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Holiday gift guide 2021: Top picks from CNET editors
Check out our top gift ideas, across all categories and prices.
John P. Falcone is an executive editor at CNET, where he coordinates a group of more than 20 editors and writers based in New York and San Francisco as they cover the latest and greatest products in consumer technology. He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
Yes, folks, the holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are in the rear-view mirror. But if you're like us, you've barely begun to check off everyone on your gift list. And the ongoing chip shortage and supply chain crisis this year isn't helping, making everything from toys to electronics to shoes more challenging to find than ever.
Thankfully, we're here to help. If you're on the hunt for great gifts, this is a top-level look at the CNET Gift Guide, with links to more specific breakout lists.
Move over, Yankee Candle: United by Form offers unique scents including Meadow (a combination of rainwater, honey, fig and cypress) and Spirit (leather, smoke, sandalwood, cardamom and papyrus). Each hand-poured 8-ounce candle has a 50-hour burn time.
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 and 2022 looks 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.
Sure, you can give a Starbucks gift card. Or, you can show your loved one a bit of variety with a subscription to Equator Coffees, which will land a new batch at their front door each month. Curated blend subscriptions start at $16 and will net your giftee a monthly 12-ounce bag of coffee (shipping is free). The single-origin subscription is $19 a month.
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 person. 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.
For those who are doubling down on their pandemic-honed cooking skills, this pair of non-stick frying pans are just the ticket. Both the 10.5-inch and 12-inch pans are Teflon-free (that's a good thing).
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.
Looking for a kid-friendly gift that doesn't induce screen fatigue or require batteries? Go for Legos. We like this Corvette set, which offers two cars for about $30. Lego has plenty of other cool options, including a dragster, racing 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 affordable. But note that they're starting to sell out.
This is CNET's favorite weighted blanket. We love its luxurious 300-thread count, 100% cotton exterior, and the fact that it's washable and the weighted beads don't shift around. It's a great gift for anyone who likes to snuggle under the covers while they're sleeping in (or bingeing their favorite Netflix show). These are also helpful sleep aids for anyone with issues like restless leg syndrome.
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. The 65-inch version of this TV dropped to $800 during Black Friday weekend; it's unclear if that price will return, but that's the floor you're looking for.
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.
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 a month, but preordering 12 months of the service brings the price down to $80 -- or just $6.67 a month. (It can also be bundled together with Hulu and ESPN Plus for $14 a month with ads on Hulu, or $20 a month without.) And because it supports four simultaneous streams and up to seven user profiles, it's an ideal gift for most families.
Want the easiest upgrade for an older HDTV? Just plug in the 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. (This unit sold for as low as $80 during Black Friday.)
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 don't like about this great tech gift is that it requires a Facebook login (the social media giant Meta owns Oculus).
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.
AAA is great when your battery dies, but why wait for them when you can handle the job yourself? This portable packs a 2,000-mAh battery that's said to be capable of starting an 8.5-liter gas engine, and it packs USB-C and USB-A ports to juice up your phone, too. This is a great gift for anyone who drives, especially if they live in more remote areas.