Best holiday gifts under $250 for 2020

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Just like everything else in 2020, the holidays are going to be weird and different. But despite the lockdowns and quarantines, many of us will be seeking out gifts for our friends and families — and probably shopping online more than ever. 

The $100-to-$250 range may just be the sweet spot when it comes to finding a great gift that sparks joy without annihilating your budget. Here are some of our ideas for the best gifts under $250.

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New for 2020, Bose has just released its second-generation Frames. Yes, they are sunglasses with wireless headphones built-in. They also sound incredibly good. We really like the Tempo style shown here, but you can also opt for the Tenor or Soprano styles instead. 

David Carnoy/CNET

OK, sunglass-headphones may not be for everyone. But now that they’re frequently on sale for around $220 (if not less), the Apple AirPods are easier to recommend as a killer pair of wireless in-ear headphones. With a winning design and fit, solid bass performance and very effective noise canceling, they’re excellent for making calls and listening to music — even during a workout. They also now offer an amazing spatial audio feature when used with compatible Apple devices — something you won’t find on other true wireless headphones. 

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Casper

The Glow lamp is a highly portable, rechargeable nightlight that’s undeniably beautiful, easy to setup and pleasant to use. It’s become integral to my family’s bedtime routine, and we now have two of them. We use them every night and take them with us wherever we go. (And that’s another thing — they’re surprisingly tough.) 

Thanks to its built-in gyroscope, you flip the Glow over to turn it on and off, twist it to dim it up or down or shake it to trigger the low nightlight setting. The lamp produces a pleasant ambient glow — hence the name — that dims gradually over 15 to 60 minutes. You can control the span using Casper’s streamlined iOS and Android-compatible app, and set the light to come on in the morning — a reverse nightlight, of sorts. 

Read our Casper Glow preview.

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When it comes to gaming consoles, your entry point for the new, cool stuff is basically $300 — that’s the price tag for the Xbox Series S, the Oculus Quest 2 or a full-featured Nintendo Switch. But you can get in on our sub-$250 budget here with the Nintendo Switch Lite, which drops the detachable controllers and the TV-out functionality of its older sibling in exchange for a more wallet-friendly $200 price point. You’ll still be able to play nearly all the same games, including Nintendo-only exclusives from the Animal Crossing, Zelda and Mario series. After disappearing from (virtual) store shelves early on in the pandemic, the Switch Lite is increasingly, though still intermittently, available from multiple national retailers

Read our Switch Lite review.

With a lot of families working, learning and streaming from home, household wireless networks are being tested like never before. We installed a Google Nest Wi-Fi system at our house this spring and have been impressed with its speedy performance. The connection is perceptibly faster, more expansive and more robust than our prior setup, and the $169 router will likely be sufficient for most homes. That said, the range-extending Wifi point — which doubles as a Google Assistant smart speaker — may be worth the extra dough. Also keep an eye on the Eero mesh networking set. The older three-node version sometimes drops as low as $200, with a freebie Echo speaker thrown in, and the company just debuted a new model for 2020 that folds in support for the Zigbee home automation wireless standard. 

Read our Nest Wifi review.

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For now, if you’re looking to clear the $250 threshold, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a no-brainer. Though it lacks a handful of key features found in the newer models — the always-on display and blood oxygen level monitoring to name a few — it’s still a solid watch and a solid deal. Having said that, if you can find a few more dollars in your budget, the new Apple Watch SE starts at $279, and though it lacks a few of the Series 6’s flagship features, the two models are more similar than different. 

Read our Apple Watch Series 3 review.

Monos

Having spent hundreds of dollars on lousy suitcases over the years, I can say that the Monos Carry On is worth the money. With a similar aesthetic and price point as Away’s lineup of modern suitcases (which you may have seen on Instagram), Monos delivers everything you want in a roller bag: a lightweight but durable shell, a nice variety of compartments, pockets and straps and a well-engineered retractible handle. Plus, it comes with a 100-day free trial and lifetime warranty. 

Nixon

Made from recycled ocean-bound plastic bottles, this fantastic duffle bag has exactly the right amount of storage capacity, with handles on every surface, and it can be worn on the shoulder or as a backpack. Personally, I love the Olive Dot Camo design.

Swiss Army

I’ve been using this beautiful Victorinox chef’s knife for the past year and it’s become one of my indispensable kitchen tools. The blade is fluted, so it won’t stick to what you’re cutting, and the elegant wooden handle gives it the perfect amount of heft. It’s sharp enough to make cutting meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and cheeses an absolute pleasure.

Williams Sonoma

Having gone through a series of overcomplicated food processors, the simplicity of this Cuisinart model is appealing. There are two paddle buttons — on and off, which doubles as a “pulse” option — and the large 14-cup bowl is sturdy and easy to clean. It comes with three blades and discs — do you really need more than that? — and the 720-watt motor is strong enough to power through whatever you throw at it.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I have a small, simple one-zone home, where the thermostat controls only the furnace. Last year, I bought several different top-rated smart thermostats and, with the assistance of my neighborhood electrician, installed and tested them one at a time. The Nest was the one I kept. It’s a snap to set up and it totally delivers on the few features I wanted: scheduled temperature adjustment, appealing aesthetics, an intuitive interface and absolute control via iPhone or Android. 

That noted, CNET’s current top pick for best smart thermostat, the slightly pricier Ecobee Smart Thermostat is definitely worth a look. 

Read our Ecobee Smart Thermostat review.

Solo Stove

This is the best camping stove I’ve come across. The $200 Campfire Kit includes the truly awesome Solo Stove that uses wood for fuel and produces a beautiful fire with very little smoke. No more messing around with propane or other petroleum products. It also comes with a nifty collapsible tripod and two cooking pots. The kit is neither cheap and nor lightweight — this is not appropriate for backpacking — but it’s definitely elegant and addictive to use. 



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