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Best holiday tech gifts: Thoughtful gadgets for last-minute shoppers

'Tis the season of giving, and we're giving you the best tech gift recommendations for family, friends, and yourself.

Beyond socks, shirts, and chocolates, there is a huge market for tech gifts that are fun to receive and can also be functional for work, entertainment purposes, or study. Whether you're on the hunt for the best gaming laptop, tablet, or fitness tracker for a loved one, or you are looking for interesting gadgets as stocking stuffers and smaller presents, there is a huge variety of products on offer for the holiday season. 

To see out our top recommendations for tech products, gadgets, and accessories over the holiday season, check out our guide below.

Stocking stuffers for under $100

Gifting to someone who works from home? Consider the Razer Pro Click Mini. It's one of, if not the most, silent mice that I've ever used, which makes it the perfect distraction-free peripheral. The mouse isn't big by any means -- it's called Mini -- but Razer has done an excellent job building the ergonomics and curvature of the Pro Click, so that your hand rests comfortably when scrolling and clicking away. With up to seven programmable buttons and a wire-free design, the mouse complements any work station.

Gifting for someone who just upgraded their phone? If they purchased an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or even Google Pixel, chances are, they didn't get a charger in the box. A majority of smartphone manufacturers have joined the "Go Green" initiative over the past two years, resulting in more plastic-free packaging and less accessories in the box. The Anker Nano Pro can charge up to 20 watts, enough to fast charge iPhones and Android devices, and is as compact as Apple's own 5 watt charging brick. 

Also: ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes' Anker Nano Pro photo tour

Affordable, secure, and optimized for Android, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series are the wireless earbuds to buy if you're shopping with a Benjamin. A penny shy of $100, I think these are among the best in this price range. They sound excellent, have a pain-free fit -- thanks to the rubberized ear wings -- and charge comfortably in the included case. The packaging is also eco-friendly and will have no trouble sliding into any stocking.

Also: Best wireless earbuds 2021: The greatest hits

The best camera is the one that's in your pocket. Take it a step further and toss in the Xenvo Pro Lens. This modular kit makes for a useful phone accessory (iOS or Android) that is likely to appeal as a gift to photography enthusiasts. The kit comes with a TruView 0.45x wide-angle lens, Clarus 15x macro lens, clips, an LED light, cleaning cloth, and case -- all the tools you need to get the right shot and the right places.

Also: Best camera phones | Best cameras

A great stocking stuffer, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is a compact and capable device that turns any TV into a smart one. When plugged in, the Roku stick gives you access to popular streaming services, including Disney+, Netflix, Peacock, and more -- all in 4K resolution (if your TV supports it). 

Also: Best video streaming services of 2021 | Best live TV streaming service of 2021

There are a couple of smartphone game pads on the market but this one from Razer is among the best. The grip of the Kishi controller is designed to rest comfortably on your hands and each button has just the right amount of travel for satisfying inputs. The game pad itself is lightweight and flexible enough to clamp onto a variety of iPhones.

Also: Best gaming laptops | Best gaming tablets

The best gifts for a little more ($100 - $300)

I'll be honest, Apple's AirPods make for great earbuds for iPhone users, especially. So, what's the best alternative in the case that your recipient uses Android? Check out the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro. Three generations in, Soundcore knocked it out of the park this year with these clear-sounding, well-tuned, wireless earbuds. I've been daily driving the Liberty 3 Pro for the past month and it continue to blow me away with superb active noise cancelling, rich bass, and a form factor that conforms to my ears -- not the other way around. The best part? They cost significantly less than typical premium wireless earbuds.

Also: Best wireless earbuds of 2021: AirPods have competition

Now available for $299, the 128GB Oculus Quest 2 is one of the best value virtual reality headsets on the market. Thanks to its cable-less design, the setup process is as easy as putting the headset on. Better yet, there is now a thriving game ecosystem, ranging from horror titles -- such as the Resident Evil series -- to explorers and puzzles. Or, immerse yourself in a variety of fitness games -- like Beat Saber and BOXVR.

Also: Best VR and AR headsets of 2021

You may have seen these hexagonal light panels clinging on the walls of YouTubers and streamers. Nanoleaf panels have blown up in popularity over the years for its distinct and modular nature, giving any room that it's assembled in a modern aesthetic. These panels aren't cheap but they look fantastic and, in my opinion, well worth the money. The new 'Elements' series turns its RGB panels into glowing woodwork.

Also: ZDNet's Jason Cipriani reviews the Nanoleaf Elements

Another holiday gift to consider this year is a Fitbit. The vendor is known for its activity trackers, and the Charge range is no exception. The Charge 5 is a Bluetooth-enabled tracker containing activity sensors, heart rate monitor, sleep tracker and also provides a 'readiness' score based on your sleeping patterns, heart rate, and exercise records.

See: Fitbit Charge 5 review: Best fitness tracker with color display, GPS, elegant form factor

If you're on the hunt for a solid Android tablet this holiday season, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 is a great option to consider. This tablet is equipped with a 10.4-inch display, an 8MP rear camera and 5MP front camera, Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor, 3GB RAM, and 32GB storage.

Also: Best Android tabletsBest tablets | Best budget tablets

Gifts worth splurging for ($500 and up)

We're halfway through the school year but it's never too late to give the gift of Apple's new M1-powered MacBooks -- or any of the company's gadgets that have the chip baked in. The MacBook Air gets my recommendation for its sleek and lightweight design, battery-efficient performance, and robust macOS experience. It's the perfect laptop for students, workers, anyone.

Also: Best laptops of 2021 | All about Apple's Silicon M1 chip

For a compact and reliable point-and-shoot, check out the Sony ZV-1. The digital camera is easy to use and captures vibrant 4K footage with a click. Standout features include a viewfinder that flips out, Sony's class-leading auto-focus tech, and even a hot shoe and 3.5mm mic port for narrative content creation.

If you're looking for a camera as a gift this holiday season -- for someone else, or, perhaps, yourself -- then this is an option well worth considering. After all, there's no better time to record all the festive memories than now!

Also: Eyeing mirrorless and DSLR cameras? These are the best of the year.

The 2021 Apple iPad mini, one of the latest models in Apple's lineup, has been redesigned to be smaller than previous models but has managed to keep an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, A15 processor, 64/256GB storage, and 4GB RAM. Apple fans looking to upgrade their iPad mini would certainly love this as a present this year.

See: Apple iPad Mini (6th Gen.) review: Unmatched portability and power

Also: Best tablets | Best budget tablets

The future is here! I mean, the past is here? Either way, it only takes a flip to understand why this Samsung Galaxy is one of the most-wanted gadgets of the year. Bringing back the good old flip phone form factor, Samsung has managed to refine it's Z Flip lineup this year with a couple of noteworthy upgrades. For starters, it's more durable than ever -- with an IP68 water and dust resistance rating -- and boast a 120Hz panel for ultra-smooth animations. Toss in 5G compatibility and a sub-$1,000 price tag, and you have a foldable recipe that's ready for the masses.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review: A stunning foldable | Best Samsung phones

For something extra special this year, you could look at the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox. This telescope brings together Nikon technology, automated field detection, and light pollution reduction systems to give the clearest sky possible to hobbyist astronomers. 

How we chose these products

Every holiday season, the hottest new technology often appeals no matter the age. It is also a time for many to ask for replacements, such as for a new laptop, phone, or gaming console. When we compiled our list, we considered not only the latest mobile device or PC, but also technology that could prove to be entertaining or valued in the recipients' daily lives.

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