January 20, 2022

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How to shop for the hottest — and hardest to find — tech gifts this year

6 min read

In the blink of an eye, we’ve gone from enjoying pumpkin spice to indulging in our first gingerbread latte. While this is fantastic news for fans of nutmeg and cinnamon, it can be stressful for anyone with a long holiday shopping list.

Luckily, we’ve got your back with a list of the best tech gifts, including many of the season’s most popular, sought-after items. And we’ve even tossed in some shopping tips as well as a few worthy alternatives to any sold-out items.

So relax, pour a festive beverage and get ready to make your list, check it twice and maybe even score one of those coveted game consoles (we said maybe).

PlayStation 5

Michael Andronico/CNN

We won’t sugarcoat it: You’d have a better chance beating Sonic the Hedgehog in a footrace than finding a PlayStation 5 sitting on a retail shelf. Featuring an impressive lineup of first-party games and a controller that truly delivers on the next-gen promise, the PS5’s popularity is justified. But with some diligence, a little luck and plenty of persistence, you could potentially check this holy grail of gaming off your list.

First, check out our guide to PS5 restocks. Then you’ll want to confirm you have accounts and credit cards on file with the retailer of your choice. The only thing more powerful than the thrill of scoring a PS5 is the crushing defeat you’ll feel when it disappears from your shopping cart while scrambling to enter your Amex card’s security code.

You can also turn to Twitter, where one ex-tech journo has dedicated his professional life to hunting down errant hard-to-find game consoles. Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to head over to Sony Direct, where you can register for a chance to snag a PS5 directly from the source.

Xbox Series X and S

Jacob Krol/CNN

Like Sony’s system, the comparable Xbox Series X is nearly as hard to track down today as it was last holiday season. While the same tips offered above on securing a PS5 also apply to finding an Xbox Series X, we’d also suggest seeking out the Xbox Series S. Yes, it’s less powerful, lacks its big sibling’s disc drive and supports a lower resolution (1440p versus the X’s 4K), but it still delivers the next-gen gaming goods. This is especially true when paired with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, which includes access to heavy hitters Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5. Plus, the Series S is $200 cheaper and easier to find.

Nintendo Switch OLED

Mike Andronico/CNN

Sporting a bigger, brighter OLED screen, Nintendo‘s latest take on its popular Switch platform is, unsurprisingly, another highly sought-after game system that’s not going to fall into your lap come Black Friday. That said, while it is the latest and greatest Switch, its upgrades and enhancements aren’t so significant that they make its previous iterations obsolete.

In fact, if you’re shopping for someone who wants to get lost in Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s island simulation paradise or tackle Samus Aran’s latest sci-fi adventure in Metroid Dread, both the standard Switch and portable Switch Lite more than have them covered. Plus, these earlier versions are much easier to find — and easier on the wallet.

Oculus Quest 2

Michael Andronico/CNN

A great gift for the gamer or tech enthusiast on your list, the Oculus Quest 2 offers an affordable, accessible introduction to the immersive world of virtual reality. Featuring a sprawling library of apps, games, entertainment platforms and even some surprisingly effective fitness experiences, the wireless headset truly has something for everyone.

It’s also readily available, sports a robust selection of games for serious players and casual folks alike and packs a wow factor that will arguably drop more jaws than any next-gen system, which also makes it a viable gift alternative to the ever-elusive PS5 and Xbox Series X.

Apple AirTag

Jacob Krol/CNN

iPhone users with a talent for losing their keys, wallet or even wandering pets will love this intuitive tracker. Once paired with an Apple device, the AirTag has the ability to track down anything you can attach it to.

But this superpower isn’t exclusive to the Apple-branded gadget; the Chipolo One Spot offers similar functionality, not to mention a handy key ring hole for easy attachment (the AirTag requires a sold-separately accessory for this feature). Chipolo is also offering some fantastic deals on its trackers, allowing you to score multiple gifts at a decent discount.

Apple AirPods 3

Jacob Krol/CNN

Picking the right AirPods — between the second- and third-generation options as well as the Pro and Max versions — can be a daunting task. For the average user, though, you can count on the AirPods 3 or AirPods Pro to offer an above average audio experience. The AirPods 3 build on the solid foundation established by the second generation with the addition of spatial audio and a new open-ear design, while the AirPods Pro offer an upgrade to features like active noise cancellation and Transparency mode. Both feature around six hours of battery life and sweat and water resistance for the more active Apple users on your list.

  • AirPods (2nd Gen) ($109, originally $129; amazon.com)
  • AirPods 3 (Starting at $169, originally $179; amazon.com)
  • AirPods Pro ($197, originally $249; amazon.com)
  • AirPods Max ($479, originally $549; amazon.com)

Beats Fit Pro

Mike Andronico/CNN

If you’re shopping for someone who isn’t partial to the AirPods design, the Beats Fit Pro offer most of the same features as AirPods Pro but for $50 less. On top of including both ANC and Transparency modes, these buds feature a secure fit design and sweat resistance, making them the perfect gift for the active folks in your life. All that, and they’re available in an array of funky colors — you’re not gonna find a pair of AirPods in Stone Purple!

Apple Watch SE

Jacob Krol/CNN

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the bend, you can bet plenty of shoppers will be looking to score the best deals on Apple’s popular smartwatches. Much like AirPods, though, finding the right Apple Watch — at the right price — can be a chore.

The busiest shopping day of the season will host a number of appealing offers on older models — like Walmart’s $109 Series 3 GPS deal — but it’s best not to base your purchase entirely on a tempting price point. While the Series 3 launched just four years ago, it’s ancient history on the Apple timeline. You’re better off jumping forward several generations, in terms of tech and features, to the Apple Watch SE. A great all-around, entry-level model that won’t break the bank, it starts at $280, but Amazon has it from $220 right now.

  • Apple Watch SE (starting at $239, originally starting at $279; amazon.com)

Apple iPad

Jacob Krol/CNN

Whether shopping for a foodie who’d appreciate the convenience of scrolling recipes in the kitchen or a master Minecraft builder, the Apple iPad is arguably the most versatile tech gift you can give. And while no one on your list would be disappointed to unwrap Apple’s multitasking tablet, and with so many different choices available, you’ll still want to ensure you’re giving the right one.

We recommend Apple’s reasonably priced ninth-gen entry-level iPad, which features a big enough display to binge your favorite streaming series while also supporting a deep library of games. And, of course, it also lets you do the basics, like write and check email, scroll through social media apps and even FaceTime.

iPhone 13

Jacob Krol/CNN

You can’t go wrong giving a close friend or family member the latest, greatest and, yes, prettiest, iPhone. Apple’s latest take on its ubiquitous smartphone is arguably its best yet, featuring a lightning-fast processor, boosted battery life and enough camera upgrades to make a professional photog take notice. All that said, you’ll want to do your research. Whether you’re leaning toward the standard iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 Mini, or considering ponying up for the pricier, feature-rich Pro or Pro Max versions, you’ll want to make sure to check which carriers and plans are offering the best deals.

Apple’s latest smartphones won’t be in short supply come Black Friday or Cyber Monday, nor will they be shy about selling at too-good-to-be-true prices, but you’ll need to consider all factors, from contract requirements and trade-in offers to what your giftee’s current cell service obligations are, before pulling the trigger. Clear those hurdles and you’re good to gift one of the year’s coolest tech toys.

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