Whether it’s the holidays, an anniversary or a housewarming, there’s always an occasion to give a loved one a gift — and flowers only cut it so many times. Enter: gadgets like smart home speakers or tablets that are affordable enough to be great gifts, no matter the occasion. They won’t just collect dust either — they’re useful and easily become part of your recipient’s everyday life. Companies feed this appetite as well: Google practically gave away Google Home Minis to Spotify Premium users last October.
But while it seems easy enough to throw a $50 gadget into your cart and order away, for some people that’s where the problems start. Loved ones, whether a family member or a best friend, often expect you to set up the device for them and give you a call when there’s even the slightest problem. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a nice gift and sentiment ends up becoming your next headache, or worse, a long-distance project.
One way to avoid becoming your loved ones’ on-demand tech guru is to keep the gift — even if it’s a gadget — simple, said Joel Santo Domingo, a senior staff writer at Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products. Mr. Domingo suggested buying an item like a smartwatch for family and friends, because at the very least, “people understand a watch” and know how to check for messages and check the time. Before you give your gift, read up on a few other ways you can spare yourself from becoming the go-to IT person for anything related to tech.
Use the company’s tech support as your own
If you want to get a gadget that’s a bit more involved, and if the recipient is a willing learner, Mr. Domingo said buying a product along with a service like AppleCare+ (which offers 24/7 priority access to tech support for all Apple devices) helps.
While AppleCare+ isn’t free, Apple does offer an array of complimentary services to help people set up a device. For example, you can arrange for a personal in-store setup experience for any new Apple device. An Apple employee can unbox the product and migrate data from an old device to the new one, set up an email account on the device, and more. If your friend or relative doesn’t live near an Apple store, they can still schedule an online session to set up their device, and even pick two topics they want to learn during their appointment. Apple also offers the in-store “Genius Bar” for additional hardware support, as well as free “Today at Apple” lessons at Apple stores to dive deeper into their product’s features.
“They can learn things along with the instructor and ask the instructor at the end,” Mr. Domingo said. “Since the instructor is a third party, it makes it easier for them to accept instructions without any baggage that you would have with your relative.”
Of course, some of the other major hardware companies offer similar services. Google offers 24/7 phone and chat support for customers in the U.S., as well as 24/7 customer support on platforms like Twitter and Facebook Messenger for English-speaking customers for its Nest and Pixel devices. The search giant behind products like the Google Pixel 4 and Nest Hub has also started to post how-to videos on its YouTube channel for its smart home products, and if your gift receiver is up for it, they can opt-in to surprisingly useful emails about new features on their device and tips and tricks.
Amazon, known for its family of Echo and Alexa devices, offers how-to videos as part of its setup process on Echo devices. Some particular products, like the Echo Show, have a pop-up notification that appears on the screen suggesting new features to try. Amazon also offers its Amazon Frustration-Free Setup process to get devices online and ready to use in fewer and less complicated steps.
Or, pay for a real human to provide tech support
Moshe Isaacian knows that if he buys a gadget for some of his family members, English-only how-to videos aren’t going to cut it, considering they speak Farsi.
So, when Mr. Isaacian couldn’t set up a new router for his grandmother, he booked a technician through TaskRabbit who didn’t need a how-to video or any additional language support. It was a fairly simple process, he said, though he did take this time to vet the TaskRabbit “Tasker,” such as checking how many tasks the person had completed and how reliable they were. He also had to make sure his grandmother knew to check in on the “Tasker” to ensure they weren’t taking advantage of her or deliberately wasting time to earn more money. But Mr. Isaacian said he’d use TaskRabbit or a similar service again.
“It’s something that would take me a lot of time, but he handled it,” Mr. Isaacian said.
However, there are some products Mr. Isaacian simply refuses to buy for his family, like a laptop or smart TV — even if it comes with additional tech support. It might sound mean or heartless, but it’s a strategy that Mr. Domingo also recommends.
“It’s like any relationship you have and it’s really a two-way street,” Mr. Domingo said. “If you have a relative that just pesters you to no end, then like any other person you’re going to end up maybe not picking up the phone quite as quickly. As long as your relative asks you nicely, it’s really like the golden rule. As an IT person or as your family IT person, if you’re treated well, you’ll reciprocate.”
If you really want to get someone a gadget, Mr. Domingo recommends a product like a mesh Wi-Fi router like the Wirecutter’s pick, the Eero Pro + 2 Eero Beacons. Unlike other routers or even gadgets, you can reboot the system from anywhere — even if you’re not in the household where the product is, making it an easy product to serve as the go-to IT person for your loved one, if necessary. Or, if your recipient insists on some smart home gadgets, get a smart switch or smart plug to go with it, Mr. Domingo said. Similar to a wireless mesh router, you can remotely turn it on and off again, which fixes more common problems than you may think.
“A smart switch or plug can save you hours,” Mr. Domingo said. “Instead of telling a relative to unplug or plug something back in, you can do that remotely with a smart plug. Sometimes, even though you tell a relative over the phone to do that, they may or may not do it.”
And if you absolutely have to play the role of tech support, use whatever gadget your friends or family own to your advantage, Mr. Domingo said. If they’re having trouble with a router, ask them to FaceTime or use Skype, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to video chat and see for yourself what the issue might be and help guide them in the right direction.
At the end of the day however, Mr. Isaacian wishes tech companies and manufacturers made it easier to conduct a remote demo for his family or more important, made more video tutorials that aren’t in one language.
He mentioned IKEA’s visual instructions as a good example. ”Something just as simple as that would be a game changer,” Mr. Isaacian said.