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Holiday Gift Guide: What to Buy a Boomer

Buying a tech gift for a Baby Boomer may seem daunting. Here's some help.


This is one segment of Re/code’s four-part 2014 Holiday Gift Guide, consisting of products and services hand-picked by our reviews team. Each segment is aimed at a different type of gift recipient you may have on your list.

Trying to buy a tech gift for a Baby Boomer can be tough, partly because that group covers a vast range of ages and types, and partly because, as a group, they already own a lot of stuff. Just for the record, the Boomers are generally defined as the nearly 80 million people born between 1946 and 1964. That means that the Boomers on your holiday gift list could range from 50 to 68, a huge span.

But they all have one thing in common: They’re not digital natives — meaning they weren’t born and raised with computers, smartphones and the Web in their lives. So there’s a wide range of tech savvy among this group. Some eagerly acquire every gadget and app. Others are still using flip phones and Windows XP, and could use a major upgrade. But in my experience, few are anti-tech, and most have embraced some parts of the digital world.

Herewith, some suggestions for what to get the Boomers on your list:

Crossing the chasm, Part One

If your Boomer friend or relative is clinging to a flip phone or an ancient BlackBerry, you can move them up to the world of smartphones. The very best choice, in my opinion, is the iPhone 6, or the larger iPhone 6 Plus, which cost $650 and $750, respectively, without a contract. Bonus: they have a feature that can make both type and icons larger, for those whose vision isn’t what it once was.

 The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

If that’s too rich for your blood, consider the very nice $179 Moto G midrange Android smartphone from Motorola.

Crossing the chasm, Part Two

Then there’s that new laptop. The best on the market, in my view, is Apple’s MacBook Air, which starts at $899. It’s slim, light, rugged, and has long battery life. But your intended recipient may get plenty of value from something that hits your wallet less, especially if he or she mainly uses the Web. It’s called a Chromebook, a type of laptop that essentially runs only an enhanced version of Google’s Chrome browser, with a small group of compatible apps. It stores most of your files in the cloud, and generally costs under $300. The downside is that it can’t run common apps like Microsoft Office or iTunes.

E-readers and tablets

Kindle Voyage
Kindle Voyage

A great gift is an e-reader or a small tablet that can be used for reading e-books. Amazon offers three e-reader models, all with touchscreens, ranging from the basic $79 Kindle to two models with lighted screens, the $119 Paperwhite and the new, deluxe Voyage, which has higher resolution and some other features, but comes in at a whopping $199. A diminutive iPad mini can now be had for as little as $249. It can not only be used as a reader for Kindle books or Apple’s own iBooks, but can run more than a million apps. I use mine daily.

Update the TV

Putting Internet streaming video on the big screen can vastly expand what’s available to watch, from favorite old TV shows and movies to how-to videos on YouTube. And it doesn’t cost much. With a $99 Apple TV, you’ll be giving access to services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, iTunes, PBS and dozens more.

Apple TV
Apple TV

Plus, Apple TV allows users to view their own photos and videos on the TV and to beam content from their Apple devices. Roku, which offers models from $50 to $100, has hundreds of channels, including Amazon’s video offerings. Google’s tiny $35 Chromecast also offers access to services like Netflix and others, controlled entirely from your phone or other device. A comparison of the leading choices is here.

Music all through the house

Many Boomers remember the full, rich sound of the stereo systems of their youth. You can’t get that from a smartphone, or even from a cheap Bluetooth speaker. But you can with a product called a Sonos, a line of wireless speakers good enough to fill whole rooms, or whole homes, with rich, beautiful sound. You can use Sonos speakers to play music from your own collection, or to stream tunes from services like Pandora, Spotify and Beats. For years, Sonos was a pretty costly and large product, but now there’s an affordable and compact model, the $199 Play:1, which still pumps out great sound.

Automate their home

August Smart Lock

The movement to modernize and digitize everything in your home is still in its infancy, and can be complex. But we’ve reviewed a few items that make a lot of sense and are easy to use. One is a modernized smoke detector called the Nest Protect, which also detects carbon monoxide, and costs $129 $99. It replaces shrill beeps with glowing lights and voice messages, and allows false alarms to be silenced with just a wave of the hand. (Update: The hand-waving feature has been disabled by the company for safety reasons, and the price reduced to $99.) Another good upgrade is the $250 August Door Lock, which allows you to issue temporary digital keys to visitors and home workers via a smartphone app, and can even automatically unlock the door, if you choose, when you approach from outside with your smartphone. A third is the Dropcam, which starts at $149 and provides continuous, wireless photo and video monitoring of a home, which can be viewed via a Web browser or app.

Digital accessories

For Boomers who are already well-equipped, you can enhance their experiences. One suggestion: Buy gift cards for services like Netflix, iTunes or Amazon Prime. Or buy a car mount for smartphones, like the Kenu Airframe+ for $30. Kenu also makes a $30 tripod for iPhones called the Stance. And Zagg and Logitech make a variety of keyboard covers for the iPad and Android tablets. And for iPad owners frustrated by that tablet’s lack of a USB port, there’s the iStick, starting at $80.

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