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Best gifts for graduates in 2020: Top tech gifts and subscriptions for students

Here is our roundup for the best gadgets, devices, and services that the student or graduate in your life will love.

In a time when society has faced disaster and economic disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, celebrating important events such as birthdays or graduation seems a world away. 

However, daily life continues, and perhaps it is more important than ever that we carry on with such traditions not only to keep a sense of normalcy but to also give ourselves a break from the stress and anxiety many of us are feeling due to COVID-19 and the uncertainty the virus has caused.

Students and graduates are groups that have been hit hard by the pandemic, with studies disrupted and potential job market problems to face after graduation. With this in mind, we have compiled a list of gifts, including gadgets and services, that might make their lives a little easier and more enjoyable in the coming months. 

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn an affiliate commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review. 

Amazon Prime Student

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Amazon is no longer just an e-commerce platform for products. In recent years, Amazon has attempted to capitalize on the move toward streaming services and has opened up Amazon Music, Amazon Prime Video, an e-book and audiobook platform, and more. 

The Amazon Prime subscription covers these services on a limited basis, as well as offering both free and improved delivery times for a range of products. Same-day delivery is also available in some areas.

Amazon Prime Student includes unlimited music for an additional $0.99 per month and student-exclusive discounts.

At the moment, Amazon is offering six months of Amazon Prime Student for free before charging $6.49 per month or $59 per year. 

As a gift this year, you could offer to take on the subscription cost after the trial's expiry date, giving college students not only access to a useful delivery service, but also a range of music, television shows, and films to keep them entertained. Alternatively, graduates will appreciate the standard Prime service.

View Now at Amazon

Spotify

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We mentioned Amazon's music service earlier, but in comparison to dedicated music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, the range of available albums and content is limited. 

A Spotify subscription, therefore, could be a valued gift for both students hard at work and graduates. At a time when some of us are also experiencing lockdown and restriction of movement, a soothing playlist and new music to explore could, perhaps, keep stress levels down. 

Spotify is available as an ad-supported free version, or for three months, users can try out a premium alternative. An individual Premium account is available for $9.99 per month, a Family subscription including up to six separate accounts costs $14.99 per month, and students can take advantage of another subscription package for $4.99 per month that includes an ad-supported Hulu plan and access to Showtime. 

View Now at Spotify

Google Stadia

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Either trying to complete your studies or attempting to find a job after graduation in the middle of a pandemic is a vastly difficult challenge now being faced by thousands of students. 

Forced to stay at home in many cases, stress and anxiety levels can rise quickly and we may forget that downtime -- and staying in contact with friends and family -- is important, too. 

Gaming is one way to relax, forget about our current situation for a time, and enjoy spending time remotely with others. If someone doesn't have a PC powerful enough to manage modern games, there is another option -- Google Stadia.

This streaming service handles the power requirements of games on its own servers and includes titles such as Destiny 2, GRID, and Thumper. For college students and grads grappling with our current situation, access to Google Stadia for relaxation and entertainment could make a great gift. 

Google is currently offering two months of free games via Stadia Pro and more can be purchased from the store. The subscription is $9.99 a month after the trial expires. 

View Now at Google

Nanoleaf lighting

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Nanoleaf

If you're looking for a gift to spruce up a student or graduate's room, Nanoleaf lighting could be an excellent option this year. 

Nanoleaf offers a range of lighting systems including panels that can be installed in patterns, up walls, and around corners. Lights can be set for 'moods,' films, study, parties, and for particular themes -- including Christmas colors, space, and more. 

The light panels are controlled through a mobile device or a remote accessory.

View Now at Nanoleaf

MunchPak

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All of that gaming might prompt an appetite: enter MunchPak. 

Students and graduates alike might like a monthly subscription box of goodies -- especially if they are adventurous in what they are willing to try. MunchPak sends subscribers a selection of snacks, candy, and drinks from different countries. A travel guide is also included with each delivery.

There are three sizes of boxes to choose from: MunchPak Mini, MunchPak (standard), and FamilyPak, depending on whether you want 5+, 10+, or 20+ snacks. Prices begin at $9.95 per delivery.  

View Now at MunchPak

Logitech C920 HD Pro webcam

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Webcams have become hot property in recent months as so many of us are now working from home. While some laptops and PCs have webcams that are 'good enough,' a decent, external camera can make all the difference for live streams and catch-ups with friends or family. 

This year, college students and graduates may appreciate an update to their existing setup -- not just for reconnecting with friends, but also if they are being asked to attend remote interviews. 

An option to consider is the Logitech C920 HD Pro, a $79.99 USB-connected model that provides Full HD 1080p video on Skype, 720p video calling for services including Facebook Messenger and alternative video conferencing software, two built-in mics, and automatic low-light correction on Windows and Mac machines. 

View Now at Dell

QIAYA light ring

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A budget-friendly gift for students to improve their remote video sessions is the QIAYA light ring, a $28.99 bolt-on for laptops or mobile phones that can give lighting a boost. 

The gadget can certainly be used to perfect a selfie, but outside of Instagram posts, the light ring offers four lighting settings that can be also used to improve how you look in video conferences. QIAYA's light is rechargeable via USB.  

View Now at Amazon

Universal lens kit

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us to keep our distance from loved ones, friends, and family, but as a silver lining, daily exercise sessions have opened up photographic opportunities once missed due to crowds of people. 

If you know a student or grad that is interested in photography, over on Amazon you can pick up a universal lens kit -- so no worrying about smartphone make or model -- for just under $40.

The kit includes filters and eight lenses including a fisheye lens, telephoto options, a wide-angle lens, and a macro lens. The lenses are adjusted and fixed via clips. 

The gift recipient could also use these lenses in tandem with the light ring to improve photographic results. 

View Now at Amazon

Fitbit Versa 2

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If the student or graduate you know has taken a more keen interest in exercise during social distancing measures and lockdowns, they might enjoy receiving a Fitbit Versa 2 as a gift this year.

The Fitbit Versa 2, as previously reviewed by ZDNet, is an excellent example of a modern fitness tracker, combining an AMOLED display with comfort, ease-of-use, and good battery life.

The tracker is not an extension of a smartphone, and while it does offer Internet connectivity, it focuses on activity and health features including 24/7 heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, steps, food intake, and more. The Fitbit Versa 2 is also compatible with Amazon Alexa.

View Now at Amazon

Driftaway coffee subscription

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For something a little different and likely to delight any students or graduates you know that are coffee fiends, Driftaway Coffee offers a monthly subscription including coffees from small coffee farmers.

Subscription holders begin with a tasting pack of whole bean or ground coffee. After you have rated your coffee, this creates a flavor profile that can be used to match new coffees available for delivery to your tastes. 

Subscription process vary depending on whether deliveries are made every 2 weeks or every month, how long the duration, and the size of coffee samples. 7oz over three months, with one monthly delivery, for example, will cost $44 when purchased as a gift.

View Now at Driftaway Coffee

Amazon Echo Dot, Google Nest Mini

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Another gift option for students and graduates is a smart home device, such as the Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini. These devices are budget-friendly, at $40 and $39 respectively, and offer a range of services and support for streaming services. 

The Amazon Echo Dot is a smart speaker with the Alexa voice assistant built-in and available in a variety of colors. Users can access the news, traffic reports, control IoT devices, ask general queries as well as connect to streaming services including Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify. 

Alternatively, the Google Nest Mini, complete with the Google voice assistant, has similar IoT control and query functions and can also stream from sources including YouTube Music, Deezer, and Netflix. 

View Now at Amazon (Echo Dot) Best Buy (Google Nest Mini)

Apple iPhone SE

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If the student or graduate in your life has devices in Apple's ecosystem but does not have an iPhone, an affordable option is the iPhone SE. 
 
The iPhone SE was launched this year with a starting price of $399. The device packs an Apple A13 processor, a 4.7-inch 1334x750 LCD display, 64GB - 256GB storage, 3GB RAM, and two cameras -- a 12MP rear camera and 7MP front-facing camera. 
 
The smartphone can be picked up in white, black, or red. 

View Now at Apple

Samsung Galaxy A50

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Alternatively, if your student or graduate is more of a Google Android fan, you could consider picking up a budget-friendly Android smartphone in the form of the Samsung Galaxy A50.
 
The Samsung Galaxy A50 was launched in 2019, and while not the latest on the market, sports good specifications for $349.99 device that is also available on Amazon for $225 as a refurbished model. 
 
Samsung's entry-level smartphone sports a 2.29 GHz Exynos 9610 processor, 4GB RAM, a 6.4-inch FHD+ 2340x1080 display, and an interesting array of cameras: a front 25 MP camera and three rear cameras, 25MP, 5MP, and 8MP, respectively.

View Now at Samsung

Why we chose these gifts

While compiling our guide, ZDNet not only considered devices and accessories that students and graduates would appreciate at home, but also services and technology that could serve a purpose in a climate where many of us are either forced to stay at home or adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Products to enhance virtual conferences or catch-ups with others, to make graduates appear their best in front of a camera, and smartphones to maintain contact are only part of the story -- it is important that wellbeing is considered, too, whether this is taking time out to stream a movie, play a game, or enjoy a new flavor of coffee from the other side of the world.