Gizmos

The Good Enough List

Slate’s guide to the less-expensive, perfectly adequate gifts we love (or don’t hate).

Wrapped gifts: headphones, wine glass, vacuum cleaner
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Natalie Matthews-Ramo and iStock/Getty Images Plus.

No one is immune to products with shiny packaging, newfangled features, and high list prices—even when you’re paid to be a skeptical reviewer of these things. At my last job, I welcomed a constant parade of lotions and socks and blow dryers into my apartment. The goods with fancy logos and trendy colors were the ones that made me thrill at my work. They felt nice to unwrap. They felt glamorous to take selfies with.

Nice things are nice. At least, at first.

Some nice things turn out to be duds. A $200 bright yellow hair dryer that I reviewed was slower and heavier than the ones you could find at a drugstore. After consulting several dentists, I learned that a luxury light-up teeth whitener works as well as Crest White Strips. There was a brand-name leather briefcase that my colleagues liked, but I found it was too skinny to tote around my personal essentials, like gym clothes and a bottle of wine. A pair of dog boots that cost as much as shoes for a small human being had trouble staying on my petite beagle’s feet for more than 10 steps.

More often, nice things can prove exactly as useful as their cheaper counterparts: the high-end treadmill made with the same parts as the version sold at Walmart, the sunscreen bottled and sold like a rare and fancy potion with identical active ingredients to much of the stuff available at the drugstore in bulk.

There is simply an upper limit to how well a thing can work, which is why you’re reading this, our list of holiday gift ideas that are good—and more importantly, Good Enough. All products are subject to the basic laws of physics, the hard truths of biology. No cream can reverse aging, but some have heftier marketing budgets. No dog boots will make my dog enjoy wearing dog boots. After a certain point, a vacuum can only suck marginally better. There is often simply less distance between most products than you would expect—or rather, have been carefully led to believe there is through years and years of marketing.

It’s not that some things aren’t truly better than others. And sometimes the better things do happen to be the priciest available. But the reasons they are better are subtle. Take the Dyson hair dryer. It costs $400. It gets glowing reviews, in part because people think it makes their hair look nicer than other dryers do. It does not do this, though the stylists that Dyson uses to show off its hair products are certainly capable of doing this, providing the illusion of an exemplary product. The hot air itself is the same stuff at any price.

But after several weeks of testing a sample Dyson, sending it back, thinking about it for more than a year, and then retesting it for another several weeks, I concluded that I was absolutely in love with the Dyson and very much wanted to keep it.

The reason is that the handle doesn’t vibrate. At all. I didn’t realize how much seemingly every other hair dryer on the planet rattles and shakes until I tried the Dyson. I personally couldn’t justify $400 for that feature, but I enthusiastically recommended it for those with a lot of disposable income who are extremely into blow-drying their hair.

This gift guide is not for those people. Because for every $400 Dyson, there are a dozen products that may not have that amazing feature but are, well, fine—particularly for their far lower price.

You will find plenty of lists this holiday season directing you to the newest, coolest, smartest, and priciest products. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or a loved one, however, we humbly submit that you just might not need the nicest blender, showerhead, speaker—or even phone. Sometimes, something reasonably priced and good—something good enough—is what you’re really looking for.

Welcome to the Good Enough List. Here, we’ve gathered some of the perfectly adequate gadgets, devices, utensils, and other things that we love, or at least don’t dislike. We hope you won’t dislike them, either.—Shannon Palus

Smart Speaker

You could buy this one for $199: Sonos One

Or this one for $49: The Google Home Mini will not fill your living room with high-fidelity audio—or even your kitchen. But in truth, neither will standard-size smart speakers such as the Google Home or Amazon Echo. Other than that, it will do everything that the pricier devices can do, for less money, while taking up much less space.

For a smart speaker that sounds good as a stand-alone music player, you’d need to jump up to the Google Home Max ($400), Apple HomePod ($350), or Sonos One ($200). The last of those offers the best value among higher-end devices, plus the promise of eventual compatibility with both Alexa and Google Assistant. So if you want a smart speaker that can do it all, Sonos One is your best bet.

But if you’re buying your first smart speaker, you’re on a tight budget, or both, the Google Home Mini is a great entry point. Its sound quality is just fine for nonmusic audio purposes and actually pretty impressive given its tiny package: Several reviewers find it to be a notch better than the comparable Amazon speaker, the Echo Dot, while others rate them as about the same. Where the Home Mini has the edge is in the intelligence of Google Assistant, which is markedly better than Alexa at answering a broad range of questions about the world. In particular, our family found it surprisingly adept at answering household “how-to” queries, such as “How long do fresh carrots last in the refrigerator?” It’s like being able to summon Martha Stewart to your kitchen counter whenever you need her.

There are good counterarguments for the Echo Dot, which is also a fine entry-level smart speaker and is made by a company with less of a reputation for collecting invasive data about its users. The overall point is, if you’re not yet sure that a smart speaker is for you, get a small one to start. You can always upgrade the audio later—and in the Google Home Mini’s case, you can do it quite easily by attaching Chromecast Audio to external speakers. —Will Oremus

Google Home Mini

Fountain Pen

You could buy this one for $135.99: LAMY 2000 Fountain Pen

Or this one for $8.45: The Platinum Preppy is one of the world’s greatest bargains: Made by one of Japan’s big-three pen companies, it is a spectacular writer; you can use ink cartridges or bottled ink in an inexpensive converter, and with the aid of some silicon grease and a O-ring, you can even eyedropper it, which means you can (safely) pour ink directly into the barrel, allowing for an enormous fill and turning the constantly sloshing ink into a dynamic work of art. Best of all, it can be purchased for the price of a fancy cup of coffee.

Like many good-enough items, the Preppy is a gateway product. It answers the questions people contemplating the purchase of a fountain pen always wonder about: Will it make a mess in my pocket? Will I be able to write with it? Will I enjoy writing with it? (No. Yes. Yes.) Best of all, it is available with an extra-fine nib for a minuscule premium—extra-fine nibs that are never, ever scratchy at that.

Why, then, are they merely good enough? Platinum, which makes high-end—and high-priced—writing instruments, has to hobble the Preppy somehow, and it has done so by covering the plastic barrel with branding that cannot be removed. This is not a pen to give as a status gift, but it’s all you’ll ever need. —June Thomas

Platinum Preppy

Wine Glasses

You could buy this set of eight for $207: Riedel chardonnay and carbernet glasses

Or this set of 12 for $50.33: To be an adult who drinks wine yourself or serves it to others, you need wine glasses. But you do not need expensive ones. In fact, I theorize that having expensive ones makes you less likely to use them for drinking wine, which is the point. So: Seek out cheap-but-sturdy “bulk” glasses in a simple shape, probably labeled for white wine (they’ll hold all kinds, promise!) and about 12 oz. in volume. I buy a dozen at a time: enough to set a table for eight and have a few in reserve for inevitable—but thanks to the price point, painless!—mishaps. —J. Bryan Lowder

Wine glass.

Dutch Oven

You could buy this one for $379.95: Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 7-1/4-Quart Round French (Dutch) Oven

Or this one for about $77: Every devoted cook should have a good enameled Dutch oven in their kitchen. They’re brilliantly colored workhorses, a single vessel for whipping up a stew or soup and presenting it stylishly at the table. But the top-of-the-line versions from Le Creuset and Staub are basically the Jeff Koons sculptures of the culinary world: They’re big, shiny, and above all very expensive. Now, if you want to spend $300 for a bright-red, 8-quart beauty, by all means, head to Williams-Sonoma and break out your Visa. But personally, I’ve been cooking out of a Martha Stewart Dutch Oven from Macy’s for eight years. I bought it for about $50 at the time, and while the thing is probably not quite as durable as the more famous brands—its interior has gotten a bit discolored and scratched over time—I think it has done its job with aplomb. With a sticker price of $230, the Martha Stewart version might not seem much cheaper. But the trick is that these pots are pretty regularly on sale. Right now, Macy’s is offering them for $77 after you use the promo code listed. With the money you save, you can go pick up a 14-piece set of stainless steel cookware from Cuisinart—available for just $199 right now. They’ve served me admirably for more than a decade. —Jordan Weissmann

Martha Stewart Dutch Oven

Coffee Grinders

You could buy this one for $199.94: OXO on Conical Burr Coffee Grinder With Integrated Scale

Or this one for $42.50: When it comes to grinding coffee, burr grinders offer a more consistent grind and better control over the fineness of your ground beans. But even a midrange electric burr grinder will run you $200. Not only is this another bulky device sitting on your counter, they’re also prone to clogging and wearing down over time. But consider the Hario hand grinder. Not only are there no electronic parts to break, it’s less than $50. It has the same ability as an electric device to adjust the thickness of your grind and is easy to wash and clean. (Run a tablespoon or two of white rice through it.) Your arm might get tired and you might look ridiculous if you use it for coffee for more than four people. Did I mention it’s less than $50, though? —Greg Lavallee

Coffee grinder

Espresso Maker

You could buy this one for $400: Breville Infuser espresso machine

Or this one for about $50: Bialetti’s 6-cup Moka Express espresso maker is a classic and is now available in a range of fun colors. (The standard-issue silver is cheaper.) I’ve owned three or four of these, and the muddy, oil-thick espresso they slowwwwly spill forth has ruined any other kind for me. (I just started putting Turkish coffee in there, and I’m never going back.) Invented in 1933 in Mussolini’s Italy, moka pots boast a historic, iconic design. They look cool sitting on your stove and are small enough to put away if you need to make space in your kitchen. These little machines, which are relatively light for their size, are very packable. I’ve brought mine to any number of Airbnbs; they require nothing more than access to water, coffee grounds, and a stove to work perfectly. —Rebecca Onion

Espresso maker

Bamboo Cooking Utensils

You could buy these for $21.98: Xtreme Care five-piece set

Or these for $9.59: For an item I use almost every day, wooden spoons are oddly annoying to maintain. Online you can find elaborate guides to “seasoning” your precious spoons with special oils, and you’re never, ever supposed to put them in the dishwasher. I prefer another approach: Buy a cheap set and treat it with utter disrespect. I’ve had this bamboo set kicking around for a few years now, and I’m very happy with it. These spoons stir. They scrape. They have nice slim handles so they don’t take up too much space in my countertop utensil holder. What more do you really need? Sure, they’re not recommended for the dishwasher, but I throw them in every night anyway. Are they wearing out more quickly than they would otherwise? Probably! Does it matter when the spoons work out to $1.59 each? Not one bit. —Ruth Graham

Bamboo utensils.

Vacuum Cleaner

You could buy this one for $290: Dyson Ball Animal 2

Or this one for $98: A few years back my Dyson vacuum stopped sucking. The popular pitch for the appliance said it wouldn’t, but it did. It had lasted a decade, though, so how could I be mad? But in that 10 years, my life and my finances had changed. I had twin boys. Expensive twin boys. So dropping hundreds of dollars on a new Dyson was not in the cards. I started researching. I asked friends, Facebook chat groups, and strangers at the grocery store, and the brand I heard over and over was the Shark. It was a fraction of the price of the Dyson. So I got one. It is light, easy to use, and bagless—it’s always a fun surprise to see how much dirt and gross stuff accumulate in the canister. And after three happy years together, I’m thrilled to report, it’s still going strong. I can’t say for sure whether my floors are truly deeply clean, but they look clean, and at this stage of my chaotic life, that is good enough. —Holly Allen

Vacuum.

Car

You could buy this one for $46,000 or more: Tesla Model 3

Or this one from $21,530: For most people who live in urban areas, a car is a nice-to-have possession but not a need-to-have one—and with parking and maintenance, it can easily become more trouble than it’s worth. Not so with the Toyota Prius C, a car that’s just good enough for someone who only needs to use it once a week or less. My partner and I got ours, Jermaine DuPrius, because we were sick of contorting our schedules around Amtrak to go see our families, who live three to five hours away. The Prius C is perfect for these kinds of weekend getaways, easily fitting two small people with two small suitcases, plus three additional small people in the back seat in a pinch. Yes, you can hear the wind whooshing by on the highway even when your windows are shut, and no, you won’t get luxury amenities or enough trunk space for a cross-country road trip. But you can’t beat the compact size (street parking is a breeze!), the gas mileage (I still preen at the thought of my one 99.9 mpg errand), or the price (we got ours new in 2016 for less than $20,000). And because Toyotas last forever, the Prius C could be good enough for a decade or more. —Christina Cauterucci

A Prius.

Digital Sports Watch

You could buy this one for $96: Casio G7900 200M Water Resistant G-Shock Rescue Digital Sports Watch

Or this one for $35: The Timex Ironman watch won’t track your sleep, your steps, or your calories like a Fitbit ($199). It won’t let you check your email or your heart rate like an Apple Watch ($200–$850). And it won’t guide you through breathing exercises like a Samsung Galaxy ($260). What it will do is the same four elegantly simple things it’s done since it debuted more than three decades ago: count up, count down, wake you up, and tell you the time. Unless you’ve got your sights set on qualifying for Boston or Tokyo, that’s all you’re realistically ever going to need for a solid workout. Bonus: You’ll never have to worry about updating its operating system, syncing it to your computer, or even plugging it in. All that for less than what Apple charges for some of its most basic replacement bands. —Josh Voorhees

A Timex.

Fitness Tracker (Walking)

You could buy this one for $149.98: Garmin Vívosport Smart Activity Tracker

Or this one for $8.49: I love tracking the number of steps I take each day—for one thing, it motivates me to leave the house on days I might otherwise stay on the couch. But I do not love owning expensive gadgets like Fitbits. Just look at several retainers and my beloved nameplate necklace as proof—actually, you can’t, because I lost them, along with many other valuable things I once owned. For me, the perfect solution is a cheap, old-school pedometer. I like the Pedusa PE-771 Tri-Axis Multi-Function Pocket Pedometer I bought from PedometersUSA.com a lot; it’s purple and looks like a Tamagotchi. I even see the bright side of its ability to retain only seven days of data. Fitness tracking and self-monitoring can shove us down a slippery slope toward obsessive, disordered behavior, so I feel good keeping my step counting relatively lo-fi. By the way, my fear that I would lose this thing was well-founded—my original Pedusa could be at the bottom of the ocean, for all I know. But after it disappeared, I was able to buy another one for just $12.50. Even better, the price is now down to $8.49. —Heather Schwedel

Pedometer.

Fitness Tracker (Running)

You could buy this one for $395.43: Garmin Forerunner 645

Or this one for $109.95: If you want to become a faster, smarter runner, the Garmin Forerunner 25 GPS watch is all you’ll need. Well, that and some motivation, good running shoes, and nice wicking threads. But there’s certainly no need to spend more for what’s on your wrist while you run. More expensive, fancier, prettier watches can do all sorts of things like sync to the internet and get text messages to your watch screen. But who needs to read texts while they’re enjoying a run? All you really require from your watch is to know what your pace is and how far you’ve gone. The Forerunner 25 does just that, at a much cheaper price point. It even has some of the more advanced features that have helped me get faster, like a virtual pacer for tempo runs and the ability to record splits for track workouts with the touch of a button. Workouts can easily be uploaded to your computer to show off on Strava. (It’s just not automatic; you’ll have to actually plug it in.) I’ve trained for and run 12 marathons and dozens of shorter races, and have never felt the need for anything more complicated. —Abby McIntyre

A Garmin watch.

Back-Supporting Shoes

You could buy these for $200: Cole Haan Men’s 2.ZERØGRAND Oxford with Stitchlite

Or these for $69.91: Good news, chronic back-pain sufferers! I’ve done years of shoe research so you don’t have to: Do your lower lumbar a solid and get a pair of the Vionic Turner Men’s Sneaker. It’s hard enough for average people with average backs to find a shoe that’s comfortable, versatile, somewhat fashionable, and affordable. Add serious back pain into the mix, and the challenge goes from frustrating to existential. Cole Haan markets its Oxford with Stitchlite as the all-in one combo you need—for about $200. Clarks and Ecco are great but pricey and, well, dad-ish. Sneakers, meanwhile, seem increasingly styled for either the gym or walking on the moon. Like you, I am neither a Gym Person nor an astronaut.

Like any good compromise, Vionics are just right—or certainly right enough. They’re incredibly comfortable (designed by a podiatrist!) and supportive. To my eye, they qualify as stylish-ish sneakers that you can wear casually in the office, on a trip, or to local bar. And they’re currently on sale for about $69! Get out of that back-pain subreddit and go grab a pair. —Evan Mackinder

A sneaker.

Tights

You could buy these for about $60: Wolford Seamless Pure 50 Tights

Or these for $9.99: Each year as the weather cools off, I dread the impending horror of tights season. Or at least, I used to: No matter where I bought my tights, they seemed to inevitably shred after a few wears, always resulting in the inevitable Huh, I planned to wear a dress, but apparently I have no tights situation. I cannot bring myself to shell out for the ridiculously expensive but extremely recommended Wolford tights. But you know what tights are perfectly good enough? Uniqlo’s. They are inexpensive, they don’t run, and they’re warm. Load up. —Susan Matthews

Uniqlo tights.

Fanny Pack

You could by this one for $85: Dagne Dover

Or this one for $25: Everlane’s Street Nylon Fanny Pack is sturdy, available in stylish crosshatched grey that doesn’t blare FANNY PACK, and instead of a brand name that’s embroidered, it comes with a removable pin. I wear it while I walk my dog or while traveling, but for the slightly more fashion-adventurous it wouldn’t look out of place on a night out. Some reviewers note that they also wear it over a shoulder. It doesn’t have as many compartments as some fancier fanny packs: just a large one, plus a small one on the back that’s the perfect size for a phone and a few credit cards. —Shannon Palus

A fanny pack.

High-Pressure Showerhead

You could buy this one for $124.97: Speakman S-2251 Signature Icon Anystream

Or this one for $16.96: Once upon a time, my showers were a desperate race to wash my disgusting hide before the hot water ran out. I was unwilling to replace my high-flow showerhead because I feared that the loss of pressure accompanying a low-flow showerhead would drive me crazy. But then I found the Delta 2-Spray Showerhead, which delivers the high-pressure experience while using less water. According to Wirecutter, where I first discovered it, this is due to an absolutely not-made-up technology called Delta H2Okinetic. All I know is that this faucet has made my showers—once a month, whether I need one or not—a total dream. —Dan Kois

Shower head.

Crib

You could by this one for $799: Stokke Sleepi Crib

Or this one for $99: Here is a question I find hard to answer: Do I feel superior because I only spent $99 on a crib when so many people I know have spent $600 or more, or did I once really want a beautiful, stylish, expensive crib but, understanding that wasn’t in the cards, convinced myself that I am a better person for buying the cheap one? In lieu of knowing for sure, I’ll just say that Ikea’s Gulliver crib really does the trick of 1) containing a baby, 2) containing a toddler, 3) containing a mattress, upon which you can put adorable sheets. It’s a crib. It’s wood. It holds babies. Is it oval like the $799 Stokke crib? It is not. Is it midcentury-modern like a $599 DwellStudio crib? It is not. I’ll tell you what it is: It is unbelievably cheap when you consider what it’s used for, and it’s quite durable: My husband and I purchased one (1) $99 Gulliver crib in 2008 and it held our first baby for two years, our second baby for two years, and our third baby for two years. The only reason we no longer have the $99 Gulliver crib is because we no longer need a crib. Highly recommend. —Allison Benedikt

Ikea’s Gulliver crib

Baby Monitor

You could buy this one for $109.99: TENKER Digital Sound Activated Video Record Baby Monitor

Or this one for $36.99: If you do not have a child, you may wonder whether you really need a video baby monitor in your home. You absolutely do. I use mine to keep tabs on my dog during the day, but frankly I would want one even if I did not have a pet who snuck onto the forbidden couch as soon as I left. There is something immensely soothing about seeing your apartment in real time when you are away, whether it’s on vacation or just at the office. To know that it is still there, and not on fire or being burgled, scratches an anxious itch I didn’t really know I had until I bought this. There are plenty of models that are super cheap and work just fine—no need to spring for a high-end Nest, just go for this TENVIS HD surveillance camera. Bonus: You get to freak out your dog walker through the two-way audio! —Mark Joseph Stern

Baby cam.

Pomade

You could buy this for $30: Two 3 oz. canisters of American Crew Pomade

Or this for $9.65: I have extremely thick, curly, difficult-to-wrangle hair, and so I’m always on the lookout for new hair goops to help tame it. One day I wandered into an annoyingly trendy sundry shop in Brooklyn, New York. Surrounded by a bunch of fingerless gloves and rusting pocket knives was a container of Black & White Genuine Pluko Hair Dressing Pomade. Its packaging was old-school and minimalist, so I assumed it to be some kind of artisanal concoction. After all, it’s “James Dean’s Pomade!” according to the small plaque. Suckered, I paid a premium price. I took it home, used it, and loved it—it has the right amount of hold and shine and, as my barber says, “smells the best.”

It turns out Black & White Genuine Pluko Hair Dressing Pomade is a very common product, at least in the U.K., and is by far the most economical pomade I’ve seen. The size of the container (200 milliliters, or nearly 7 ounces to us Americans) is more than twice what you would get for the price of other pomades. It’s not the fanciest or most-refined pomade out there, but if it’s good enough for James Dean, it’s good enough for me. —Benjamin Frisch

Black and White pomade.

Electric Razor

You could buy this one for $194.30: Braun Series 7 760cc-4 Electric Foil Shaver

Or this one for $39.48: I needed a new electric razor this spring. My years-old one had progressed from biting my skin if I went more than a day without shaving to intermittently not working at all. But I didn’t want to spend $200 on a really good razor and stalled on a decision. On Prime Day in July, I stumbled on this Remington F5-5800 Foil razor as a Lightning Deal. I didn’t bother for more than a cursory check of the reviews. I took the deal. It was a surprisingly good decision. The shave is smooth and quick. The battery lasts for weeks of daily use. The razor packs well and is durable too: You can drop it twice on the same morning and it soldiers on. All that adds up to a reliable razor, which is probably just what you need. Not sophisticated, not elegant, not “the best a man can get.” Just dependable and easy and more than good enough to get the job done. —Bill Carey

An electric shaver.

Notebook

You could buy this for $11.83: Moleskine Large Classic Hard Cover Notebook

Or this set of three for $13.45: You can’t take notes on a phone or laptop without getting distracted. Sometimes I used my digital recorder, but that can put others on guard—particularly a subject you’re interviewing. So: notebooks. I go through notebooks like water, often hunched over while I pin my phone to my ear over my shoulder. But for my purposes, a handsome Moleskine isn’t necessary. Sure, they last forever, the paper is generally thick, and it’s cool to think your scribblings are worthy of such nice binding. But tearing a page out of one feels too dramatic, and I often need a scrap of paper. My preference: a simple, lanky, top-bound-coil reporter’s notebook. Wide-ruled is the way to go, to be the most forgiving to your poor handwriting. They won’t crease in a backpack because they’re tall and have less surface area to ruffle. But best of all, they’re just cheap. That’s good enough for me. —April Glaser

A white notebook.

Headphones

You could buy these for $159: Apple AirPods

Or these for $14.40: Headphones keep getting cooler and cooler, or so electronics manufacturers keep telling us. But sometimes, what you need most isn’t a fancy name, or special features, or having a pair of bionic tubers sliding out of your ear holes. Sometimes what you need most are just headphones that will stay put, no matter what, because you’re jogging, or you’re walking a squirrel-chasing doggo, or it’s just really, really windy. Enter these Philips ear-clip headphones, which will never leave your side—or the sides of your head, anyway. Plus, they’re cheap, light, and aurally more-than-adequate. They won’t make the world fall away, but they offer something better: the ability to multitask within it. —Inkoo Kang

Philips ear-clip headphones

Bookshelf Speakers

You could buy this set $1,999.99: KEF LS50 wireless speakers

Or this one for $129.99: It’s weird to be in a relationship with an audiophile when you are not one. My boyfriend shows me every tweak he makes to his stereo setup as if I will be able to discern a difference, and I simply cannot. Luckily, he has met me where I am with a perfect gift of my very own excellent, reasonably priced speakers—Edifier’s R1280DB Bluetooth speakers. They are so easy to set up and use, they connect to any device, the sound is warm and lovely, and they look gorgeous. At about $100, they’re a perfect way to upgrade your life without spending a fortune, particularly if you, like me, used to just play your music and podcasts off your phone. May their adequacy and unfussiness dissuade you from whatever latent audiophilia you possess.* —Susan Matthews

Edifier’s R1280T Bluetooth speakers

Pet Feeder

You could buy this one for $139: Petnet SmartFeeder

Or this one for $57.99: Being a cat person means putting up with a lot of crap, and I don’t mean tending to the litter box. Even the most adoring feline aficionado will admit cats are just jerks by nature. But we all have our limits, and mine is usually breached at 3 a.m., when my little dude sneaks into the room to persistently prod my drooling maw with his little white paws.

He’s hungry. I’m sleeping. This goes on for an hour until I get up.

Enter my savior: The cat-food robot, officially known as the Homdox Automatic Dispenser. This handy machine stores food and automatically dispenses specific portions of food on a timer, at intervals that you, the human, get to control. I programmed mine to portion out a few small handfuls of food throughout the day and night so my cat never gets too hungry. The best part? Instead of prodding you for food, his harassment will transfer over to his new robot overlord (a good reason to make sure you get a version that can’t be broken into). Important: You do not need the $85 version of this robot. The $58 version is perfectly fine. —Evan Mackinder

Pet feeder.

Smartphone

You could buy this one for $749: iPhone XR

Or this one for as cheap as you can find it used: When Apple released the iPhone 5, critics treated it as a lust object—a speedy, stunning, and sturdy device that exceeded expectations. When my colleague Dan Kois heard I’d be writing about the iPhone 5, he guffawed loudly, later telling me that it “fit your extremely rumpled nature to have a decade-old phone.” While I am extremely rumpled, my beloved phone is a mere six years old, and it deserves Dan Kois’ respect. The iPhone 5 is everything it was hailed as being in 2012, and the only reason it won’t be good enough in the years to come is that Apple’s mobile operating system no longer supports it. At least for now, I can still use WhatsApp and Google Maps and Slack and Pandora. The iPhone 5 also makes and receives phone calls, and I can watch tennis on its big-enough screen. Would the tennis look better on the most recent iPhone, whatever it’s called? I suppose I’ll have to find out when this one stops working. —Josh Levin

iPhone.

Cash

Just give everyone cash. Seriously, it’s the easiest gift. Everybody wants it, even if they won’t admit it. There will be no need for feigned excitement in the face of an underwhelming gift. We can all buy what we actually want, or pay our bills, or even just save it. Every type of spender knows exactly how to use it. Who needs instruction manuals, missing batteries, or gift receipts? Who needs gift cards, for that matter? It’s a pain to remember how much change you’ve got left on them. Cash is the ultimate useful gift.

OK, but: What if I want to give a heartfelt gift that demonstrates how attentive I am and how much I appreciate someone? Stop it, you’re being selfish. Just give them cash. —Daniel Schroeder

Correction, Dec. 5, 2018: Due to an editing error, this article originally gave the wrong model and list price of the Edifier Bluetooth speakers we recommend. They are the R1280DB speakers that cost $129.99, not the R1280T speakers for $99.99.