Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’ve got lots of them. Check back from now until the end of December for more!
This is a year where we’ve all had to reconsider our relationship with tech. Social media has finally been put on trial for its potential harms, including to vulnerable adolescents. Algorithms have been accused of dividing us and sending us down rabbit holes of extremism. Even tech companies with sizable “fan” bases, like Apple, have been seen in a new light as they’re challenged by antitrust lawsuits and investigations.
For some, 2022 may mean looking to find a healthier balance with the sort of tech we’re using in our lives. In that light, we present a gift guide that’s focused on tech that allows us to escape tech!
AllTrails is a popular guide to over 200,000 outdoor trails, offering detailed maps, photos and reviews curated by millions of hikers and more. But the AllTrails Pro subscription is worth it for any dedicated hiker, biker or climber, as it offers downloadable maps — often necessary for off-the-grid hikes, as well as other handy features, like off-route notifications, a Lifeline feature that keeps safety contacts informed as to your trail progress and access to air quality, pollen and weather details on the maps. The company has big plans for the year ahead, too, thanks to its recent $150 million fundraise, which it plans to invest in further product development.
Phones can be distracting, taking us out of the moment and back into our screens. While recent updates like Apple’s Focus Mode feature have given us back some control, the Opal app takes things even further. The app, essentially a VPN client, lets you completely disconnect distracting apps so you can focus and easily set automatic schedules for things like work or family time where apps and notifications will leave you alone. Unlike some other tools, which can be disabled by the user, you can even configure “deep focus” sessions in Opal with a timer you can’t bypass for when you really need to not be distracted. You can use the app in a number of ways — on-demand when you need to concentrate or always on to help you craft better routines for your life with more boundaries.
Price: A $40 Gift Subscription offers one year of Opal Pro
When you really need to get off the grid, the best phone could be no phone. But that’s not always viable in this day and age where we need to be able to reach others in the event of an emergency or have them be able to reach us. Plus, we don’t really want to go back to the days of printing out our MapQuest directions, right?
The Light Phone is another option, which could allow you to take a break without being fully disconnected. The phone allows you to make calls and texts and includes basic utilities like an alarm, calculator, a hotspot feature and a simple music and podcast player. It also just added a directions tool and will soon add support for public transit routes. The idea is to offer a phone that’s “smart” but not filled with addictive apps and games. The Light Phone may not make sense for everyone as their full-time device, but it could be swapped in for your weekend getaway or any other time you’re feeling too overwhelmed. The phone offers its own SIM plans on AT&T starting at $30/month for unlimited calls and texts with 1 GB of data, billed monthly with no commitment. But the phone itself is unlocked and will work with any compatible 4G VoLTE Nano-SIM (like the one in your current smartphone, probably.)
Price: $299 (Light Phone II) in either Light Gray or Black
Listening to podcasts and e-books is already a popular activity, but what if you could reduce your screen time by listening to just about anything with the help of a text-to-speech reader? Speechify makes this possible. The web and mobile app lets you listen to anything with text — documents, news articles, research papers, school assignments, PDFs, emails and more — using a selection of natural-sounding AI voices. The app currently supports Gmail, Outlook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Google Docs, Notion, MS Teams, PDFs, Medium, NYT, BBC, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and LinkedIn. You can even snap photos of the pages in your books to have them read aloud. But this solution is not cheap — it’s more of a commitment to shift much of your screen-based reading to audio.
Price: $139 for 1 year of Speechify Premium (special pricing is available for groups, teams and classrooms)
Reese’s Book Club box sets
For those who prefer actual books over e-books or audio, Reese’s Book Club, the online book club and recommendations app from Reese Witherspoon, is offering themed Gift of Reading Box Sets as gifts. The boxes pair a favorite book club pick with other items that make your reading time more enjoyable, like cozy socks or throws, snacks, coffees, bookmarks, towels to go along with your “beach read,” skincare products and more. The boxes have enough items to make them feel like a more premium gift, perfect for a favorite mother-in-law or aunt who’s always got a book in her hand. You also get to select the book the box includes and can even customize your own box with the available items.
Price: $54.95 for a hardcover book pick and $49.95 for paperback. There’s also a Create Your Own box with select bundles starting at $34.95.