Microsoft Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
If you know someone lucky enough to receive a new Xbox this year, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass is a great addition. A $15-per-month Ultimate subscription includes access to a rotating library of over 100 Xbox games that can be played both on the Xbox console as well as a PC. Games from Microsoft’s first-party games are added on the day of launch, and a recent partnership with EA means some of that developer’s top games are available on the service as well.
Xbox Game Pass also includes Microsoft’s long-standing Xbox Gold subscription, which is a necessity if you want to play games online. Finally, it also lets you stream games directly from the cloud to Android smartphones, a futuristic bit of streaming tech that might be worth trying. Xbox Game Pass is particularly good for people who haven’t owned an Xbox before, as the game library includes plenty of classics to catch up on.
The Disney Bundle
Disney+ may have a vast catalog, but if you know someone who loves both sports and Pixar flicks, upgrade them to the Disney Bundle. For $13 a month, it includes access to Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu (with ads). As you probably already know, Disney+ has everything in the house of the mouse, including tons of old Disney and Pixar movies, basically everything in the Marvel cinematic universe, the entire Star Wars saga, original content like The Mandalorian and more.
Adding on Hulu gives access to a vast slate of current and classic TV shows, a good selection of movies and a small but strong collection of originals including The Handmaid’s Tale, Little Fires Everywhere, Pen15 and Veronica Mars. ESPN+, meanwhile, adds on live sports coverage, the entire 30 for 30 documentary series and a smattering of ESPN+ originals. All of that for $13 a month makes the Disney bundle one of the best streaming deals out there.
Sony PlayStation Now
The PlayStation Now service isn’t perfect, but if you know someone who just got a PS4 or PS5, it’s a good way for them to catch up on lots of classic games. For $60 a year (there’s also a $10 monthly plan and a $25 three-month subscription), you get access to a library of 700-odd PS4, PS3 and PS2 games. There’s a lot of filler, but also plenty of critically acclaimed titles like Doom, Hitman 2, the Uncharted series, The Last of Us, Bloodbourne, Final Fantasy XV and more. Some of the newer titles rotate in and out, but most of the older games are always available. It’s not the best choice if the gamer on your list has kept up with recent PlayStation games, but it’s a great way for someone to try things they might have missed.
Endel premium subscription
Endel isn’t the easiest app to describe, but in a nutshell it plays algorithmically generated soundscapes for when you are on-the-go or want to focus, relax or sleep. Those are the four basic sound models you can choose from, and Endel creates an ongoing soundtrack based on data it collects from your phone (if you give it permission, of course). Endel can adjust the sounds based on things like time of day, weather, location or heart rate (from an Apple Watch). There are also modes like “deep work” or “meditate” that you can set a timer for and get a focused soundtrack for that activity. It’s a solid relaxation tool, and a premium subscription unlocks the experience and carries your history and settings across any device or platform you want, including iPhone, Apple Watch, Android, Alexa and more.
HBO Max was a little bit of a mess when it launched, but it still has one of the best video libraries you can find. HBO’s own collection of original shows and films is still unrivaled in a lot of ways, from classics like The Wire and The Sopranos to newer shows like Westworld and Lovecraft Country. HBO also has a vast, rotating selection of mainstream films, and now it’s also home to some series that you can’t stream anywhere else, like Friends and South Park. Yes, there are far too many places to watch shows these days, but HBO’s vast set of high-quality original shows set it apart from the competition.
For years, Audible has been the go-to service for audiobook fans, with good reason. It has a vast Amazon-backed catalog of basically any type of book you might want to listen to. Fifteen dollars a month unlocks one “credit” that can be used to add a “premium” book to a permanent collection; Amazon Prime members get two credits a month. Along with that is a selection of podcasts and audiobooks plus some Audible originals. But the book credits are the real draw here — for $15, you add an audiobook to your library every month.
If you’d prefer to patronize a non-Amazon company audiobooks, Libro.fm lets you “buy” audiobooks from a local bookstore. It also offers a $15 monthly subscription that includes one book a month, and it offers gifting options for one, three, six or 12 months of books.
Sadly, it’s going to be a while before we can enjoy more Marvel movies in theaters. But if you have a Marvel junkie in your life, this might be the time to introduce them to the vast back catalog of comics that inspired the movies. A $10-per-month Marvel Unlimited subscription unlocks access to 28,000 issues of comics from all eras of Marvel’s vast library. The app works on iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and Windows PCs and is updated weekly with new content. And if you’re not sure where to start, it also includes a solid collection of curated reading lists for various key Marvel characters.
DC Universe Infinite
For the person who prefers Batman and Wonder Woman to Captain American and Spider-Man, look no further than a DC Universe Infinite subscription. Eight dollars per month or $75 per year gets access to 24,000 comics from 80 years of DC’s history. Starting in January, recent comics will come to the platform faster than before, as well; it used to be a full year before new comics would hit DC’s subscription service, but now they’ll arrive after six months. The service is available on iOS and Android as well as the web.
A VPN isn’t the most exciting holiday gift, but it’s also becoming an increasingly smart thing to have, especially if you want to keep your online activity as private as possible. Tunnelbear is one of our favorite options, combining an easy-to-use interface with an affordable cost. $120 gets you a three-year subscription, while $60 covers you for one year. There’s also a recurring $10 monthly subscription, but it’s hard to recommend that over the big savings you’ll get signing up for an annual plan. Tunnelbear has a great reputation for security, and its subscription plan lets you use it across five devices, including mobile phones, Mac and Windows machines, and through browsers like Firefox, Opera and Chrome.
If you know someone who doesn’t use a password manager, do them a favor and get them set up as a holiday kindness. 1Password is one of the best: It works on unlimited devices, sends alerts for compromised websites and passwords, stores an unlimited number of entries, includes a digital wallet for credit cards and has a travel mode for keeping data secure when you cross borders. An annual subscription costs $36, and it’s the kind of thing that once you start using, you’ll wonder how you went without it for so long.