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Home / Tips and Tricks / No-nos for gift giving: Don’t make these mistakes when buying phones and tech gifts

No-nos for gift giving: Don’t make these mistakes when buying phones and tech gifts


A shiny iPhone 12 is a great gift, but you should do some research before buying it for someone else.

Angela Lang / CNET

This story is part of Christmas gift guide 2020, CNET̵

7;s gift choice with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.

Christmas shopping season is up to us, and with it the often difficult decision about what to buy. Finding the perfect gift for a friend, loved one, or distant relative is something we all strive for, but when it comes to purchasing tech products, there are many factors to consider other than what color of iPhone the person is would like.

Gadgets can be personal, with a lot of unintended consequences, such as burdening someone with the cost of buying extra stuff, giving them a monthly subscription, or exposing their privacy in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

New Phones, laptops, smart speakers and other electronic devices can be a great gift as these devices are a way to work, play, communicate with friends or, with a gadget such as a Kindle or game console, a temporary escape. They add value to a person’s life.

But beware, gifter. Remember, privacy, security, and compatibility concerns will go a long way in helping you make good decisions while shopping for new phones and other gadgets. Let’s take a closer look at some best practices.

Read more: The best places to sell your used electronics

Beware of extras that someone else will have to buy

Whatever type of device you buy as a gift, consider any additional accessories you may need. Ask yourself – or the seller – whether the device is ready for immediate use.

like you buy some color changing lamps, do they need a hub to get them to work? If it’s a phone or tablet, does it make sense to give a case as well or let the recipient pick one later? Many phones omit the headphone jack, so a dongle to go from a USB-C or Lightning plug to a 3.5mm audio jack may be required.

More examples to watch out for: For a Roomba, additional brushes, filters or virtual barriers become items that your loved one will eventually need. Chances are, if you’re gifting a smart speaker that doubles as a voice-activated speaker for streaming music, a gift card for a Spotify or Pandora subscription will be appreciated.

Another aspect to consider is whether or not they should replace things they already have. Maybe that new phone needs a different kind of charging cable than what they’re already using. It may not be your responsibility to replace that, but keep in mind that your gift may have ripple effects.

usb-c to hdmi dongle

Dongles are sometimes a necessary evil.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Pay attention to what devices they already have

The last thing you want is to give Dad a gift he can’t or won’t use. Before deciding to get someone last Amazon Echo or a Apple Watch, make sure to find out what devices they already use regularly.

For example, if your giftee has an Android phone, they won’t be able to use an Apple Watch. Or if they have a house full Google Home smart speakers, a smart home gift that only uses Amazon’s Alexa assistant probably won’t fit properly.

Wireless earbuds are usually a safe bet, and smartwatches (other than the Apple Watch) generally work with any type of smartphone. Streaming devices such as Roku or Fire TV usually work with any TV too. Don’t get so caught up in what kind of products your friends and family already have that you’re not making a decision, just remember to keep your gift cards handy so they can exchange guilt-free.

If you have a general idea of ​​what kind of device (or devices) the giftee is already using in the house, we’ve got one smart home compatibility table that explains it all for you. Here are more specific angles to consider when giving smart home gifts.


Knowing what the recipient already owns is an important aspect of buying tech gifts.

Angela Lang / CNET

The golden rule of giving a phone as a gift

When you buy someone a phone, pat yourself on the back for your thoughtfulness and generosity. Make sure you have considered all angles.

The most important thing is to make sure that the phone you buy works with the wireless provider of your choice. Wireless carriers use a variety of technologies that can prevent phones from working on competitor networks. The last thing you want to do is buy a phone that only works on Verizon Wireless for someone who has anchored in T-Mobile. Another aspect to consider is the pricing plan, especially if you have one 5G phone, with most airlines requiring a specific, and sometimes more expensive plan to access 5G service.

Ask the gift recipient directly which wireless carrier they are using or consider purchasing an unlocked phone. Many phone manufacturers offer an unlocked version that works on almost all wireless carriers. Just know that not every carrier function will work, such as Wi-Fi calling, which is tailored for specific networks. In a nutshell: know your audience.

Have your receipt ready and make sure to tell the recipient that there are no difficult feelings if they eventually want to return or exchange the phone. This gift is all about the gesture.


There are plenty of unlocked phones for you to choose from.

Angela Lang / CNET

Watch for privacy red flags

Some products have an impact on privacy and security. Even if you’re okay with having an Amazon Echo and the microphone that’s always on in your home, a friend or loved one may not be too comfortable with the idea. And even though you may feel like Aunt Mary desperately needs to enter the 21st century with a Echo Show 5, keep her comfort level in mind.

We store a lot of information on our phones and gadgets. Private information such as bank details, frequently visited locations, our current location, photos and conversations are all things we blindly trust our devices with.

If you are considering purchasing a product, you should at least pay attention to companies such as Facebook or Amazon, which are constantly surrounded by privacy questions and concerns. Facebook portal or one of them Amazon’s Ring smart doorbells as a gift.

If you’re looking at a product from a company you’ve never heard of, or even companies you own, do a quick Google search. For example, if you look up “ privacy issues on Facebook, ” you should uncover potential issues.

One option to consider if you’re not sure if the gift will be a hit: go ahead and grab it as some sort of placeholder. You can explain that you are happy to help them refine the final decision, and give them something else if necessary.


For someone who is uncomfortable with Facebook’s privacy practices, the Portal may not be a good idea.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

See how long a company will support its product

Routine software updates are an important part of owning a tech product. Not only do updates make a product better over time, but they can also fix and improve the security of a device.

As such, it’s even more important to trust that businesses will continue to support a device through updates, especially when security vulnerabilities are discovered (as is often the case).

If you are looking for a phone, Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Pixel lineup get the most consistent and timely updates. Outside of Google’s own phones, Samsung has a good track record of consistent updates to its Android phones, while Motorola has dropped the ball in recent years.

Software updates for smart speakers and streaming devices such as a Chromecast are handled in the background, without you ever knowing. That’s ideal for those who are not that tech-savvy.

It’s a good idea to check how long a company promises to support a product with software updates after it’s released.

Finally, this shopping season is bound to be full of great deals and promotions. Don’t be fooled by a deal on a product from a brand you’ve never heard of. If the business doesn’t last long, your gift could turn into an expensive paperweight.

01 anki vector

Anki has made some great products, but finally stopped last year.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Read multiple reviews

Even if you get a list of a specific gadget gift idea, do your own research by reading reviews of the product. Read more than one review and look for similarities in compliments and issues.

For example the DJI Mavic Mini – an entry-level drone – has a base package for $ 399 that includes only the basics you need to fly. For $ 499 you get two extra batteries, a carrying case and a few other accessories. If the Mavic Mini base bundle is on the wish list, is it worth spending the extra $ 100 on the extra accessories? Reviews are going to help you make an informed decision.


Reviews are an important part of researching new products.

Juan Garzon / CNET

The same can be said for products released earlier this year that are likely to be upgraded and replaced shortly after the holidays. Take your time, do your research, and make an informed decision.

Still not sure where to start? Here are the best phones of 2020, together with our Gift guide for 2020 that includes items for different budgets, and gifts for different types of people, such as Fans of Star Wars. You can also check out our favorite selections for popular products such as smart speakers, tablets and laptops.

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