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The 2016 Tech Gift Guide: The Best Tablets, Headphones, and Gadgets

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The 2016 Tech Gift Guide: The Best Tablets, Headphones, and Gadgets

A recent survey showed that Americans will spend an estimated $75 billion on gadgets and tech gifts this holiday season. Along with that, the survey found that more than 50 percent of Americans plan on buying some kind of electronic gift for their loved one this holiday season.

That’s why we’ve put together our recommendations on what kind of pieces of consumer tech would make the best gifts. You’ll find the best of tablets, smartwatches, headphones, smart home, home audio, and even laptops that will be sure to make people happy on Christmas morning.

Tablets

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That same aforementioned survey showed that upwards of 37 percent of shoppers planned on purchasing a tablet for someone else. Unlike smartphones, which can get messy as a gift thanks to carriers and data plans, tablets are a great gift for an individual or even shared for a whole family.

When people think of tablets, the first place they go is iPads, which is understandable given how prevalent they are. Whether it’s the premium iPad Pro or the more affordable iPad mini, an iPad will always be an impressive gift. This year, the iPad mini 4 is a fantastic buy at $399 for someone who wants something portable and designed for consuming media. There are a number of stores with discounts for iPads this holiday season, so you may even be able to an iPad mini 4 for as little as $275.

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Aside from an iPad, you’ve got a few other options for tablets. On the far cheap end of things, you’ve got the LG G Pad X 8.0 to talk about. You may not have heard of the LG G Pad X 8.0 (which yes, is an unfortunate name), but it’s a new midrange tablet from LG available exclusively for T-Mobile. It works best as an e-reader, with the balance of a large screen and portable size you’ll find in an Android tablet. The bright screen works well even outside—though you may want to find some shade. However, the Reading Mode makes late-night reading easy on the eyes, and the versatility of Android 6.0 Marshmallow lets you read e-books from almost any digital bookshelf out there including comics.

Another unique option is the Lenovo Yoga Tab Pro 3. This is another Android tablet, but one unlike anyone you’ve ever seen; it comes with a built-in projector. Just pull out the kickstand and you’ve got the ability to shoot an image up on your blank wall straight from the back of the device. While it doesn’t project in 1080p or anywhere near 1000 lumens, the result is still impressive and unique in a remarkably small package. At $499 it’s the same price as the iPad mini 4, though it offers a very different experience using it.

For more information on tablets we suggest, check out our recent ranking of the best tablets you can buy right.

Headphones

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Headphones  are another huge category in holiday gifts—and with the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, it’s bound to come up even more often. This will be focused on everything wireless headphones, considering that’s what most people are going to be looking for. But first, you’ll need to decided first what kind of headphones you’re looking for: in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear.

In the in-ear category, the Jaybird X3 are hard not to recommend. If you’re looking for a pair of high quality wireless earbuds, your search should begin with Jaybird and with the X3. A price of $130 is nothing to sneeze at, but it does make these the least expensive new pair of headphones Jaybird has ever released. If you’re tired of EarPods falling out of your ears and sounding terrible during workouts, the Jaybird X3 is the solution. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a truly futuristic wireless experience, the Samsung Gear IconX are the pair to hold you over until Apple’s delayed AirPods come out next year.

As for on-ear, we’d point to the incredible Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones. The retro-infused modern aesthetics of all the company’s headphones are largely unchanged—and the headphones’ black and steel finish makes its styling more understated than Apple’s ostentatious Beats 2 Wireless headphones, which are available in a variety of undeniably plastic finishes. At $399, the P5 Wireless costs twice as much as the Apple competition, but the solid construction and use of luxurious materials more than makes up for the price difference.

For over-ear options, we’d point to two: first the expensive, but absolutely gorgeous Master & Dynamics MW60. At $549, the MW60 seems pricey, but its wireless audio quality and construction are completely unrivaled. The design and materials are top notch, but this might be the one pair of wireless headphones to fully convince those audiophiles skeptics in your life. Lastly, we give you the Sony MDR-ZX770BT wireless headphones, which offer great comfort, battery life, and sound quality all at an extremely affordable $99 pricetag.

Bluetooth Speakers

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Bluetooth speakers will no doubt continue to be a growing category in consumer tech. There are a few great options out there, but we have to start with the lineup from Ultimate Ears. The top-of-the-line Megaboom comes in at $399, but the $199 Boom 2 is where most consumers will probably land. In terms of sound quality, battery life, and design, the Megaboom and Boom 2 should be at the top of the list for Bluetooth speakers.

Next we’d point you to a few more interesting options: the Creative MUVO 2 and the Aquatune 5712. The Creative MUVO 2 is a fantastic budget option with a simple design. At $79, it’d make a great gift and is the perfect accent to a living room or office. Meanwhile, the Aquatune 5712 is made to be taken anywhere your adventurous heart leads you. This portable $35 Bluetooth speaker is nearly indestructible and is built for outdoor action.

A Smarter Home

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Home gadgets are where all the fun is these days. The smart home revolution is still under way, which means we’re getting a lot of exciting experimental products out there, pushing the boundaries of what technology can do.

Let’s start with television, or in particular, ways of getting Netflix up on the big screen. The two big suggestions we’d recommend are the Apple TV and the Chromecast. The more expensive option, the Apple TV, gives a comprehensive television experience, which includes access to all of Apple’s tvOS apps and games. Most importantly, you also get AirPlay, which is a unique mirroring feature that lets you quickly toss your MacBook content up to the television in seconds.

If you’re out of the Apple ecosystem or are looking for something a bit cheaper, we’d recommend the Chromecast, which comes in at just $25. This little HDMI dongle plugs right into your television and transforms it into a Netflix machine. It’s never been easier or cheaper to get your favorite subscription streaming services playing in your living room.

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Next we want to recommend something that falls in a unique category of gift: the Amazon Echo Dot. These voice-command devices are all the rage these days—and this second generation Echo Dot is an affordable place to start for people. If you’ve never interacted with a virtual assistant beyond Siri, then Alexa is sure to impress.

You’ll probably end up using the Echo Dot differently than other people (especially those with a whole bunch of smart home devices), but that’s what we think is so unique about it. You don’t need to be a super tech nerd to figure out how to use the Echo Dot and find Alexa useful. At $49, it makes for a fantastic gift.

Lastly, we’ve got some interesting odds and ends in terms of gadgets for the home. First is the Sen.se ThermoPeanut, which is a simple little product that tells you the temperature of the room you’re in at all times by talking with the app on your smartphone ($29). Next is the RIF6 Cube, which is a tiny 2-inch projector that can project in 1080p up to 120-inches ($299). Last is the Anova WiFi Precision Cooker, which is a genius cooking device that lets you cook away from your home using just your smartphone, a pot of boiling water, and some bagged food ($99).

Cheap Laptops

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Laptops are usually a bit too pricey to be buying someone for the holidays, but these days, a great laptop doesn’t need to be all that expensive. What we’re talking about here is Chromebooks—simple laptops that are made for activities like web browsing, Netflix watching, and word processing. So which are the best?

There are two great Chromebooks we’d point you to: the HP Chromebook 13 and the Acer Chromebook R11. The more premium option is the $499 HP Chromebook 13, which has a bigger display than the R11, and an incredibly solid unibody feel. Not only does the Chromebook 13 look stunning, its performance shows that at $499, the laptop can go toe-to-toe with $1,000 Ultrabooks and still hold its own. For Chromebooks on the higher end of the price scale, the HP Chromebook 13 is quite simply the new standard.

As for a cheaper Chromebook option, we’d recommend the Acer Chromebook R11. While this one’s made of plastic, you’re not going to be embarrassed to pull it out in public either. The R11 is certainly not a Chromebook without compromises. The build quality isn’t amazing, and the trackpad is downright bad at times. However, the R11 has enough positives to overshadow those downsides. It’s got a great display, a nice touchscreen, and impressive battery life. With its $299 pricetag, it’s uniquely positioned as the best laptop you can buy under $300.

If Chromebooks aren’t your thing, our last recommendation is the Intel Compute Stick. This interesting new form factor puts an entire PC on just a tiny dongle. At $349, the Compute Stick packs in plenty of performance for Windows 10 users to turn an ordinary display into a full-fledged personal computer. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it could be the perfect option for the right person.

Smartwatches

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Smartwatches may not have hit as big as many thought they would, but they’re still a desirable gift this time of the year. As for full-on smartwatches, the first place people turn will no doubt be the Apple Watch. While it’s a great smartwatch (especially the new second generation update), there are a variety of other options out there as well.

The first we’d offer is a couple of smarwatches from the Pebble world: the new Pebble 2 and the Pebble Time. The Pebble 2 is the long-awaited update to the original Pebble, coming in at just $100 for the version without a heart-rate monitor. Pebble offers battery life that stretches for weeks, as well as its own proprietary software in its smartwatches. It’s the most affordable way to get into the smartwatch game, making it a great gift idea.

In the Android Wear world, we’d recommend either the second generation Moto 360 ($299) or the more luxurious Huawei Watch ($349). Both come with circular watch faces, all day battery life, and beautiful displays. Android Wear smartwatches can be really useful and can make for a great digital assistant as you go through your day. These smartwatches can pair with both Android and iPhone devices.

Lastly, there are a variety of simpler activity trackers to consider as well. One of the best activity tracker/smartwatch combo is the Fitbit Alta. This $129 smartwatch gives you all the features of normal Fitbit bands, plus some helpful ways of interacting with smartphone notifications. It’s a stylish product that has quickly become the go-to for fitness wearables.

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