Tech gifts you absolutely shouldn’t buy for yourself or anyone else
We review a lot of products here at Mashable. Some are good, others are really great and earn our Mashable Choice badge, and a few end up being complete trash. It's our duty to help you find only the stuff we recommend so you don't buy something only to get home and cry your eyes out because it sucks.
We know it's easy to get caught up in all the holiday cheer and shopping and feel like you need to buy something because everyone else is, but think about the downsides to a bad purchase: Tons of time wasted returning stuff either by shipping them back or waiting on line to get a refund — not to mention your reputation will suffer for giving such an ill-considered gift.
With this spirit, we present all of the tech you should not buy. Not for yourself and not for someone else (unless they've been very naughty this year and coal's just not gonna cut it).
1. Celebrity-endorsed headphones
Whether you want wireless or wired headphones, never, ever buy the ones that are backed by celebrities. I hate to be the one to tell you, but these brand partnerships are no more than just that. [Insert headphone brand] pays way too much money to [insert celebrity name] to either endorse their headphones or slap their name on them in a "collab" intended to make them stand out.
Problem is, these headphones always suck. Sorry Dwayne, but I smell what The Rock's cooking with those Under Armour/JBL Sport Wireless Train headphones and it stinks. Others like the SOUL by Ludacris or Tony Bennett Koss cans are just as trashy. Beats is maybe one of the only big-name headphone brands backed by celebrities that isn't garbage (it also helps they look good unlike the others).
2. Overpriced cables
So-called "premium" cables are arguably the worst tech (besides the junk from the local dollar store) where it's a total lose-lose for both the gifter and gift receiver. You know the ones: the gold-plated HDMI cables or carbon-fiber weaved USB cables that cost like 10x more than an AmazonBasics version.
Guys, have some common sense. They're frickin' cables. You shouldn't care what they look like (99% of the time they're behind your TV or other gear, never to be seen again), and in the digital realm, a bit is a bit — meaning most cables only need to be good enough so the receiving end can discern a 1 from a 0. Don't be a bonehead and overspend on a cable because some company is smart enough to market their overpriced wires as doing more than they really do.
That said, you shouldn't risk complete garbage from an unknown off-brand, but you'll do just find with wires from a well-known value brand like Anker or Monoprice. AmazonBasics cables do just fine, too, and they're way cheaper.
3. No-brand electric skateboards and scooters
Alternative transportation is so hot right now, but don't forget that all these electrified personal transporters like electric skateboards and scooters, and Onewheels, and whatnots have sizable lithium-ion batteries.
A shoddily-made battery could cause your ride to burst into flames the way hoverboards did a few years back. Chances are if you're not buying an electric skateboard or scooter from a reputable brand like Boosted Boards or Acton or Segway the battery might not be properly insulated. Knockoff brands are much cheaper online at places like Amazon or like AliExpress, but is your house burning down worth the risk? Nah.
4. Digital photo frames
We take so many photos a year and so it's only natural to want to display them for your friends and family. You know, make them jealous of that time you went to some exotic island in who-knows-where while they slaved away in their cubicle and ate Seamless. A digital photo frame seems like the perfect solution to shuffle through all your Kodak moments.
But stop! Do not hit that buy button on any of these dumb frames. Not only do they come with next to no storage, but I can guarantee they come with horrible software interfaces that'll make you wanna toss it in the trash can anyway.
Save yourself the headache and stay away from these digital frames. Get an Echo Show or Lenovo Smart Display. Both smart smart speaker/displays can control your smart home devices, play music, and show photos from either Amazon or Google Photos. The better pick is Google's Home Hub — it pulls photos from your Google Photos account (unlimited storage for photos at 12-megapixels) and also smartly pairs two related vertical photos together so there's no letterboxing.
5. Any drone that's not DJI
There are so many reasons to own a drone and an equal number of reasons not to. Reasons to own a drone: To capture cool aerial footage, and they're fun to fly! Reasons to not: You can't really fly them in cities because of air restrictions; many of them are basically toys; most have terrible range, poor battery life, and flaky connections; and most of them have no intelligence whatsoever to avoid obstacles.
Anything that's a few hundred bucks or less (especially in the <$200 range) is really just a plaything. Even some of the more expensive drones like Parrot's Anafi are "blind as a bat" as Mashable Tech Writer Jake Krol said in his review.
It's unfortunate DJI has a strong monopoly on the drone market (consumer and professional), but they're the best, most responsive and most intelligent drones money can buy. If you want a drone, a DJI model, like the foldable Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 zoom, are the only ones to even consider.
6. Point-and-shoot cameras
I feel like a really old guy whenever I tell people to not buy a point-and-shoot. There are about one or two point-and-shoots — just the Sony RX100 VI or Canon G7X II, really — that are very good, but even then, in many ways, you're better off with the camera in your smartphone. You'll definitely wanna stay away from any bargain-bin rubbish you'll find going $99.99 or less (yes, even the ones from name brands).
I recommend all of the new iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR because of their Smart HDR technology which is able to capture some stunning photos in all lighting conditions. Google's Pixel 3 and 3 XL are great as well, and so are Samsung's Galaxy S9, S9+, and Note 9. Even the OnePlus 6T's camera is pretty decent with a night mode that works way better than a point-and-shoot camera.
7. VR headsets for your phone
Remember when mobile VR headsets were all the rage a couple years ago? Yeah, they're not anymore. If you must immerse yourself in VR, go high-end with headsets like the HTC Vive Pro, Oculus Rift, or PlayStation VR or even the grab-and-go standalone Oculus Go.
But whatever you do, avoid mobile VR headset where you slot in your phone like the plague. Samsung's Gear VR is the rule, but pretty much all the others out there come from no-name Asian brands. These chunky pieces of plastic for your face are questionable in design and usually offer little ventilation for the heat emitting from your phone. The last thing you wanna do is have a phone explode on your face. Get a Google Cardboard — it's crappy just like most mobile VR — if you're too cheap to invest in one of the better VR headsets listed above.
8. Computers with garbage 'entry-level' specs
Take it from someone who tests a lot of laptops every year: You don't want a computer (laptop or PC) with specs like 4GB of RAM or with wimpy processors like an Intel Atom, Celeron, or Core m3.
Don't be deceived by their advertised storage with like "500GB" that try to trick you into overlooking the more important computer parts (processor and RAM). Oftentimes, these computers are the entry-level models advertised as their "starting at $…". It may seem like you're saving a hundred or two hundred bucks, but you'll regret it when you find out Chrome can't handle more than a few tabs before the entire computer slows to a crawl.
The best model with the most value is usually the one that's just a step or two above the entry-level one. It usually has a more powerful processor and at least 8GB of RAM. This is the one you want. Pretend the entry-level one doesn't exist.
9. Smart home devices from no-name brands
People think the most important thing about a smart home device is that it works. Wrong. The most important thing is security.
Yes, if an electrical or internet outage happens it could take your whole smart home system out with it. But because most smart home devices have access to your data, it's just as important to know who has access to it and how they're protecting it.
Like all tech, you should only install smart home devices from trustworthy companies with a good track record. While it might make you feel all warm inside to support a startup, their security probably isn't as airtight as, say, Nest's, or Amazon's, or August's, or Wink's. Go with a trusted company that takes privacy and security seriously.