46 Best Tech Gift Ideas 2020: Video Games, Wireless Earbuds, Laptops, etc.
December 14, 2020
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a Nintendo Switch (M) surrounded by a NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) Classic Mini (L) and a SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) Classic Mini (R) video game consoles.
Enlarge / Our gift guide has dozens of recommendations on good gadgets and gear, including various games and accessories for Nintendo Switch owners.

If you’re buying for someone who appreciates good tech this holiday season, Ars is here to help make the gift giving process less stressful. The Orbital HQ spends much of its time testing all sorts of gadgets, games, and tech gear, so below we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite gift ideas from this year for anyone looking for a last-minute present.

We have dozens of recommendations across price ranges and device types, so we’ve broken down our picks into three categories: gifts that are ideal for gamers, gifts for around the house, and productivity-boosting gifts for people who work from home. With more and more people shopping online in this pandemic-stricken year, we can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to get everything in time without paying for expedited shipping, but if you’d like to give a loved one a quality piece of tech, the stuff below should delight.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gets you access to a lot of games for a monthly fee.
Enlarge / Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gets you access to a lot of games for a monthly fee.

Microsoft

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate product image

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass isn’t the only service to make a bunch of games available for one monthly fee, but no rival subscription has as rich a catalog. While the specifics of its library differ whether you play on Xbox, PC, or Android (via cloud streaming), Game Pass has a terrific blend ­­of blockbusters, hidden-gem indies, and quality games across genres. Many of the included games hit the service on day one, including all recent games published by Microsoft itself. That has made it a much easier sell than an alternative like Sony’s PlayStation Now, which is similar in structure but lacking in first-party exclusives and recent hits.

Microsoft adds and removes titles every month, and not all of the available games are home runs. But the cushion of genuinely commendable games—from Halo to Forza, NieR: Automata to Tetris Effect, Celeste to Dead Cells, Spiritfarer to Doom Eternal, and on and on—is large enough to almost guarantee good value. If nothing else, a gifted subscription will buy a loved one time to play several games at no cost. Just note that there are multiple subscription options: Game Pass Ultimate is likely the best choice, since it includes a subscription to Xbox Live Gold for online play, but PC gamers may be better off with a gift card toward the cheaper Game Pass for PC.

Paper Mario: The Origami KingClubhouse GamesMinecraft Dungeons

For Nintendo Switch and PlayStation owners, there isn’t one catch-all service that’s as easy to recommend as Game Pass, so we’ll suggest a few notable games from the past year instead. We’re not saying these are the best games of the year—that list is coming, and you probably know your loved one’s tastes better than we do—but they are the kinds of experiences that should have mass appeal.

Starting with the Switch, Paper Mario: The Origami King is a charming and surprisingly funny adventure that should appeal to anyone looking for a family-friendly game. It’s not a particularly deep RPG, but it experiments with new gameplay ideas frequently enough to keep the experience from ever feeling stale.

Clubhouse Games, meanwhile, is a digital collection of 51 classic board and card games, from Checkers and Texas Hold’em to Shogi and Nine Men’s Morris. It’s as simple as it sounds, but it’s expertly curated: each game presents a different mood or style of play, and collectively it becomes a sort of distillation of gaming as a whole. It’s an obvious party game, but given how challenging the AI can be, it’s also an enriching solo experience.

Finally, Minecraft Dungeons is one of the best Diablo clones we’ve played in some time. It is delightfully free of bloat, with a good variety of wacky levels to crawl and uncomplicated yet enjoyable combat and loot systems. It’s best played with friends in co-op, but either way it’s breezy fun that’s easy to come back to.

Nintendo Switch Games product image

Nintendo Switch Games

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Ghost of TsushimaMarvel’s Spider-Man: Miles MoralesFinal Fantasy VII Remake

Let’s jump over to gift-worthy games for the PS4 and PS5 crowd next: Ghost of Tsushima is a fine first choice here. This 13th-century samurai drama blends a likable lead with satisfying swordplay and an open world that consistently engages with the player and keeps them moving forward. It’s also gorgeous, both in art direction and technical prowess.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is another pretty open-world game. It’s considerably shorter than Tsushima—lasting around 15 hours if you want to do everything in it—but it never drags as a result. It’s an ideal crowd-pleaser, with a graceful combat system and thrillingly kinetic web swinging. The story is typical popcorn fare, but if you’re buying for a Marvel movie fan, it fits right into that mold.

Final Fantasy VII Remake, meanwhile, is at once a rousing action-RPG and a subversive take on the very concepts of remakes and fan service. While it’s based on the iconic cast and story of the original Final Fantasy VII, the structure and moment-to-moment gameplay of this 35-hour adventure are very much its own. Remake‘s combat system—which blends real-time action with menu-based commands and tactical pre-battle prep—is arguably more captivating as a result. It’s occasionally hokey and deeply melodramatic, even for a Final Fantasy game, but Remake ultimately stands out as a bold reimagining of a classic JRPG.

PS4 & PS5 Games product image

PS4 & PS5 Games

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Azul

<em>Azul</em> even comes with its own custom-printed bag.
Enlarge / Azul even comes with its own custom-printed bag.

If you’d rather buy a game that doesn’t involve staring at a screen, Azul is a good bet. A former winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award, this is a simple yet deeply replayable tile-laying game for 2-4 players. You can read our review for a full rundown of the experience, but in short, the goal is to collect sets of similar tiles and slot them into rows on a personal game board. When a row is filled, one of its tiles then moves to a square pattern on the right, generating bonuses based on placement.

A surprising amount of tactical complexity can emerge from its sparse ruleset, but Azul never feels overwhelming. Each game usually lasts a quick 20 to 30 minutes, and the whole thing is aesthetically gorgeous. There’s a little room for “meanness” in the way you can deny others scoring opportunities, but all told Azul should be a natural fit in many family game nights.

Azul product image

Azul

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ModMic USB

The ModMic USB connected to a Sony MDR-1A.
Enlarge / The ModMic USB connected to a Sony MDR-1A.

Jeff Dunn

There’s no shortage of dedicated gaming headsets, but those who already own a pair of headphones they like can avoid swapping between two different pairs with a ModMic. These are detachable microphones that connect through a small magnet adhesive you stick to an existing pair of headphones. There are a few types of these available, but the ModMic USB is the one most worth buying.

This model is best used with a PC, since it supplies audio through a USB cord that runs separately from any existing 3.5mm cable. (Though you can always pair the mic with a Bluetooth headphone to cut down on clutter.) The mic can come loose if you hit it by accident, but it’s difficult to knock off the magnet completely, and the mic arm is highly flexible. Everything is plug-and-play, and it’s easy to pop the mic off as needed.

Most importantly, the mic’s audio quality is excellent. Specs wise, it can reproduce sounds from 50Hz to 20Hz using an omnidirectional pattern. The result isn’t as detailed as a dedicated desktop mic like the Blue Yeti, but that’s the kind of device it’s competing against, since its richness and clarity blow away what you’ll find on most gaming headsets under $200. It’s good enough for basic recordings, let alone casual gaming chat.

Having an adhesive constantly attached to your headphones may annoy some, and at $80, the ModMic USB isn’t particularly cheap. If you have an older headset that can fit V-Moda’s BoomPro microphone, that’s a good lower-cost alternative. But for those who’ve already invested in a nice pair of headphones, the ModMic will turn them into an equally nice gaming headset.

Cooler Master MH751

The Cooler Master MH751.
Enlarge / The Cooler Master MH751.

Jeff Dunn

If you’d rather keep things simple and buy a dedicated headset, though, we like the Cooler Master MH751. As we noted in a past guide to the best gaming headsets, it is exceptionally comfortable to wear for hour-long sessions, with a well-balanced sound, a detachable mic that presents voices relatively clearly, and a handsome design that doesn’t scream “look at me” in RGB lights.

The MH751 lacks “virtual surround sound” tricks, but given how often those effects sound unnatural, it’s not a big loss. (Plus, the MH751 still works with more integrated virtual surround tools like the PS5’s “3D Audio” tech.) This is still an $80 headphone, so its sound quality isn’t world-beating, but for the price it still does well to catch footsteps and other fine details in the proper space within a game’s audio mix.

We recommend wired headsets like the MH751 for gaming since wireless models tend to bring a drop-off in mic quality. All the major consoles have 3.5mm jacks built into their controllers anyway. But if wireless is a must, we can vouch for the $100 SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless, a convenient if plastic-heavy option that works on any device through its USB-C dongle. If you’re willing to pay more, we also like the $150 HyperX Cloud II Wireless, which is comfortable, sounds nice, and has a battery life of roughly 30 hours.

8Bitdo Wireless USB Adapter

The 8Bitdo Wireless USB Adapter plugged into the USB port on the Switch dock.
Enlarge / The 8Bitdo Wireless USB Adapter plugged into the USB port on the Switch dock.

Jeff Dunn

If you know a Switch owner who also has an Xbox or PlayStation and prefers those consoles’ controllers, the 8Bitdo Wireless USB Adapter will let them use their gamepad of choice across devices. The dongle takes only a couple of minutes to set up with the Switch, and once everything is paired it effectively turns PS5, PS4, or Xbox One pads into variants of Nintendo’s own Switch Pro Controller.

This is something of a hacky workaround—the Switch’s UI and games are still designed with Nintendo’s own button icons in mind, of course, so it may take a few moments to associate the right buttons with the right icons onscreen. The adapter also doesn’t support Xbox Series X|S gamepads as of this writing, though that should change with future firmware updates. Still, the device keeps input latency to a minimum, and for multiplayer sessions, it’s much more affordable than buying a new Switch Pro Controller outright. It works with a variety of controllers on the PC, too.

8Bitdo SN30 Pro+

8Bitdo's SN30 Pro+ controller.
Enlarge / 8Bitdo’s SN30 Pro+ controller.

Jeff Dunn

If you’d rather gift a new controller entirely, though, 8Bitdo’s SN30 Pro+ is one of the best third-party gamepads we’ve tested for the Switch, PCs, and mobile devices. It takes the classic “dog bone” design of the old Super Nintendo controller but adds dual joysticks, trigger buttons, and handles. The result feels deeply comfortable and sturdily built. Each face button and joystick has just the right amount of resistance, the bumpers are quick to press, and the triggers have a deep amount of travel. The triggers are also analog, so on PC you can pull them varying distances to send different inputs. The d-pad isn’t quite as smooth as that of the latest PlayStation and Xbox controllers, but it’s a massive upgrade over the Joy-Con’s directional buttons.

The gamepad is simple to pair with various devices over Bluetooth or the Wireless USB Adapter above, and we’ve had no latency issues using it with a Switch, gaming PC, iPad, and Google Pixel 3a. (There’s no PlayStation or Xbox support, though.) It runs on a removable rechargeable battery, and while the controller’s rumble functionality isn’t as impressive as Sony’s DualSense pad or Nintendo’s “HD Rumble” effects, it’s still strong. Motion controls are supported and work as well as can be expected. There’s also a turbo function.

By default, the SN30 Pro+’s face button layout mimics that of a Switch controller. But on the PC, 8Bitdo’s companion software unlocks a host of customization options: you can remap every control despite the directions of the joysticks, assign macros to specific buttons, and adjust the sensitivity of the triggers and joysticks. Most people will be perfectly happy with the default settings, but this means you could, say, create a profile that makes the triggers quicker to actuate, allowing you to aim and fire faster in a first-person shooter. For a $50 controller, this level of granularity is impressive.

Those who are perfectly happy with their existing controllers don’t need to run out and replace them, but it’s hard for anyone in the market for a spare “pro” gamepad to do better than SN30 Pro+. And since it still has the SNES-style d-pad and face buttons, it’s a fun option for retro gamers as well.

Hori D-Pad Controller (L)

The Hori D-Pad Controller (L). It has a genuine d-pad!
Enlarge / The Hori D-Pad Controller (L). It has a genuine d-pad!

Jeff Dunn

The Nintendo Switch is a delightful piece of hardware, but its Joy-Con controllers aren’t the most comfortable things to use for hours at a time. Hori’s plainly named D-Pad Controller (L) makes playing the Switch in its handheld mode a little more pleasant by trading the stiff pebble-like buttons of the default left Joy-Con for a genuine d-pad. For games like Tetris 99 or Super Mario Maker 2 that require frequent d-pad presses, this can be noticeably easier on the thumb. Its joystick and shoulder buttons still work as intended, too.

This controller lacks a built-in battery as well as any rumble or motion functionality, so it’s best seen as an alternative for handheld play, not a complete Joy-Con replacement. Still, as a stocking stuffer for Nintendo fans, it can make the Switch experience more convenient.

Obinslab Anne Pro 2

The Obinslab Anne Pro 2 is a versatile and compact mechanical keyboard.
Enlarge / The Obinslab Anne Pro 2 is a versatile and compact mechanical keyboard.

Jeff Dunn

Obinslab Anne Pro 2 product image

Obinslab Anne Pro 2

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Keyboard preference is highly subjective, but if you’re looking for a good mechanical keyboard that also works well for gaming, consider the Obinslab Anne Pro 2. It’s a “60 percent” keyboard, so it’s only 11.5 inches wide and has no dedicated number pad, media keys, or arrow keys. The upshot is that it takes up little space on a desk, which leaves plenty of room for rapid mouse movements in a first-person shooter.

It’s less ideal for strategy games and MOBAs like League of Legends, but the keyboard’s companion software lets you reprogram every key to different macros. It’s also possible to set lesser-used keys as arrow key replacements. In general, the Anne Pro 2’s versatility is a strong point: it’s available with Cherry MX, Gateron, or Kailh switches—the Kailh Box Brown switches on our unit are fairly quiet and have a smooth feel that’s suitable for work and gaming—and it works over Bluetooth or a detachable USB-C cable. Each key is individually backlit with clean RGB lighting, which can also be customized in the companion app.

The actual build quality of the Anne Pro 2 is great. There’s no way to adjust the angle of the keyboard, but its PBT keycaps feel crisp, its chassis never flexes while typing, and each key is easy to replace if needed. While Obinslab isn’t a household name, the Anne Pro 2 has earned a following in keyboard enthusiast circles in recent years, and the company has done well to support the keyboard’s software over time. It won’t be for everyone, but for about $100, it’s better-made than many pricier gaming keyboards from bigger-name brands.

Razer Gigantus v2 (XXL)

Razer's Gigantus v2, with lots of accessories on top.
Enlarge / Razer’s Gigantus v2, with lots of accessories on top.

Jeff Dunn

For first-person shooters and PC games that require frequent flicks of the wrist, an oversized mouse pad can ensure that a mouse never flies off its intended surface. It also keeps a mouse and keyboard on the same level.

Razer’s Gigantus v2 is a nice option here: its flat block cloth is smooth to the touch, and it rests on top of a firm-but-not-stiff 4mm layer of green rubberized foam. You’ll still want to clean it every so often, but by default it does a decent job of resisting dust and food crumbs. We haven’t had to deal with any loose stitching after three months of use, either. It doesn’t immediately come off as a “gaming pad,” as the only marking is a minimal Razer logo tag in the top-right corner. And while preferences can differ, we’ve found the actual surface of the Gigantus v2 to strike a good balance between speed and control. Different sizes are available, but at $30 for a 37.04×16.15×0.16-inch pad, the Gigantus is a good value for a desktop upgrade.

Razer Viper Ultimate

The Razer Viper Ultimate.
Enlarge / The Razer Viper Ultimate.

Jeff Dunn

Continuing along those “desktop upgrade” lines, the Razer Viper Ultimate is the best wireless gaming mouse we’ve tested. It is supremely responsive in operation and more than precise enough for competitive gaming. Its feet glide with minimal friction. While it’s primarily made of plastic, it feels durably put together, and the slightly humped design is light (74g), fully ambidextrous, and accommodating to most hand sizes and grips. While it does have some RGB lighting effects on the front, those are optional and fairly restrained, so the mouse doesn’t look out of place in an office setting. It gets around 70 hours of battery life, but it can also be used with a nicely flexible cable that comes included in the box. We’ve had no reliability or double-clicking issues after several months of testing, either.

Razer’s software isn’t always the most intuitive—though you don’t have to use it often, since you can save any customized settings and macros directly to the mouse itself—and there’s no Bluetooth support in a pinch, but if you’re shopping for a PC gaming diehard, the Viper Ultimate should satisfy.

SteelSeries Rival 3

SteelSeries Rival 3.
Enlarge / SteelSeries Rival 3.

Jeff Dunn

That said, the Viper Ultimate is expensive. If you’d prefer a more affordable wired mouse, get the SteelSeries Rival 3. It’s not as versatile or performant as the Viper Ultimate, its side buttons could be more pronounced (though that’s also a shortcoming of Razer’s mouse), and its scroll wheel is a little flusher against the body of the mouse than we’d like. It also uses a lot of plastic.

Regardless, for $30, the Rival 3 presents great value. It’s light (77g) and well-sized, with a slightly bigger hump than the Viper Ultimate that plays well with claw grips. Its main click panels are sturdy and satisfying to press, all its buttons can be customized through software, and its sensor is still devoid of major latency issues. Plus, its RGB lighting is surprisingly crisp.

SteelSeries Rival 3 product image

SteelSeries Rival 3

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Sega Genesis Mini

The Sega Genesis Mini.
Enlarge / The Sega Genesis Mini.

Sam Machkovech

If you’d prefer to give more of a retro gaming gift, the Sega Genesis Mini is a charming trip down memory lane. It’s an adorably tiny replica of Sega’s classic console with 42 built-in games. Different people will always prefer to see different games, but generally speaking the library here is well-curated, ranging from classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Gunstar Heroes to overlooked but worthwhile titles like Alisia Dragoon and Dynamite Headdy. The quality of the emulation is great throughout.

We would prefer if the system came with Sega’s six-button controllers, but the pair of three-button pads that come in the box are at least comfortable and equipped with 72-inch cords. And though we wish there were a “rewind” function a la Nintendo’s retired SNES Classic, the system’s interface mostly stays out of the way.

The more recently released TurboGrafx-16 Mini is another retro console we enjoyed, but it has been difficult to find in stock. The Genesis Mini is one of the few mini consoles that is still readily available, but since it’s also good, it’s an easy recommendation for old-school Sega fans or gaming aficionados who would enjoy a playable slice of history.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.
Enlarge / The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.

Jim Salter

If you’re looking for a good gaming laptop, the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 deserves your attention. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU in our recommended $1,450 configuration isn’t the most powerful mobile graphics chip around, but it’s strong enough to play most new games at high-ish settings and above 60 frames per second. That’s paired with an eight-core AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS processor that’s tremendously powerful across use cases and a quality 14-inch 1080p display with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate.

What makes the ROG Zephyrus G14 especially worth recommending is how it offers that performance in a laptop that works well for everyday use. It’s no Ultrabook, to be clear, but at 0.7 inches thin and 3.5 pounds, it’s more portable than most laptops designed for gaming. Its design is relatively handsome to boot, and it gets a solid 9 to 10 hours of battery life. It doesn’t have an integrated webcam, and its fans can still get noisy, but if you want a gaming laptop that’s pleasant to use in and out of actual games, it’s hard to do better.

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