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CNET Holiday gift guide 2021: Top picks from CNET editors, early bird edition

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Published in Science & Technology News

"Wait a minute," you're saying to yourself. "They're already pushing holiday shopping and Christmas stuff down our throats, and it's barely November?" Yes, we hear you. But we're already hearing rumblings about empty warehouse shelves for the hottest toys and gifts this year, thanks to everything from chip shortages, supply chain constraints and a shortage of workers at docks and ports. So for those of you who are already on the hunt to stockpile some gifts, here's a first pass at some of CNET's favorite options.

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The iPhone 13 family

The latest and greatest iPhones

CNET TAKE: Yes, some of the iPhone 13 improvements are subtler than others. But if you're buying for anyone with an iPhone 11 or older, the 2021 models are an excellent upgrade, with improved cameras, more durable screens and far better battery life than their predecessors. Most people will find the baseline model ($829 unlocked) to be more than enough phone, especially now that they finally — finally! — start at 128GB of storage, which will be more than enough for the average user. But the pair of iPhone Pro upgrades offer better camera options and — with the $1,099 iPhone Pro Max — a jumbo 6.7-inch screen. A smaller iPhone remains in the line with the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini, too. If that's still too big of a plunge, the 2020 iPhone SE is available unlocked with 128GB of storage for a much more reasonable $399, and it's got a good old-fashioned Touch ID fingerprint scanner, too.

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Nintendo Switch OLED

Bigger screen, better kickstand

CNET TAKE: This update of the Nintendo Switch adds a bigger 7-inch OLED screen, a much better kickstand and ships with 64GB storage on board. It's not a must-have upgrade if you have the earlier Switch model, as the graphics and game catalog are identical. And you can still hook it up to the TV if you want to play on the big screen. But for anyone looking for the most family-friendly game system with a long list of exclusive games — the Zelda, Mario, Metroid and Pokemon franchises can only be found here — this is a great alternative to the PS5 and Xbox.

 

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Roku Streambar

Easy upgrade for an older TV

CNET TAKE: Want the easiest upgrade for an older HDTV? Just plug in the $130 Roku Streambar, and you'll immediately add stronger audio and the best smart TV streaming system, with every app you can imagine. The remote included with this smart device will control your TV's power, too.

The Streambar follows the footsteps of last year's Roku Smart Soundbar with a smaller size and more affordable price. Usually the biggest issue with hybrid devices is that they've compromised too much in some area, and while the Streambar isn't sonically perfect — lack of bass is its biggest weakness — it makes up for that with excellent sound for dialogue and an ability to fill a room that belies its tiny footprint. Sure, it lacks a subwoofer, but it can still beat your TV's speakers without one.

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The following CNET staff contributed to this story: Executive Editor John Falcone and Copy Editor Jim Hoffman. For more reviews of personal technology products, please visit www.cnet.com.

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