There’s no shortage of toys that light up, laugh or purr, but Skyrocket’s Pomsies won our hearts with their adorable and wearable design. Now they’re back as unicorns with a new ability: color reading. The Lumies still want to be loved and petted. But now kids can play hue-based games with them, matching their favorite shades and watching their little fuzzy friends light up in response, thanks to a built-in color sensor. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor
Kids love cute things. And kids love drones. Owleez combines the two into a cute, somewhat cuddly owl that your child will nurture by petting and feeding, and if they show their new pet just enough love, it will learn to fly. And yes, we do mean fly: Owleez’s head opens up to release a set of helicopter blades that allow the little plastic bird to fly short distances. It’s weird as hell but in that endearing way that will have kids carrying it everywhere. — K.N.
Pictionary is a perennial party favorite because anyone can join in: All you really need is a pen and paper. The new Air version is a big technological transformation, with players now using a special wand to draw their pictures in midair. Pictionary veterans will enjoy the additional challenge that drawing in empty space creates while everyone else will like how much more accessible the game is to a huge group, with the ability to broadcast drawings in progress to a TV for the whole room to enjoy. — K.N.
Toy companies have been trying their best to merge the real and virtual worlds in order to stay relevant among Fortnite-obsessed kids. To that end, products like Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions have come and gone over the years. Now Lego’s trying a different tack with Hidden Side, which actually requires children to perform activities with their physical Lego sets in order to progress in the free, mobile AR game. Between an interesting supernatural investigation story and some creative set designs, there’s plenty to keep kids engaged. — K.N.
Monopoly games have a tendency to drag, mostly because players don’t bother following the rules. It’s also not much fun to be the first one knocked out of the game, forced to sit around while the other kids squabble over their fortunes. Monopoly Voice Banking removes these pain points and more, with its Amazon Echo Dot-like device handling all the scorekeeping and transactions and generally streamlining the rules. The game’s a lot more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your cash or massaging hurt feelings. — K.N.
Nintendo’s Labo sets have been kind of hit or miss since their debut last year. Plus, once assembled, their utility declines, leaving piles of bent or ripped cardboard strewn about. Not so for the VR kit, which asks kids (and curious adults) to assemble a headset for their Nintendo Switch that can be used to play virtual reality modes in popular titles like Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Super Smash Bros. Sure, it’s no Oculus or Vive headset, but those don’t come with a cool cardboard blaster with real recoil either. — K.N.
Nearly everyone has felt a twinge of battery anxiety before, and the best way to counter it is to carry a discreet portable power bank everywhere. We’re big fans of Anker’s PowerCore 10000, not only because of its modest price but also because it’ll charge just about any of your smartphones at least twice over (and usually closer to three times). There are more-sophisticated models out there with more ports and flashier designs, but this is a simple, functional pick that’ll fit into just about everyone’s life. — Chris Velazco, Senior Mobile Edtior
Here’s an easy but thoughtful gift for the PC power user in your life: replace their worn-out mouse pad. Roccat’s Taito Control isn’t the flashiest, but its cloth surface promises a balance between control and ease of movement that should help gamers and everyday users alike. It’s available in three sizes that can fit someone’s exact needs, and it should last longer than your typical cloth pad, with borders and materials that are more resistant to daily abuse. The Taito Control might not be as immediately thrilling as some gifts, but it could be appreciated over the long haul. — Jon Fingas, Contributing Editor
There’s a chance that a mobile gamer you know has complained about their phone overheating during an extended play session. If so, you might want to consider the Arctech Pro case as a gift. The design covers the bases of protecting an iPhone or Razer Phone 2 against drops (as high as 10 feet), but its real allure is its heat dissipation: It should keep a handset cool even during a Fortnite marathon. And if your recipient is more interested in a pocket-friendly profile than shock resistance, the Arctech Slim will fit the bill for slightly less money. — J.F.
“Low key” is the phrase in PC gaming right now, which makes Kingston’s HyperX $43 Pulsefire Surge gaming mouse the ideal gift. It has some nice design flourishes without being garish, including customizable lighting that wraps around the entire mouse. Performance-wise, the 15,000 DPI mouse is equipped with Omron switches and extra side buttons that you can customize and save to the onboard memory. The most interesting touch is the adjustable weights, which let you add up to 32 grams of extra weight for more precision in either gaming or Photoshop designs. — Steve Dent, Associate Editor
Nintendo’s standard Switch controllers aren’t for everyone. Some people find them uncomfortable, and others have suffered through the “Joy-Con drift” issue. If a loved one is looking for an alternative, 8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+ might fit the bill. It’s not only lighter on the wallet than Nintendo’s Pro Controller but also feels great and looks like a mashup of the classic SNES joypad and Sony’s DualShock 4. Plugging it into a computer opens up a wealth of customization options, which is a boon for accessibility. It works with Windows, macOS, Raspberry PI and Android as well as Switch, so if you’re buying for someone who plays games on various systems, they’ll surely appreciate the flexibility of the SN30 Pro+. — Kris Holt, Contributing Editor
The Mi Band series of fitness trackers has one major selling point: price. At $35, the fourth iteration continues to keep things affordable, making this an ideal stocking stuffer. Despite the low price, there are still some premium features here, including a color display and 24-hour heart-rate monitoring. It’ll even track your swimming, which is a novelty at this price point. Of course, there’s a selection of colors to suit the recipient’s style and even an Avengers special edition for any Marvel fans looking to get in shape for the new year. Not bad for something half the price of the cheapest Fitbit. — James Trew, Managing Editor
For the female runner in your life, you could just buy a $6 armband for their phone. But if you want to score extra points, you might want to consider the Koala Clip. Unlike an armband or belt, the Koala Clip attaches to the strap of a sports bra and rests against the wearer’s back, promising zero slippage or bouncing mid-run. The flat, wide design also means your recipient can stash more items than regular pouches, so money for a post-jog ginger beer can stay close at hand without the need for an overflowing bag.
The Koala Clip comes in three sizes and five creatively named color options. So if Fierce Flamingo or Salty Sapphire sound more like pet names for the one you love than colorways, this gift is the perfect, practical choice. — J.T.
If the only thing they need is an easier way to stream, the new Roku Express is also an option. It’s ready to stream everything from Netflix and Amazon to newer options like Disney+ and Apple TV+, all for just $30. It doesn’t even need its own power cord, since the USB ports on most TVs can do the job, and an easy-to-use remote means they don’t have to relearn how to watch TV in the cord-cutter era. Plus, if they use smart home setups with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, it can tie in with those too. — Richard Lawler, Senior News Editor
Just because the Fire TV Stick 4K comes with a low asking price doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features. The Fire Stick is similar to an Android TV box — meaning it supports most popular streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu and a variety of sports channels — but it also delivers Amazon’s own services like Prime Video, Music and more. Add in Alexa support and there’s a whole lot of entertainment and smart home features for less than the cost of a meal out for two. — Matt Brian, Managing Editor, UK
We all know someone who yearns for the good old days when pixel-art games reigned supreme, someone who will roll their eyes when you get excited for Final Fantasy VII Remake and tell you Final Fantasy VI on the SNES is where it’s at. In my case, that person is me, and I’m here to tell you that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the best throwback game money can buy. Bloodstained was created by longtime Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi, and it’s essentially a greatest-hits compilation of all the best bits of his seminal series, with just enough changes to ensure Konami’s lawyers don’t come knocking. If you know someone like me, you should really buy them this game. — Aaron Souppouris, Executive Editor
What do you get the gamer who has everything? You get weird. Control is a top-notch sci-fi action game from Alan Wake studio Remedy Entertainment, and it’s filled with supernatural phenomena, government conspiracies and alien entities. It’s kind of like The X-Files but if Scully had a shape-shifting gun and the power of telekinesis.
It’s possible that Control slipped through the cracks for plenty of gaming fans this year, lost among high-profile launches like Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, Pokemon: Sword and Pokemon Shield, Kingdom Hearts 3, Apex Legends and whatever Fortnite is doing now. However, Control is a solid shooter with smooth mechanics and a spooky storyline that might kind of definitely tie into Alan Wake, making it a must-play title of 2019. — Jessica Conditt, Senior Editor
The perfect gift for a masochist, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest game from the team that brought you Dark Souls. Although just as challenging as that series, Sekiro takes Dark Souls’ weighty, gothic combat and and swaps it out for stealth, grappling hooks and swift swordplay. The result of all these changes is something with broader appeal, enjoyable not only by Dark Souls fans but also anyone who loves third-person action games and a good challenge. — A.S.
Switch owners have plenty of options when it comes to games. The system has a bevy of Mario titles, indie games and AAA experiences ready to roll, but when it comes to multiplayer shooters, the choice has basically been Splatoon or something from Bethesda. That is, until Overwatch showed up on Switch.
Overwatch is already a successful competitive shooter for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and it has a robust international eSports scene. The Switch version of the game isn’t as high fidelity as other editions, but it’s a fantastic way for fans to scratch the Overwatch itch while traveling, before going to bed or while their main gaming screen is otherwise occupied. Overwatch on Switch offers a more casual competitive scene, and something unique for Nintendo’s library. — J.C.
This is a true ground-floor opportunity. Risk of Rain 2 comes from independent studio Hopoo Games, and it’s the sequel to the acclaimed 2013 roguelike game of the same name (sans one “2”). Technically, Risk of Rain 2 won’t come out until spring of next year, but it’s playable now as an Early Access title, allowing fans to provide feedback to the developers and help polish the final product. But so far, Risk of Rain 2 is an addictive, nonstop shooting and looting frenzy with a spectacular soundtrack, and it’s worth playing as soon as possible. Plus, participating in the Early Access community is a great way to earn forum cred as a gaming fan.
Risk of Rain 2 is available digitally on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC, but it’s getting a physical version for consoles in November. The boxed edition comes with the original Risk of Rain and its sequel, showcasing the franchise’s seamless jump from 2D to 3D. It costs just $30 on PS4 and Xbox One or $40 on Switch. — J.C.
Die Hard is a Christmas movie. You know this in your heart to be true. Buy it in 4K and give it to every John, Hans and Holly on your holiday shopping list. — Andrew Tarantola, Senior Editor
A millennial young woman’s true coming-of-age story, set in Silicon Valley startups, Uncanny Valley is an incisive peek at tech culture circa 2012 and what it meant to gain access to a system that has now expanded far beyond the Bay Area. Anna Wiener contrasts her twentysomething wandering with the messianic certainty of a hyper-optimistic tech industry. It’s a paradox many young adults are encountering — and perhaps an apt reflection for the entry-level coder on your list. — Chris Ip, Associate Features Editor
If you have a little one on your holiday shopping list more interested in Jack Skellington than Santa Claus, we have the book for you! In Will Cats Eat My Eyeballs? mortician and best-selling author Caitlin Doughty answers 35 of people’s most burning questions about what happens after we kick off with humor, grace and calm candidness. — A.T.
For the voracious reader on your list, Wanderers is a must-have. Tipping the scales at 800 pages, this apocalyptic end-of-the-world tale dives into a world bewitched with a mysterious malady that turns its victims into sleepwalkers. Difficult to harm and dangerous to touch, these sleepwalkers do not speak or wake; they just walk toward a singular destination known only to them. Their family and friends serve as shepherds defending these “flocks” as they shamble forward, which quickly becomes a deadly proposition when an ultra-violent militia starts targeting the sleepwalkers.
Teenaged Shana is one such shepherd. Her quest to save her sister hinges on solving the mystery of the sleepwalker sickness, but the secret behind the epidemic could very well tear an already fractured nation far beyond its breaking point. — A.T.
Avengers: Endgame arrived in theaters earlier this year, but the 4K Blu-ray version only dropped in August. If an avid Marvel film fan on your holiday list hasn’t managed to pick up this Blu-ray yet, it’s well worth adding to their collection. The film is an epic follow-up to its slightly less acclaimed precursor, Avengers: Infinity War. Heck, if your giftee has been lax about collecting them, you may as well get both. As usual, the package includes both the physical disc and a digital code, so owners can enjoy the uncompressed media experience while also having the freedom to watch on the fly from various digital platforms. It’s presented in Dolby Atmos audio and HDR10, so those who’ve invested in a capable home-theater setup can enjoy a pretty stunning cinematic experience. — Jon Turi, Homepage Editor
Mary H.K. Choi has emerged as an author who knows how to write about young romance through social media and texts — which is basically how all romance works now. Her latest is Permanent Record, a young adult novel centered on two protagonists: a bodega worker who dropped out of college and a pop star beloved by her Instagram following. It’s one for the teens in your life, or the adults trying to understand them. — C.I.
Despite sharing a title, this is certainly not the same mood as the young adult romance above. Instead, Edward Snowden’s memoir is both a thriller and a reflection on the pervasiveness of big data. It charts his childhood instinct for gaming the system (case in point: changing the time on clocks in the family house to stay up late) as well as his path from the army to the CIA to becoming an NSA contractor. Then, of course, is the the play-by-play of his whistle-blowing. The memoir is a glimpse at what it took to reveal the extent of digital mass surveillance, a phenomenon that six years after Snowden’s revelations, we all accept as normal. — C.I.
If the sci-fi fan on your list is big on antiheroes but not so much space adventures, introduce them to The Boys. This four-volume graphic novel series from Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson tells of a world dominated by corrupt superhuman “heroes” and the corporate powers that control them. The only ones willing and able to stand up in this dystopia are a motley team of special operatives, assassins and one poor schmuck in way over his head. This story is a must-read, but be warned: Things get real bloody, real quick. — A.T.
For tech enthusiasts who usually have their eye on the future, there’s an easily consumable read on computing’s history written by Howard Rheingold called Tools for Thought. He covers some of the key figures in the history of coding and tech going much further back than the 1970s homebrew explosion in Silicon Valley. The book was originally published in 1985, and as a futurist, Rheingold tried to imagine what was coming next. That provides an interesting quirk, reading his predictions and perspective after the fact while he was in the middle of technology’s still-emerging story. This updated version, released in 2000, has an afterward with interviews including some of the document’s key players, helping to close the circle, at least for now. — J.T.
Hackers of the world unite and give Cult of the Dead Cow to the white hat on your gift list. This is a fantastic oral history of one of the world’s most powerful and prolific hacking collectives. You probably haven’t heard of it — because it’s that good — but the cDc has long sought to protect freedom, security and democracy around the globe through its efforts. Author Joseph Menn recounts the rise and diffusion of the world’s premiere hacking supergroup. — A.T.
If you’ve ever thought your loved ones spend too much time watching Netflix and should really pick up a book once in a while, the Murderbot Diaries might be right up their alley. This series of novellas has plenty of action and existential angst, they read fairly quickly and the titular character is pretty relatable to anyone who’d rather stay in and binge their favorite shows than deal with people, because that’s all Murderbot wants to do too. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor
The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal’s fiction debut, is an extraordinary and inspiring tale of one woman’s nigh unstoppable quest to achieve her goal of becoming an astronaut — patriarchal politics and social conventions be damned. Winner of the 2018 Nebulus, 2019 Locus and 2019 Hugo awards for best novel, The Calculating Stars and its newly released sequel, The Fated Sky, will make the perfect gift for any STEM- and space-obsessed teen or adult on your list. — A.T.
The game-changing transformation of a legacy industry. The pomp and downfall of a billionaire founder. The behind-the-scenes misdeeds and eight-figure party expenditures. Uber embodies much of the tech industry’s gargantuan potential as well as its worst impulses, and Mike Isaac, a reporter for The New York Times, chronicles it all. Based on hundreds of interviews, this is both a definitive account and a cautionary tale. — C.I.
If Rube Goldberg machines have taught us anything, it’s that something worth doing right is worth doing in the most convoluted manner possible. And as author Randall Munroe of XKCD fame shows, the same applies to science. In How To, your inquisitive gift recipient will learn how to predict the weather through pixel analysis of Facebook posts, determine their age by measuring the radioactivity of their teeth and even how to take a selfie from space! — A.T.
Who says manga can’t be both entertaining and educational? This series from Riichiro Inagaki (with illustrations by Boichi) follows the efforts of teenage genius Senku Ishigami and his friends as they rebuild civilization after awakening from a mysterious 3,689-year petrified slumber. But fear not, they have science on their side! Filled with lighthearted adventure and laugh-out-loud comedic gags and packed to the rafters with clever explanations of scientific principles, Dr. Stone is the perfect gift for the technologically curious of all ages. — A.T.
Time travelers are notoriously difficult to shop for. Any clothes you buy them will immediately be out of fashion, and any gadgets you get will become obsolete the moment they step out of the chrono-portal. So this year, give them the gift of knowledge in the form of How to Invent Everything, by Ryan North. This “survival guide for the stranded time traveler” is chock-full of helpful tips and tricks to make the most of one’s life should they accidentally jump the wrong direction in time, sideswipe a dinosaur and irreparably break their machine’s flux capacitor. — A.T.
This year, for once, you can get a great gift for the World War II buff on your list without having to endlessly trawl eBay for 80-year-old knickknacks. The Bastard Brigade by Sam Kean recounts the Allies’ desperate struggle to keep Nazi Germany and the rest of the Axis powers from developing and deploying a nuclear bomb. From the opening days of the war to the final march on Berlin, Kean’s vivid storytelling grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until VE Day. — A.T.
Choose the recently released Spider-Man: Far From Home 4K Blu-ray as a gift for someone who enjoys action, humor and awkward teen romance with tons of pixels. It’s the second of Spidey’s standalone flicks and seems to be positioning him for bigger things. Overall, the film is a wild ride with Mysterio’s mind games and immersive Dolby Atmos audio making it a spectacle to behold. Plus, it’s a recent Blu-ray release, so there’s a strong chance your intended hasn’t snagged it for themselves yet. If this film is still missing in your giftee’s collection, it’s a timely and affordable idea for someone with the home theater system to let it sing. — J.T.
It’s a film about a family and a vacation — perfect for the holidays, right? But truly, Jordan Peele’s Us is not only one of the best films of the year but also a chilling reflection on our divided times. Just look at the title: It speaks to an us-and-them mentality and doubles as the acronym for “United States.” Consider it a sly present if discussing current affairs head on is the real scare at your holiday get-togethers. — C.I.
There are few things as fun as sitting down to watch a cute family movie that’s as entertaining for adults as it is for kids. And there’s something for everyone in Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, now available on 4K Blu-ray. For grown-ups, it’s a pretty serious film noir about a boy looking for his lost father. For kids, his sidekick is a bright yellow mouse that shoots electricity out of its rear.
The story is interesting enough, but you’re really there to be swept away by the charm of Ryan Reynolds. Since you can’t play Deadpool in the family room, this will have to do as the next best thing. Plus, there are enough knowing winks and gags to keep everyone entertained between action set pieces. The fact that it’s based on a spin-off is a bonus, since showing how Pokémon battles would play out in the real world might look like animal cruelty. — Daniel Cooper, Senior Editor
We’ve all gotten too used to listening to compressed audio files in the past few decades. If there’s a big music fan on your list, chances are they’ll appreciate upgrading their listening setup, and a subscription to Amazon Music HD would be a big step in that direction. At $15 per month (or $13 for Prime members), Amazon’s high-quality streaming service is cheaper than Tidal and still offers 50 million songs in more than double the bitrate of most streaming services. Amazon says that a selection of that catalog is even available in bitrates that are more than 10 times higher than other streaming services’, music that should be indistinguishable from CDs. We recommend pairing this subscription with some of our picks for best audio gear while you’re at it, to make sure your recipient gets the full experience. — Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Managing Editor
If you know someone getting a new iPhone (or iPad, Mac or Apple TV), a subscription to Apple Arcade will make their new gadget a lot more fun. For $5 per month, the service offers access to 100 games, and that catalog is growing quickly. There are no in-game purchases and no ads, and you’ll find titles across a wide range of categories. It’s doubtful anyone will enjoy every game, but we’ve found the quality level is consistently high. There are games you can play for just a few minutes at a time and others that you can lose hours in. And if your recipient has more than one Apple device, they’ll get to play on any screen they want. — N.I.
Regardless of who’s on your holiday list, chances are they’ll find something to watch on Disney+. The company’s much-hyped and long-awaited streaming service is finally here, and it mixes up compelling original content from the Star Wars and Marvel universes with an insanely vast back catalog, including films from Pixar, Disney’s recent Fox acquisition, those aforementioned Star Wars and Marvel films and — of course — a huge selection of Disney films from the past 80 years. From true classics to weird, nostalgic, forgotten movies, there really is something for everyone here. — N.I.
One of the best ways to keep stress levels in check is to take a few minutes to breathe and center yourself. There are plenty of apps out there for guided meditation, but we especially like Headspace. It’s available on mobile and desktop, and it works with Google Home- and Alexa-powered devices, so wherever your frazzled friend is, they’ll be able to snag some self-care time.
For those who might be intimidated, Headspace is loaded with simple explanations and cute animations that make meditation feel approachable. Plus, once they’ve learned to take a breath now and then, there are lessons focused on creativity, motivation and improving self-esteem. — Terrence O’Brien, Managing Editor
If you want to learn something, you can read a book, find a tutor or hope that someone’s made a tutorial on YouTube. MasterClass has put its own extravagant spin on that last category, with A-listers in a number of fields sharing their expertise. That includes basketball lessons from Steph Curry, acting classes from Helen Mirren or photography tips from Annie Leibovitz. Why not give someone the gift of learning and help them start their resolutions in the best possible manner?
Hell, even if they’re not interested in learning the skills, simply listening to these people talk is worth the price. Each individual MasterClass course costs $90 and comes with, on average, three hours of video, a workbook and some exercises to complete. But for a one-off payment of $180, MasterClass becomes a Netflix of smart stuff for a whole year. If you know someone who wants tennis lessons from Serena Williams and conservation tips from Jane Goodall, $15 per month is more than worth it. — Daniel Cooper, Senior Editor
It took Nintendo a long time to launch its online service, and as such there are probably lots of Switch owners who still don’t have it yet. If there’s a gamer in your life who matches that description, now is a good time to get them on board, especially if they’re a fan of retro games. In addition to being required for online play, Nintendo’s Switch Online service now includes dozens of games from the classic NES and Super NES systems, making it a great machine for a nostalgia binge.
Old games aren’t the only draw though. Earlier this year, Nintendo released Tetris 99, an online battle royale reimagining of the classic puzzle game — and only Switch online players could try it. At $20 for a full year of membership, it’s a no-brainer. Are you gifting someone a shiny new Switch Lite this year? If so, throw this in and enjoy extra brownie points. — N.I.
Digital music production can take a lot of work, but if you want to open the doors for someone who has the itch (and a computer), a Serato Studio subscription ($10 a month) might be the perfect gift. For DJs with Serato’s software, the interface will be familiar. Those with a controller already have a workstation interface ready to go. Even people taking their first steps in music making will find it easy to get things rolling through the intuitive interface and curated sound packs — which arrive fresh each month. The loop-based sequencer, filters, effects and free mastering plug-in from iZotope all help provide an approachable yet powerful beat-making tool for newcomers and a great audio sketchpad for seasoned producers. — Jon Turi, Homepage Editor
Digital musicians and music producers spend a lot of money on software plug-ins and samples. So why not give them the gift of a subscription to Splice, with access to thousands of samples and the ability to try out hundreds of plug-ins? If they like a certain plug-in, after three days of demoing it, they can purchase it through a rent-to-own system. Trust us, music software can get expensive, so it’s much easier for someone just starting out to make payments for something like Auto-Tune than it is to drop more than $300 on it in one shot. Plus, Splice has a huge community of other artists. Access to other producers or performers is priceless when a musician needs help with something technical or to talk shop about songs. All of that begins with a monthly price of $7.99. — Roberto Baldwin, Senior Editor