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Apple Gift Guide: we pick the best product in each category

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Picking the right gifts for people can be hard, and doubly so when it comes to Apple stuff. Despite the company’s best efforts, its product line-ups can be a bit of a mess.

Even if you know roughly what to get (an iPad for my nephew!) there are often countless secondary decisions to make (which model, capacity, size, and color will he want?) that you won’t want to get wrong.

So, with the holidays fast approaching, we’ve compiled a list of gift suggestions for those looking to spend a few bucks at an Apple Store. An Apple product is a sure-fire winner for your nearest and dearest, though of course, they don’t come cheap! That’s why we’ve picked out one essential purchase in each product category to help you whittle down the options and make the right choice.

Without further ado, dig into our 2018 Apple gift guide!

iPhone XR – from $749

Forget the premium flagship iPhone XS. Of all the iPhones currently available, it’s hard to recommend anything other than the XR in terms of quality-for-your-money. It has the same lightning-fast processor as the XS and XS Max, the same TrueDepth selfie camera (with Face ID), and comes in a perfect Goldilocks size right between the two.

You miss out on a 2x telephoto lens, and the Liquid Retina display isn’t quite as drool-worthy as the OLED display of its bigger brothers – but we think the benefits outweigh those downsides. It comes in a wide range of colors, boasts the longest battery life of any iPhone, and is a full $250 less than the iPhone XS. (Though we’d recommend spending an extra $50 to bump the storage up to 128GB.)

Buy iPhone XR

iPad 9.7-inch – from $329

Though the latest iPad Pro is gorgeous and super powerful, once again we’re happy recommending the cheaper model for most users. This regular 9.7-inch iPad is less than half the price, and unless you’re a high-end user looking to replace a laptop (or you just must have a massive screen) we’re not sure the upgrade is worth the cost.

This entry-level model might not be as flashy as the Pro, but it barely makes any compromises and will handle pretty much any task you throw at it – just don’t buy it for someone hoping to make complex 4K video edits on the go. It’s compatible with the first-gen Apple Pencil (sold separately) which makes it a perfect choice for students and artists alike.

Buy iPad 9.7-inch

Apple Watch S4 – from $399

The newest version of the world’s most popular watch rocks a bigger display than previous generations and has some new health tracking benefits to boot. Its impressive sensors can trigger a call to emergency services if you have a nasty fall and don’t get back up, and it’s the first consumer-facing product that can take an ECG. It’s fully waterproof, able to track all kinds of exercise (including swims) and would be great step up for anyone using a FitBit or similar health tracker.

Bear in mind it will cost a $100 premium to upgrade to a cellular model, which allows the Watch to access the internet and make phone calls all on its own (usually, it needs to be paired with a nearby iPhone). You’ll also need to pay a bit extra per month on your cell plan to take advantage of that independence. For most users, we reckon the non-cellular model is fine, but we’d recommend opting for the larger (44mm) screen. Watch bands can be pretty personal, but they’re easy to change later – so if you’re buying a gift, stick to the basic straps.

Buy Apple Watch S4

Apple TV 4K – from $179

Turn any TV into a smart TV complete with apps, games, streaming services, and a slick voice-activated Siri remote. It’s a lot pricier than streaming sticks from Roku and Amazon, but if you’re in the Apple ecosystem and you value a quality interface, we think this is by far the best way to watch Netflix et al.

Apple will upgrade your existing iTunes-purchased movies to 4K for free

There’s a lower-resolution version still available for $149, which is fine for most users – but even if you (or your giftee) don’t have a 4K TV yet, we’d recommend paying the extra $30 to avoid having to upgrade at a later date. However, don’t be suckered into paying for any more than the standard 32GB storage unless it’s going to be used to play a lot of games.

Buy Apple TV 4K

HomePod – $349

Like the idea of the Amazon Echo but feel uneasy with the company having an always-on mic in your house? Apple is leagues ahead of its competitors in terms of its commitment to your privacy, and this chubby little Siri-controlled speaker is a great way to listen to Apple Music. However, Siri can’t control other services directly – for Spotify or similar, you’ll need to stream the tunes from an iPhone or iPad.

The smart speaker got some criticism for its lack of smarts compared to Alexa and Google Assistant – but if your prime concern is audio quality, HomePod completely blows the competition out of the water. It sounds incredible, and it can still perform plenty of useful tasks like setting timers completely hands-free.

Buy HomePod

AirPods – $159

These “true wireless” earbuds are growing in popularity, and there’s a reason why; they’ve been lauded as the first Apple product in years that really does just work. Forget any bad experiences you’ve had with BlueTooth headphones in the past – AirPods pair in seconds, automatically activate when you put them in your ears, and pause what you’re listening to when you take one out.

The Airpods come with a charging pack, which provides 24-hours of juice in total

They’re much more comfortable than you might expect, designed to stay put in the ear, and they sound pretty decent, too – much better than the standard wired earphones that ship with the iPhone. The carry case doubles as an on-the-go charger so you’ll never run out of battery, and if you lose a bud your iPhone can force it to emit a beep so you can find it again. You can find backstreet AirPods clones online for a fraction of the price, but believe us when we say that only the real deal is worth it.

Buy AirPods