***This story is from Jennifer’s weekly columns and video segments for the USAToday Network.***
Think back to your graduation, do you remember who gave you cash? I don’t. (And not just because I graduated a million years ago.) This cap-and-gown season, Americans are expected to spend more than $5.5 billion on gifts for high school and college grads. Cash in a card remains one of the most popular gifts, but it’s not the most memorable or even most useful in the long term.
With my daughter graduating from high school this month, the pressure’s on to gift beyond cold, hard cash – and to find something truly meaningful, useful and just plain smart. For that, we polled many of her grad friends, moms and took the advice of some 300,000 members of the Facebook Group “Grown and Flown Parents.” Here are the top impression-making tech grad gifts in every price range – that they’ll use today – and for many years to come.
Every grad needs a laptop that holds a charge throughout the day and offers peak performance for at least three to five years.
For my daughter, we went for the new Apple MacBook (starting at $1,299). I wanted something that will last through undergrad at the very least, with as little troubleshooting as possible. Macs hold their value better than most other portable computers, but they’re far from the only suitable option for a college student.
A decent device on that won’t break the bank is the Asus Chromebook C523($249). It’s a solid choice for anyone who needs instant web access for college courses, email, and browsing – but don’t expect it to hold up more than two years or so. Taking a serious step up, the Dell XPS 13($899) provides the full Windows 10 experience and shines with up to 21 hours of battery life on a single charge.
Lenovo’s IdeaPad S940 (starting at $1,399) is one of my favorite high-end notebooks too, with a gorgeous and nearly bezel-less 14-inch display at up to 4K resolution. A tiny hub above the display houses the webcam and eye-tracking sensors for face recognition and other features. For a top-of-the-line convertible, the LG Gram 2-in-1 ($1,499) is both a speedy laptop and a massive 14-inch tablet, great for jotting down notes in class and hammering out long papers with ease.
Most of us know that sleeping next our smartphone impacts our sleep, yet we still rely on it for our alarms. (Guilty as charged.) The Lenovo Smart Clock ($80) is the best high-tech alternative I’ve seen to date to ditch distractions and wake up ready to take on the day.
For the alarm function, it lets you set the Sunrise feature, which mimics the morning light by gradually brightening the display before the alarm goes off. You can use the app on your smartphone to set routines, so that the alarm turns on connected lights, reads out your schedule and commute time, and plays the news, music, or a favorite podcast.
The Smart Clock also offers a compelling personal organizer to help students stay on track when parents aren’t there to nag them to get their homework done. Since Google Assistant’s built-in, it’s a powerful do-it-all study buddy that responds to voice commands for web searches and its robust speaker makes music playback a joy too. That’s sure to come in handy during dorm parties… oh, I mean study sessions.
NO MORE DIGITAL DISASTERS
Every college student knows that losing precious digital data – especially during finals – is a nightmare they wouldn’t wish on their noisiest dorm neighbors. For college, it’s tough to imagine anything better than Western Digital’s ArmorATD hard drive (starts at $90). It stands up to the most extreme conditions like dust, sand, rain and up to 1,000 lbs. of pressure! It’ll take whatever a busy student can throw at it, and always keep their most precious papers, videos, and photos, safe and sound.
Here’s another gadget I gave my daughter recently. The Quip electric toothbrush (starting at $30) is hands down, front-teeth forward, the best electric toothbrush I’ve ever used. It runs on battery power, so you don’t have to deal with plugging it in or recharging it. The soft-bristled brush – recommended by the ADA – operates using sonic vibrations. It’s small, quiet, and a single battery lasts at least six months (Quip says three, but mine have always lasted much longer). The super-convenient refill plans (which you can prepay for your grad) ensures they’ll never be without a fresh brush head, fresh breathe, or clean teeth – ever again!
PERSONAL PANIC BUTTON
Personal safety is a big deal, especially on a college campus. The Silent Beacon ($119.00) is a tiny, discreet wearable button that can simultaneously place a call to 911 and send text, email, and GPS tracking info to up to six other personal contacts. One downside to this newly launched device is that it has to be within 100 feet of a connected smartphone or Bluetooth device to send an alert, and within 50 feet to send a voice message. So, it’s not like they can leave their phone behind while out on a jog, though it is still much easier to push a button in an emergency than to dial a phone.
Mobility is essential for anyone jumping into the job market for the first time or commuting to college, and the 4th generation Automatic ($100) from SiriusXM is a stellar add-on. The tiny adapter plugs right into any car and can send crash alerts, contact roadside assistance, and reads engine diagnostics and warning lights. It’s the perfect gift for anyone headed out into the “real world” for the first time.
Nothing interrupts a solid study session like background noise. Trying to study in a dorm room? Good luck! The only hope of salvaging some quiet time in a place like that is with a decent pair of noise-canceling headphones!
If you browse a bit, you’ll find a million options across a vast range of prices, but on the budget-friendly side, the TaoTronics Active Noise Cancelling Headphones ($69) are a stellar choice. They provide 30 hours of listening on a single charge and have some of the best noise-canceling features for the price.
If you want to go all-out, the Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones ($349) are in a league of their own, with state-of-the-art acoustic noise canceling that you won’t find anywhere else. They also feature Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa built right in, which will come in handy for quick web searches during an all-night cramming session.
SKATING THROUGH LIFE
I’ve been using them for the last week, and they’re pretty genius. You step onto the two shoe-sized platforms, one under each foot, and the slightest lean forward or backward makes them move. Sounds scary, but it’s easier to pick up than inline skating – and knock on wood – I haven’t wiped out yet. Admittedly, I haven’t been able to reach top speed yet, which is just fine since they go up to seven miles per hour (and up to six miles on a single charge). Each shoe has a motor-driven wheel, a whole suite of sensors and a self-balancing system.
My biggest critique so far is that if you step off one of them mid-ride, there’s no shut off mechanism. The company might be launching that features soon, but so far, one shoe has rocketed out into traffic twice when I’ve been getting off of them. At 12.5 pounds for the pair, they’re also a bit heavy to pack around in a backpack, and there’s no way to lock them up on a bike rack unless you attached a small bar that turns the two Hover Shoes into one connected contraption. Hmm.
FINANCING A FUTURE
Cash in a card might be a cop-out, but there’s a way to give the gift of money that can keep on giving, too. Giving stocks as gifts is something that makes a lot of sense, especially in the age of startups. The new Zero Funds from Fidelity Investments is one option that doesn’t tether youngsters to management fees and minimums. Snag some stocks in an up-and-coming company, and that investment could boom by the time your high-school grad is out of college, setting them up with an excellent financial future that they’ll appreciate for a lifetime.
SHARE YOUR MOST MEMORABLE GRAD GIFTS!
What’s your most memorable graduation gift? Be sure to share on social with us or in the comments section on this page. Congrats, grads!