It's the holiday season, so that means a fresh cheerful spirit is in the air, Bing Crosby's crooing baritone rings loud and clear over the stereo speakers, and it's time make your lists and check them twice. Even if you can't physically be with friends and family, you can show your love for them with gift giving. But what should you buy for that speciual maker in your life? Find out in our holiday gift guide for makers, 2020 edition!
What to Look for in a Holiday Gift for Makers, DIYers, and Tech Enthusiasts
When you're shopping for a do-it-yourselfer (DIYer), there are many consideraitons. Begin with their interests and needs. Perhaps a few not-so-subtle hints have been dropped about a particular maker board, microcontroller, or component that's needed. Or you could get a gift based on interest. For instance, if you're buying a present for a maker that's into robotics, you could get them an Arduino robot kit. Age and skill level are key qualifiers. For budding builders, a kids-oriented STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) gift is a great choice. What's appropriate for children, young adults, and adults varies. Skill level is crucial. Often, as DIYers we enjoy challenging ourselves. But you don't want to gift an extremely complex present to a novice maker lest that thoughtful donation collect dust. And finally, money is a major limiting factor. You could go the cheap route with a $5 or $10 present, or break the bank with a several hundred dollar present.
Maker holiday shopping consideraitons:
- Skill level
Fact: You can never have too many Raspberry Pi boards. On a book case in my home office, I've got a bevy of maker boards including a Raspberry Pi Zero W, Raspberry Pi 2, Rasbperry Pi 3 B+, and two Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computers (SBCs). While the utilitarian Raspberry Pi isn't the only development board on the market, it's certainly among the most popular dev boards on the planet. Whether you want to create a retro gaming console, home theatre PC (HTPC), or something complex such as a 3D printer server, home automation project, or even a robot, the RasPi can handle it. One of the reasons that a Raspberry Pi is a great holiday maker gift is that there's always some project you can use one for. As such, whether this is your first RPi or you've got a stack of Pis at home, you can still find a use for one. Especially if you're surprising someone, the Raspberry Pi is an awesome stocking stuffer because of its affordability and the fact that the recipient is bound to have some purpose for a new Pi.
Best for: Beginners, intermediate, and seasoned makers alike. Good surprise gift
MicroSD cards make fantastic stocking stuffers. They're small and actually fit in a stocking. Plus, you can get even high-capacity microSD cards on the cheap. With 512GB microSD cards going for around $75 USD, 128GB and 256GB SD cards are pretty inexpensive. I'm always in need of a microSD card, whether to use with my Raspberry Pi, pop in a phone or tablet, stick in a 3D printer, or something else. A 64GB or 32GB microSD card is the sweet spot, although larger is perfect too.
Best for: All makers
All things retro are in style. While you can buy the ultra-popular Arcade1Up cabinets, there's another option: build your own arcade cabinet with a Raspberry Pi! The Pimoroni Picade (our review) lets you accomplish just that. Available in two different versions, one with a 10-inch screen and the other with an 8-inch display, the Picade is a miniature bartop Raspberry Pi-powered arcade. Whereas arcade cabinets from the likes of Arcade1Up are limited to a handful of games, a do-it-yourself arcade can run hundreds or even thousands of games from a variety of different systems, all while maintaining a retro flair.
Best for: Retro gamers
There's a reason Arduino microcontrollers have become so popular. They're extremely affordable and flexible plus calable and easy to use, so you can begin with simple projects such as blinking an LED, then move up to more advanced projects like smart home automation. Arduino microcontrollers allow you to get familiar with hardware such as servo motors too. Even if that special maker in your life already has an Arduino or several, a kit still boasts a phenomenal value what with the various hardware components inside. You can find beginner kits for Arduino and even intermediate Arduino starter kits.
Best for: Beginners, intermediate, and advanced users alike
The Seeed Studio Grove Beginner Kit for Arduino (our review) is a simple yet extremely versatile Arduino bundle. Uniquely, the various components come pre-connected so there's no wireing or soldering required. However, you can break out the different modules and use simple DuPont connectors to hook everything up. With 10 pre-connected modules and a bevy of sample projects included, the Grove Beginner Kit for Arduino is an awesome Arduino all-in-one bundle that's perfect for newcomers to the arduino platform. Additionally, with its excellent value, the Grove Beginner Kit is also great for more advanced makers looking to prototype quickly.
Best for: Newcomers to the Arduino platform
Kano makes a variety of neat STEM kits for kids. Its Kano Computer Kit is Raspberry Pi powered and sports an array of accessories such as progrmamable LEDs, a wireless keyuboard, and over 100 apps as well as coding challenges. The handpicked accessories corresponding with coding apps and challenges makes the Kano kit a phenomenal value. It's scalable too, since you can always install a Raspberry Pi compatible operating system (OS) for a full-fledged PC. You might also consider one of Kano's fantastic coding kits for children like a Harry Potter coding wand (our review).
Best for: Budding makers, STEM learning
The Elecrow CrowPi 2 (our review) is a seriously awesome STEM learning kit. Included is a Raspberry Pi 4, a boatload of sensors, high-quality LCD screen, and a robust ABS shell that affords a laptop-like experience. Although the price is high, the value makes it worth the cash. This is a fantastic Raspberry Pi kit for kids that scales well and is perfectly suited to everything from programming to playing Minecraft or emulation with RetroPie.
Best for: Kids of all ages, STEM learning
Although making your own robot at home might sound complex, it's easier than you think. There are tons of Arduino robot kits available, or you can design your own. Using a kit significantly simplifies the process of building a robot. All of most of the parts come in one package so you don't have to worry about sourcing components from various places. Instead, simply get to building. What's more, kits are still modular, so you can buy additional parts and pieces to tack on such as obstacle detection sensors for creating an autonomous vehicle.
Best for: Robotics tinkerers
Who doesn't want a robotic arm? Unless you're a T-1000, you probably don't already have one, but the good news is that you can buy one! The Tinkerkit Braccio is a fully-operational robotic arm. It's Arduino-controlled and may be assembled several ways for a variety of different uses. Plus, you can attach components like a solar panel or camera for additional functionality. The Braccio robot arm is a seriously cool device that's fun to show off to friends and family, plus right useful.
Best for: Robotics enthusiasts
If you're like me, you spend a lot of time at your computer. As such, you should be kind to your behind. A good desk chair is therefore a must-have. Computer chairs vary from budget-priced options to bank-breaking high-end models. There's nothing worse than being uncomfortable in front of your monitor, 3D printer, or at your maker table, and a cushy desk chair with top-notch back support is a great holiday gift.
Best for: Any makers
Spending hours hunched over your desk soldering, tinkering with maker boards or microcontrollers, and messing with 3D printers is a blast. Well, aside from being hunched over. A standing desk or standing desk topper is a fantastic means of alleviating all-day sitting. Now, you can move about and be active throughout the day. A full-blown standing desk can be pretty pricey, but a standing desk topper could be more cost-effective while also allowing an existing desk to be repurposed.
Best for: Any maker
3D printing filament is the gift that keeps on giving. A standard spool of filament can go a long way, even with large print jobs. And extra filament is never an unwanted gift. Whether it's a new color or merely more filament, there's always a use for a fresh spool. Since you can print everything from tabletop miniatures to cosplay items and funcitonal objects, additional filament is a great stocking stuffer.
Best for: 3D printing enthusiasts
3D printers are super cool. I've got a handful of 3D printers in my maker space and regularly use them for fun and to fulfill needs. Recently, while searching for a headphone storage solution, I opted to print a headphone stand rather than buying one. If there's a maker in your life that you really care about, you could shell out for a good 3D printer. Luckily, there are loads of budget 3D printers available including the Anet ET5 Pro, Flashforge Adventurer 3, and Elegoo Mars Pro. Granted, even an entry-level 3D printer is over $100 USD usually, so cheap is admittedly relative. Before buying a 3D printer, make sure that this particular maker is on your nice list.
Best for: 3D printing enthusiast, a maker on the "nice" list
While the Raspberry Pi might be the best-known maker board on the market, the UDOO Bolt is one of the most powerful SBCs on the planet. Sporting a powerful AMD V1000 embedded processor, the UDOO Bolt delivers desktop-caliber graphics processing in a small form factor. It's capable of artificial intelligence, emulation, and a slew of other tasks. Although the price is high, the UDOO Bolt justifies its cost. But this is one holiday present you'll want to save for the most beloved maker on your list.
Best for: Maker board afficionados, DIYers you really love
Best Holiday Gifts for Makers and DIYers - Maker Holiday Gift Guide 2020 Edition
Overall, there are tons of holiday maker gifts that you can get. Raspberry Pi boards, Arduino microcontrollers, and microSD cards make great stocking stuffers. More filament is always useful. Office equipment like a desk or chair is a welcome present. A 3D printer is incredibly thoughtful, although pretty pricey. Gift cards, subscriptions, or online courses are fantastic too. Ultimately, no matter what makers, DIYers, and tech heads are on your gift list, there's a present for them.
Your turn: What holiday gifts do you recommend for makers in 2020?