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Holiday gift guide 2021: Top picks from CNET editors

Check out our top gift ideas, across all categories and price points.

Yes, folks, the holidays are upon us. Halloween is in the rear-view mirror, and Thanksgiving -- and Black Friday -- are just a few short weeks away. But with the ongoing chip shortage and supply chain crisis this year, holiday shopping is looking to be more challenging than ever. The best way to avoid empty shelves and disappointed family members is to shop early. Two things make that easier and less risky than usual: The growing number of price-match guarantees from many retailers, and the increase of early Black Friday deals, many of which are already ongoing. 

So for those of you who are already on the hunt to stockpile some gifts, here's a first pass at some of our favorite options. We'll continue to keep this listed updated. But in the meantime, keep reading for a selection of cool gift ideas, including smart devices, gaming systems and wireless earbuds. 

PlayStation 5

Still playing hard to get
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

What was the toughest gift to find in 2020? The PS5. What's the toughest gift to find in 2021? Still the PS5. The king of the gaming consoles remains the toughest ticket to land, and with good reason: The PlayStation 5 is starting to rack up some solid exclusives (thank you, Deathloop), with 2022 looking to be even stronger, thanks to long-awaited sequels landing in the Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War series. We're doing our part to help you find a PS5 on any given day, but with shortages persisting for the foreseeable future, it's worth considering a new Xbox or Switch, too. 

The iPhone 13 family

The latest and greatest iPhones
iPhone 13 Pro Max
Patrick Holland/CNET

More phone gift options: Best phones under $500

Yes, some of the iPhone 13 improvements are more subtle than others. But if you're buying for anyone with an iPhone 11 or older, the 2021 models are an excellent upgrade, with improved cameras, more durable screens and far better battery life than their predecessors. Most people will find the baseline model ($829 unlocked) to be more than enough phone, especially now that they finally -- finally! -- start at 128GB of storage, which will be more than enough for the average user. But the pair of iPhone Pro upgrades offer better camera options and -- with the $1,099 iPhone Pro Max -- a jumbo 6.7-inch screen. A smaller iPhone remains in the line with the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini (starting at $729 unlocked), too. If that's still too big of a plunge, the 2020 iPhone SE is available unlocked with 128GB of storage for a much more reasonable $450, and it's got a good old-fashioned Touch ID fingerprint scanner, too.

Nintendo Switch OLED

Bigger screen, better kickstand
Dan Ackerman/CNET

This update of the Nintendo Switch adds a bigger 7-inch OLED screen, a much better kickstand and ships with 64GB storage on board. It's not a must-have upgrade if you have the earlier Switch model, as the graphics and game catalog are identical. And you can still hook it up to the TV if you want to play on the big screen. But for anyone looking for the most family-friendly game system with a long list of exclusive games -- the Zelda, Mario, Metroid and Pokemon franchises can only be found here -- this is a great alternative to the PS5 and Xbox. 

TCL 6 Series 4K TV

The best TV for the money
TCL 6-Series 2020 Roku TV 65R635
David Katzmaier/CNET

More TV gift options: Best TV and streamer gifts for the holidays

Our favorite current TV model pairs superb QLED image quality and built-in Roku smart TV streaming with a sub-$1,000 price (on the 55-inch size). Yes, you can get deeper blacks and better picture quality, but you'll be spending far more.

Xbox Series X

For Halo fans and more
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Why get an Xbox instead of a PS5? Two big reasons come to mind. First, you won't find the newest Halo game, Halo Infinite, anywhere except the Xbox. And secondly, if you pony up for an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, you'll get access to more than a hundred games -- including the aforementioned Halo Infinite, as well as dozens of EA titles -- to download as you please at no extra charge. 

Roku Streambar

Easy upgrade for an older TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

More soundbar gift options: Best soundbars and home audio for the holidays

Want the easiest upgrade for an older HDTV? Just plug in the $130 Roku Streambar, and you'll immediately add stronger audio and the best smart TV streaming system, with every app you can imagine. The remote included with this smart device will control your TV's power, too.

Oculus Quest 2

VR gaming is here, and it's great
Oculus Quest 2
Scott Stein/CNET

More VR options: Best VR headsets for 2021

The second Oculus Quest is an ideal sequel, taking everything about the promising original model and amping it up with a higher-resolution display, faster processor and more comfortable visor. Unlike PC or PS4 competitors, the Quest 2 is a self-contained VR system, with zero wires to encumber the fun. At $300 for the baseline model and $400 for the 256GB version, it's price competitive with the other big game consoles this year, too. The only thing we really don't like about this great tech gift is that it requires a Facebook login (the social media giant owns Oculus).

Apple iPad (9th-gen, 2021)

The best tablet value
iPad Mini and 9th Gen iPad
Scott Stein/CNET

More tablet gift options: Best tablets for 2021

Updated for 2021, the baseline iPad is a great gift for anyone because it's a great Swiss army knife of a gadget: Use it for watching Netflix, playing games, browsing the web or -- with its fancy new Center Stage camera -- Zoom calls with the family that will automatically keep you in the frame. Add a keyboard, and it's a decent laptop replacement. Invest in an Apple Pencil, and it's a makeshift artist's canvas. Yes, serious artists or productivity mavens can step up to the iPad Pro, and those who want a more portable travel companion can grab a new iPad Mini, but both are far more expensive. In the meantime, the baseline iPad -- which now ships with a reasonable 64GB of storage -- remains the best bang for your buck, and a great upgrade option for anyone with a tablet from 2018 or earlier.

Lego Technic Getaway Truck

Under $20, great for kids

More gift options: Best gifts for kids

Looking for a kid-friendly gift that doesn't induce screen fatigue or require batteries? This Lego jalopy includes a pullback motor and an engine block that pops out when it crashes. Other affordable options in this series include a dragsterracing truck and two different monster truck kits (Max-D and Grave Digger), some of which offer alternate construction options and combinations, too. Any of them are great for kids aged 7 and older, and unlike some Lego sets, they're very affordable.

Disney Plus subscription

$80 buys 12 full months of Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and more

There are plenty of folks who let their Disney Plus subscription lapse between seasons of The Mandalorian or the latest Marvel show. But if you have kids in the house, it's tough to beat this streaming service, which pulls together the full range of the Disney library, including Pixar, Star Wars, National Geographic, The Simpsons and nearly everything in the Marvel superhero universe. The cost is just under $8 per month, but preordering 12 months of the service brings the price down to $80 -- or just $6.67 per month. (It can also be bundled together with Hulu and ESPN Plus for $14 per month with ads on Hulu, or $20 per month without.) And because it supports four simultaneous streams and seven discrete user profiles, it's an ideal gift for most families. 

You can buy Disney Plus for yourself or give Disney Plus as a gift.