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Splurge a little: Best tech gifts under $500

It's not a new car with a giant bow on it, but these high-end gifts are sure to impress.

The buttons and joystick have a satisfying clicky-ness.
Sarah Tew/CNET

When an Amazon Echo Dot ($15 at Amazon) feels like not enough, but a new Apple MacBook ($432 at Amazon) feels like too much, you need a gift that's right up the middle. Extravagant, but not too extravagant. When shopping from around $250 to $500, you get to play in some really fun areas, like game consoles, robots and even 3D printers

These highlights will get you started, but we have a whole under-$500 section waiting for you right here

Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

Nintendo Switch 

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The must-have game system works as both a TV console and a portable game tablet. More importantly, it reminds us of how much fun co-op, same-room family gaming can be, thanks to four-way games like Super Mario Party, Mario Kart 8 and Overcooked. 

Apple iPad

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Now that it supports the very cool Apple Pencil stylus, the entry level 9.7-inch iPad is perfect for just about everyone, and a lot less expensive than the iPad Pro ($299 at Amazon). Look for discounts down to around $250 during holiday sales. 

Kano Computer Kit Touch

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Kano takes the popular DIY Raspberry Pi computer and uses it as the brains for this build-a-tablet kit for kids. The goal is to learn not only how to assemble parts, including circuit boards and wires, into a working gadget, but also basic coding for creating custom games, art and music. Or for around $100, you can try the Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit, which makes a programmable wand.

Arcade1Up Arcade Cabinet

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Perfect for apartment living, these half-size arcade cabinets come loaded with different collections of classic games, and still feel authentic enough to play. Add a sold-separately riser to bring it up to adult height, and check out everything from Rampage to Tempest to Street Fighter. 

Xbox One X

Josh Miller/CNET

For anyone just getting into Xbox or looking to upgrade, the highest-end version of that console handles 4K and HDR content like a champ, and some internal hardware updates mean some (but not all) games will look even better on the latest model. Of all the game consoles, the Xbox One is also the most universally useful as both a media streamer and an entertainment hub. 

Artiphon Instrument 1

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Electronic interfaces for music-making are nothing new, but most are in the shape of traditional keyboards, or else a box of pads for playing samples and programming beats. The clever, unusual Instrument 1 from Artiphon ($399) has a more guitar-like feel, down to frets and simulated strings. You won't mistake it for a real guitar -- the neck is way too wide, and the digital on/off nature of MIDI controllers means string-muting and other analog-style flourishes don't translate, but it's awesome for Eddie-Van-Halen-style tapping. It'll take more than the week I've played with it to master, but so far I'm digging using a guitar fretboard to play dirty '70s electric piano chords. 

Anki Vector

Sarah Tew/CNET

Think of this little robot like a version of Amazon's Alexa that rolls around. A sequel, of sorts, to the earlier Anki Cozmo ($179 at Walmart), Vector answers questions while also shooting photos, learning people's faces and playing with his little plastic cube. I was concerned that Vector is a bit on the slow side to respond to voice commands, but I play tested it with several under-10 kids, and they absolutely loved it. 

Pad & Quill Heritage Leather Satchel Bag 

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Yes, it's a lot to spend on a "laptop bag," but this isn't some basic case you pick up at the airport or in a big box electronics store. It's hand-made and comes with a 25-year warranty, while the roll top, which folds over the front, keeps water out and your gadgets safe. I've used many Pad & Quill products over the years, and the quality is always fantastic. 

Monoprice Voxel 3D printer 

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a gift that can literally make other gifts. Even a few years ago, 3D printers were finicky, hard to use and expensive. It's still not exactly plug-and-play, but this midpriced model had me unboxed and printing in under 20 minutes, and now I'm completely addicted. Check out some of my handiwork, from Star Wars toys to video game phone docks, here.  

Looking for more cheap picks? Check out our complete list below.

Originally published Oct. 31.
Update, Dec. 14: Added the Kano Computer Kit Touch.

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