The gift-giving season is in full swing, and with less than two weeks until the holidays, it's a scramble to find the best, last-minute gift ideas. But not every sale will leave you feeling merry and bright.
At Reviewed.com our passion is making sure you buy the right stuff, and we're here to help you steer clear of bad products and lousy deals. Here are some popular gifts that you may want to think twice about picking up this shopping season.
People still buy cheap point-and-shoot cameras, even though most folks own smartphones that can take photos that are just as good. Though having some extra optical zoom is nice, spending $300 for it is a bit much. Unless you’re going to get a full-size superzoom camera like the Nikon P610, you’re better off looking for another camera.
Buy this instead: Sony A5000 Camera($350)
If you’re buying a camera in 2016, you may as well buy a good one. Pretty much any interchangeable lens camera these days will still run laps around a cheap point-and-shoot, let alone your smartphone. They’re not that complicated to use, and cameras like the Sony A5000 start at just $350. For more excellent camera deals, check out our guide to the best camera deals right now.
It may sound simple, but the best TV manufacturers make TVs all year. If the brand you’re buying only shows up at your local big box store starting in mid-November, it’s probably not a great buy. If you’re not sure, ask to see a model on display that's powered on. If they don’t have one, walk away.
Buy this instead: TCL 43-inch UP130 ($399.99) or Samsung 55-inch KS8000 ($1,197.99)
If you are looking for an affordable TV, we recommend the 43-inch TCL UP130. It’s a good size and the price is just $399.99. Best of all, this 4K TV performed well in our lab tests and it comes with the Roku smart platform built right in so you can watch Netflix or Hulu.
If you want a step-up model, our experts like the Samsung KS8000 series. It has both 4K and High Dynamic Range and performed well enough to earn our Best TV for the Money award in our roundup of the best TVs for 2016.
Nest Learning Thermostat
The $249 Nest Learning Thermostat is a beautifully designed smart thermostat, but there are many alternatives out now that offer better features. Don’t get us wrong: the Nest is great and all, but many lesser-known alternatives may suit your needs better.
Buy this instead: Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat ($240)
The Ecobee3 is slightly cheaper than the Nest, but it looks just as good and has many of the same features. We are particularly fond of the Ecobee3’s remote temperature sensor, which is included in the price (a version without the sensor goes for under $175). It’s a killer feature for anyone whose house has a room that tends to be colder than wherever the thermostat is installed.
Wi-Fi Baby Monitors
Lots of parents or parents-to-be I know are asking for these baby monitors during the holidays, and video baby monitors are indeed great. But when we did our roundup of the best video baby monitors, the Wi-Fi models that let you view your camera feed on your phone were either overpriced, buggy, or not as good as alternative options.
Buy this instead: Samsung BrightVIEW HD Monitor ($199.99)
I own this monitor and it’s great. It doesn’t have Wi-Fi but it worked great across all three floors of my home and it has the best image quality. If you must have the ability to see your camera remotely, we recommend the Nest Cam, though it’s better suited to being a nanny cam or a security camera than a baby monitor.
Expensive Chef’s Knives
If you’re buying a gift for a home chef, a new knife is a great choice. But while expensive knives can be wonderful tools, they often have very particular qualities that may or may not suit the person you’re giving it to. Walk into a speciality retailer, though, and you may walk out buying the wrong one—or spending two or three times more than you have to.
Buy this instead: Victorinox 8-inch Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife ($27.96)
The Victorinox is a very popular choice among cooking experts, such as the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. It cuts well, and is both durable and affordable. It’s a fantastic workhorse for anyone who cooks a lot, and will get the job done as well as many more expensive models.
Roomba 614 Robot Vacuum
The most affordable Roomba has been a big hit this year with our readers, especially with sale prices around $250. It’s a perfectly fine robot vacuum and we recommend it for anyone who definitely wants a Roomba and not another brand. Still, there are better values to be had.
Buy this instead: Eufy RoboVac 11 ($219.99)
We test each robot vacuum we review at our test labs in Cambridge, MA to see both how well it cleans and how well it navigates around your furniture. In our tests, the Amazon-exclusive Eufy RoboVac cleaned just as well as the Roomba 614, and it navigated furniture slightly better. It’s also cheaper than the Roomba 614 and it comes with a scheduling feature, something you only get on more expensive Roombas.
Mastercard or Visa Gift Cards
If you’re buying a gift card for somebody, it may be tempting to buy one of these cards. After all, they can be used pretty much anywhere, right? Unfortunately, most of these come with activation fees that cost you more money, eating into the amount you’re actually trying to give.
Buy this instead: Amazon Gift Card
I can pretty much always find something I need from Amazon, but I’d be just as happy with a gift card to a local restaurant or a big box retailer. And as a parent, I could always use a card to a store like Target, where I always spend $50 more than I expected to.
Gift Boxes With Lotions and Samplers
Speaking from experience, some men find buying gifts for women to be a challenge. Whether it's an aunt, mother, or wife, the temptation may be to buy one of those pre-packaged gift sets assuming she’ll be able to try some new things. The problem? Half of those samples may be useless to her, or they may not fit her style at all.
Buy this instead: Sephora Gift Card
Look, it’s risky business buying a gift card—especially if that woman is your significant other, but this way she can get exactly what she needs. Some people may find it impersonal, but so is a gift set stacked on a table by the register.
Cheap Automatic Watches
Watches can make fantastic gifts, and they start under $25 if you’re just looking for a basic way to tell time. Most affordable watches are battery-powered, but some opt for a fancier “automatic” movement that winds the watch while you wear it. While some cheap automatics are fine, most under $200 have poorly made movements that are hopelessly inaccurate, slipping minutes or even hours behind if not failing to wind the watch entirely.
Buy this instead: Skagen Black Leather Watch ($94.15)
A stylish, durable quartz watch will last you years and will be much easier to maintain than a cheap automatic. I like this model primarily for its classic, Danish-inspired styling, though obviously you should find one that matches the person you’re giving it to.
Things that are out of stock
Sometimes a gift is worth it, but it’s so in demand that it’s sold out by the time you want to get it. Here are some helpful alternatives to this year’s hottest items that you should still be able to order before the holidays.
Barring a last-minute spike in availability, the full-size Amazon Echo won’t be in stock until after the holidays. While it’s great, the Echo’s main feature is its integration with Alexa, which you can get in a number of other devices as well.
Buy this instead: Amazon Echo Dot ($49.99)
The Amazon Echo Dot is essentially the same as the big Echo, except it only costs $49.99 and its built-in speaker isn’t as good. The Fire TV Stick is also an option. It's $39.99 and it plugs into an HDMI port on your TV. It’s primarily used for streaming video, but it has Alexa via the included voice remote and can do all the same things like tell you the weather, read off your schedule, and control Alexa-enabled smart products.
Hatchimals are definitely the “hot” gift this year, and many parents everywhere are doing whatever they can to find them. If you absolutely must have a Hatchimal and you’re willing to pay a super inflated price you could try buying one of the lots of three or four eggs on eBay for $300-$400 and re-selling the others online to make your money back.
Buy this instead: Furby Connect ($79.99)
The Furby Connect is another hot toy this year, but it’s not nearly as supply constrained. Cute, cuddly, and interactive, the updated Furby is quite a bit more advanced than the one that blew up in the ‘90s.
The NES Classic has been very popular this holiday season, and it’s sold out almost everywhere. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically a very tiny game console that looks like the original Nintendo NES, except instead of cartridges it has 30 games pre-loaded.
Buy this instead: 16-Bit Entertainment System ($49.99)
While the NES Classic is a wonderful emulator, you can still play real cartridges with one of the many retro consoles available online. These play actual cartridges so you’ll need to pick up a few of those online as well, and some others can play both SNES and Sega Genesis games, putting the console wars of the 1990s to a peaceful end at last.