Branch Gift Guide

Our shopping days are numbered with the holidays quickly approaching, and at 9to5Mac we’re sharing our personal gift guides to help you wrap up your gift buying for the season. Below I included what I think is the best one-size-fits-all Mac this year as well as a number of smart accessories and useful gadgets for the Apple fan or tech enthusiast in your life. Let us know in the comments what your best gift picks of 2013 include.

13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display

Apple’s MacBook line ranges in size from 11″ to 15″ and offers Retina and non-Retina displays as well as significant weight and thickness differences, but the 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display seems to best represent the lineup. It starts at $1299 compared to its 15″ alternative at $1999 and still offers the super high-resolution display which remains absent from the MacBook Air models…

Weight-wise its a good citizen as well. The non-Retina MacBook Pro is a hefty 4.5 lbs while the 13″ MacBook Pro weighs just 3.46 lbs. The MacBook Air is still the lightest at 2.96 lbs, but for something which you use primarily on a surface, I recommend the eye candy of the Retina display over the appeal of the half-pound weight difference.

Of course edge cases will exist that make one alternative better than another, but for now I believe the 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display serves the masses exceptionally well.


MagSafe adapter

There are few things less exciting then spending $80 on a spare or replacement MagSafe charger for your MacBook, but it’s almost guaranteed to make for an appreciated gift.

I’ve lost a couple this year due to hungry cats, and from my experience they typically don’t last as long as the MacBook it charges, so having one for home and one for the backpack can be really convenient and safe.

These come in a few variants so I’ll try to offer a few tips for buying the right one. MacBook Air models use the smaller 45 watt adapter, while Retina display MacBooks rely on 85 watts to be powered properly. The non-Retina 13″ MacBook Pro works off the 65 watt adapter. (MagSafe 2, which is a thinner, wider adapter, shipped in 2012 and is probably what you need unless your MacBook is older than that.)

[$79, currently on sale]

Backup drive


Talk about the least sexy gift idea… I know… but hear me out: It’s seriously important to back up your data. It’s one of the most sinking feelings to have when something happens and your iPhoto library is zapped. It’s even less fun trying to find out what your options are to recover lost files. In most cases, you’re options are slim, expensive, or really inconvenient.

OS X has an intelligent backup system called Time Machine included; all you need is a spare hard drive big enough for your files and some repetition. Not only does it mirror your file system, it intelligently remembers versions and time stamps each snapshot so it’s really easy to jump back in time and recover a file.

Alternative solutions like Dropbox and Backblaze exist, but such services should be approached as complimentary to regular local storage backups. You can pick up a 1TB external hard drive for a reasonable price; the one I have listed has a very attractive price tag today.

[$119, on sale $69]

Lightning cables

Just like the MagSafe adapter, Lightning cables make for one appreciated gift. You can almost never have too many, and they’re relatively inexpensive. Lightning cables charge and sync iPhone 5’s and new, iPad 4’s and newer, iPod touch 5th-gen’s, and iPad minis.

Apple’s Lightning cables run $19, but you can find them on sale for $17.99 on Amazon for now.

Amazon also sells certified Lightning cables (meaning iOS 7 won’t warn you that they’re dangerous every time you plug up), and they’re always cheaper at $13.99, but the connection that plugs into your device is a bit wider than Apple’s cable so it may not be compatible with certain cases.

On the other hand, Amazon does offer a 6 foot version of its Lightning cable for $14.99 (standard length is typically half that) which is perfect for use with an iPad especially (think gaming or reading in bed).

You can pick up an Amazon-branded Lightning cable for $12.99, but those are only 4 inches and typically not practical in most uses.

Amazon’s Lightning cables also come in color choices of black or white, while Apple only offers its accessories in white.


Apple TV


Another gift with which it’s hard to go wrong. Apple TV is a fantastic accessory to iPhones and iPads allowing you to share content to your HDTV, and it’s also a great standalone gift for watching movies and TV shows from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and more.

Apple TV is constantly picking up new channels like Bloomberg, ABC, ESPN, Disney, iTunes Radio, and more so expect this gift to keep on giving.

[$99, current on sale $89]

HDMI cable

What Apple doesn’t include in the box but is required is an HDMI cable.

This connects the device to your TV and also comes in handy for Xbox and PlayStation as well as Blu-Ray players.

Brick-and-morter retailers typically mark these up for increasing profit margins, but Amazon has various lengths for reasonable prices and Prime eligible.

[From $5.09]


(via Flickr)

(via Flickr)

Google’s Chromecast is an HDMI media streaming stick that plugs directly into your HDTV and offers similar functionality to an Apple TV but without the Apple TV price tag.

Chromecasts usually cost $35, a fraction of the Apple TV cost, so they’re especially useful on HDTVs that you don’t watch all the time but still want to use for Netflix or YouTube or similar services.

Chromecast recently picked up support for Plex’s media library and works with a number of iPhone and iPad apps as well as with the Google Chrome web browser on Mac.

[$35, on sale $29.99]

HDMI switcher

It’s easier than it should be to run out of room for devices on your TV with even high end HDTVs shipping just 2-3 HDMI ports at most these days.

Managing whether the Apple TV or XBOX or PlayStation or cable box or Blu-Ray player or whatever you have is connected is as much of a nightmare as reading this sentence must have been, so earlier this year I purchased a cheap HDMI switcher.

The one I purchased turns one HDMI port into two and includes a remote for easy switching. The trick to this is to connect it to your least used device so switching doesn’t become a hassle, but it’s a really fast experience that can solve the problem.

For me, it came down to my cable box, Apple TV, and the XBOX that I use once in a blue moon. My HDTV only has 2 HDMI ports, so using the XBOX meant shuffling the connections.

It’s not an obvious gift but in most cases a useful one, especially for someone with a gaming console or two.

[$17, on sale $9.59]

Pebble smartwatch

The Pebble smartwatch has had mixed reviews since its debut: some people really love it and for others it makes no sense. I fall into the former category myself. When Best Buy picked up the Pebble I decided to jump in and try it out with every intention of returning it if it was as underwhelming as some had described.

After a few days I thought its appeal would wear but, but 5 months later I still wouldn’t give it up. As a watch it’s highly customizable with a growing library of watch faces available and being waterproof and easy to read in the sun adds to its utility.

It catches any notifications from your iPhone that appear in Notification Center which is especially useful when driving. It works over bluetooth and supports the low energy standard so it’s not a hog on your battery (I believe Pebble says it takes a 10% toll on your battery life through a normal day’s use).

The trick to having the best experience with the Pebble is toggling off notifications when it’s easier to read them on your iPhone and enabling that aspect of the watch when it’s necessary (driving or exercising make the most sense to me).

While it might be a big decision to spend $150 on a smartwatch this early in their existence, it’s probably not something someone would turn down as a gift. It also helps that Amazon knocks off $30 as it currently lists the Pebble for $119. Best Buy is offering the smartwatch for $90 for customers with .edu email addresses as 9to5Toys reports.

[$150, on sale $119.99]

Thus concludes my own 2013 holiday gift guide for gadget buying. Let us know in the comments what your favorite gifts this year include, and keep an eye out for more gift guides from 9to5Mac writers to come and check out 9to5Toys for more deals and gift buying inspiration!

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About the Author

Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.