The Ars Technica Mother’s Day gift guide

We won’t knock anyone who treats their mom to a brunch date, a box of chocolates, or some jewelry this Mother’s Day. But being a collection of tech-obsessed androids, we’d be remiss not to argue that the right gadget can make a more lasting and practical impact on Mom’s everyday life.

We’re still working on our mind-reading device here at Ars HQ, so for now, you know your mom better than we do. If she likes her current routines, don’t try to force some new gadget into her life just because you think it’s cool. But if she has room for a new piece of tech—or just wants an update to an old one—we have a few ideas for you, the nerdy child, so you can grab a gadget that may not immediately get stuffed in her bedroom closet. Here’s to doing a little bit more to pay Mom back for all the annoyance you’ve caused her over the years.

Apple iPad or Amazon Fire HD 8

Here’s an obvious one. You know what a tablet does. But if your mom doesn’t have a slate for browsing the Web, checking email, watching her shows on Netflix, playing , or whatever else, this is a good time to change that.

Apple’s iPad rules the roost here: it’s built well, and its battery will get all but the heaviest users through a full day before needing to charge. The 9.7-inch screen is sharp and vibrant enough—we don’t think Mom will really care about not having the 120Hz refresh rates of an iPad Pro—and iOS’ app library continues to be more welcoming to larger screen sizes than Android. The latest model also supports Apple’s Pencil stylus if Mom likes to doodle. At $329, it’s a decent value, though if your mom can live without the Pencil support and a slower but still usable processor, paying less for last year’s iPad before the stock clears out might work just as well.

If you can’t shell out that much, Amazon’s Fire HD 8 might make more sense. It ditches the iPad’s sturdier aluminum for cheaper-feeling plastic, and it’s not nearly as powerful. But this tablet still does all the form factor’s rudimentary things without much frustration. Most appealingly, it’s only $80. That’s not as dirt-cheap as Amazon’s entry-level Fire 7 tablet, but the Fire HD 8’s sharper 1200×800 resolution display will prove worth the extra $30 over time.

Either way, Mom will get a device that’s simpler than a laptop for computing, and it’s much easier to carry around to boot. If you really want to be a help, you can even set up the tablet and download a few apps you know she’ll use before handing it over.

Apple iPad (32GB)

Price: $329 at Apple

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Amazon Fire HD 8 (16GB)

Price: $59.99 at Amazon (normally $79.99)

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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Everyone knows what a Kindle does by now, so our recommendation is more of a testament to how set in stone the e-reader market has become than anything else. If your mom is a reader and hasn’t yet hopped aboard the ebook bandwagon, the Kindle Paperwhite should be more than pleasant enough for her without searing a hole in your wallet.

It’s getting a bit old in gadget years, but the Paperwhite’s sharp 6-inch display, lightweight design, fast-enough performance, and serviceable backlight still hold up fine. It may not have the nifty page-turning buttons or waterproofing of the Kindle Oasis, but it’s $130 cheaper.

In either case, Amazon continues to carry what’s generally seen as the widest-reaching and most competitively priced ebook library. The company still makes it a pain to read certain ebook formats—namely EPUB—but for the most part a Kindle won’t make it hard for Mom to find something to read. It should save space on her bookshelf along the way.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Price: $99.99 at Amazon (normally $119.99)

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Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini

We’d understand if you don’t want to subject your mom to a device that’s designed to listed for her voice, in her home, all day long. Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini are what they are at this point: they mishear their wake words and briefly record someone’s home when they’re not expecting it, and both of them use the data people request to fine-tune marketing and advertising profiles. At the same time, they to be listening to some extent to work properly, and they aren’t the only Internet-connected devices sending usage data back for advertising purposes. These introductory device both have mute functions when you don’t want them to hear anything, and both Amazon and Google say all the data they’re sending back to their servers is encrypted.

It’s hard to say if there’s a definitive right answer here—there are legitimate reasons to have pause about the effect of these things, but there are also legitimate use cases in which they make daily tasks easier. And even if you and your mom are comfortable enough with the concept and just want to know which one to get, it’s not quite as simple as saying one is definitely better than the other.

Neither is a particularly attractive piece of decor, both are pretty bad as standalone speakers, and there will be times when both assistants are just flat-out aggravating in their misunderstandings. But they each do many of the same genuinely useful things—setting timers, giving traffic and weather reports, making Web searches, playing music on command, serving as an intercom—in a way that’s more natural than just using a phone. They each cost the same $50 as well.

Which to get likely comes down to which assistant Mom is more likely to stick with. If she has an Android phone and heavily uses Google services, the Google Home Mini will make more sense. Google’s digital helper is a bit more polished in practice than Amazon’s Alexa—what things it can do, it usually does well, and it tends to handle general knowledge questions better. But Alexa has the wider breadth of support across smart home manufacturers, if that matters, and this device makes it easier to connect to existing speaker systems through its 3.5mm jack. The Home Mini can control a TV hooked up with a Chromecast; the Echo Dot plays nicer with Amazon apps like Audible. Both support most of the same major third-party music apps.

You get the idea. , I prefer the Google Home Mini, but that’s mainly because I own a Chromecast, subscribe to Google’s Play Music service, and don’t really care about building a smart home. The fact that it’s less reliant on installing third-party “skills” to be useful may make it simpler for some moms to use. But I can’t tell you what your mom prefers, and both are so close in functionality that it’s hard to pick the “wrong” one either way.

Amazon Echo Dot

Price: $39.99 at Amazon (normally $49.99)

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Google Home Mini

Price: $49 at Newegg

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