The holidays are, once again, rapidly approaching, and aside from toys and clothes, tech is always at the top of many people’s wish lists. The problem is, there are a lot of products out there to choose from, and it can be difficult to choose one when you don’t know the differences. If you’re looking to buy smartphones, tablets, or game consoles for your loved ones this year, but have no idea where to start, use these tips to get started.
Ask what they need it for
This might be the most important point on this list: You need to know what your friend or family member needs this item for before figuring out which one to buy. “It’s the thought that counts” doesn’t really apply when your recipients can’t use the gift you bought them; tech is a bit too specific for that mistake. Sure, there are many products that can perform similar tasks, but it’s important to buy the right thing in the first place.
For example, you might be looking into buying a laptop for someone for Christmas. You see the prices on Windows or Mac options, and figure that, for the price, a Chromebook can get the job done. If you find out all they need it for is schoolwork, email, and light web browsing, sure, a Chromebook will do the trick. However, if you didn’t ask, and it turns out they needed a machine for video editing, or, God forbid, gaming, you’ve just bought them a $200 paperweight.
Even if they don’t need the power and capabilities that comes with a traditional laptop, they might prefer it over something like a Chromebook. After all, a laptop simply gives you more options, and will likely prove more useful in the long run. Asking them ahead of time ensures you know what they’re looking for from a new gadget, and can help shape your purchase accordingly.
Know the brands on the table
Brands can be just as important as function; the person you’re buying for might, in theory, love the audio quality of a certain pair of earbuds, but if they aren’t AirPods, they’ll be disappointed. To you, earbuds are earbuds, but to them, they’re a fashion statement. Make sure they aren’t looking for a specific brand with their tech before buying an alternative.
While sometimes the branding is just a logo or style, certain brands might make or break their ability to fully enjoy the gadget. Consider something like iPhone vs. Android; if you’re buying them a smartphone, you’ll want to know ahead of time whether they want to use iMessage and FaceTime (which is iPhone-only), or if they’re open to a different type of phone. If they want to play Mario Kart and Zelda, you’ll need to buy a Nintendo Switch; if Spider-Man: Miles Morales is on their list, they’ll need a PlayStation.
Prices can be misleading
It is true a lot of cheap tech out there is, well, garbage. If you buy the least expensive version of a product, it’s possible it’s not going to be any good.
However, you shouldn’t assume that the most expensive version of a product is the right one, either. There is plenty of tech out there that doesn’t have the sticker shock we’ve come to expect from electronics, but does everything you need it to. The $329 iPad, for example, does almost everything Apple’s more expensive tablets can do, for half or a third the price. The same goes for the iPhone SE; this iPhone is $399, and while it has an older display and camera, it handles the most important tasks you expect from an iPhone.
That’s all to say, don’t cheap out if you don’t have to, but don’t think you’re priced out of gifts because the “best of the best” is so expensive.
Check the reviews
Even if you know a product is compatible with the tasks you need it to do, you shouldn’t buy it until you check with reviewers. The Internet is awash with reviews for just about anything; if you want to know more about the latest iPad, there are hundreds of reviews for it; if want to learn the pros and cons between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, there are comparisons aplenty.
YouTube is a wonderful resource; it has a vibrant tech community that reviews just about every product you can think of. These reviewers can answer questions you didn’t know you had, or introduce you to new or better products; if you’re watching a review for a wireless earbud, and they mention the audio quality isn’t quite as good as another brand, you might end up going with the other, even though you had never heard of it before.
Be careful, though; while many reviews are 100% the experience of the reviewer, some are actually more like ads. Usually, there is a disclosure when a product sponsors a review or a featured video, but be on the lookout for that bias.
Ask for help from a techie, but with a grain of salt
Is there another tech-head in your circle? Maybe even one who is friends with the subject of your gift-to-be? Ask them for advice! While tech encompasses a lot of different areas, those interested in tech are likely to have some level of knowledge about what you’re trying to buy, especially if it’s more consumer-focused. If such a person is in your life, they’re likely one of your first stops already.
Be careful, however; some of us too steeped in tech news and discourse tend to lean toward the higher-end gadget spectrum. They might recommend an iPad with the best display and the fastest chip, even if it’s three times the price of the tablet you were thinking about getting. I know I have to remind myself that not everyone wants or needs the best of the best, and that just because a product exists, doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
Of course, maybe your recipient is a techie who wants the best of the best. It really comes down to who you’re buying the product for.
Don’t rely on the stores for help
Apple Geniuses, Best Buy’s Geek Squad; you might think these stores have the best advice for shopping this holiday season. However, my advice is to steer clear. It’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, these stores are looking to sell you something. If you’d be better served by a product they don’t sell, you won’t often receive that advice; instead, they’ll try to keep you to devices they have in stock, and could push you to buy something more expensive than you need.
You’re not likely to come across an Apple employee who recommends you buy a Samsung Galaxy over an iPhone, or a Dell laptop over a MacBook Air. They’re not doing so nefariously; they’re simply trained to help you with the products Apple sells, so you’re only getting a one-sided experience in their store.
In addition, it’s been my experience that many retailers don’t give their staff enough training. While you might encounter employees who love tech and know what they’re talking about, you might also get advice from someone who doesn’t know much more than you do. They might recommend you buy a product that doesn’t actually fit your needs, or fail to suggest a product that would work better. In short, just skip the stores.
There’s no need to feel lost; stick to the plan! Learn what your giftee wants the tech for, talk to their friends, ask other techies, and watch some YouTube videos on the subject. Before you know it, you’ll have a good idea what you should buy. (Just make sure to keep the receipt.)