Welcome to 9to5Mac’s iPhone Holiday Gift Guide. Bookmark it or send it to your favorite people, because either you or someone you care about is going to find the ideal iPhone holiday gift inside!
I’m genuinely excited to present this collection to you, because the iPhone is the one Apple product I take everywhere — and couldn’t give up. Since I’ve been using iPhones and their accessories since the first iPhone debuted in 2007, I have a lot of experience sorting the good and great stuff out from the junk.
My iPhone Holiday Gift Guide picks are all best-of-breed options, selected for their combination of reasonable pricing and excellent performance. Whether you’re looking for the perfect case, great headphones, a smart car mounting solution, a battery pack, or a way to improve your iPhone’s camera, you’ll find the smartest iPhone gift picks below…
Over the years, I’ve become highly partial to a specific iPhone case, because every version has successfully kept my iPhones free of dents and shattered glass. That case is Speck’s CandyShell, and the just-released CandyShell Clear ($35-$40) is the best version the company has ever made. Still built with a hard plastic outside and a soft TPU inner layer, CandyShell makes iPhone insertion and removal super easy, while completely protecting any model against drops. The Clear version is the first one to let your iPhone’s color shine through, and I’ve been using and loving it for months. Consider it the best investment you can make in a practical iPhone case.
The only other case I would recommend as a “more protective” alternative would be Lifeproof’s Frē ($70-$80), and then only if you need waterproofing. Frē is around twice the price of a CandyShell, but if you’re concerned about dropping your iPhone in a pool, ocean, bathtub, or snowpile, it offers additional screen and port protection that will keep your iPhone alive.
The one car accessory that has become a major part of my daily life is Spigen’s inexpensive Magnetic Air Vent Mount ($9). It includes a strong, circular magnet that attaches to your car’s air vent, plus circular and rounded rectangular metal plates that can be attached to any iPhone case. (If they fit inside the case, great; if not, they have adhesive to attach to the back of the case.) Mounting your iPhone in your car becomes a 1-second process, as easy as touching it to the magnet; GPS still works, too. Spigen makes a very basic case called Thin Fit Hybrid ($14, shown in pink above) with an internal slot to hide the metal plate; I keep the metal plate inside a CandyShell, instead.
Car chargers are a dime a dozen now, but some are better than others. I continue to use and like Just Mobile’s aluminum-barrelled Highway Max ($27-$34) as a dual-port car charger, though I’ve recently been alternating it with Nomad’s unique combination battery pack and car charger Roadtrip ($60). Highway Max has twin 2.1A ports that can charge any iPhone or iPad; Roadtrip has twin 1.5A ports and a 3000mAh battery that are best-suited to iPhone use.
You can save a lot of money if you don’t need to keep a battery strapped to the back of your iPhone all the time, and as with battery cases, Anker’s standalone batteries have come to lead the industry in quality, capacity, and value for the dollar. The PowerCore 20100 ($40, shown above) offers 7 times the capacity of the Ultra-Slim Case for the same price, while the larger $60 Astro E7 (reviewed here) offers nearly 9.5 times the capacity for $20 more. Either of them can charge an iPhone many times, with juice left over to charge an iPad.
If you want to step beyond Apple’s glossy plastic designs, Bowers & Wilkins offers truly luxurious headphones and speakers with higher-end sonics and materials. I’m personally a huge fan of the $400 P5 Wirelesson-ear Bluetooth headphones (shown left, reviewed here), which are also available in a wired version called P5 S2 for $100 less. My favorite pair of in-ear headphones is B&W’s $179 model C5 S2 (shown center), which have the best ear stabilizers I’ve tested, and lush, detailed sound. On the speaker front, I just reviewed the company’s new Zeppelin Wireless ($700), which is a powerhouse all-in-one audio system with Bluetooth, AirPlay, and Spotify support — ridiculously powerful, sonically balanced, and aesthetically distinctive. It’s the priciest iPhone-related gift on this list, but worth the cost.
Chargers + Cables
High-quality iPhone wall chargers have come down in price and surged in power over the last year, making it difficult to recommend spending more for mere cosmetic improvements. Anker currently dominates the charging category with excellent options ranging from two to ten ports: for $40, the 10-port PowerPort 10 (shown above, reviewed here) can charge an entire household’s devices at once, though I personally use the more compact 6-port, $36 PowerPort 6 (reviewed here). Pair them with Anker’s surprisingly high-quality $6 Lightning cables, and you’re set to go. If you only need a two-port charger, RAVPower’s $10 Dual USB Wall Charger isn’t fancy, but works well to charge two iPhones (or even iPad Pros) at once.
Portable Video Projectors or Apple TVs
Apple made iPhone screens a lot easier to see with the introduction of 4.7″ and 5.5″ iPhone 6/6 Plus models last year, but if you want to share presentations or videos so everyone can see them, portable projectors or Apple TVs with AirPlay support are a great option. The best portable projectors I’ve covered this year are Sony’s tiny, $350 MP-CL1 (reviewed here, shown above left), which is small enough to fit in a pocket but creates a big-screen HD image, and AAXA’s $450 P700 (reviewed here, shown above right), using an iPad mini-sized footprint to perform videos and audio at 4X the power. Each has a battery and does a remarkable job of projecting video given its size.
I’m only going to recommend three apps, but they’re all great. Fireproof Games’ The Room Three ($5) is probably the single best iOS game I’ve seen all year, a completely 3D adventure that takes excellent advantage of any iPhone’s graphics, sound, and touchscreen capabilities. Tapbots’ Tweetbot 4 for Twitter ($5) is the ultimate Twitter client, featuring a superb interface and full support for the Apple Watch. Finally, Silvio Rizzi’s Reeder 2 ($5) is the RSS reader I use to canvas over a dozen different news sources at once. All three of these apps are universal, running on iPhones, iPads, and iPods.
If you’re shopping for an iPhone as a holiday gift, the question of which iPhone to buy isn’t a simple one, but after wrestling with the same choice a few months ago, I’m going to offer an answer. Controversial though this may be, I don’t think the differences between the iPhone 6 and 6s models are important enough (yet) to matter to most people. I personally upgraded from an iPhone 6 Plus to an iPhone 6s Plus, but in retrospect, I could easily have held off (and saved myself some money in the process). As compelling as they may be, features such as 3D Touch and Live Photos still need more third-party support.
As long as you’re not buying a 16GB model — it’s just too little capacity — you can’t really go wrong with any of the iPhone 6, 6s, or Plus models. I would suggest the 4.7″ 6 or 6s if the idea of having a “slightly too big” iPhone in your pocket or hand bothers you — even people who love the 5.5″ model’s screen concede that the device could stand to be a little more compact, tolerating the large size for the bigger display. Only go with an “s” model if you’re a photographer who appreciates the superior front and rear cameras, or if you’re hoping to record 4K videos. Otherwise, the regular 6 and 6 Plus are great, and will save you money.
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a way to raise cash to fund a new iPhone or gift purchase, I’ve put together a guide to trading-in your old iPhone for a new iPhone. The TL;DR version: unless you feel comfortable using Craigslist for a local transaction, save yourself the numerous hassles of online sales and go with Gazelle. You might get a little more from online auction sites, but between flakey buyers, transaction and listing fees, and the need to create and maintain listings, the dollars won’t matter as much as the peace-of-mind you get from just sending your iPhone in and getting guaranteed cash back.