We’re solidly in the Christmas season, and that means it’s time to start thinking about buying gifts for friends and family. Christmas shopping is generally fun, but it can also be hard to find the exact right gift, especially if you’re trying to buy for someone who’s into tech. We thought we’d help you out by creating a gift guide of tech gadgets that we can confidently recommend.
All of the items in this guide are under $50, so they’d be perfect for gift exchanges or Secret Santa gifts, too. Read on for the list!
Note: to help support the blog, we earn a small affiliate commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase through the product links in this post.
Voice Assistant Speaker
Recommendation: Google Home Mini, $29
We talk about Alexa and Google Assistant a lot because voice assistants have gotten pretty cool. It’s surprising how convenient it is to be able to use your voice to find out what the weather is, set timers, play music, and ask questions. The speakers in this price range won’t have great sound quality for music, but the voice assistant features work very well. Even someone who has other Amazon or Google speakers can make use of one for another part of the house.
If the person you’re buying for doesn’t already have an Amazon or Google Assistant speaker, we’d recommend the Google Home Mini. It’s $29 through the end of the year, which is a fantastic deal. If you’re buying for someone who has bought into Amazon’s Alexa assistant, the Echo Dot is normally $50 but is currently on sale for $29 as well.
Portable USB Battery
Recommendation: Anker PowerCore II 10000, $23
Everyone needs a portable battery pack. Seriously. If you’ve ever been traveling, camping, or just walking around town for a day, you know how stressful it is to see your phone battery dwindling. Fortunately, you can easily get a pocket-sized USB battery pack to charge your phone or tablet on the go. This may sound like a boring gift, but it’s something that anyone can get use out of.
Anker is known for its portable batteries and chargers, and the PowerCore II 10000 is one of their newer models. It offers quick-charge capability for devices that support it, and has enough battery capacity to recharge most phones multiple times. Best of all, it’s small and lightweight–with portable batteries, you don’t always want to get the biggest thing because it’s something you’ll want to carry around with you.
Smartphone Car Mount
Recommendation: iOttie Easy One Touch 4, $25
Smartphones completely killed the windshield-mounted GPS market, and it turns out that we all use our phones to navigate when we drive. Add music or podcast control to that, and suddenly your smartphone feels like a more necessary part of your car than the radio. It really surprises me that car manufacturers haven’t started designing a phone holder into the dashboard area of new cars.
But they haven’t, so we’re stuck buying special mounts to hold the phone in an easy-to-see spot on the dashboard or windshield. We’ve used a lot of these mounts to varying degrees of success, but the best so far is the iOttie Easy One Touch. It’s the only mount we’ve seen that doesn’t come unstuck from the dashboard after a few weeks of use. The newer models also have a new latching mechanism that makes it extremely easy to insert and remove the phone from the mount. This is a great gift for anyone who wants to safely use their smartphone in the car.
Recommendation: TP-Link Smart Plug Mini, $25
If you haven’t used smart lights, you can’t fully appreciate the extreme sense of power and laziness that you get from laying on the couch and saying, “Alexa, turn on the lights.” It’s amazing. I have my Christmas tree plugged into a smart plug so I can turn the tree lights on automatically when I get home in the evening. This is the future.
The TP-Link Smart Plug Mini is a great smart plug that doesn’t cost very much. It pairs especially well with an Alexa or Google Assistant device because you can use voice commands to turn the plug on and off. It’s simple to install–you just plug it into an electrical outlet and then plug a lamp or other appliance into it. For such a simple device, it’s pretty useful around the house.
Recommendation: Arkon Phone Tripod Mount, $22
Know someone who takes an annoying amount of selfies? Even worse, do you know someone with a selfie stick? You should help them step up their game and not look as ridiculous by getting them a miniature tripod for their phone. You’ve probably seen the small tripods with the moveable arms that you can wrap around a railing or just set up on a flat surface. They’re perfect for taking pictures on the go.
The Arkon Phone Tripod Mount is well-reviewed and already has a clamp on the top for securing your phone to the tripod. I like to have a tripod like this with me when I’m on vacation for taking pictures that I can’t easily get by holding the phone in my hands. Because it’s so small, it’s easy to throw into a pocket or backpack and carry around.
Recommendation: Creative Muvo Mini, $38
I never thought I would become the kind of person who plays music from my phone, but I am that person. Not on public transportation, but in the comfort of my own home. And even though smartphone speakers have gotten pretty good, I still think it’s worth buying a portable Bluetooth speaker if you want to casually play music around the house.
I picked up the Creative Muvo Mini a few years ago and have been really happy with it. It has much better sound quality than my phone and lasts seemingly forever on a charge. It’s water-resistant, so I don’t have any concerns about taking it outside if I’m working in the yard. It’s just an affordable, solidly-built device that I get use out of nearly every day, making it perfect for this guide.
TV Streaming Box
Recommendation: Chromecast, $20
In 2017, it seems like the only reason to have cable is if you watch sports. Most of us get all of our TV shows and movies from streaming services like Netflix, so we’ve all replaced cable subscriptions with streaming boxes. Of all of the options available, the Google Chromecast is probably still the best value for the money, costing only $20 right now.
The Chromecast lets you easily play video content from your phone, tablet, or computer to your TV. You can use it to watch Netflix or other streaming video services, or use it to show pictures from your phone. Even people who use a more expensive box such as an Apple TV or Fire TV on their main screen can appreciate a Chromecast for the bedroom TV. It’s a simple device that offers a lot of value for the money.
Remote-Controlled Ping Pong Ball
Recommendation: Sphero Mini, $50
I’m not sure if I need to explain any further than “remote-controlled ping pong ball”. You might recognize Sphero from other ball-shaped remote controlled toys, such as their version of the Star Wars BB-8 droid. The Sphero Mini is a new product from them that costs only $50 and looks like a lot of fun.
You can control the Sphero Mini from a phone app and roll it around using a few different control methods, including one that uses your facial expressions to steer the ball around. It’s not necessarily useful, but it does look like a lot of fun.