By Justin Krajeski
Everyone is looking for ways to simplify their life and the lives of those they care about, especially their parents. My mom and dad are now in their seventies (sorry for announcing your age on the Internet, Mom!), and I’ve watched them struggle to find tech devices that are comfortable, easy additions to their routine. I gave them an iPad to use in place of their near-decade-old laptop, and it changed their lives. I realized there are easy tech gifts that can enhance parents’ daily lives without pushing them too far out of their comfort zone. And after seeking recommendations from experts—including Wirecutter’s tech writers and editors and a senior vice president at AARP Innovation Labs—I’m confident that we’ve found the best, simplest tech gifts to give your parents this year. Stuff they’ll actually use, we swear!
Do they really need a cable subscription? (No, they don’t.)
Roku Streaming Stick+
Cancelling cable—whether because of the rising costs of TV service or a lack of interest in traditional programming—is hot right now. If your parents are thinking of cutting the cord, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is our recommended streaming media player because it includes all the major video-streaming services and it’s so simple to use. “It has every app your parents could want, and a big, bold interface that anyone can figure out instantly,” explains Wirecutter senior staff writer Chris Heinonen. Plus, Roku’s excellent voice search will make it easy for them to find their favorite shows and movies, and the included remote can control their TV’s power and volume, so they don’t have to juggle multiple remotes. All you do is stick it into the TV’s HDMI port (virtually all TVs made since 2007 have that port, even “smart” ones). Buy the stick. Plug it in. Set your parents free.
The simplest path to smart lighting
Philips Hue White A19 60W Starter Kit
If you want to convert your parents’ existing lights into smart lights to help reduce energy consumption and improve home security, smart light bulbs are the easiest way to do it. Wirecutter staff writer Rachel Cericola recommends the Philips Hue lighting kit, a simple starter kit that lets you upgrade a couple of key lights around the home to add wireless control without having to do any wiring. You can easily add more bulbs down the road and integrate the compatible Hue motion sensor so the bulbs automatically turn on when someone makes the journey down that dark hallway at night. In our guide to the best smart LED light bulbs, we praise the Hue line’s customizability, reliable mesh network, and large ecosystem, which includes support for all major smart-home platforms and accessories.
For easy video chats
Amazon Echo Show
If you want to video-chat with your folks more easily, and with more regularity, get them an Amazon Echo Show smart display. It’s a great device to buy for someone you love who’s far away, according to both Wirecutter senior editor Grant Clauser and Andy Miller, senior vice president of AARP Innovation Labs. “The Alexa Show is literally just a picture frame that you suddenly appear inside,” says Miller. “It has made it so much easier for me to connect with my mom, and for my mom to connect with her grandkids.” Grant adds that the large, colorful screen and clear speaker make video chats more pleasant—much better than having to stare at a smartphone and easier than trying to configure a FaceTime or Google Hangout conversation on a non-dedicated device. Plus, the Alexa-based Echo Show can connect them with a wide range of music apps, recipes, and smart-home devices, and they can rely on voice control to interact easily with it.
Thousands of books in a teensy tablet
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite e-reader is smaller than a single paperback book yet can carry thousands of books at a time. Sure, an ebook reader takes some getting used to: You have to learn to tap its screen to flip pages, and it’ll smell like new-car plastic for a few weeks. But the Kindle’s crisp, easy-to-read text, compact size, and side-lit screen can convert even the most tech-resistant parent. “The only tech gift I’ve ever actually given is a Kindle Paperwhite, and it goes over swimmingly,” says Wirecutter editor Thorin Klosowski, “once they realize that it has a backlight and you can crank up the size of the text.”
A mini speaker that delivers clear dialogue
Zvox AccuVoice AV203
If your parents have trouble hearing dialogue in movies, TV shows, podcasts, or radio broadcasts, Wirecutter editor Adrienne Maxwell recommends the Zvox AccuVoice AV203 mini TV speaker. It’s like a mini soundbar, but without complex bells and whistles. AccuVoice is based on hearing-aid technology, and we found that it was better than most soundbars at rendering dialogue clearly—an especially useful feature for moms and dads who may be hard of hearing. The speaker is small and unobtrusive, so it can fit in any living room or bedroom along with a TV, and the remote has a simple layout with large buttons that are easy to see. The speaker can connect to any audio device that has an optical digital or 3.5 mm analog audio output.
Save money with a smart thermostat
Honeywell Home Lyric T5
Sometimes it’s best to give your parents something they need, rather than something they want. (But who wouldn’t want a smart thermostat?) “The Honeywell Lyric T5 helps mom and dad manage their climate control, whether it’s for health or financial reasons,” says Andy Miller. The Lyric T5 has a built-in geofencing feature to automatically adjust the home’s temperature based on local weather, as well as an Energy Star rating. It has a nice, clean interface and costs less than some big-name competitors. And if your parents use Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, this smart thermostat is compatible with all of those platforms.
Let them watch TV as loud as they want, in peace
Sennheiser RS 165
If you have a parent who likes to watch TV late into the night and doesn’t want to bother everyone else in the house, consider buying them a pair of wireless home theater headphones. The Sennheiser RS 165 kit includes a pair of wireless headphones and a base station that connects directly to a TV’s audio output. Wirecutter senior staff writer Lauren Dragan loves the Sennheiser headphones because “they charge right on the stand, they’re comfortable, and they sound quite good.” They’re great for private listening, but they’re also helpful for someone who struggles to hear dialogue: In most cases, you can play audio through these headphones while the TV speakers are still on, and the wearer can adjust the volume right on the headphones to find a level that works for them without affecting everyone else.
A tabletop speaker that looks and sounds great
If your parents enjoy listening to music all around the house, the Sonos One tabletop speaker is our favorite multiroom wireless speaker. “Parents can easily stream audio to it using their iPhone. It has Google and Alexa built into it, so they can just say ‘Play NPR’ or ‘Play Bruce Springsteen,’ and it’ll work for them,” explains Chris Heinonen. The Sonos app—which your parents can control from their phone—is what they’ll use to choose music, create playlists, and select what music will play on which speakers (if they happen to have more than one). It sounded better than the Amazon Echo in all of our tests, too. If they don’t want voice control, you can go with the newer and slightly cheaper Sonos One SL, but as Chris adds, “Honestly, my family rarely uses anything besides voice control with the Sonos.”
The best tablet, period
Apple iPad (7th generation, 32 GB)
Repeat after me (and Wirecutter editor Andrew Cunningham): “Even if your older relative has a Kindle that they love, do not buy them a Fire Tablet instead of an Apple iPad to save money, because they will get frustrated with it and stop using it.” We recommend Apple’s iPad over Android tablets—even for people who have Android phones—because the iPad is solidly built, performs well, has a fantastic screen, and comes with the best support of any brand. It’s great for catching up on favorite TV shows or FaceTiming from a state away. It has a long battery life (around 10 hours) and a ton of great apps. And we think 32 GB of storage is enough, especially because Apple encourages iPad owners to store photos and media in the cloud. But if you think that your parents might not know how to use the cloud—and that they’d rather store apps and media on the iPad itself—spend $100 more for the 128 GB model.
A travel charger they won’t mind commuting with
The TravelCard Charger is a great gift for a parent because it’s ultra-slim and compact enough to hide in their wallet or pocket, Thorin Klosowski says. You never know when your mom or dad will need a charger, and keeping it tucked away in something as indispensable as a wallet means your parents will always have it with them when their phone hits 20 percent and that extra charge is vital. It’s available in three versions, depending on what built-in cable your parent needs (Lightning, Micro-USB, or USB-C). It’s also the least expensive gift we’re recommending here because, hey, we know tech is expensive.
iMessages for them, peace of mind for you
Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular, 40mm)
The Apple Watch Series 4 is pricey, but it’s helpful for parents who want to keep up with the notifications that pop up on their iPhone as well as to find directions and track their fitness. But we also like that it can detect if the wearer falls, and that it will automatically call emergency services and any designated emergency contacts if the wearer doesn’t move. (Fall detection is turned on by default for people over 65.) Tak Sato, president and co-founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, was impressed to see this feature in the Series 4 Apple Watch, as it addresses the question of what can be done for an older person who loses consciousness after falling and can’t push the button on their medical-alert system.
A router to help everything else on this list work better
TP-Link Archer A7
If your parents already have everything else on this list but haven’t bothered to update their router, TP-Link’s Archer A7 may be just what they need. Like many of their peers, my parents recently downgraded from a large five-bedroom house to a smaller, more manageable place, and the Archer A7 works really well in small homes or one- or two-bedroom apartments. Amazon reviewers have consistently noted how easy it is to set up and use, and in our toughest router test, it outperformed two higher-priced competitors. The Archer A7 may not be the best router overall, but it’s good, and it comes at a reasonable price.
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