Tech Holiday Gift Guide

The best gadgets to give a college student

Key Points
  • CNBC gathers the best gifts for college students.
  • We recommend the Google Chromecast, Apple AirPods, Sonos One and more.
  • Most of the gifts will be useful long after your kid leaves school, too.
Smiling teenage girl with digital tablet taking selfie with mother and sister in Christmas living room
Hero Images | Getty

If you're shopping for a gift for a college student over the holidays, consider gifting a gadget rather than a pair of fresh bed sheets.

As CNBC's in-house gadget reviewer, I have a few ideas that I think college students will really love, from streaming TV sticks to smart speakers and portable gaming systems. And if your student is planning to spend any time abroad, I even have a good idea on an unlocked cellphone so you don't need to worry about paying for expensive roaming fees.

Here are the best gadgets to give a college student.

Google Chromecast

In other gift guides, I've recommended the Amazon Fire TV and the Apple TV, but I think the Chromecast is the best streaming TV bet for a college student. It lets them stream movies, TV shows, pictures and more from a smartphone to their dorm room TV. And, if they have friends, they can enable a guest mode so that others can get in on the fun. It's only $35, so it won't break the bank, and you won't have to worry about it if your kid's roommate runs off with it at the end of the year.

Price: $35
Buy Now: Google Chromecast

Motorola G5S Plus

The Motorola G5S Plus is an unlocked cellphone that works on all major U.S. carriers (without a contract) and can also be used abroad. It's perfect if you have a son or daughter getting ready for a semester abroad, since it costs only $240 but offers all the basics, like fast charging, decent cameras, a fingerprint reader, a large 5.5-inch 1080p display and a premium all-metal design. Once your kid sets foot in Europe (or elsewhere) just buy a local SIM and you'll save big on data and roaming fees you might otherwise pay some U.S. carriers

Price: $239.99
Buy now: Motorola G5S Plus

Apple AirPods

Every kid needs a decent set of headphones and, while they're still kind of silly looking, Apple's AirPods are my top choice for most activities. They're compact, offer great battery life and work with iPhones and Androids. Sure, you might want a set of noise-canceling cans for longer trips, but they cost more and aren't as portable as AirPods. Plus, now that smartphones are largely ditching the headphone jack, it's time to get on board with Bluetooth headphones anyway.

Price: $159
Buy now: AirPods

Nintendo Switch

I don't often write about video game systems, but the Nintendo Switch is too great to ignore. There are plenty of awesome new games, including my favorites: "Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" and "Super Mario Odyssey." The Switch can plug into a TV and serve as a regular gaming console, or can be carried around as a portable system with the controllers locked into the sides. It even has a built-in kickstand on the back for gaming on the train or on an airplane. Just beware: It might be hard to find, so keep an eye out for retailers that have stock.

Price: $299
Buy now: Nintendo Switch

Sonos One

The Sonos One

The is Sonos' latest speaker and, this time, it includes support for Amazon Alexa. Just speak what you want to hear: Say "Alexa, play Miles Davis on Spotify," and the speaker starts spitting out tunes. You can even use it to control smart lights, check the weather and more. You'll get the same great audio Sonos made its name for from earlier Play:1 speakers — that is to say full sounding with plenty of bass — and support for multiroom audio for when your kids move into their own home.

Price: $199
Buy now: Sonos One

Kindle Paperwhite

You can't go wrong giving a Kindle, and the Kindle Paperwhite remains one of my favorite models. It offers a backlight for nighttime reading, plenty of battery life and a really comfortable form factor for binge-reading. If you're willing to splurge, check out the , which is the best eReader I've ever used, though it costs a good deal more than the Paperwhite.

Price: $119.99
Buy now:
Kindle Paperwhite