The best gifts to upgrade your grad’s tech setup

The best gifts to upgrade your grad’s tech setup

If you know someone who is graduating this year, whether from high school or university, chances are good the gear that’s gotten them through the last four (or more) years is ready for a refresh. The good news is that graduation time is typically a big one for gift-giving, so if you know someone who is about to hit college or the dreaded “real world,” you can make sure they’re prepared by perusing our list of the latest tech. Everything here should be a major upgrade that’ll make the transition easier and last for years to come, as well.


Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

A good laptop remains the standard, go-to tool for getting things done. But it’s also a personal purchase, with people having strong opinions about which operating system, screen size and specs they need. So there are a few things you’ll want to know going into this purchase, but all of these laptops we recommend are some of the best and most well-rounded options on the market. Unless the person you’re shopping for has some specific needs, one of these machines should hit the mark.

Dell’s XPS 13 Plus is easy to recommend for anyone who uses Windows. At this point, Dell has almost perfected its industrial design: it’s thin and light, but not at the expense of power or battery life. The keyboard and display are excellent, and you can get impressive specs without breaking the bank. One downside is that Dell seems to have moved fully to a design that only has two USB-C ports and no headphone jack, which can be a bit limiting. But those quibbles aside, the XPS 13 Plus remains an excellent choice.

Right now, the XPS 13 Plus includes Intel’s 13th-generation Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. That also includes a 13.4-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 display, and the whole package costs a very reasonable $999 direct from Dell right now. Dell has also offered the same configuration with a 4K display for $200 more, but as of this writing it’s unavailable. Either way, that’s a lot of power for the price.

For someone who’s a gamer, though, we recommend going in a different direction. The ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 has been our favorite gaming laptop for a few years now, one that combines relative portability (3.5 pounds and a 14-inch screen) with serious power. In our review we said that the laptop was incredibly compelling, even if it’s more expensive than it used to be. It has a powerful AMD processor and graphics card coupled with a great display, comfortable keyboard, spacious trackpad and solid design. It’s not a champ on battery life, but we got seven hours of non-gaming use out of it – pretty decent considering the specs.

You can get the Zephyrus G14 in a wide variety of configurations, but one we’d recommend includes an AMD Ryzen 9 8000 series processor, NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 4060 graphics card, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 2,560 x 1,600 OLED display with a 120 hz refresh rate.

For people who prefer a Mac, Apple’s lineup can be surprisingly complicated. Fortunately, the company just updated all of its laptops with its latest series of M3 processors, so now is a great time to purchase one.The MacBook Air is still the company’s best laptop for most people, and it now comes in both 13- and 15-inch configurations. In both cases, it’s an extremely light and portable computer that has better battery life than almost anything you can buy. The best option if you’re looking for longevity is the $1,499 13-inch model that includes 512GB of storage, 16GB of RAM and the M3 chip with a 10-core GPU. You can grab that same configuration with a 15-inch display for $1,699. And while we think that the Air is enough computer for most people, if you’re buying for someone who has a heavier workload like photo or video editing, the $1,999 MacBook Pro is worth considering. It gives you a significantly more powerful M3 Pro chip with a 14-core GPU along with other niceties like a gorgeous 14-inch mini-LED display.

Given how dominant a force Chromebooks are in education, it’s entirely possible that someone just finishing school might want to continue using Chrome OS. Fortunately, there are lots of premium Chromebooks that are well-designed and capable enough to last for years. One of our favorites is Acer’s Chromebook Spin 714. It includes a 13th-gen Intel Core i5 processor alongside a 14-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 display that offers a little more vertical space than your average 1080p screen. Add in a solid keyboard and trackpad, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and you have a Chromebook that doesn’t require many compromises. The one downside is that its 7ish-hour battery life isn’t spectacular — but given the laptop’s price, it’s probably good enough.


Photos of Samsung's Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra tablet.

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

No, tablets have not replaced laptops as some predicted when the category started blowing up last decade. But they also still do a ton of things well. They can be a great option for getting work done, engaging your creative side with art and music-making apps or just enjoying movies and games. For the vast majority of people, Apple’s iPad is the only tablet worth considering, even if they don’t otherwise use Apple products. That’s thanks to time-tested, reliable hardware and a massive software library with hundreds of thousands of apps optimized for the iPad’s larger screen.

As for which is the best iPad, the iPad Air remains the right choice for most at the moment – especially if you’re looking for a good graduation gift. While the basic iPad is a great value, you get a lot when you step up to the Air. Perhaps most importantly, the Air has Apple’s M1 chip, a very powerful chip for a tablet that was in many Macs for years. This means the Air is extremely fast, even though the M1 is a few years old at this point.

The rest of the iPad Air’s hardware is also impressive for the price. It has a large 10.9-inch screen with thin bezels and an anti-reflective coating; the display is also laminated directly to the glass, so there’s no distracting gap beneath the surface. The Air includes 64GB or 256GB of storage, 10 hours of battery life, support for the second-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard and an improved 12-megapixel front-facing camera. For $599, you’re getting almost everything that the iPad Pro offers for a lot less cash. The only caveat here is that Apple is expected to release new iPads this spring. As of this writing, the M1 iPad Air is our favorite, but just know that there may be a new Air on the way in the coming weeks.

Android tablets have never had the same level of success as the iPad, largely because of the well-documented software issues on larger-screen Android devices. But if you’re shopping for an Android diehard, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S9 (or S9+) are solid choices. The S9 features a high-resolution 11-inch screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, and has an S-Pen stylus included in the box. For someone looking for a bigger canvas, the S9+ steps things up to 12.4 inches. And while Android historically hasn’t been the best option for large-screen devices, Samsung’s Dex feature switches things up into a more desktop-like multi-window mode, which can be great for productivity. Samsung’s built-in apps that take advantage of the S-Pen are solid as well. You might have a hard time finding apps that are designed for the Tab S9’s larger screen, but if you’re buying this for someone familiar with Android, they’ll likely be aware of the trade-offs.


Six Google Pixel 6 Pro smartphones in various pastel colors on a gray table.


The most important computer people own, or at least the one they probably rely on the most, is their smartphone. And if you know someone who is still rocking the same device they brought to campus with them four years ago, they’ll definitely appreciate an upgrade. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to pick out a phone that’ll satisfy just about anyone, regardless of whether they prefer Android or iOS.

This year, we’re recommending the iPhone 15 Pro Max for new graduates. The standard iPhone 15, 15 Plus and 15 Pro are all excellent phones, but the Pro Max is undeniably the best option out there. The 15 Pro Max has the best iPhone camera you can buy, with a 5x telephoto lens that gives it a big advantage over the 3x option on the standard iPhone 15. Other significant features include the massive and gorgeous 6.7-inch always-on display with a 120Hz refresh rate and the A17 Pro chip.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max is expensive at $1,199, and some people may not be happy with such a large device. As such, the $999 iPhone 15 Pro is easy to recommend as an alternative, but camera nerds will really enjoy the 15 Pro Max. And the extremely fast processor and Apple’s track record of delivering software support for years means this investment should last a long time.

Unsurprisingly, Samsung continues to make the best Android devices you can buy – as such, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is our pick this year. At $1,299, it’s another pricey device, but it delivers everything you could ask for: an incredibly bright and high-quality 6.8-inch OLED screen, a high-resolution 5X telephoto camera (along with other excellent lenses and sensors), nearly two full days of battery life and strong performance. The latter comes thanks to its Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip and 12GB of RAM. It also comes with Samsung’s handy S Pen, for anyone who wants to use a stylus on the S24 Ultra’s giant screen. Given how thoroughly Samsung dominates the Android space, this isn’t a surprising recommendation, but it will make most Android fans happy.

While Samsung’s devices are hard to compete with, Google has routinely made excellent Android phones for a bit less cash. The $999 Pixel 8 Pro is worth a look if you’re a fan of Google’s clean take on Android, and their phones always have some nifty software tricks baked in. Battery life has been upgraded over the Pixel 7 Pro, the latest Tensor 3 chip keeps things speedy and its camera performance is as good as ever. And the fact that this phone is built by Google means it’ll get software updates before any other Android phone on the market; Google is also promising seven years of software updates.

Both of these phones are big (the Pixel 7 Pro’s screen is 6.7 inches while the S23 Ultra has a 6.8-inch display), but the good news is that both Google and Samsung offer smaller-screened devices that keep most of the same features and specs as their larger siblings. You’ll save some cash with a smaller device, too.


WH-1000XM5 review

Billy Steele/Engadget

Almost anyone would benefit from a good pair of noise canceling headphones, and once again Sony has made our top pick. While Sony’s WH-1000XM5 is almost two years old at this point, it’s still the best over-ear option on the market. At $400, they’re more expensive than the XM4, but they offer a combination of incredible sound, a time-tested, refined design and excellent noise-canceling that is hard to beat. They also fit better and more comfortably than ever, and have 30 hours of battery life. The 1000XM5 looks better, sounds better and wears better than the previous model – it’s hard to ask for much more.

While the WH-1000XM5 is getting a little old, Sony refreshed its wireless earbuds last year, making them our new favorite pick. As with its over-ear headphones, the $298 WF-1000XM5 earbuds feature incredible sound quality, long battery life, excellent noise cancellation and a comfortable design. Sony completely redesigned the WF-1000XM5 inside and out, with a new design and drivers as well as updated chips that power their noise-canceling features. Battery life hasn’t improved, but it’s still impressive. The earbuds can get about eight hours of playback with ANC active – that jumps up to 12 hours if you turn it off. Sony also included a host of smart software features like Speak-to-Chat automatic pausing, Adaptive Sound Control adjustments based on movement or location, 360 Reality Audio and a customizable EQ.

If you’re buying earbuds for an Apple user, though, consider the second-generation AirPods Pro. They don’t quite beat Sony’s WF-1000XM5 in sound quality or battery life, but there are a host of features that make them the best earbuds to use with an iPhone, iPad or Mac. The fast pairing tech Apple introduced with the first AirPods still makes it extremely easy to start using these earbuds, or to switch them seamlessly between different Apple devices. Both the case and buds are sweat and water resistant, making them a better option for workouts.

These second-gen AirPods Pro also have big improvements in noise cancellation and sound quality, and the “transparency” mode that lets in outside sound lets you have a conversation or hear the world around you in a totally natural way. Apple improved on that last summer with a new “Adaptive Audio” feature that blends noise cancellation and transparency depending on your environment. And, Apple finally added USB-C to the charging case!


LG 32UN650-W


There are a dizzying number of computer monitors on the market, at basically any price you can think of, which makes recommending a single monitor a very difficult task. Fortunately, we’ve looked at a host of options and have a few good ones that don’t break the bank and offer a great viewing experience. LG’s 32-inch 32UN650-W is an excellent choice for a large, high-resolution panel that includes niceties like built-in speakers, HDR, support for AMD Freesync and a stand that offers tilt and height adjustments. It sticks with a standard 60Hz refresh rate rather than anything faster, but it’s an excellent choice for most people, especially given its $450 price.

As usual, gamers require something a little different. For that set, check out the 25-inch ASUS ROG Strix 380Hz monitor. The resolution maxes out at 1080p, and it’s a much smaller display compared to the LG — but a 380Hz refresh rate is wildly quick, and the 1m GtG response time will go a long way towards eliminating motion blurs. It also has HDR, but with a higher maximum brightness than the LG. It’s a rather specialized piece of equipment, but one that’ll undoubtedly be appreciated by gamers.


A man in a blue suit holds a brown Waterfield Designs Executive Leather Messenger bag.


As important as the right gear is, your grad also deserves something classy and stylish to carry all that stuff around. The Executive Leather Messenger from Waterfield Designs is an expensive choice, but it’s worth the cost. Waterfield makes everything by hand in its San Francisco shop, and the materials it uses are top notch. I’ve owned a lot of their products over the years, and I can safely say this bag will last a decade or more, and the leather will only look more attractive as time goes on.

On the inside are two padded slots, one for a tablet and one for a laptop. There are also two pockets, one zippered, as well as a pen slot and a metal key fob. Finally, there are two easily-accessible hand pockets under the flap, both with an extremely soft plush lining. The Executive Leather Messenger comes in three different leather colors and costs either $399 or $419, depending on which size you choose. It’s an investment, for sure, but it will last a long time.

Waterfield’s bags are typically quite pricey, but the company recently released a new line of “essential” options that offer the company’s excellent construction and smart features at a lower price point. The $179 Essential Messenger is a lightweight option that does away with the leather and uses tough textiles instead. But its magnetic closures are fast and easy to undo, the strap is easily removable for wearing over whichever shoulder you choose, and it has foam inserts to help it keep its structure. There’s a built-in sleeve for a laptop up to 14 inches, and I can confirm you can shove a surprising amount of gear in it considering its smaller size.

There’s also something to be said for a good backpack. For that, check out Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack. As the name suggests, it’s a fairly minimalist design that works in a lot of contexts, and it comes with the company’s typically smart organization features. It has a number of configurable dividers inside to keep everything from pooling at the bottom, and it combines the large internal space with a host of internal and external pockets and access points. Finally, it also has a number of external straps that can be easily hidden if you don’t need them — but they provide versatile expansion of the bag’s carrying capacity. If you want to attach things like a tripod or tie a jacket or blanket on, go right ahead. There are a ton of different ways to use this bag, which means it should last years as it can just be customized to fit commutes, vacations or any other excursion.

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