The best graduation gifts to buy for 2021 – CNET

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pomp and circumstance of the graduation season of 2020 was severely downsized, with most graduation ceremonies and parties virtual at best — and canceled at worst. The combination of widespread vaccine availability in the US and (finally) declining infection numbers means that 2021 will hopefully be different in many localities. And by autumn, one hopes, most grads will find their way back into the time-honored traditions — whether they’re moving into a college dorm room or their first off-campus apartment. 

Thankfully, graduation gifts no longer need to be solely themed around sheltering in place. Whether your recent graduate has wrapped up college or high school, you’re sure to find the perfect present for this important milestone. Take a look.

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Rumor has it that Nintendo will release a new upgraded Switch later this year, but at least you can find the current Switch in stock now (albeit often with delivery dates a few weeks out). With its ability to attach to a TV, it’s still the preferred alternative to the cheaper Switch Lite ($200), which cannot.

Read our Nintendo Switch Lite review.

 

The Sony WH-1000X4 is arguably the best all-around noise-canceling headphone. While it lists for $350, it frequently sells for closer to $275. That’s still expensive for a headphone, but compared to the AirPods Max at $549 it seems like a bargain. 

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

 

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Available in white or black for $169, the Roam is currently Sonos’ smallest and most affordable speaker (if you don’t count those $99 Sonos-compatible Symfonisk Ikea Wi-Fi bookshelf speakers), though it’s fairly expensive for a mini wireless speaker. This model, like Sonos’ earlier Move portable speaker ($400, £399, AU$649), is equipped with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and can tap into an existing Sonos multiroom audio system and link with other Series 2-compatible Sonos speakers. It makes for a good starter speaker for those new to the Sonos world. Read our Sonos Roam review.

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Roku is our favorite platform for a live TV streaming service like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, and it’s even better baked into the TV. This TCL 4-Series can’t beat any of the models above on image quality — its 4K resolution and HDR compatibility don’t do anything to help the picture — but it’s perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price. 

Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-inch. (The price shown below is for the 65-inch size.)

2021 outlook: The newest version of the 4 series has a “435” model number and is available in some sizes now, but TCL says image quality is the same as the 425 reviewed here. My advice, if you have a choice between the two, is to simply get the least expensive one. Read our TCL S425 series (Roku TV) review.

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Here’s a gift that’s sure to please: a massage gun. There are many to choose from, but the Theragun Mini is nice, compact and surprisingly powerful (and pretty quiet). Available in a few color options, it retails for $200. 

Zagg

If your grad drives a car the Mophie PowerStation Go Rugged is a versatile charger to have around. Not only does it house a 15,000 mAh battery for charging multiple devices but it has a built-in air compressor, as well as detachable cables for jump-starting a car.

Along with car tires, the air compressor can be used to pump up bike tires, inflatable boats, balls. Adapters and needles for the air compressor are included. Also worth noting: The battery has an AC outlet so you can power small devices that require a power cord and don’t have a USB charging option. 

Twelve South

Twelve South’s HoverBar Duo is a great companion accessory for the iPad or any larger tablet. It’s got a folding arm, weighted base and clamps that allow you to attach it to tables, shelves and anything else that fits in the clamp. 

Dyson’s excellent Supersonic hair dryer costs $400, but if you’re not quite ready to shell out that kind of money for a hair dryer for your grad, Panasonic’s new Nanoe EHNA67W hair dryer is a more affordable premium option at $150. It comes with three attachments, including a newly developed oscillating quick-dry nozzle that Panasonic says helps dry hair gently and efficiently, a concentrator nozzle “for more precise styling” and a diffuser for curly/wavy hair types. Panasonic’s Nanoe technology (the dryer shoots out “moisture rich” nanoe ions) to help hair from becoming heat damaged.

This is Panasonic’s latest, upgraded hair dryer, but if you don’t want to spend quite that much, its previous-gen Nanoe model EH-NA65-K is on sale for about half the price. 

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The Oculus Quest 2 takes virtual reality mainstream with a device that isn’t encumbered by cables and is also pretty affordable (it starts at $300). If you can’t get a PS5 or Xbox Series X, this is the next-gen game console to get for your grad. 

Read our Oculus Quest 2 review.

 

Razer

Razer has made a surprise entry into the audio glasses arena and the result is surprisingly good. The Razer Anzu comes in round and square versions in two different size options and is available now for $200. In terms of sound, it’s arguably just a tad behind the Bose’s Tenor and Soprano audio sunglasses (like those models, the Anzu has 16mm drivers), but it’s pretty close. Its $50 lower price tag gives it a value advantage over the Bose. Check out our list of best Bluetooth audio glasses, all of which make good gifts for grads. 

Logitech

Sure, your grad probably has a laptop with an integrated camera. But usually laptop cams usually aren’t so great, which is why a dedicated webcam can really improve the video-chatting experience. Logitech’s Brio is one of the most popular webcams on the market thanks to its impressive 4K resolution and Logitech’s webcam smarts. 4K is useful if you want to zoom in to your face or a physical object without losing the detail as much as a typical 1080p model. If you have the network bandwidth to transmit 4K, you can deliver a sharp picture and even use it handheld to show viewers physical objects rather than just share your screen. You probably don’t really need 4K, so it can also broadcast in 1080p 60 frames per second if you want good video that’s less stressful on your network. 

If the Brio seems a little too expensive, you can check out some alternatives on our list of best premium webcams.

Read our Logitech Brio 4K Pro Webcam preview.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

UE’s Hyperboom is a powerhouse, jumbo-size portable wireless speaker that works well both indoors and outdoors. It’s splashproof with an IPX4 rating and has a USB out port that allows you to charge devices like your phone. It has also has analog audio input if you want to go wired and connect a device without using Bluetooth. Plusr, the Hyperboom adds an optical digital input. That means you can connect it to a TV, PC or game console with an optical output. You can also toggle between two Bluetooth connections and it has a built-in microphone that calibrates the speaker’s sound to wherever it is, inside or outside. Read our Ultimate Ears Hyperboom review and also check out our list of best wireless boombox speakers, all of which also makes great gifts.

Read our Ultimate Ears Hyperboom review.

 

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If your graduate doesn’t already have these, they probably want them. The ultracompact, lightweight AirPods Pro feature a noise-isolating design that fits most ears securely and delivers top-notch performance for making calls, truly perfect for high school graduation gifts or college graduation gifts. (If your grad has an Android, check out the Jabra Elite 75t instead.)

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

 

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The Apple Watch puts a modern spin on a traditional graduation gift. This is stylish and more practical than a simple bracelet. The Series 6, which can usually be found starting at under $400 for the smaller 40mm size, features an always-on display, blazing-fast speed and a host of health and wellness features.

Read more.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

If you don’t want to shell out around $200 for the Apple’s AirPods Pro, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, the company’s first earbuds to feature active noise canceling, are a good alternative for significantly less money. Like the AirPods Pro, they have an IPX4 water-resistance rating (splashproof). 

While I had an issue with the included ear tips and had to use some other tips (it’s crucial to get a tight seal or both noise canceling and sound quality will suffer), they should fit most people comfortably. Sound quality is better than Anker’s earlier Liberty Air 2 and the noise canceling is effective. These also work well as a headset for making calls and are available in multiple color options.

They list for $130 but are currently on sale for $100 when you clip the instant $30-off coupon on Amazon. Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.

Black & Decker

It can take years to acquire all of the tools needed for a household. This 60-piece kit is the perfect gift for this major milestone and will give your graduate a leg up by equipping them with everything they’ll need. You get an 8-volt drill, a hammer, a level, a tape measure and a bunch of wrenches and screwdrivers — all neatly packed into a handy carrying case, making it a perfect present for any new grad.

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If you can’t afford a new TV for your grad, you can still beef up their home entertainment options. Roku’s excellent video streamers can turn any HDMI-equipped TV into a gateway to online entertainment bliss, featuring Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Max and literally hundreds of other streaming channels. The $50 Roku Streaming Stick Plus — an Editors’ Choice — delivers 4K and HDR video in a compact package for an affordable price.

Read our Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.

 

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