These are our current favorite high-end cans thanks to their excellent sound quality and equally stellar active noise cancellation. Their Adaptive Sound Control feature automatically changes the level of noise cancellation depending on your location and what you’re doing, blocking out as much of the world as necessary without the user needing to do much work. With this iteration, Sony also added multi-device connectivity, too, so your graduate can seamlessly go from listening to music on their laptop to taking a call from their smartphone. — V.P.

Buy WH-1000XM4 at Amazon - $348

OXO Brew 8-cup coffee maker

OXO

Who doesn’t want a caffeine hit in the morning before they head into work? For that we recommend the OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker. OXO typically makes excellent tasting coffee, and since this one is certified by the Specialty Coffee Association, it will certainly meet your grad’s standards as well. This model is easy to use, has a thermal carafe to keep their brew hot for hours, and has an option to brew directly into a mug. — N.L.

Buy OXO coffee maker at Amazon - $200

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential

Engadget

Why settle for a boring ol’ alarm clock when you can gift your grad a smarter option? The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential comes in both Google Assistant and Alexa varieties, and does a lot more than just tell time. These compact gadgets can give them the weather forecast, play a Spotify playlist or simply display their appointments for the day.

Which you choose depends on the virtual assistant your grad prefers – we generally recommend the Google version for Android users and those that rely on Google services like Calendar and Drive for their personal and professional duties. Everyone else is likely safe getting the Alexa version. And if you want to step it up a bit, the $90 Lenovo Smart Clock 2 comes with a docking area with a wireless charging pad, so they can power up their phones more easily overnight. — N.L.

Buy Lenovo Smart Clock Essential at Walmart - $50Buy Lenovo Smart Clock Essential (Alexa) at Amazon - $50

Apple AirTag

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

We could all use a little help finding our stuff sometimes – new graduates especially. With new internships, jobs, side hustles and more, grads have a ton to keep track of and an AirTag can give them peace of mind by digitally locating their most important items. AirTags can attach to keys, wallets, handbags and more with the right accessories, and then your grad can check out the location of their stuff using the Find My app on iOS. They can program their contact information into the AirTag, in case a stranger needs to return their things, and those with newer iPhone can use the Precision Finding feature to be led directly to their stuff. For those who often misplace their belongings, Bluetooth trackers like these can be crucial. — V.P.

Buy AirTag at Amazon - $29

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Engadget

Voracious readers will appreciate an e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. The latest model has a larger, 6.8-inch display that has 17 front lights and an adjustable warm light setting that reduces eye strain. The design is compact and sleek, and the robust battery lasts for weeks between charging. And if they like reading in the tub or by the pool, the Paperwhite is also waterproof.

If you want to give your grad something even more special, however, consider gifting them the Paperwhite Signature Edition. It has 32GB of storage, wireless charging support and a light sensor that can automatically adjust the screen brightness according to their surroundings. It’s about $50 more than the regular Paperwhite, but they will certainly appreciate it. — N.L.

Buy Kindle Paperwhite at Amazon - $140

Beats Studio Buds

Billy Steele/Engadget

One of the great things about Beats’ Studio Buds is that both Android and iOS users can wear them and get a fairly similar experience. These Beats aren’t just for iPhone users, as those with Android devices have access to convenient features like Find My and fast pairing. The brand has come a long way when it comes to sound quality, too. These buds are well-tuned with a punchy bass, and iOS users will be able to get Spatial Audio on select tracks. The Studio Buds also have solid ANC with transparency mode, plus a compact, comfortable design that transitions well from study sessions to workout routines. — V.P.

Buy Beats Studio Buds at Amazon - $150

Anker 633 MagGo 2-in-1 Wireless Charging Station

Anker

Anker’s MagGo 2-in-1 wireless charging station is the gadget to give if you want to set your grab up with basically everything they’d need to never run out of power again. The bundle includes a wireless charging stand that can power both a phone and a pair of earbuds at the same time, and the phone portion detaches into a portable, magnetic, 5,000 mAh battery pack. The MagGo lineup is MagSafe-compatible, so if your grad has a newer iPhone, they’ll be able to take the slim pack with them by snapping it to the back of their smartphone. Also included is a 25W USB-C adapter, which can power the whole system with the proper speed. — V.P.

Buy MagGo 2-in-1 charging station at Amazon - $120

Yeti Rambler 20oz Tumbler with MagSlider lid

Yeti

If your grad needs coffee or tea to stay productive throughout the day, a Yeti Rambler is an excellent gift for them. These classic tumblers have a double-walled, insulated design that keeps hot drinks hot for hours, while also being BPA-free. The latest versions have Dracut color coatings, which won’t fade, peel or crack with age (or when you put them in the dishwasher), so their favorite color will come through for years to come. Plus, the Ramblers now come with MagSlider lids, which, while not spill-proof, use magnets to make opening and closing (and cleaning) the lid super easy. — V.P.

Buy Yeti Rambler at Amazon - $35

The best Apple Watch accessories you can buy

It didn’t take long for the Apple Watch to become perhaps the most ubiquitous wearable. Even more so than the iPhone, the Apple Watch is a device you can truly make your own with the right accessories. It is, after all, a watch, and like traditional timepieces it’s meant to reflect your personal style. While the most obvious way to customize your Apple Watch is with funky bands, there are cases, stands, wireless chargers and other accessories you can buy that can inject a bit of you into all aspects of Apple Watch ownership. We tested out a bunch of Apple Watch accessories to see which are worth your money.

Spigen Thin Fit case

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

While plenty of us use cases to protect our smartphones from drops and scrapes, you may not think to do the same for your smartwatch. After all, a device that’s literally strapped to your body isn’t as prone to accidental drops as a device that moves in and out of your pocket all day. Chalk it up to me being clumsy, but I’ve knocked my Apple Watch on more door frames than I’d like to admit. For less than $25, a case is a good option if you don’t want to take any chances with that $279-plus smartwatch on your wrist.

“Cases” are basically bumpers that surround the edges of the Apple Watch, and some of them even cover the screen. I personally prefer a bumper-style case because, if I’m going to cover the display, it’ll be with a dedicated screen protector. Spigen’s line of Apple Watch cases are solid and they come in two different levels of bulk. The Rugged Armor series has a shock-absorbent layer and raised bezels, making it especially well suited for those who prioritize protection over fashion. Spigen’s Thin Fit series is more my speed: It sits flush against the Watch’s display, but still gives you an extra layer of protection. You can even choose a color that matches your Watch to help it blend in. Two added perks of Spigen’s cases are that they snap on quickly and easily, and they’re quite affordable at around $14 a piece.

Buy Spigen Thin Fit at Amazon - $14

Zagg InvisibleShield screen protector

Zagg

If you don’t want the extra bulk that comes with a case, a screen protector will give you at least a bit more of a safeguard than sporting a naked Watch. Zagg’s InvisibleShield line is a reliable one that provides shatter protection, clarity and enhanced touch-sensitivity. When installed properly (Zagg gives you clear instructions and all the tools you need to do so), you’ll probably forget you have a screen protector on your Watch. These blend in almost seamlessly with the Watch’s hardware, and if you do accidentally ding the screen, the protector should take all of the damage.

Buy Invisible Shield screen protector at Amazon - $10

Anker Nano Pro 20W charger

Anker

The latest Apple Watches don’t come with power adapters, so you’ll have to dig one out of your drawer or get a new one to charge it up. Choosing the latter is probably best since Series 7 owners will get a new, USB-C-toting cable, so you’ll need an appropriate adapter to get all of that fast-charging goodness. Anker’s 20W Nano Pro is a good pick because it’s compact and has a few safety features built in. Inside is a dynamic temperature sensor that helps prevent overheating, plus a power tuner chip that helps adjust output based on your device. That second feature is likely more important than the first if you’re primarily using this tiny brick with your Apple Watch, but both will be handy if you ever need to use it with your iPhone. What’s more, the Nano Pro can fast charge iPhone 13s, providing a 50-percent top-up in only 25 minutes, and you can get one that matches the color of your handset if you wish.

Buy Anker Nano Pro 20W at Amazon - $20

Apple MagSafe Duo charger

Apple

Apple makes one of the more elegant solutions to charging your iPhone and Apple Watch while traveling. The $129 MagSafe Duo has spaces to wirelessly charge both devices and folds up into a neat square when not in use. The Apple Watch pad flips upward as well, allowing you to use the gadget in Nighttime mode while it’s charging. While this accessory does come with a USB-C to Lightning cable to provide power to the system, it does not come with an AC adapter so you will have to remember to pack your own.

Buy MagSafe Duo at Amazon - $129

Belkin Boost Charge Pro portable fast charger

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Apple Watch chargers are a bit different than Lightning cables in the sense that you probably have only one of the former and many of the latter. Those who travel or commute often should consider getting a second Apple Watch charger, that way you’re not stuck if you forget to pack your one and only before a long weekend trip. Belkin’s Boost Charge Pro portable fast charger is a great option, particularly for those who have a Series 7. The square pad uses Apple’s new fast-charging module, so it’ll be able to power up the Series 7 from 0 to 80 percent in roughly 45 minutes.

You can simply sit your timepiece on the module to charge, but it also flips up so you can use the Watch in Nightstand mode while it’s powering up on your bedside table. To support different Watch sizes and protective cases, the pad also has a dial on its underside that lets you adjust the height of the charging module. Plus, the attached USB-C cable that tucks away on the bottom of the pad is four feet long, giving you a bit more placement flexibility than other chargers.

The main drawback is its $60 list price, but those strapped for cash should consider Anker’s version, which is very similar to Belkins and only $43. It won’t fast-charge the Series 7, but it will power up the device just like it would a Series 6 or earlier. I also prefer how the attached USB-C cable coils up into the base on this one – it’s a bit neater than Belkin’s solution.

Buy Boost Charge Pro at Belkin - $60Buy Anker Foldable Charging Dock at Amazon - $43

Bellroy Compact Tech Kit

Bellroy

You’ll likely have your Apple Watch strapped to your wrist while traveling, but it’s a good idea to have a pouch or case that can hold the gadget along with any accessories you need when you’re not wearing it. Bellroy’s Compact Tech Kit is an attractive option not only because of its minimalist design, but the multiple loops and pockets on the inside. It can easily hold your Apple Watch charging cable, an AC adapter and a few extra bands, and you’ll still have space for things like AirPods, a Lightning cable for your iPhone and even a larger power adapter for your laptop. If you don’t mind something a bit more utilitarian, Bagsmart’s small travel organizer is a good option that also costs just $17.

Buy Compact Tech Kit at Bellroy - $55Buy Bagsmart small travel organizer at Amazon - $17

Apple Watch stands

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

If you want to use the Apple Watch’s handy Nightstand mode while it’s charging, I’ve found that Watch holders can make the experience much better. My Watch often topples over or rolls about when I simply trust it to sit on its side next to my bed, but that’s easily fixed with a stand. Elago’s stands may be simple, but they have a lot of personality, coming in colorful dome shapes and in the forms of retro tech. The biggest problem with them, particularly the dome stands, is that they can be prone to sliding around on your desk or nightstand if there’s any tension on your charging cable. But they hold the Apple Watch well and, at under $15, they’re affordable ways to inject more personality into your accessory game.

We previously recommended Spigen’s $11 S350 stand as another basic option, but we’d now opt to upgrade to the PowerArc ArcField wireless charger. Coming in at $37, this one looks almost identical to the S350 stand but it comes with an Apple Watch charging module built in, plus an attached, 6.6-foot USB-C cable. It also comes with a few rubber pads of different heights, allowing you to adjust the stand to the right height based on your Watch’s size and if you have a case protecting it. While it costs more than a standard silicone stand for your Apple Watch, it’s worth it for the additional charging power – plus if it does become your main home charger, that frees up the charging cable that came with the Apple Watch to be your on-the-go option.

Buy Elago dome charging stand at Amazon - $10Buy Elago W6 charging stand (iPod) at Amazon - $13Buy Spigen PowerArc ArcField wireless charger at Amazon - $37

Apple Watch bands

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

You probably made your way to this guide because you already have an Apple Watch that you’re ready to deck out. But if you haven’t made the purchase yet, consider using the Apple Watch Studio to customize the timepiece to your liking. Doing so will let you choose the precise band style and color you want, and there are definitely a few that are worth getting directly from Apple. Both the Sport Band and the Sport Loop are good basic options for everyday and exercise use, but you can find alternatives for much less elsewhere.

Apple’s Solo Loop is a good one if you just want to slip your Watch on in the morning without worrying about notches or buckles — just make sure you get the right size when you order. I’m also partial to the Nike Sport Band because its carefully placed holes make it breathable and extra comfortable for working out. But if you want that one, you’ll have to buy the Apple Watch Nike edition, which is just a regular Watch with the Nike+ Run Club app preinstalled.

But if you or your loved one already have an Apple Watch, it’s easy to find additional bands across the web. When it comes to basic silicone straps, you can find packs of three to six bands for less than $20 but the quality may be questionable. Look for brands with many high ratings on Amazon if you insist on getting the best bang for your buck. You can also use FakeSpot’s Amazon integration to get an idea for how trustworthy a product’s reviews are.

A few reputable brands that make Apple Watch bands are Spigen, Elago and Casetify. Spigen’s Silicone Fit band feels the most similar to Apple’s Sport Band. The material is soft, comfortable and it’s a hair thinner than Apple’s. The biggest difference is that you’ll pay around $10 for one of Spigen’s bands as opposed to $50 for one of Apple’s.

Buy Apple Watch bands (5 pack) at Amazon - $20Buy Spigen Silicone Fit band at Amazon - $10

Elago’s Sport Bands are made of fluoro-rubber material, so they’re a bit thicker and more substantial than Apple’s standard silicone band. They also have traditional buckle closures, giving them a style that better transitions from workouts to workplaces. They are a good option if you like the simplicity of Apple’s own bands but don’t want to shell out $50 for one.

Casetify occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, offering printed and customizable Apple Watch straps that truly stand out. They come in metal, leather, silicone and recycled plastic and you can get as specific as you want. There are plenty of solid colors to choose from as well as dozens of floral and animal prints. Casetify also has trendy collaborations with Disney, Netflix’s Squid Game and other pop-culture heavyweights, and even bands you can personalize with your recipient’s name or initials. While Casetify’s straps are on the expensive side, ranging from $40 to $72, it’s a price worth paying if you absolutely must have a band that fits your style to a tee.

Buy Elago sport band at Amazon - $19Shop Casetify Apple Watch bands

Tech that can help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions

Regardless of how 2021 went for you, 2022 is another chance for all of us to make the new year better than those that came before it. We set New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions, but it’s no wonder that so many people fail after just a few weeks – old habits die hard. Just as it’s important to have a supportive group of people cheering you on during those particularly hard days, it’s also important to have tools that make it easier to achieve your goals. Whether you’re trying to get healthy, be more organized, or read more, there are tech tools that can make your journey a bit easier (and maybe even more enjoyable).

Fitness tracker

Fitbit

A fitness tracker can help kickstart your exercise journey by passively monitoring your wins and showing you daily data about your steps, sleep patterns and more. Fitbit’s Inspire 2 is an all-around good option, not only because it’s fairly affordable at $100, but because it does pretty much everything a beginner would need a fitness tracker to do. It tracks daily steps, calories, heart rate, sleep and more, and it comes with 20 goal-based exercises that you can manually track or let the device’s automatic SmartTrack feature monitor for you. It also has 10-day battery life, so you rarely have to take it off to charge it. And with built-in Tile functionality, you’ll be able to more easily find the device if you do misplace it.

Smartwatch

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

If you’d rather invest in an all-purpose wearable that also has serious fitness chops, the Apple Watch SE is a good choice. While it doesn’t include some of the bells and whistles that the Series 7 does, it still fferes the same core experience as any Apple Watch. It tracks all-day activity and heart rate, and watchOS finally does basic sleep tracking, too. In addition to built-in GPS for outdoor workouts, it supports dozens of trackable exercises along with fall detection and high and low heart rate notifications. The Apple Watch also excels over basic fitness trackers when it comes to table-stakes smartwatch features: You’ll be able to send and receive text messages from the device, as well as control music playback, smart home devices and more.

Workout classes

millann via Getty Images

If running isn’t your thing, or it’s just inconvenient to do it where you live, finding exercise classes that you enjoy can make working out a habit you’re more likely to stick with for the long haul. You may prefer to do this through your local gym — that push to get out of the house and into a dedicated exercise space can be really effective for some — but there are plenty of online fitness classes as well that you can participate in from the comfort of your living room. I’ve tried my fair share of these services and my favorite has been Peloton. No, you don’t need one of the company’s expensive bikes or treadmills to take advantage of their classes. Access to the app-only version of the subscription costs $13 per month and it lets you take HIIT, strength, yoga and even outdoor running classes, many of which require little to no equipment at all.

If you can’t afford another monthly subscription fee, the internet has tons of free exercise resources — you just have to work a little harder to find the ones you jive with most. I highly recommend Fitness Blender, a free website where you can watch hundreds of workout videos and even set a schedule for yourself, assigning videos to specific days of the week. I like the quality and consistency of their videos, but you may connect more to YouTube workout videos if they’re taught by instructors you like; Heather Robertson and Move with Nicole are two personal favorites.

Habit tracker

Forest

At least in the beginning, keeping track of new habits you’re trying to build can help you stick to them. While you can get deep into this subject if you wander down the bullet-journal rabbit hole, a habit-tracking app is probably the easier option. Done and Strides are two iOS options that let you log when you’ve completed a new habit you’re trying to build or when you avoided a bad habit that you’re trying to break. You can get pretty granular, customizing how often you want to do a task, setting reminders to log, reviewing stats and more. However, both apps have paid tiers to which you’ll be asked to subscribe after you create a few trackable habits.

If you’d rather avoid yet another subscription, consider an app like Streaks, which can be all yours for a one-time fee of $5. As for Android, Grow is a free app that takes a similar approach to habit tracking that Forest takes with time management. Plant a virtual tree for each new habit tracked and watch it grow every time you log a completion. There’s also Habitica, which turns habit tracking to an 8-bit RPG game in which your custom avatar levels up every time you log a task.

To-do and note-taking apps

Things 3

The new year provides an opportunity to get back on track, and one way to do that is by finding organizational tools that work for you — and making sure those tools are as uncomplicated as possible. The worst thing that could happen is that your to-do list or note-taking system ends up being so cumbersome that you avoid using it. Keeping all of your necessary tasks in your head may work on easy days, but it can quickly get overwhelming when you have a million things to handle in both your personal and professional life. I’m a fan of Things for iOS and macOS because it’s detailed enough for big work projects, but simple enough for casual personal tasks. I also love the Today view, which shows me everything across all of my projects that requires immediate attention.

However, you’ll spend $80 to get Things for iOS, iPadOS and macOS — and it’s only available for Apple devices. Microsoft’s To Do is an alternative that, while less involved than Things 3, is free and works on almost every platform including iOS, Android and Windows, among others. You can keep it simple and just have a task list and a grocery list, or you can go deeper and add due dates, sub-tasks and even share lists with family members. And if you don’t want to bother with an extraneous app, you can always opt for the reminders app that (most likely) came preinstalled on your phone. That would be Reminders for iOS users and Google Keep for Android users.

Google Keep also doubles as a note-taking app, which will be a better solution if you’ve been constantly jotting down ideas for new projects on Post-It notes or scraps of paper that you eventually lose. Apple Notes is the default option for this on iOS devices, and there are plenty of other note-taking apps out there as well. I’m partial to Evernote simply because it’s become my digital file box of sorts. I take notes in it almost every day, but tons of things like online order receipts, messages from my doctor’s office and e-signed contracts all come to me through my email and eventually get saved and tagged in Evernote so I can easily find them in the future.

Password manager

1Password

If you’re looking to up your organization game in the new year, a password manager is a great place to start. I’m partial to 1Password, but there are plenty of other options including LastPass (which has a free version), Bitwarden and Dashlane. After saving all of your passwords for various accounts, you only need to remember one (hence the name) to log in to your 1Password account and access all of the others. The service has browser extensions Chrome, Edge and others that will let you seamlessly log in with the proper credentials with just a few clicks, and 1Password has apps for most platforms including iOS and Android, so you can use it on all of your devices.

I also appreciate the Password Generator feature, which helps you create a new, secure password whenever one of yours has expired. LassPass has this too, and Dashlane even has a free tool that anyone can use to make more secure passwords. Not only does this take the onus of coming up with a strong key off your shoulders, but it also makes it easy to override old credentials with new ones.

Travel tech organizer

Bellroy

One of the consequences of the past two is the dual-office life. Many of us now work both from home and from an office, and the last thing you want to do when you arrive in either place is rummage around your backpack only to realize that you’ve left your mouse, charging cable or dongle at your other desk.

An organizer bag can prevent this before it happens – we’re partial to BagSmart tech organizers thanks to their utilitarian, water-repellent designs and their multiple pockets and dividers. They also come in different sizes, so you can pick the best one for your commuter bag. If you want something a bit more elevated, Bellroy’s Desk Pouch is a good option. It’s pricier but for the money you get a more elegant design, with a higher-quality material (recycled nylon, weave or ripstop, depending on the color you choose) and a structured base that keeps the bag upright on your desk.

Computer docking station

CalDigit

It’s all too easy for your work-from-home setup to get really messy really quickly. When you’re going through your busiest times at work, the last thing you’re thinking about is cable management, but dedicating a bit more effort into tidying up your workspace can make your day to day more efficient and more enjoyable.

We recommend some sort of docking station to keep your laptop, monitors, accessories and the like in check. A couple good options are CalDigit’s TS3 Plus and Plugable’s Universal Docking Station. The former has a compact, rectangular design with a total of 16 different ports on it, including a Gigabit Ethernet jack, five USB-A connections, two Thunderbolt 3 sockets and analog audio in/out ports. The latter stands up vertically on your desk and has 13 connectors, including HDMI and DVI ports, six USB-A connections and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. That DVI port may be a deciding factor for you depending on which monitor you have, and Plugable’s device comes with both DVI to HDMI and DVI to VGA adapters.

While both of those options are stationary, there are plenty of adapters out there that can give you similar organization while on the go, albeit in a less elegant package. Anker’s USB-C hub is an affordable solution that includes an HDMI port, microSD and SD card readers, two USB-C connections and two USB-A ports. It also supports 100W power pass-through, so you can charge your laptop through the hub while using it.

Instant Pot

Instant Pot / Best Buy

Eating healthier — or even just avoiding takeout multiple times a week — can be challenging in part because it usually means cooking more at home. Not only is that hard to do when you’re starting from zero, but it’s especially tough because it takes more time than ordering in from your phone. But tools like an Instant Pot can make the process easier because it cuts your active cooking time down drastically. You can find a plethora of recipes in which you simply throw a bunch of ingredients into the pot, set it and forget it until it’s time to eat.

We recommend the Instant Pot Duo for beginners because it’s relatively affordable and combines seven different cooking methods into one appliance, including rice cooking, steaming, pressure cooking, slow cooking and more. If you’re primarily cooking for yourself and a partner, the three-quart model will serve you just fine, but we recommend the six-quart model if you’re routinely cooking for four or more. If the thought of cooking at home actually excites you rather than fills you with anxiety, consider the Instant Pot Ultra, which includes a few extra modes like cake maker and egg cooker, or the Instant Pot Duo Crisp, which includes an air-fry lid.

Recipe organization

RichLegg via Getty Images

One of the best things about cooking at home is finding recipes that you love so much that you want to make over and over again. You’ll want to keep those recipes safe and readily available so you can refer to them when you need a quick weeknight meal or a dish to bring to your next family reunion. Recipe cards are a great way to do this, and you’ll build up your rolodex of delicious meals over time. If you’d rather have a cookbook of sorts that you fill in yourself over time, opt for a recipe book instead.

If you’d rather keep your arsenal of recipes accessible at any time, anywhere from your phone, Paprika’s recipe management app is the best solution I’ve tried. The $5 app basically acts as your digital recipe box, allowing you to enter recipes of your own as well as download them from the internet. You know those hundreds of words that precede online recipes, in which the author divulges their entire life story before telling you their secret to making deliciously moist cornbread? Paprika strips all of those unnecessary bits out and only saves the ingredient list and the instructions. You can also make grocery lists and keep track of pantry staples in the app, so don’t be surprised if it quickly becomes one of your most-used kitchen tools.

Reading app

Scribd

Don’t take your habit of doom-scrolling on Twitter for hours every day into the new year. You could instead use the internet to find other things to read and the free Libby app is a good place to start. Powered by Overdrive, it connects you with your local library’s digital collection, allowing you to borrow and download all kinds of e-books, audiobooks, magazines, graphic novels and more. Libby also has a tag system that you can use to “save” titles for later without actually putting a hold on them (although you can do that in the app, too). If you find a bunch of audiobooks you eventually want to get to, you can give them all a “TBR” tag so you can quickly find them and borrow one when you need new reading/listening material.

As someone who uses Libby on a regular basis, I love how easy it is to borrow from my local library without leaving my home. However, there have been numerous times in which my library doesn’t have a title I’m looking for. If that happens to you often, you may want to consider a subscription service like Kindle Unlimited or Scribd, both of which give you unlimited access to a wide library of e-books for $10 per month. And for audiobook lovers, your options are Amazon’s Audible or Libro.fm, the latter of which lets you choose the local bookstore you want to support with your purchases.

E-reader

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

E-readers are still around because so many people recognize how much better it can be to read e-books on a dedicated device — especially one with an e-paper display. Sure, you could read on your smartphone or a tablet, but staring at those screens all day long can be tiring for your eyes. An e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite or Kobo’s Clara HD is a better choice not only for its more comfortable display, but also because it focuses your attention on reading. (If you’ve ever picked up your smartphone intending to finish a chapter only to be distracted by email or Twitter, you know how crucial this is.)

The new Kindle Paperwhite has a 6.8-inch display with adjustable warm lights, 20 percent faster page turns and weeks of battery life. The Clara HD is similar, with a 6-inch E-Ink display, adjustable brightness and color temperature, along with weeks of battery life. If you already get most of your e-books through Amazon, the Paperwhite is the best option. You can listen to Audible audiobooks, too, if you connect a pair of wireless earbuds to the e-reader. Kobo’s device primarily gets books via the Kobo Store, but it also supports various file types like EPUB, PDF and MOBI. Plus, it has on-device integration with Overdrive, allowing you to borrow library books directly from the e-reader.

The books and movies we’re gifting this year

Having somehow made it through a second year of global pandemic and political unrest, give the loved ones on your holiday shopping list the greatest gift of all: an alternative to doom-scrolling. In Engadget’s 2021 Media Gift Guide you’ll find a diverse selection of books — fiction and nonfiction alike — as well a host of streaming content suggestions that will keep their recipients entertained through the holidays and beyond. If you’ve got a book, show or movie that you think would make the perfect present, tell us all about it in the comments below!

Fiction

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

NYT bestselling author, Rebecca Roanhorse — the literary force behind Star Wars: Resistance Reborn — has done it again. Her latest fantasy series, Between Earth and Sky, takes readers on an epic journey of trauma, healing, vengeance, and eventual redemption. The first book in the series, 2020’s Black Sun, weaves a masterfully engrossing — and markedly inclusive — tale that eschews the common Arthurian Legend retellings in favor of a unique fantasy world inspired by pre-Columbian America cultures. If you’ve got a fan of fantasy on your holiday shopping list, pick up Black Sun for them before the sequel, Fevered Star, drops next April.

Buy Black Sun at Amazon - $13

Age of Madness trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

The ending of Game of Thrones was nothing short of a slap in the face to fans. I mean, really, all that and Bran wins? GTFOH. If you’ve got a fan of George “Double R” Martin on your holiday shopping list, do them a favor and turn them on to Joe Abercrombie’s Age of Madness trilogy. Set in a world in which the seeds of industrialization have just taken hold even as the age magic and mysticism stubbornly refuses to be uprooted, AoM tells a tale of mighty nations at war while the powerful elites who rule them vie for control over both their countries’ external fates and their courts’ internal politics. Packed with captivating characters, political intrigue, incredible reversals of fortune and stunning betrayals, Age of Madness is a grimdark masterpiece where everybody, for once, gets exactly what they deserve.

Buy Age of Madness trilogy at Amazon - $35

1414º by Paul Bradley Carr

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Whether we like it or not, this is Jeff Bezos’ world and the rest of us just live in it. Our current slate of 21st century techno-robber barons have achieved unfathomable wealth and unassailable power; but as Paul Bradley Carr’s latest novel, 1414º, illustrates, you can’t spend that money or wield that influence when you’re dead. If you’ve got a fan of high-tension whodunnits and techno-thrillers on your holiday shopping list, 1414º will be a surefire hit.

Buy 1414º at Amazon - $5

Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Martha Wells can’t stop, won’t stop, dropping Murderbot hits. The reigning queen of hard sci-fi released Fugitive Telemetry — the sixth book in her Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Alex Award winning series — earlier this year and let me tell you from experience, it is a banger. Our self-aware SecUnit anti-hero is back in another standalone adventure, this time on the trail of a vicious murderer aboard Preservation (space) Station. If the sci-finatic on your holiday shopping lists enjoys space intrigue and robotic mysteries, you can’t go wrong with Fugitive Telemetry.

Buy Fugitive Telemetry at Amazon - $12

Undying Mercenaries series by B.V. Larson

The year is 2052 and Earth finds itself unwillingly annexed into a galactic empire it didn’t even know existed and is presented with a simple choice: provide our new alien overlords with a viable commercial product or face extermination. Thus, Earth’s mercenary legions are born. Armed with alien-made weaponry and a mysterious technology that allows soldiers to be reconstructed after being killed in battle — like reloading from a previous save point but far more gooey — Earth’s legions set out across the stars to fight the wars that the galaxy’s elder races are too self-important to fight themselves. Already 16 books deep, author B.V. Larson continues to lead the genre of military sci-fi from the front, so if you’ve got a fan of Starship Troopers, Aliens-style space marines, or Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow on your holiday shopping list, congrats! You can cross them off now.

Buy Undying Mercenaries series (16 books) at Amazon - $110

Nonfiction

JGalione via Getty Images

Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond by Ashley Jean Yeager

Far from a household name, astronomer Vera Rubin’s pioneering research helped convince the scientific community of the possibility that dark matter — the mysterious materials that make up a vast majority of the universe but cannot be observed — actually exists. In Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond (not to be confused with Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, a collection of Rubin’s own essays), author Ashley Jean Yeager takes readers on an inspiring biographical journey through the astronomer’s early year before examining the challenges she faced working in an often hostile, male-dominated field, and her eventual vindication and professional triumphs — looking at you Vera C. Rubin Observatory. If you’ve got a younger someone on your holiday shopping list who’s interested in pursuing STEM, this could well be the book that puts them on a path towards scientific greatness.

Buy Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond at Amazon - $15

N-4 Down by Mark Piesing

During the Zeppelin’s heyday, airships weren't just a means of the well-to-do to slowly get to distant destinations in comfort and luxury, they also offered a new means of (albeit pokey) exploration. N-4 Down by Mark Piesing takes readers on a thrilling, nail-biting adventure of the largest arctic rescue operation in history as famed Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, rushed to save the surviving crew of the airship Italia, which crashed during its attempt to land men at the North Pole in 1928. The history and aeronautical buffs on your holiday shopping list are going to absolutely love it.

Buy N-4 Down at Amazon - $15

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

For the last 10,000 years, humanity has had an unprecedented and largely destructive impact on the environment around us. But as climate change increasingly wreaks its own havoc on us in return, humanity must now work to reverse or at least mitigate the harm that we have caused. In Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert examines just what we can do to make things right with Mother Earth and avoid a catastrophic climate crisis.

Buy Under a White Sky at Amazon - $13

The Quiet Zone by Stephen Kurczy

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Green Bank, West Virginia is, technologically speaking, stuck in the 1950s. And for good reason! This bucolic Appalachian town is home to the ultra-sensitive radio telescope at the Green Bank observatory, which necessitates that basically every device that can emit a radio signal — everything from iPads to microwaves — be heavily restricted. In The Quiet Zone, journalist and author Stephen Kurczy, embeds himself in Green Bank to give readers a firsthand look at what life could be like without our precious digital tech. The Quiet Zone is the perfect gift for the aspiring luddite on your holiday shopping list.

Buy The Quiet Zone at Amazon - $13

Streaming

thianchai sitthikongsak via Getty Images

Given the myriad COVID-induced supply chain challenges that retailers are girding for this upcoming holiday season, finding physical copies of these titles could prove to be a bit of a challenge. So, perhaps consider gifting the book worms on your holiday shopping list the Kindle Paperwhite and a subscription to Amazon Kindle Unlimited? Virtually every one of the books listed above are available on the digital service along with millions of others as well as magazines and periodicals.

But there’s only so much one can read during those long winter nights so why not curl up on the couch with a nice cup of hot cocoa and watch some sterling examples of our new Golden Age of Television? If you’ve got a Trekkie on your holiday shopping list, you really can’t go wrong with a subscription to Paramount+. The $5 - $10 a month service unlocks a plethora of Star Trek shows including the Emmy award-winning Picard and the hilarious Lower Decks.

For the cinephile on your list, assuming you can’t get your hands on the upcoming Criterion 4K collections, an HBO Max subscription works just as well. For $10 a month, you’ll give the gift of a massive movie selection as well as popular weekly news and interview series like Pause with Sam Jay and This Week Tonight with John Oliver, not to mention incredible documentaries like Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street.

Got someone with small children on your gift list? Throw them a bone with a Disney+ subscription. The service hosts nearly the entirety of Disney’s massive, decades-deep archives along with new family-friendly series and episodes arriving daily.

These are the audio gadgets to gift this season

The holidays are always a good time to help someone upgrade their audio setup, whether that’s earbuds, headphones, speakers or something else. We’ve curated a list of the best sounding gear you can buy right now, with options for true wireless, noise cancelling, immersive audio and more at a range of prices and in a number of product categories. There’s even a set of $20 earbuds that would make an excellent stocking stuffer.

Sony WF-1000XM4

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Sony’s excellent WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds were in desperate need of an update, and the company obliged earlier this year. The WF-1000XM4 are completely redesigned with a new look and smaller, more comfortable body. Sound quality is excellent and powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) can be configured to adjust automatically based on your activity or location. Sony increased battery life to eight hours (ANC on) and tacked on wireless charging this time around There’s also LDAC support for high-res audio over Bluetooth and DSEE Extreme upscaling to recover details lost to compression. The company’s speak-to-chat feature, although imperfect, is handy when you need to have a quick convo.

Buy WF-1000XM4 at Amazon - $280

Sony WH-1000XM4

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

I said “the best just got better” during my review of the WH-1000XM4 last summer and that sentiment still holds true. No other company comes close to what Sony offers on its flagship noise-cancelling headphones when you combine sound quality, ANC performance and features. Multi-device connectivity is handy for jumping from your laptop to your phone during the workday while speak-to-chat and quick-attention mode allow you to take brief pauses for short conversations. 30-hour battery life, deep punchy bass and 360 Reality Audio support are also items Sony checked off the wish list.

Buy WH-1000XM4 at Amazon - $348

Jabra Elite 3

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Jabra was a surprise when it burst on the true wireless scene with its Elite 65t earbuds in 2018. Since then, the company has continued to refine its lineup of mid-range and premium options. In 2021, Jabra debuted the Elite 3: a tiny, comfortable set of earbuds that cover all of the basics for just $80. The comfy fit, impressive sound quality, reliable on-board controls and solid battery life make the Elite 3 as close to a no-brainer as it gets if you’re looking to give someone earbuds this year without breaking the bank.

Buy Jabra Elite 3 at Amazon - $80

Sony SRS-RA5000

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For the audio aficionado in your life who has seemingly everything, it might be time to give Sony’s 360 Reality Audio a try. And even if you’re not willing to splurge for a top-tier streaming plan to unlock the requisite content, the company’s SRS-RA5000 speaker is still a nice centerpiece for a modest setup. With crisp and clear audio quality, the RA5000 handles all music well thanks to upscaling tech, so you’re not limited to Sony’s immersive format. There are plenty of ways to customize the sound and the speaker automatically calibrates itself to the room where it’s placed. Connectivity options abound, so the person on your shopping list can control everything from their phone without leaving their seat.

Buy Sony SRS-RA5000 at Crutchfield - $698

Sonos Roam

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Sonos’ second attempt at a portable speaker is a more compelling product which makes it a solid option for your holiday shopping exploits. On the Sonos Roam, good audio quality only gets better when you use two of the speakers in a stereo pair. Even if you just opt for one, the compact design is much more portable than the larger Move. It’s durable and waterproof, plus you get all of the benefits of other Sonos speakers — like multi-room audio, TruePlay tuning, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and more.

Buy Roam at Sonos - $179

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2

Audio Technica

Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50xBT were my top pick for non-ANC headphones since their debut. The combination of a fold-in design, comfy fit and warm sound quality made these so great. The company returned in August with the ATH-M50xBT2: an updated version that offers an even more compelling headphone option for anyone on your list. Alexa is now built in and multipoint Bluetooth allows you to connect to more than one device simultaneously. There’s also a low-latency mode for games and video on top of LDAC support to recover some of the sonic details typically lost to compression. And with claims of 50-hour battery life, there’s no need to plug these in often.

Buy ATH-M50xBT2 at Amazon - $199

J-Lab Go Air Pop

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Earbuds aren’t typically something you’d purchase as a stocking stuffer, mostly due to cost, but J-Lab has an extremely affordable option if you really want to go that route. At just $20, the Go Air Pop covers a lot of the basics, including eight hours of battery life with three additional charges in the case. Touch controls and EQ presets are in play as well, alongside IPX4 water resistance so these can easily double as a workout companion for any New Year's resolutions.

Buy Go Air Pop at JLab - $20

THX Onyx

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

What do you give the person who already has a set of headphones they really like? Something to make them sound even better. The THX Onyx is a tiny USB-C DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that supports master-quality audio content, though it obviously requires using wired headphones. LEDs indicate which format you’re listening to, including standard, high resolution, Direct Stream Digital (DSD) and Master Quality Authenticated (MQA). Inside, the Onyx packs a THX AAA-78 amplifier chip: the highest-powered mobile THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier configuration. THX says the AAA-78 makes the Onyx just as powerful as a desktop DAC or amplifier setup, but it's much smaller. The chip reduces three types of distortion by up to 40dB and maximizes output power for more dynamic range and sound pressure level (SPL). That’s a lot of power in a tiny device.

Buy THX Onyx at Razer - $200

Small, affordable gadgets that make great stocking stuffers

It’s easy to think that the best gadget gifts are the fanciest and most expensive things. But there are plenty of options out there for the techie in your life that don’t require you to empty your wallet. If you’re struggling to come up with the right present for the early adopter in your life, we’ve gathered some of our favorite things that are both small and affordable. The best part? Everything comes in at $50 or less.

Chromecast with Google TV

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If you’re at a loss when it comes to a good, cheap gift for the techie in your life, you can’t go wrong with a Chromecast. The latest Chromecast with Google TV is the one to get right now and it doesn’t matter if your giftee uses Google products already. Like other Chromecasts, this one lets you stream movies and TV shows from major services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu andHBO Max, among many others.

The Google TV interface has always been pretty easy to navigate, but it’s simpler than ever thanks to the remote that now comes included with the Chromecast. It has an Assistant button, giving you quick access to voice commands, plus a circular D-pad, shortcut buttons for YouTube and Netflix, and support for HDMI-CEC and IR, allowing you to control your entire TV with it. And, unlike larger set-top boxes or smart TVs that your recipient may already have, the Chromecast is portable, so they can take it with them to make binge-watching their favorite shows easier when they’re not at home.

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Best Buy - $50

Apple AirTags

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Most of us have someone in our lives who misplaces everything — their keys, wallet, purse or backpack, the list goes on. If that person in your life happens to also own an iPhone, AirTags make great gifts and you can buy one for only $30. (You could even get an AirTag case for them, too, and still spend less than $50.) These quarter-sized Bluetooth trackers pair almost immediately with iOS devices and can then be tracked using the Find My app.

You can use them to keep track of nearly anything, but they work best on items that take clips or keyrings or things like backpacks that have small pockets. In addition to showing their location, the Find My app also lets you force the AirTag to play a loud chime so you can more easily find it in your home. And if you’re close enough to the missing item, Apple’s Precision Finding feature can literally guide you to it using the tech in your iPhone’s U1 chip.

Buy Apple AirTag at Amazon - $29

KeySmart Classic key holder

KeySmart

Those who have a mess of jangling keys weighing down their pockets may benefit from a KeySmart holder. The $23 Classic model is the best for most people as it’s slim and holds up to 14 keys in a neat little sandwich of sorts, in between two aluminum and stainless steel pieces. It’s easy to stack all of your keys on either end of the KeySmart and, once installed, you can rotate out only the key you need to unlock your door. The Classic also comes with a loop ring so you can easily attach your stuffed KeySmart to something larger like your car key.

Buy KeySmart Classic at Amazon - $23

Anker Nano II GaN charger

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Chargers like the Nano II GaN 65W adapter from Anker may not be the first things that come to mind when you’re exploring tech gift ideas, but they are some of the most useful gadgets out there. We all have so many devices — phones, tablets, smartwatches, headphones, earbuds, and more — and most of them need regular charging. An extra charger like Anker’s lets you power up more devices at once, but it also does so more efficiently. The gallium nitride technology inside this small cube prevents it from overheating even when charging up a larger device like a MacBook Pro. It’s also 58 percent smaller than the MBP’s own charging adapter, so it’ll take up less space in a bag or backpack when you’re on the go.

Most bricks of this size aren’t able to support fast-charging for multiple devices, but the 65W capacity of this Nano II model makes it a good option for all of your devices. Just before publishing this story, the 65W model went up in price by a few dollars, pushing it over our $50 threshold — but Anker sells 45W and 30W models as well, so you can get the same charging technology for even less.

Buy Anker Nano II (65W) at Amazon - $55Buy Anker Nano II (45W) at Amazon - $40Buy Anker Nano II (30W) at Amazon - $34

Anker USB-C to Lightning cable

Anker

As with chargers, we all could use an extra cable on hand in our living rooms, backpacks, on our desks at work or anywhere else where we need to power up. Anker’s got plenty of Powerline II charging cables for all types of devices, but arguably the two most useful are the MFi-certified USB-C to Lighting cable and the USB-C to C connector. The former supports fast-charging and has been tested to withstand the bends and twists necessary to fuel your iPhone in strange places. The latter can fast-charge many devices and it works with larger tablets and laptops as well, making it a good all-purpose cable for your various USB-C gadgets.

Buy Anker USB-C to Lightning cable at Amazon - $15Buy Anker USB-C to C cable at Amazon - $20

Joby GripTight One GorillaPod stand

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Joby

Joby’s GorillaPod stands aren’t just for aspiring social media stars or photographers. The GripTight One stand in particular is a handy tool that anyone will find useful when they need to take a quick family photo, prop their phone up to watch a YouTube video, or hold their phone at a better angle to take a selfie. Its clamp grip can hold all smartphones and its rubber feet prevent it from slipping. But the flexible legs are the kicker here — they let you wrap the stand around objects like railings so you can get the best angle possible when shooting photos or videos. And considering how compact and lightweight it is, Joby’s stand is one of the best options out there for a travel phone stand.

Buy Joby GripTight One at Amazon - $35

Mophie 15W Wireless Charging pad

Mophie

Charging pads are like charging cables: It never hurts to have an extra wireless charging pad lying around. Mophie’s 15W pad is one of the nicer looking ones we’ve seen with its rounded square design, ultrasuede finish and LED indicator light. It’s compact enough to fit on a crowded side table next to your couch or on your desk. With 15W of power, it’ll fast-charge most smartphones and it works with cases up to 3mm thick. And, since it supports the Qi standard, you can use it to power up almost anything else with a wireless charging case, like those wireless earbuds you just bought.

Buy Mophie wireless charging pad at Amazon - $50

Bandai Original 90s Tamagotchi

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Suckers for ‘90s nostalgia will be thrilled to find an original Tamagotchi in their stocking. The digital pet from 1997 is back and, at least with this model, not much has changed. You’ll still be tasked with feeding, cleaning and taking care of your Tamagotchi using the three buttons on the egg-shaped device. Yes, you can even discipline the creature when it’s bothering you — just make sure not to neglect it to the point of starvation.

Buy Original 90s Tamagotchi at Amazon - $20

Bellroy Classic Pouch

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Some people have started to go back into the office and maybe you know someone who’s been trying to bring some small comforts from home into the workplace. Shuttling mice, charging cables, power banks and keys to and from anywhere can make it look like a bomb went off inside your bag. Bellroy’s Classic Pouch is a good way to tame that mess. Measuring 5.5 x 8.9 inches, this half-moon, zippered pouch can fit most small essentials that you’d want to keep with you at all times. Inside are a few organizational pockets, including one with a magnetic closure,. We also appreciate the nine sophisticated colors that it comes in, and many of the pouches are made of water-resistant, woven fabric created from recycled plastic bottles.

Buy Classic Pouch at Bellroy - $50

Samsung EVO Select microSDXC card (256GB)

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Samsung

It can be easy to underestimate the value of having more storage. Flash drives, memory cards, portable SSDs and the like are gadgets that many people don’t have when they need it the most. Samsung’s EVO Select microSD card would make a good gift for any number of people in your life: photographers, gamers and all-around nerds. Samsung’s memory cards are some of the most reliable out there and also the most versatile — this one has read speeds up to 100MB/s and write speeds up to 90MB/s. That makes this a great option for those who want more storage on their smartphone or tablet. It also comes with a full-sized adapter so those with DSLR cameras will make good use out of it, too. Lastly, this would make a great gift for someone whose Nintendo Switch is packed with games, allowing them to download and play more titles than they could before.

Buy EVO Select microSD card (256GB) at Amazon - $40

Yubico Yubikey 5 NFC

Yubico

Having a good password isn’t always enough, which is why you should turn on two-factor authentication for your most precious accounts whenever possible. The Yubikey 5 NFC gives you a physical way to unlock your devices when you’re asked to authenticate for a second time. This particular model has NFC, so you can simply tap it to a compatible device to verify your identity. It’s also a USB-A dongle of sorts, so you can plug it into your laptop so you’ll always be recognized when you’re using it. Yubico sells a USB-C NFC version as well, but at $55 it’s just a bit too expensive for this guide. We also appreciate that the entire Yubikey NFC series works with Windows, Mac, Chrome OS and most mobile devices, and that the keys are made from durable water- and crush-resistant fiberglass.

Buy Yubikey 5 NFC at Yubico - $45

PopSockets PopGrip for MagSafe

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget Popsockets

If you scoffed at PopSockets when they first came out, you’re not alone. But these circular doodads are actually great ways to better grip and prop up your phone. The only “problem” with older PopSockets is that they were a bit inconvenient to take off if you wanted to go socket-free for a time. But those with new iPhones don’t have to deal with that annoyance anymore thanks to the PopGrip for MagSafe, which is basically just a magnetic version of the classic PopSocket. It’ll attach to the back of any compatible iPhone and pop off which ease whenever you want to switch out your case. Also, the PopSocket itself has a swappable top, so you can add more of your personality to it with some of the company’s many interchangeable tops.

Buy MagSafe PopGrip at Amazon - $30

The best board games to gift this holiday season

Board games are a great gift for anyone who wants to spend time with friends and family without staring at the TV. They’re interactive, fun, and you get to tell everyone to put away their phones and tablets for a while. But instead of pulling out the same old classics like Monopoly and Scrabble, we recommend giving some new titles a try. Here, we’ve compiled a list of games that you might not have heard of, but will still make excellent gifts this holiday season. Some are perfect for fantasy and video game nerds, while others are likely to be a hit with the whole family.

Trails: A Parks Game

Keymaster Games

Trails is a great little board game for anyone who loves hiking or even just the idea of it. In Trails, players hike on picturesque nature paths while gathering resources, taking pictures and encountering wildlife, earning points along the way. Whoever gets the most points wins. The art in this game is beautiful, featuring 11 national park illustrations from the Fifty-Nine Park Print series. Trails makes an especially great game for nature lovers, as a portion of every game sale is donated to the National Park Service.

Buy Trails at Target - $20

Sleeping Gods

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Red Raven Games

If your loved one is a fan of open-world video games such as Skyrim or No Man’s Sky, Sleeping Gods could well be the perfect board game for them. In this cooperative game, you and up to three friends play the part of Captain Sofi Odessa and her crew, who find themselves lost in the Wandering Sea. With a game atlas of connecting maps and a thick choose-your-own-adventure style storybook, players will have to explore the land to uncover its secrets, fight beasts, complete quests and make game-changing decisions. It all adds up to an engrossing and immersive experience sure to please anyone who loves a good story.

Buy Sleeping Gods at Amazon - $85

Marvel United

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / CMON

MCU fans will definitely appreciate it if you give them Marvel United, a game where the player and their friends have to work together to defeat the forces of evil. They can take on the role of one of seven heroes such as Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow, each with their own unique powers and abilities. To win, players must choose their cards carefully and also collaborate with their partners to combine each other’s actions whenever possible. They’ll have to fight off henchmen, rescue civilians and, of course, take down one of three super villains: Red Skull, Ultron or Taskmaster. If X-Men is more their style, you could get them the Marvel United: X-Men version instead, where they get to play as characters like Professor X, Cyclops and Storm.

Buy Marvel United at Amazon - $35

Canvas

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Road to Infamy

Canvas is perhaps one of the prettiest board games we’ve ever seen — it’s so lovely that we almost want to hang the cover on a wall. It’s apropos because in Canvas, players are painters in an art competition. They collect art cards, layering them on top of one another to create their own unique “painting.” As they do so, certain icons will be revealed or hidden, which will determine the resulting score, depending on the objectives for that round. It might sound confusing, but Canvas is a beginner friendly game that should make a great gift for art lovers of all stripes.

Buy Canvas at Amazon - $45

Space Invaders

Buffalo Games

Space Invaders is an enjoyable dexterity game for the whole family, even for those who don’t remember playing the classic arcade title of the same name. In this game, players have to work together to defeat descending aliens plus the UFO mothership before their health runs out. But instead of smashing buttons, they’ll take turns launching battle tokens with a mini catapult, and each player has a special ability they can deploy as well. It all adds to a bunch of silly fun that anyone aged eight and up can partake in.

Buy Space Invaders at Target - $20

Summer Camp

Buffalo Games

Another excellent family game is Summer Camp, which will have your loved ones recalling fond memories of canoeing, making friendship bracelets and roasting marshmallows. In this game, players are racing against each other to earn merit badges in different categories such as adventure, arts and crafts, cooking, friendship, outdoors, games and water sports. They’ll want to buy the right cards, build the best combos and beat their opponents across the finish line to get the most points possible. It might not be as fun as actually being at summer camp, but hey, at least they won’t get eaten by mosquitos while playing.

Buy Summer Camp at Target - $25

Summoner Wars 2nd Edition

Plaid Hat Games

If your loved one isn’t new to the world of tabletop gaming, then consider giving them Summoner Wars 2nd Edition, a tactical dueling card game that pits them against a rival to see which one will reign supreme. Players take on the role of powerful summoners that each control a large army of units in the form of cards, which are then placed in a head-to-head board. They also choose one of six different factions, each with unique attacks and moves. Some wield dark magic that can drain enemies, while others utilize brute strength to force their way through. If they’re really into combat games with a lot of tactics and strategy, Summoner Wars would make a thoughtful gift. The only downside is that you'll have to gift this a bit late as it comes out on January 12, 2022.

Buy Summoner Wars at Amazon - $49

Wrath of the Lich King: A Pandemic System Board Game

Z-Man Games

For those who are really into World of Warcraft but might not have a lot of board gaming experience, Wrath of the Lich King: A Pandemic System Board game is the perfect introduction to the pastime. Based on a WoW expansion of the same name, players will take on the roles of legendary characters such as Thrall, Varian Wrynn, Sylvanas Windrunner, Tirian Fordring and Jaina Proudmoore, all of which will be familiar to anyone who’s ever played WoW. They’ll travel around the frozen continent of Northrend, completing quests and setting up strongholds in order to defeat armies of the undead and, eventually, the Lich King himself.

Why the long name? Well, the game utilizes similar mechanics found in Pandemic, a much beloved board game about eradicating the world of diseases. Those who are already familiar with Pandemic should be able to learn the game quite easily as a result, though Wrath of the Lich King has enough differences that it won’t feel like the same thing.

Buy Wrath of the Lich King at Target - $60

Cuphead: Fast Rolling Dice Game

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Cuphead

One of the most popular video games in 2017 was Cuphead, a run-and-gun style video game that features a hand-drawn 1930s art style. If you know someone who loved it when it came out, they might be interested in this card and dice version of the same game. Players play as Cuphead, Mugman, Elder Kettle or Ms. Chalice, and will attempt to defeat a gauntlet of bosses by rolling dice. Players can roll the dice as many times as they want per round, but there’s one problem: the time limit. It all adds up to a chaotic experience that really emulates the insane adrenaline rush of the original video game.

Buy Cuphead at The Op - $50

The best laptops and tablets to give as gifts

If you’re thinking of getting a laptop or tablet as a gift, you’ve got a wealth of options. Thanks to the latest round of hardware from Intel, Apple, AMD and NVIDIA, all of our portable devices have gotten steadily faster and more efficient. Even the cheapest iPad can be a decent productivity machine, while gaming laptops now have almost all of the power of their desktop siblings. And with the arrival of Windows 11, it's a perfect time to give someone a nifty PC upgrade, especially since very old computers won’t be able to step up.

Dell XPS 13

Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but the XPS 13 is still the best Windows ultraportable you can buy. The design hasn't changed much, but that's not a huge problem: It's still incredibly light and features extraordinarily thin screen bezels. And now you can also take advantage of Intel's latest 11th-generation processors. The XPS 13 can also be configured with an OLED screen, an ideal gift for someone who could use a bright and color accurate display. And if you’ve got someone in mind who could use even more power, the new XPS 15 has the same sleek design, but it has more room for a bigger display and better hardware.

Buy XPS 13 at Dell starting at $950

Apple MacBook Air

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Apple's MacBook Air hasn't been upgraded since last year's miraculous model — which gave it the winning combination of Apple's M1 processor, a fan-less design, and incredible battery life — but it's still one of the best laptops on the market. It's powerful enough to handle most productivity tasks and a few games, and whoever’s lucky enough to get it won’t have to worry about any fans spinning up, since it’s completely passively cooled. You can also find the M1-equipped MacBook Air on sale occasionally, making it one of the smarter gift purchases this season.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Apple iPad

Apple

Kudos to Apple for continually improving its entry-level iPad. Once again, it's one of the best tablet gift options on the market. It's faster than ever, thanks to Apple's A13 Bionic processor, and it includes more storage. The $329 model now comes with 64GB, or you could bump up to 256GB for $479. That's more than enough space to save every episode of Bluey and several seasons of Sesame Street to survive long car trips. Sure, the design hasn't changed much since last year, but that doesn't matter much — it’s still a more than capable tablet.

Buy iPad at Amazon - $329

Amazon Fire HD 10

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Amazon's Fire tablets are basically just video-first Android slates, but they also prove you don’t have to pay a ton to buy a useful tablet for someone. This year, the Fire HD 10 is a bit faster, has 50 percent more memory and features a slightly brighter screen. And, as a bonus, there's a Bluetooth keyboard accessory that can turn it into a cheap productivity tablet. But its core selling point is the same as always: it can tackle most tablet tasks easily, and it won’t cost too much. (There are also kid-centric Fire tablets worth considering, which come with a more durable case and two years worth of free replacements.)

Buy Fire HD 10 at Amazon - $150

Razer Blade 15

Razer

You can take all of the praise we've given Razer's Blade 15 over the years and apply it to the latest model. Razer's flagship gaming notebook still has a sleek unibody aluminum case, and it packs in the latest CPUs and GPUs, including NVIDIA's top-end RTX 3080. And thanks to improved screen choices, you can also gift models with fast 1,440p displays, which are sharper than 1080p screens, and easier to run natively than 4K displays. If portability is a greater concern, take a look at the new Razer Blade 14, a sub-four-pound notebook sporting AMD's latest processors.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer - $1,700

ASUS Zephyrus G15

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If the gamer in your life wants something more flashy and a bit lighter than the Razer Blade, consider the Zephyrus G15. With the combined power of AMD's latest processors and NVIDIA's latest graphics cards, it'll handle practically any game thrown at it. And if you're on a budget, you can find lower-end models cheaper than the equivalent Razer's. Mostly, though, we love this laptop because it has pretty much everything we'd want in a mobile gaming rig — that includes an excellent keyboard, a speedy 165Hz 1440p screen and excellent battery life. The only downside is that there's no webcam, but any aspiring streamer would rather have a separate external camera anyway.

Buy Zephyrus G15 at Best Buy - $1,550

Acer Chromebook 512

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The best Chromebooks are cheap, sturdy and powerful enough to handle basic school and office work. Acer's Chromebook 512 is one of the best current options, especially if you're looking for something for a child. It has a spill resistant keyboard, a sturdy impact-resistant case, and anchored keys that are harder for kids to pull off. Its Intel Celeron N4000 chip isn't the fastest, but it's enough to work on Google Docs, Sheets and Presentations without breaking too much of a sweat.

Buy Acer Chromebook 512 at Amazon - $200

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Sometimes it seems like there are just too many PC ultraportables to choose from, but Microsoft's Surface Laptop line are always a solid option. They feature some of the best keyboards on the market, excellent displays and support for all of Microsoft's notebook accessories, like the Surface Stylus. But mostly, we appreciate them for their design simplicity. They're sturdy, attractive and built for productivity. The latest 15-inch model also packs in speedy AMD processors that are powerful enough to play a few rounds of Overwatch.

Buy Surface Laptop 4 at Microsoft starting at $799