An Opinionated Guide
It’s that time of the year. Christmas is coming and Black Friday discounts are all over the place, even in countries that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.
This post is for you if you are into technology and looking for gifts for your friends and family who aren’t as tech-savvy. Gifts that will be functional and upgrade their digital life, yet ones they might not think of, or were scared to look for due to multitude of options, possibilities and – that’s where you come into play – not knowing who to ask for details or guidance.
The First Principle
That last part already translates into first principle of such gifts. You will be asked for assistance, as you already are (probably), regardless of what tech is actually used. By gifting you have some control over what that tech is. Therefore the first principle is: buy product line, service or brand that you use yourself. So that when guidance is needed, you’re already familiar with it, willing to learn more and keeping frustrating surprises to a minimum.
This guide can also be used to find a gift for a tech geek, but the first principle becomes different in this case: buy product line, service or brand they already use, are familiar with or expressed interest in getting. An iCloud gift card for someone who doesn’t own a single Apple device will be a frustrating miss – so close, yet so useless.
The Second Principle
That digression informs our second principle and something I usually strive to adhere to every time gifting happens: make the gift giftable further (or even returnable). Therefore avoid custom name engravings (yes, people still do that) or buying services that will be already tied and unseparable from recipients email. This way even if your recipient won’t make use of the gift, they’re at least able to make someone else happy, so that money and effort won’t go to waste. Unfortunately that will limit our digital gifts to ones that have support for gift cards, physical or digital.
This is an opinionated guide, not a comprehensive list of all the possibilities. I’m explaining reasoning where possible, so that it can still help you pick gifts, even if not the specific items recommended.
The money tiers are approximate, you can find promos and bargains below a given amount, you can spend some extra money as well.
Tier 1: 50 Euro range
There’s not a lot of impactful and useful tech you can buy in this price range, but there are two important digital life upgrades that fit this budget.
1. Security Token. In the time of people losing their digital identities to cybercrime, password is too weak of an authentication mechanism, especially for the important services (email, cloud storage, etc.). Gift a Yubikey, or preferably two, help in setting them up, talk about having a spare, maybe also assist in setting up an authenticator phone app (my personal fav is Authy as it allows syncing encrypted data to cloud and changing phones) as either backup or a mechanism for less crucial services.
2. Cloud Storage and Backup with gift card. First you need to check which phone or ecosystem the recipient is using (Android-Google or iPhone-Apple) and then it’s pretty simple: Google One with Google Play gift card, or iCloud+ with Apple Gift Card. This is a substantial upgrade from the free plans and their limitations, allowing stress-free and automated backups to those clouds. And even if the recipient is already paying for those, they can still use the gift card to pause their own payments. This is also a great opportunity to introduce the recipient to thinking about backups and data safety in general.
3. Power Bank with jump starter. Of course most useful for people who own a car or a motorcycle. Especially useful during the winter, when that under-maintained car battery decides to reach end-of-life at the first deeper frost. Check the tests in car accessories review magazines or channels, it’s about ability to start a car that has no battery, not about the mAh numbers.
Tier 2: 150 Euro range
We’re entering serious money teritory, so the checking and asking (if recipient already has a given item) become even more important. In no particular order:
4. Network Attached Storage (NAS). A good next step after cloud storage from point 2. I own a Synology, so I’d gift a DS120J (well within this budget) or DS124 (slightly above the budget). Those still need a 3.5 inch HDD to work, but maybe you have a spare somewhere, or another person can gift the same recipient with a well-sized (4TB and up) drive for that NAS. If you provide assistance in setting that NAS up for automated backups from recipients’ computers, and mirroring/syncing data from cloud storage (finally reaching “at least 2 copies in 2 locations” stage of backing data up), you’re going to make recipient’s life way better in case of any hardware or service failure.
Of course there’s no upper price limit when it comes to NAS-es and the drives you put inside. But the beautiful part is that the disks can be moved and NAS boxes have good resale price (because they don’t degrade), so the recipient can always upgrade to a bigger (more disk bays), newer one with minimal value loss.
5. Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). This is something that will keep their NAS or even PC running in case of power failure, something always valuable for a NAS and very useful for people working on their PC. For those applications, modified sine wave is good enough, although you can always splurge on pure sine wave. The rule of thumb is: a reliable UPS from a reputable company with fewer features is better than same-priced off-brand with a lot of features. Tip: if the recipient owns (or is about to own) a NAS, check the NAS manufacturer website for a list of supported UPS brands and models – these will handle informing your NAS that UPS just switched to battery mode and NAS needs to shut down gracefully.
There’s extra hardware to be added (the actual lead-acid battery, and one that will work well with UPS) and there’s no upper price limit. But even a cheap-ish UPS with few features and small battery is better than running without any UPS at all.
6. Portable Power Station. Not exactly a UPS, although many can work like one, this is more of a camping, off-grid and emergency power device that you can take anywhere, to power appliances from built-in inverter or just as an oversized powerbank. In this budget, and with the help of some promo codes, I was able to buy Baseus 450W 90000mAh, and it has all the features I would need.
Again there is no upper price limit (but I suggest you stick to sizes and capacities that are still portable) and there’s an optional accompanying hardware: portable (foldable) solar panels that can charge up such station. That’s also going to be a good introduction to offgrid systems
Tier 3: 250 Euro and up range
Just read the previous Tier!
I’ve omitted some categories on purpose, like Mini PCs or Single-Board-Computers or all the smart home stuff (Zigbee bridges and devices). I love them, but for gifting they require a good coordination with the recipient are they even interested. Of course you can buy an Ikea Tradfri or Philips Hue starter set, but I wanted to keep this list compact and focused.
And remember: item is half of the gift. The other half should be the time you spend helping set it all up. It’s about upgrading recipient’s life, not just throwing another e-waste to collect dust on a shelf.