The Oxford Dictionary says a gadget is “a small mechanical or electronic device or tool” and suggests added deference to those evidently ingenious or novel.
We’re not so sure about the second part. Nothing about the word — etymology or otherwise — suggests a thing must be ingenious or new to be a gadget. A humble suggestion: a gadget is a small mechanical or electronic device or tool that makes your day better. Gadgets grease the tracks of the daily grind. We submit they are useful, not “novel.”
Gadgets are gifts. A gift for yourself, your significant other, your dad or your mail carrier alike. Something to use, not stare at (sorry, whiskey stones, that means you’re out). They’ve got staying power. What fits the bill? From Bluetooth speakers to beard trimmers, here are 25 of the best gadget ideas — what they are, why they rule and which to buy — recommended by Gear Patrol staffers.
“If somebody told me that they had $500 to spend on a speaker, this is what I’d recommend. The Five is the biggest and best-sounding speaker that Sonos makes (not counting its soundbars) and it’s just super versatile. You can stream music to it a number of different ways (including AirPlay 2 or Spotify Connect). You can easily integrate it into a multi-room or home theater system if you have other Sonos speakers. You can hook it up to a turntable (with a built-in preamp) because it’s the only Sonos speaker with a line-in connection. And, if you were really hardcore, you could buy another Five, turn each of them sideways (so they’re both standing vertically) and configure them in a stereo pair. Like I said, it’s a super versatile speaker.” —Tucker Bowe, Senior Staff Writer, Tech
Why do I need this? OK, fine — maybe you don’t actually want to appear in all your high-def glory on Zoom for all your colleagues to see. But now that we’re conducting so much of our lives from the comfort of our laptop screens, you owe it to yourself to upgrade from your computer’s shitty, built-in camera. After all, it’s no longer just business that’s being conducted via that webcam — it’s also long-distance catchup sessions with family, hobbies and more. And you should really look your best, and not like some pixelated video game character.
One of the best — and most popular — such hi-def webcams available right now is the Logitech C920S ($70). With dual-mic, stereo audio capability, a privacy shutter and a clip-on design, it rests handily on your monitor and let’s you appear in all your WFH glory.
Good: Gleem Electric Toothbrush ($20)
It’s a 2-minute brusher that isn’t going to connect to your phone or do anything to open your mind’s eye. Despite its simplicity, it’s miles better than manually brushing.
Better: Hum by Colgate Electric Toothbrush ($85)
The Hum brush, which is our top pick for a good-value electric toothbrush, delivers modern tech and handy quality-of-life features at a reasonable price. You get a few different brush modes (the sensitive mode is especially useful), build quality that isn’t going to break after a couple months, competitive pricing (not to mention frequent sales), app connectivity and loads of brushing data if you want to bother with it.
Best: Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Smart Brush ($170)
In some ways this toothbrush is a caricature of the overbuilt, too-smart world of products we live in today. But the intensity and consistency of the Sonicare DiamondClean feels like going to the dentist every morning and night.
“Being an especially weak person and drinking wine (or especially cool beer or barleywine) too often has created for me the unique opportunity to analyze corkscrews better than perhaps anyone else living. I’ve tried the expensive ones that have their own see-through plastic display case, just in the event you’re the type of person who displays a bottle opener, and I’ve tried the ‘minimalist’ ones that I genuinely believe make removing a cork more difficult. Good people should opt for Pulltap’s $7 Waiter’s Corkscrew for the very simple and objectively true reason that it’s better than any wine opener that exists and is, again, $7. Blade for cutting foil, double-jointed tab for getting leverage on the cork, bottle opener for the ‘I’ll have a beer’ guys and of, course a corkscrew.“ —Will Price, Editor, Home & Design
Why do I need this? Knife hone does not equal knife sharpener. You may not be able to see it, but the edge of your knife is full of microscopic misalignments and very tiny teeth that do the bulk of the cutting work you put the knife to. When you sharpen a knife, you give it a shiny and well-aligned set of teeth. Then, after regular use, the teeth bend out of shape, resulting in a knife that won’t perform as well. Sliding the blade against a knife hone brings the teeth back into alignment, keeping the knife sharper for longer.
Most knife hones (sometimes called “steels”) are the same: about a foot of heavy stainless steel with a slip-free handle so you don’t drop it on your toes. Henckels’ affordable option ($20) doesn’t do anything different in this regard, but it’s a favorite in professional kitchens and regularly goes on sale.
Good: Gerber Armbar Drive ($39)
“Multi-tool” can mean many things, and “pliers-included” doesn’t necessarily have to be one of them. For multi-utility functionality that won’t sag your pocket like a brick, Gerber’s Armbar Drive includes only a few often-needed tools: a knife, scissors, screwdriver and bottle opener (plus a few more).
Better: Leatherman Bond ($50)
The Bond may be new as of 2021, but it cuts a direct line to the PST (Pocket Survival Tool) that Tim Leatherman created when he invented the multi-tool as we know it. The Bond is classic with its pliers-centric design and includes 14 tools in its 5.8-ounce framework. It’s simpler than some — and more affordable — but can handle most tasks that don’t call for a toolbox.
Best: Leatherman Free P2 ($120)
How do you turn great into perfect? The answer always seems to be with magnets. Leatherman integrated them into its classic multi-tool design to reduce friction but not security and provide for easy, one-handed use of all 19 tools in the P2. Buyer beware: this tool is so smooth, you’ll find yourself flicking it open and shut all day long.
“Yes, your laptop has a keyboard attached to it, and yes it does work. But if we settled because things just work, life would be a drag. A mechanical keyboard isn’t better than what you already have, nor will it instantly make you a better typist. The draw isn’t functionality or efficiency; it just feels better. This one, from a brand called Ducky, is compact and comes with a little flair, but you could easily find something more muted in look with a little browsing. Plus, now that most of us are working from home more often, you don’t have to worry about disturbing your coworkers with clicky keys.” —Will Price, Editor, Home & Design
External Hard Drive
Why do I need this? In an era of Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive, the external hard drive might seem like a dinosaur of days past, but their utility is probably summed up by the (paraphrased) words of JG Wentworth. It’s your data, and you need it now. External hard drives — most are technically SSDs (solid state drives) these days — do two things really well. They keep huge swaths of data on ice, locally and for no monthly fee, and they transfer said data outrageously quickly.
A very, very good Dropbox transfer will go at something like 30MB/second, the Samsung T7 ($150) — our favorite portable SSD — will transfer at more than 1000 MB/s.
“For keeping facial hair trimmed, there’s nothing better than an electric beard trimmer. It’s more efficient and effective than a pair of scissors, it’s more convenient and less expensive than trips to the barber, and it’s dead-simple to use. Philips Norelco makes a number of great trimmers, but the Series 9000 may be the most convenient. It works for 2 hours after a single charge, it’s completely waterproof and it features 30 length settings and a stainless steel skin guide. What’s more, it’s fully washable and easy to clean, so you can incorporate beard trimming into any part of your grooming routine.” —John Zientek, Editor, Style
Why do I need this? Sure, you can listen to music via your computer’s headphone output. But if you do, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you’re a music lover, a gamer, or you use a pair of quality headphones — especially of a variety that has a high impedance, such as an open-back pair — then you really need a dedicated headphone amplifier. This gadget plugs into your audio setup and drives your thirsty pair of headphones so that they can sound their best, and the difference is often staggering. You might not even recognize the music coming out of your laptop.
The IEMagni from Schiit Audio ($119) is an excellent choice to power all different types of headphones — even the especially thirsty ones with high impedances. Its incredibly low noise floor is a must for audiophiles, while its affordable price is perfect for casual listeners.
Hand Coffee Grinder
Smart Spend: Hario Mni Slim Ceramic Coffee Mill ($30)
With the Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill, you lose coffee capacity, but you get a space-saving hand coffee grinder. It holds 24 grams of coffee, and it keeps grounds uniform in size without requiring too much effort. Because it uses ceramic burrs, the grinder transfers less heat to the beans, which can dull coffee flavor.
Better: Hario Skerton Pro Hand Grinder ($60)
Hario has made a name for itself in the coffee-brewing industry, and with its Skerton Pro hand grinder, you get consistent, even coffee grounds for not too much money. The hand grinder features a burr stabilizer, stepped grind adjustment and a silicone grip. Hand grinding coffee is not fun, but with the Skerton Pro at least it’s not torture.
Best: Kinu M47 Grinder ($199+)
Hand coffee grinders are notoriously strenuous to use, but the Kinu M47 Grinder makes it as painless as possible — for a price. It has a thumb stopper, which prevents the grinder from slipping in your hand, an easy-to-adjust grind size selector and a magnetic grounds catcher. You’ve never seen uniform coffee grounds like this before.
Why do I need this? Quit eyeballing measurements in the kitchen — you’ll either end up with a crappy meal or a really great meal you’ll never be able to replicate to a tee. But what about measuring cups and spoons, you may ask? They’re useless once you realize how imprecise they are — does anyone really know what a cup of “packed” brown sugar is? Kitchen scales take the guesswork out of measuring, and they eliminate the need for separate measurement tools. Plus, they make portion control a breeze so you get the perfect serving size for every meal.
Another great thing about kitchen scales: they’re cheap. This one from the budget cooking gear makers at Escali is $25 and works like a charm. You even get to pick the dang color.
“Any cheap old pen can crudely get the job done only to then be tossed or lost, but there’s a private pleasure to keeping one on hand that you specifically enjoy using. In a digital world, putting ink to paper is less common, so signing a document or even taking notes can feel a little special and satisfying in a getting-back-to-nature way. The weight of a pen and texture of paper… it deserves the right instrument. (I also like to twirl a pen.)
That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend a fortune. I find that Skillcraft’s US Government pens feel nice to grip (and twirl), write smoothly and have a cool story. (They’ve been made for decades to government specifications and also serve a good purpose by employing the blind in their production.) For around $10, this is the kind of pen with which you (or a giftee) can develop a relationship.” —Zen Love, Staff Writer, Watches
Why do I need this? No amount of pressing a steak, chicken or pork tenderloin will accurately judge internal temperature. With steak (and to some extent pork), your problems are limited to under- or over-done food, which is a nuisance. Chicken is different gravy in this respect. Lots of passionate home cooks grew up with macho TV chefs that suggested you could gauge when food would be done through feel; they couldn’t and you can’t. ThermoWorks makes the absolute best thermometers, and the ChefAlarm is the best for home use. Get one and stop doing this weird finger thing.
There are more affordable and more expensive kitchen thermometers, but ThermoWorks’ Chef Alarm ($65) remains the best use of your money. Thanks to its magnetic back and long probe cable, it’s good for quick temp checks for grilled meats and tracking a roast chicken’s core temp from fridge to a perfect 165.
Good: Amazon Fire HD 10 ($150)
Ideal if you’re on a budget and are looking for something to rewatch Mad Men in bed with. It’s Amazon’s best tablet, it’s less than $200, it runs most streaming services flawlessly and you’re not going to be too upset if your kid yeets it across the room.
Better: Apple iPad ($329)
It’s last year’s iPad, and it still rules. In usual Apple fashion, it blends software and hardware flawlessly, and the previous year’s model is a better value than any of the new models.
Best: Apple iPad Pro ($799)
The Pro is for professional. These iPads were built for folks working in creative fields who need access to advanced displays and processing power, but their speed and improved built-in cameras are great for regular people, too.
“The first time I ever witnessed Tetra’s Slide Lighter, I wasn’t sure what was happening. Up close, it’s clearer — there’s a coil lighter tucked under a sliding door — but from afar, I was watching someone ash their cigarette into someone else’s e-cigarette. After sparking — get it? — a conversation about it, I bought my own, mostly for the novelty. (I don’t smoke cigarettes.) But I carry it most days, alongside my wallet or tangled up in my keys. (It’s three inches shorter than the newest iPhone.)
If a stranger — because yes, we’re seeing those again — asks for a lighter, I can slide the door and spark their cig from an arm’s length away through rain, snow and wind. The coil heats up like the ones on an electric stove or in a car, proving capable of catching fire to cigarettes and cigars (from a few different angles), joints (if those are legal in your jurisdiction), and even paper or twigs to serve as kindling.” —Evan Malachosky, Assistant Editor, Style
Why do I need this? You need spices to make a delicious meal, no doubts about it. Compared to fresh spices, pre-ground spices are bottom-of-the-barrel stuff (sorry, but it’s true). Pre-ground spices are convenient and all, but nothing beats freshly ground spices, and the best way to do it is with a motorized spice grinder. The classic mortar and pestle is amazing for crushing a pinch or two of spices, but when you’re looking to grind a lot or grind often, the spice grinder is the way to go.
As with most small kitchen appliances, KitchenAid is a solid bet here. Its spice grinder ($40) is less fussy than others and dishwasher safe.
Good: Opinel No. 8 ($17)
The 8.5cm blade is a little more knife than you need, but the ergonomic perfection of the size is undeniable, especially if you don’t have to worry about finding space in your pockets for it. Doesn’t hurt that the design has been around since the 19th century.
Better: Deluxe Tinker Swiss Army Knife ($50)
A simple folder works well for most tasks, preparedness is next to godliness (is that how it goes?), and a mid-level Swiss Army Knife — complete with multiple blades, scissors, screwdriver, pliers, tweezers, a wire stripper and more — keeps you ready for your daily allotment of BS.
Best: The James Brand The Carter ($159)
Excellent material quality, clever opening mechanics and great looks. The James Brand knives can run pricey, but they’re damn nice.
“As with water, a few hours without Wi-Fi and things get dicey. Mobile hotspots are the 100-gallon drum of water in an internet desert. With a hotspot, wherever you can make a phone call you can connect to the internet in a fairly secure fashion. Yes, you could use your phone itself for this — nearly all modern smartphones have a personal hotspot feature that works just fine — but in doing so your phone’s battery life will be a plate of hot dogs in front of Joey Chestnut.”—Will Price, Editor, Home & Design
Why do I need this? Smart plugs are the holy trinity: they’re efficient, lazy, cheap. You can get ’em for $10 a pop, they streamline your day-to-day and they save you money. Schedule your air purifier, humidifier, coffee maker or radio to turn on when you need them. Restart your Wi-Fi router with your phone, without fishing it out of the dark corner where you hide it. They cut back on vampire power, too.
There are smart plugs that are more efficient, and smart plugs that offer more features, but there aren’t any other smart plugs available for $10 or less that still work without a hitch. If you’re starting to make your home smart, get things going with Wyze plugs.
Good: Bosch 12-Volt Max Cordless ($129)
The best budget cordless 12-volt drill, full stop. It’s lightweight, has an integrated LED light that activates with the drill and it’s frequently on sale. You can’t ask for more from a value buy.
Better: DeWalt Xtreme 12-Volt Cordless ($149)
Essentially a more thoughtfully designed version of the above Bosch drill, albeit for $20 or so extra. The grip is far more ergonomic, and the balance of the drill makes much more sense.
Best: DeWalt Xtreme 20-Volt Cordless ($200)
You won’t need to upgrade from 12- to 20-volt unless you plan on doing more and more demanding home projects. Think building a deck vs. hanging art. Other than the power, it’s got the same balance and clever grip design the other DeWalt Xtreme cordless drill has.
“The only people who don’t think a post-workout massager isn’t necessary are people who haven’t used a post-workout massager. There are a few big names out there now, but the Hyperice Hypervolt Plus is where to look first. Pull it out after especially heavy workouts when your muscles feel too tight to move comfortably. Follow that up with some lighter massaging on rest days and you won’t be hit as hard by delayed-onset muscle soreness. It’s the only thing that keeps me moving after back day.” —Will Price, Editor, Home & Design