If you're stuck on what to get someone for the holidays, it's hard to go wrong with a gadget.
This holiday season, 68 percent of all shoppers — some 170 million people — are expected to buy a tech gift for a friend or loved one, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. (And that's not counting the people who will buy one for themselves.) That's the highest-ever interest in consumer tech, and there's a whole lot to choose from. With new fields like virtual reality capturing people's imagination and old standbys like big-screen TVs always a hot ticket, it can get confusing for anyone. If you're looking for a perfect tech gift for a friend or loved one, here are a few can't-miss suggestions.
We have included links to buy the products we are highlighting. In some cases, if you purchase an item from our link, we will collect a small percentage of the sale. This has no impact on editorial decisions about what we are recommending. Proceeds from these sales will be donated to the Council for Economic Education, which supports economic and financial education.
PlayStation VR ($400) Sony's entry in the virtual reality category is the easiest to recommend for most people, as it not only costs less, but there's a good chance they have the system required to run it. It also has the strongest lineup of software to date, with games from internal studios, Warner Bros. and Ubisoft. Heck, there's even an upcoming VR add-on for EA's "Star Wars: Battlefront" that will let you fly an X-Wing.
Samsung KS9500 SUHD ($2,000-$8,000, depending on size) Samsung's flagship TV features an absolutely breathtaking screen that rivals the more expensive OLED sets from LG. Its focus on HDR (high-dynamic-range) imaging results in vibrant, vivid colors and remarkable sharpness. It's extremely thin and light, but it only comes in curved models, which is a stopping point for some consumers. If that's not an issue for you and you want a set that makes just about any program look better (and which is easily able to keep up with today's fast-paced video games), this is a clear choice.
iPhone 7 Plus ($649-$969) Forget the (admittedly valid) complaints about Apple doing away with the headphone jack. And, yes, the 7 Plus is bigger than some people want their phone to be. If you use your phone as a go-to camera regularly, the 7 Plus is worth the headaches. The shots live up to the hype and are on par with a high-end DSLR (assuming the photographer knows what he or she is doing), and the new portrait mode, which blurs the background, results in some astounding pictures. Shots are also brighter and zoomed pictures are clearer. And the water resistance and longer battery life are especially nice bonuses. (Note: The iPhone 7's camera does not offer many of the same features as the 7 Plus.)
Amazon Echo/Echo Dot ($180/$49) Amazon's hands-free, voice-enabled speakers could be one of the hottest gifts of the holiday season, and it's easy to see why. Whether it's playing music while you cook, clean or lounge, giving you the latest news headlines or weather forecasts or helping your kids with a homework question, it's one of the most advanced digital assistants around. Both the Echo and Echo Dot have the same functionality, but the Echo boasts a better speaker. If you listen to a lot of music, that's likely to be important. But if you're shopping on a budget, the Dot is the clear choice, with a price tag that's significantly lower.
HTC Vive ($799) Oculus Rift might have a little more media attention, but among the high-end PC-based virtual reality headsets, Vive might be the better choice. Both offer tremendous VR experiences, but the ability to move within that virtual space, rather than being forced to stand still or sit in a chair, is incredibly immersive. Setup is, indeed, a headache — and you need to have a clear space to fully enjoy the Vive — but the result of that sacrifice is an experience so breathtaking that it takes a minute to reacclimate to the real world once you're finished.
Samsung 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player ($500) For most people, streaming a movie via Netflix or On Demand from their cable or satellite provider is perfectly adequate, but if you're shopping for a videophile who demands the highest fidelity, Samsung's Ultra HD Blu-ray Player is the way to go. Combined with a high-end TV (whether from Samsung or some other manufacturer), this is the way to watch films at home with unrivaled image clarity. The only downside is (as was the case in the early days of Blu-ray) the limited number of available titles — but it's growing fast.
Cubelets ($160-$330) Available in packages of six or 12, these robotic building blocks will keep children entertained and help them strengthen their STEM skills. There's no programming involved and kids will enjoy flexing their creativity to configure a variety of robotic creatures. The biggest downside is price. While Cubelets are undeniably fun, they're also undeniably expensive.
Apple Watch Series 2 ($269-$1,249) While it's still not perfect, Apple's entry in the wearable field is vastly improved over a year ago. First, the company has done away with its confusing tiers of watches and is focusing on a single model this time around. Making them waterproof was long overdue. The faster processor speed (roughly 50 percent more than the first installment) is a big step up. And the brightness of the screen (doubled) makes it much easier to read messages. This all comes at a premium, but it's the most useful wearable on the market today.
PlayStation 4 Pro ($400) The upgrade of the PS4 is ideal for anyone with a 4K, HDR TV, as the image quality simply can't be beat. But if you don't already own Sony's game system and are thinking about getting one, it's still your best bet, even if it costs $100 more than the standard version. The storage capacity, at 1 TB, is twice that of the cheaper PS4, which means you can store more games on the system. And even on standard HDTVs, games will run in 1080p resolution and many will have more stable frame rates, meaning the games will run smoother.
AccuVoice TV Speaker ($250) Know someone who's getting older and having trouble hearing what the people on their TV say over the music and sound effects? This sound bar works a bit differently than most, boosting the dialogue while keeping the other sounds of film or TV show at normal levels. The result? You can keep up with what's going on again without fretting about whether you need a hearing aid.
Pax 3 Vaporizer ($275) Vaporizers are becoming a popular gift as cannabis is legalized in more states and traditional smokers begin looking for alternatives to cigarettes. And the Pax 3 is widely heralded as one of the best around. It's intuitive to use, heats up in just 15 seconds, has a longer battery life than predecessors and it works in conjunction with a smartphone app to precisely regulate the heating temperature.