As summer approaches, graduation season is in full swing. First there were the college and university students, many of whom are now off looking for their first full-time job. Now it’s time for high school students to prepare to take the next big step. And don’t forget primary school — across the country, millions of kids will soon be leaving elementary school behind.
Along with grad ceremonies, photos and dances come other celebrations of a student’s accomplishments. And that means gifts.
Instead of being a stressful death march through the mall, finding the perfect something for a recent grad can be as easy as firing up your web browser, clicking a few times then waiting for the package to show up at your front door.
Our guide to graduation gifts will make it even easier while ensuring your new grad has a memorable day.
Graduation Gifts: Fisher Space Pen (With Stylus)
The Space Pen featured prominently in several Seinfeld episodes and even if your grad is too young to have seen the show, they’ll appreciate the pen.
The Fisher Space Pen can write upside down and in extreme heat or cold. And this version is upgraded for the age of tablets with a built-in capacitive stylus.
Available in a variety of colors, the Fisher Space Pen co. will gift wrap the $25 pen for $5 and engrave it for free.
Graduation Gifts: Complete National Geographic on a Hard Drive
Having instant digital access to any National Geographic ever published stands out among graduation gifts because it just keeps giving.
Research, homework or general interest, having 121 years of this iconic magazine on a hard drive (with an easy to navigate PC and Mac interface) is addictive. I have one, and my entire family gets a lot of use out of it (just hang the drive off your Wi-Fi router for easy wireless access).
At $199.95, it isn’t cheap. But it saves a ton of space compared to collecting the actual magazines, you don’t need an internet connection to access the material, and you also get a nice little external hard drive out of the deal.
Graduation Gifts: iPod Touch
Young or old, if your grad wants in on the Apple (AAPL) mobile experience, the least expensive entry into the world of countless apps and the goodies Apple has coming this fall in iOS 8 is the iPod Touch.
For a fraction of the cost of a new iPhone, less than the iPad Mini but still rocking a Retina display, the iPod Touch starts at $229 and runs apps, plays the games and slips in a pocket.
Apple will engrave it for free, and gift wrapping is available.
Graduation Gifts: Samsung Galaxy Gear
The wristwatch is one of those traditional graduation gifts, but these days, smartwatches are all the rage.
It may lack the heart monitor of the new version, but Samsung is offering a free upgrade to the newer model’s Tizen operating system, so the original Galaxy Gear gains much of the new functionality.
Graduation Gifts: Amazon Kindle
Giving the gift of high-tech reading has never been more affordable.
While Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle Paperwhite provides niceties like an illuminated display, the basic Kindle can be bought with Special Offers (Amazon puts an advertisement on the lock screen when not in use) for just $69.
That’s a steal for a 6-inch e-reader with Wi-fi, capacity for over 1,000 books and months between battery charges.
Graduation Gifts: Zagg Folio Case for Tablets
If your kid owns a tablet and is looking for a laptop computer for the next stage in their education, you can help out without blowing your graduation gifts budget.
Instead of a laptop, why not turn their tablet into a laptop form factor, complete with clamshell case and keyboard?
Zagg (Zagg) is a leader in the industry and sells Folio Case keyboards for iPads and Samsung Galaxy tablets (some even offer backlit keys for typing in dimly-lit lecture halls), as well as universal models to fit most other tablets. For $100 or less, it’s a lot less expensive than a laptop and one fewer device to carry.
Graduation Gifts: Vers 1Q Bluetooth Speaker
What grad doesn’t love music?
There are thousands of speaker docks and wireless speakers out there, but I like the Vers 1Q Bluetooth speaker because it’s compact (just 3-inches per side), it stands out from the sea of plastic options (beech, walnut or bamboo case), and it sounds decent (6.5W, 2-inch full-range driver). And at $119.99 it’s affordable.
If you feel like doubling up, you can buy a pair and connect them for stereo sound.
Graduation Gifts: Livescribe Sky Smartpen
Another in the “pen” category, but this is one of those graduation gifts where there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Whether your grad is moving on to the next level of school or entering the workforce, the Livescribe Sky smartpen will be a very useful, high-tech accessory.
The Livescribe pen is loaded with a voice recorder, storage and the ability to capture notes written on its special paper. It also has Wi-Fi and the ability to sync those notes to Evernote.
The end result? Take notes (including recording audio) in class or at a meeting with a seemingly normal pen and have all that material available on your iPad or PC.
Even better, tap the note (on the paper or onscreen) and Livescribe will play back the audio from that specific moment.
Graduation Gifts: Acer 720P Chromebook
If your grad is moving on to high school or college, they may be looking for a computer to help out with homework. If so, they’re definitely going to want something that’s portable.
Traditional laptops running Windows or Apple MacBooks are expensive. Chromebooks — inexpensive laptops running Google’s (GOOG) Chome operating system — are increasingly popular, especially in educational circles. They’re easy to maintain, use free Google apps and they’re cheap.
I’ve tried out a number of Chromebooks and my favorite so far is the Acer 720p. I can live without its touch control capability, but the $299 laptop is solid, has a decent display, a good keyboard, 7.5-hour battery life and double the storage capacity of most competitors.
Graduation Gifts: App Store Gift Card
In today’s mobile world, kids of all ages are gaga for apps.
Google Play, iTunes — pick your poison — the major app stores all offer gift cards so your new grad can pick up the latest game, productivity app or song without worrying about whether it costs more than 99-cents.
You can find app store gift cards at most big box retailers and if you watch the flyers, they’re often offered at a discount.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.