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The best graduation gifts you can buy in 2021

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A special congratulations goes out to the graduating class of 2021, not only for passing their finals and submitting theses, but also for surviving the harrowing year that was 2020. They definitely deserve accolades and praise for that, so why not give them something special to commemorate the occasion? From laptops to speakers to kitchen equipment, there’s something for everyone in our list of best graduation gifts.

Apple MacBook Air M1 (2020)

Engadget

It’s time for your grad to ditch the laptop they’ve been using since freshman year and trade it in for something new. The latest MacBook Air is a particularly wise upgrade thanks to its new M1 system-on-a-chip. Our reviewer Devindra Hardawar described it as “shockingly responsive,” with websites loading almost instantly and being able to switch apps effortlessly.

It also has a very impressive battery life. Apple said it can last up to 11 hours, but in our own battery tests, we found it lasted 16 hours and 20 minutes. It’s even capable of decent gaming performance — a first for the MacBook Air line. For a first-gen device, the performance and app compatibility is actually much better than some people had initially thought.

On the outside, it’s still as thin and light as prior models, with a vibrant 13.3-inch Retina display to boot. We recommend opting for 512GB of storage, an eight-core GPU and 16GB of RAM to give your grad the perfect laptop for both work and play.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon – $999

Chromecast with Google TV

Aa Chromecast with Google TV plugged into the back of a TV.

Google

New graduates moving into a new place may not want to shell out money for cable or a satellite subscription. But just because they’ve cut the cord doesn’t mean they can’t watch quality content. Thanks to streaming sticks like the new Chromecast with Google TV, they can watch all kinds of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and more — regardless of what kind of TV they have. The latest Chromecast with Google TV works especially well for those with a YouTube TV subscription as its “Live TV” tab works as a channel guide for the service. Just like previous Chromecasts, they can also use it to “cast” their computer screen to the TV, too.

One benefit of the Chromecast with Google TV over other streaming sticks is that it has Google Assistant integration. Your grad can ask it to display the five-day weather forecast, show the live feed from their Nest camera, turn their Philips Hue lights on or off, or play their favorite Spotify playlist. As a bonus, they can use Google Assistant to find shows to watch or to launch apps.

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Best Buy – $50

Apple Watch Series 6

Two Apple Watch Series 6 devices intertwined against a black background.

Apple

The Apple Watch Series 6 is a great gift for a new graduate because they likely haven’t splurged on one for themselves yet. Plus,it’s easily the best smartwatch you can get right now. It has an always-on Retina display that is two and half times brighter than its predecessor (500 nits compared to 200) with an extra hour of battery life as well as faster charging (it can go from zero to full charge in 90 minutes). Our reviewer Dana Wollman also said that it had zippier performance. Plus, we appreciate that the new watchOS has a handwashing timer: it detects hand motions and the sound of running water, which then triggers a 20-second countdown.

The Watch is an especially good choice if your grad is also into fitness and health. It has features such as automatic workout detection, a heart rate monitor, a built-in ECG measurement app, plus an all-new blood oxygen sensor which can tell you how well your lungs are delivering oxygenated blood to your body. The latter is useful for assessing your ability to handle physical activities, or, more importantly, whether you experience breathing difficulties when asleep, which could be an early sign of sleep apnea.

Buy Apple Watch Series 6 at Amazon – $399

Sonos Roam

A white Sonos Roam speaker sitting on the railing of a balcony with a brick wall in the background.

Engadget

Once we’re able to congregate in groups safely again, graduates will be first in line to meet up with friends and family. A portable speaker is a staple for gatherings like this and the new Sonos Roam is one of our favorites as it does a lot more than just your average Bluetooth speaker. When connected to WiFi, it functions just like other Sonos products, meaning it can stream from dozens of different services like Spotify or Apple Music, and it can be grouped with other Sonos speakers to provide a richer audio experience. You can also hook it up with a voice assistant like Google or Alexa so you can control it via voice command.

Best of all, if you do wander away from your WiFi network, it’ll automatically switch to Bluetooth and connect to your phone. That, combined with its small and portable form factor, makes it the perfect choice for those who want a multi-functional speaker that works equally well at home and on the go.

Buy Sonos Roam at Sonos – $170

HBO Max / Disney+

The Disney+ and HBOMax logos.

Disney / HBO

Netflix or Hulu might be a graduate’s go-to when they’re looking for a new show to binge, but they’ll appreciate it if you give them even more content to watch. HBO Max is a good choice thanks to its deep collection of TV favorites like Friends, Rick and Morty, TheFresh Prince of Bel Air and, of course, HBO flagships like Game of Thrones and The Wire. There are even HBO Max exclusives like the new Looney Toons series and The Flight Attendant. We should note, however, that HBO Max doesn’t offer gift subscriptions, but you can always let them use your credit card to sign up.

Another great choice is Disney+. Sure, it’s great for those with kids thanks to its deep backlog of family-friendly classics, but the service is also very popular right now due to two big Disney properties: Star Wars and Marvel. Both have resulted in several exclusive series that can only be found on the service, which include The Mandalorian, WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as well as upcoming titles such as Loki and The Book of Boba Fett. It’s also one of the few streaming services for which you can purchase a gift subscription.

Subscribe to HBO Max – $15/monthSubscribe to Disney+ – $8/month

Instant Pot Duo 60

An Instant Pot Duo 6 on a table next to plates of food.

Instant Pot

Once they leave dorm life behind, new graduates should learn how to make something other than instant ramen. For newbies, we recommend an appliance like the Instant Pot Duo 60. This super-trendy kitchen device can be used as a slow cooker, yogurt maker, rice cooker and, of course, a pressure cooker.

Not only is it easy to use, it can be a huge time saver: just set it, do other chores (or just rest up) and your meal will be ready when it beeps. It’s a wonderful solution if your grad has a tiny stovetop in their first apartment, and it cuts down on dishwashing if you use the Instant Pot for a lot of one pot meals.

If you do get your loved one this excellent kitchen gadget, we suggest you send them a link to our Instant Pot guide so they’ll get the most out of their new toy.

Buy Instant Pot Duo 60 at Amazon – $89

Jabra Elite 85t

The Jabra Elite 85t and charging case sitting on top of magazines on a countertop.

Engadget

While AirPods Pro are popular with Apple lovers, Jabra’s latest buds trump them with superior sound and greater customization. Jabra’s Elite 85t has active noise cancellation and a dedicated chip that lets you adjust the levels of both the ANC and ambient sound independently. It comes with six listening presets, but you can easily change the EQ levels to your preferences. One of our favorite features is a MySound audio test that will optimize the earbuds to your unique hearing characteristics. It also has wireless charging and is compatible with any Qi-enabled charging pad (which is most charging pads at this point).

Buy Jabra Elite 85t at Best Buy – $230

RAVPower Portable Charger

A RAVPower charger photographed from above next to a laptop, phone and tablet, all being charged.

RAVPower

A portable charger is always a good device to keep around, especially one that can support phones, tablets and laptops. This one from RAVPower is a great one thanks to its massive 26,800 mAh capacity. It’ll provide over four full charges to the latest iPhones, more than one full charge to the iPad Pro and it even works with the Nintendo Switch, too. It has one USB Type-C socket as well as two “iSmart” USB ports that can automatically identify a connected device and then match it with its required current. While its large capacity also means it’s a bit weightier than other portable chargers at one pound, we consider it a net positive — this is the only battery pack a new graduate will need to power all of their devices when they’re on the go.

Buy RAVPower portable charger at Amazon – $59

Fellow Stagg Pour Over Kettle

The Stagg pour-over kettle seen on a stove top.

Fellow

Electric kettles are a good idea for those who like brewing coffee or tea on a regular basis as it can heat up water quickly without taking up space on your stovetop. If your grad is a coffee aficionado in particular however, we recommend the Fellow Stagg Kettle. The gooseneck spout is great for a controlled brew in pour-over coffee, and it has a modern, minimalist look. Importantly, it also features variable temperature control complete with an LCD display, and it can hold that temp for up to an hour. There’s also a built-in timer so they can keep an eye on the proper brew time.

Buy Fellow Stagg Kettle at Amazon – $149

Ember Mug

The ember smart hot liquid mug seen in a grey void next to a hand holding a smartphone with temperature controls on the screen.

Ember

Coffee or tea tastes great, but it can be a little too hot to drink when freshly brewed. Yet, if you leave it sitting for too long, the drink will get cold. Sure, you can reheat it in the microwave, but it just won’t taste the same. The Ember self-heating smart mug, however, keeps beverages at an optimal temperature for up to 1.5 hours, or all day if the mug is docked on its charging coaster. Yes, it definitely costs more than a regular thermos, but isn’t the whole point of gift giving to choose something someone wouldn’t ordinarily buy for themself? Additionally, the mug has a temperature range between 120 and 145 Fahrenheit, allowing users the choice of how hot they want their brew.

Buy Ember Mug at Amazon – $130

Lenovo Smart Clock

A Lenovo smart clock photographed on a night table next to a bed.

Lenovo

Time for your grad to toss out their old analog alarm clock and get a smarter model like the Lenovo Smart Clock. It features Google Assistant, which can not only tell them the weather forecast and play Spotify tracks, but it will also warn them of any upcoming calendar appointments. It has a charming, minimalist design that won’t take up much space on a nightstand, and its ambient light sensor allows it to brighten or darken according to its surroundings. We especially like the built-in sunrise alarm, which slowly brightens the display as a gentler way of waking up.

Buy Lenovo Smart Clock at Best Buy – $80

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

A man in the back of a van reads on a Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.

Amazon

Voracious readers, and those with goals to read more, will appreciate an e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. It has a front-lit screen so they can read in the dark, a small and sleek design, and a robust battery that can last for days between charging. And if they like reading in the tub or by the pool, the Paperwhite is worth the upgrade over the basic Kindle since it’s also waterproof.

Alternatively, if they would rather have a tablet than an e-reader, then Apple’s iPad Mini is a better bet. They’ll be able to read full-color material like magazines and comic books, then immediately switch to checking email or playing mobile games like Among Us all on one device. The iPad mini may not have the weeks-long battery life that the Paperwhite does, but it’ll last a full day (and then some) with its 11-hour battery life.

Buy Kindle Paperwhite at Amazon – $130Buy iPad Mini at Amazon – $399


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