What not to buy for the holidays
Clueless? Yeah, we get it. Every year we have to figure out what to buy our significant others, and a great tech gift often tops the list.
Plenty of sites will tell you what tech gifts to buy. Best components. Best tech gifts under $25. These are all great ideas—until it’s late at night, and you’re a little desperate, and you’d rather not buy the same gifts everyone else is buying, because you’re thoughtful. So you start thinking of something different.
That’s wonderful—and we’re here to help you out. But first you need to know what not to buy. Do you really want to give someone the tech equivalent of the Macarena? Or something that will end up on a shelf—or in the garbage? Here are the seven worst tech gifts you could possibly bestow. Avoid them at all costs.
Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites will tempt you with unique gifts—and promises that if you act now, you can get in on the ground floor for cheap.
Don’t risk it. Sure, this neat little pet accessory might ship by its promised December date. But you’re banking on a) a company you’ve never heard of, b) delivering on a product that's probably never made before, with c) a turnaround time of just weeks. And who knows about the quality or if anyone’s going to answer the phone over the holidays?
These people may be totally legit. But a number of crowdfunded projects have been total scams. Why bother?
You know how everyone grumbles about how gift certificates aren’t personal? Well, earbuds are a little too personal. Like underwear, they're an individual choice. An ill-fitting, tinny set of earbuds can make a long commute even more excruciating, and half the time they don’t fit correctly anyway. At least you don’t have to worry about giving Apple’s outrageously overpriced wireless AirPods to anyone this holiday—Apple needs a “little more time” before they’re ready. (Gee, you think?!)
Save your money and just buy a gift card.
Cheap Android 'craplets'
Here's my Android "craplet" story: A year ago, I bought the cheapest Android tablet I could find as a prop, expensed it, and wrote my piece. It was totally paid for, and yet I returned it a week later. The lag, the awful display, the absolute lack of care in any aspect of the tablet forced me to return it, paid-for or not.
Don't make the same mistake. Low-cost Android tablets like this refurbished RCA Android model offer the absolute bottom of the barrel in terms of quality: last-generation (or worse!) hardware, tiny amounts of memory, and ancient versions of the operating system. Gotchas abound: Root around this tablet's specs, and you'll discover it has a 400x800 display. Holy crap, indeed!
Worse still, there's absolutely nothing preventing a manufacturer from configuring the tablet to allow sideloaded, unapproved apps that, if preloaded, could be filled with spyware and adware. Just say no!
Outdated or obsolete tech
A good gift-giver knows what's hot... and what's not.
Consider the TomTom Via 1535TM car GPS shown here. Four or five years ago, this would have been a fantastic gift. But virtually any smartphone can do whatever a car's GPS can, and for free. Instead, look into a smartphone car mount: It's over $100 cheaper, and it can power your smartphone while holding it securely.
Here's an archaic gift that might actually be useful: Maybe you have a family member or friend who recently moved here from overseas, and has a stash of DVDs that U.S. players won't play. This region-unlocked DVD player should, though, and it's super-cheap!
Snap Spectacles are the $130 equivalent of the Macarena , Harlem Shake, ORLY meme, or adult onesie, a flash-in-the-pan cultural reference that will be lucky if it merits a Simpsons reference. (Sorry, Jeff Weiner, you're wrong.) And really, are you going to spend your valuable holiday time hunting down the damn things? When you have a smartphone that already takes Snap pictures?
As beachwear for young teenage girls? Sure, Spectacles might qualify as trendy—if this was July. As beachwear for middle-aged men? Creeeeepy. Either way, though, the value of Spectacles is showing them off in a selfie or two. Otherwise, we’ll all have forgotten about these in a few months.
Off-brand Apple cables
We’re all looking for a deal. And we all know Apple products don’t come cheap. In some cases, however, you get what you pay for, and that includes off-brand cables.
Look at the most recent comments to the right of the image. Though it appears that customers are generally happy with this set of mixed-length cables, it certainly looks like they’ve shipped a run of bad batches. We’re not saying that all knockoff cables are bad—hello, Monoprice!—but you’ve got to watch your back. (Apple ain't happy, either.)
Don’t be the person who saves a few bucks, only to make the poor sap who received your gift run down to the third circle of Hell—the local mall’s Apple Store, during the holidays—to buy a replacement cable.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7
Not only have major retailers stopped selling the Note 7, the phone is banned from U.S. airplane flights because of its persistent fire risk. Don’t buy one, and make sure that any older Note you may buy from eBay or elsewhere is in fact a Note 5. (Fun fact: Because Samsung skipped the Note 6, there is now neither a Note 6 nor a Note 7.)
C'mon, $245 for a USB-powered pole dancer?! A scented USB air freshener? Another $15 for a USB pet rock? IT DOESN’T DO ANYTHING!!!
Everyone’s desk is too crowded already. The last thing anyone needs are USB-powered tchotchkes that waste space, waste USB ports, and serve no useful purpose except to embody what a horrible gift-giver you are. Save your money and buy something they’ll actually want, okay?
Maybe you'd like some suggestions? OK, how about a Wolverine figurine? A Robotech model? A Protoss pylon smartphone charger?! Holy cow that sounds awes-— NO.
Last year's fads
It goes without saying that the tech media can get a little...overexcited about certain products. Hey, they’re the next big thing, and sometimes even we hardened, jaded, cynical journalists can't see through the hype.
If something was hyped the year or two before, though, chances are good that it’s run its course. Let’s see: “hoverboards?” Check. Digital picture frames? Over. Google Cardboard? Hold this while we hurl. Wearables? Well, maybe. If you researched “best tech gifts” and the dateline came up “2014” or “2015,” keep looking.
Black Friday doorbusters
At some point in their tech life, everyone succumbs to the thrill of the hunt and lines up for a doorbuster or midnight launch. It’s a communal event, makes for a good story, and you might—might—get a halfway-decent deal out of it.
But doorbusters are like Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets: No one’s really giving away a 72-inch 4K TV for $19.99. Doorbusters also typically include products that sound good on paper, but often hide flaws you won't discover until it's too late.
Instead, keep an eye out for online deals. And even if you don’t score that fantastic bargain, remember that sales now extend right through January. You’ll get your shot!
That's all for our seven...er, nine-item list of what not to buy. Any more ideas? Chime in below. Happy holidays!