Chances are good you know someone who has subscription fatigue from the many digital services that have become essential in our lives. Or maybe you have a loved one getting a new game console or some other exciting new hardware. In either case, we’ve pulled together a number of digital gifts and subscriptions that range from the entertaining to the enlightening. We have a number of time-tested music, video and gaming services, along with ways to learn an instrument, a language or a new skill for work or enjoyment.
Disney's $14/month video bundle that includes Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu is a great digital gift for basically anyone who likes good entertainment. The appeal of Disney+ is well-known at this point: it includes almost all of Disney and Pixar's classic animated films, alongside basically everything in the Marvel cinematic universe, the entire Star Wars saga, and original shows like Andor, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, The Mandalorian and more.
Hulu offers a vast slate of current and classic TV shows, a solid rotating selection of feature films, and a growing roster of originals. Those include The Handmaid's Tale, Dollface, Shrill and Little Fires Everywhere along with FX exclusives like Reservation Dogs, The Bear and American Horror Stories. ESPN+, meanwhile, offers a host of live sports, including MLB games every day of the season, a wide variety of soccer leagues, golf, tennis and college games across multiple sports. Add in ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary library, a smattering of originals and the Disney bundle ends up being a great option for almost anyone — and it’s only $6 more than Disney+ on its own.
Whether you know someone just getting started in their musical journey, or someone who could use some inspiration to get playing again, Yousician can be a useful tool. It contains lessons for guitar, bass, piano, ukulele and vocals that can help players of all skill levels. If you’re just starting out, there are loads of beginner lessons that’ll get you familiar with the instrument.
And once your skills are improving, there are faithful renditions of popular songs across a wide variety of genres that you can learn – in my experience, the Yousician guitar transcriptions have been reliably accurate. Finally, Yousician is adding some artist-specific courses, like an in-depth dive into the music of Metallica – if there’s an aspiring Eddie Munson in your life, they’ll get a kick out of this.
PlayStation Plus / Nintendo Switch Online / Xbox Game Pass
Video game consoles are a reliable holiday season gift, and a subscription to services like Nintendo Switch Online, PlayStation Plus or Xbox Game Pass can make a new system a lot more fun right out of the box.
A $15/month Xbox Game Pass subscription offers more than 100 games that can be played on the Xbox or PC, and they can be streamed to phones and tablets as well. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also includes a number of other perks, including Xbox Live Gold. That's usually $10 a month on its own, and it's a requirement if you want to play games online. It also includes EA Play, which opens up access to more games for the Xbox and PC. Perhaps the best part of Xbox Game Pass, though, is that it offers access to first-party Xbox Game Studios titles the day they're released.
Sony revamped PlayStation Plus this year, combining basics like online play, cloud storage for saves and two free monthly games with a large catalog of games that can be either streamed or downloaded to your console as long as your subscription is active. There are three different tiers, all with different perks, but the middle “Extra” option ($100 / year, with monthly options available as well) is probably best for most gamers. It includes around 400 PS4 and PS5 games you can either stream or install on your console. You’ll find high-profile titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Death Stranding and Ghost of Tsushima as well as newer games like Stray and Returnal. If you know someone who loves older games though, the “Premium” tier ($120 / year) adds a bunch of games from the PS1, PS2 and PS3 catalogs as well as perks like game trials.
Finally, Nintendo has two tiers of its Switch Online plan. The basic $20 / year plan unlocks online play, more than 100 NES and Super NES games and cloud backups of your saved games as well as the occasional special offers. The $50 “expansion pack” adds a collection of N64 and Sega Genesis games as well as some DLC for games like Mario Kart 8, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Splatoon 2.
If you know someone with multiple Apple devices, chances are good they’re already paying for a little bit of iCloud storage, and maybe a few other Apple services like Music or Arcade as well. If that’s the case, consider gifting them an Apple One subscription. In a single monthly charge, it offers a combo of Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and either 50GB, 200GB, or 2TB of iCloud storage. If you spring for the $19.95 Family plan, that 200GB can be shared with five other family members. The $29.95 plan adds subscriptions to Apple News+ and Apple Fitness+ too. At this point, all of Apple’s offerings are pretty good – Arcade has a load of fun games with no ads, TV+ has a number of excellent shows at this point including, of course, Ted Lasso, and Music is second only to Spotify in the streaming world.
Duolingo is probably one of the best examples out there of gamification. The app offers lessons for dozens of languages, starting from the very basics, and it teaches in a fun and rather addictive way. You can use the app for free, but the Super Duolingo upgrade removes ads and gives you unlimited “hearts” so that making a mistake won’t slow your progress. Individual plans start at $6.67 per month, but a $10 / month family plan lets you share the app with loved ones – if you have a vacation to a foreign land coming up, getting Duolingo and learning the local language with your family can be pretty delightful.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we all likely know someonewhose mental health could use a little bit of a boost. The Headspace app is a great option for adding some peace and quiet to the day. It features a wide variety of guided meditations, including sessions for beginners as well as specific exercises that focus on reducing anxiety, learning breathing techniques, increasing your compassion and so on. It also has sleep tools like soothing music and "sleepcasts,” while other audio programs center on focusing, moving more, and starting your day. For $13/month or $70/year, Headspace can be a great tool to bring someone much-needed peace of mind.
Endel is a unique app in the focus and mental wellness space. In a nutshell, it plays algorithmically-generated soundscapes for a variety of different scenarios. Whether you're on-the-go, want to get some work done, need to relax, or get some sleep, Endel will produce a soundtrack to help you achieve your goal.
If you give it permission to collect data from your phone (and Apple Watch, if you have one), it can adjust its soundscapes based on things like your heart rate, time of day, location, weather, and so on. Endel is also frequently adding scenarios — recently, the company added study and recovery, and it also has partnered with artists like James Blake, Empress Of, Toro y Moi and Washed Out. At $10 per month or $60 per year, it's a solid relaxation tool, and I've also found it to be particularly useful as a soundtrack when you want to just sit down and focus on a craft, like writing or art.
In the same vein as Code Academy, Skillshare is a great option if you know someone who wants to jumpstart their abilities in a creative field. The service offers thousands of classes in topics like animation, creative writing, graphic design, photography, web development and music, as well as courses to improve skills like leadership and management, marketing or business analytics. A $165 annual subscription unlocks ad-free classes with unlimited access to everything Skillshare has to offer. The subscription also includes Skillshare's community and offline courses for your phone or tablet. Finally, a subscription includes some perks of its own, like 20 percent off Squarespace and 15 percent off Adobe Creative Cloud.
Adobe Photography plan
For the budding photographer in your life, Adobe’s photography plans are a natural fit. Adobe has been in this game for years, and Lightroom remains an excellent tool for managing and editing photos anywhere you are.
The company offers a few different plans: For $10/month, you can get Lightroom and a whopping 1TB of storage. If the person you're gifting this to has been really good, you can spend $20 and get them both Photoshop and Lightroom alongside 1TB of storage, which is ideal for anyone shooting photos in RAW. The plans with Photoshop also include Photoshop for the iPad, so keep that in mind if you're getting this for someone who loves Apple's tablet.
HBO Max might not have the best app we've ever used, but it does have one of the biggest and best video libraries you can find. Its collection of original shows and films is still unrivaled in a lot of ways, from classics like The Wire and The Sopranos to newer hits like House of the Dragon, Station Eleven and Euphoria. The service also has a huge movie library covering all decades and genres. And if you're a DC fan, HBO Max has all of the classic Batman movies (including this year’s The Batman along with the Dark Knight Trilogy and Michael Keaton's two films) as well as more recent films like Aquaman, Wonder Woman and, of course, the infamous Synder Cut of Justice League. Oh yeah, it has Friends, too.
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 know someone who loves anime – or someone you think would love anime who hasn’t gotten into it yet – Crunchyroll is the gold standard for getting your fix. It offers more than 1,000 shows as well as digital manga, merch and much more. Some of the content is available for free, but one of the three different subscriptions offers a lot more. A premium plan removes ads, unlocks access to the entire Crunchyroll library, provides access to new episodes just one hour after they air in Japan and opens up the manga collection.
The basic $8 / month tier lets you stream on one device only, but the $10 and $15 plans let you stream on four or six devices simultaneously, and they both also offer offline access, which can be crucial for watching when you’re away from WiFi.
Whether you know someone who loves to stream their gaming adventures on Twitch, or they just love to watch other people play, Twitch Turbo makes the whole experience better. A $9 / month subscription removes basically all advertising from Twitch, whether it’s pre-roll ads, ones that pop in the middle of a stream or display ads. That’ll make a Twitch binge much more enjoyable. And for those who do stream, Turbo automatically saves all of your broadcasts for 60 days instead of the standard seven, which means you have way more time to dig through your streams for highlights.
There's something for everyone on YouTube — and there are also enough ads to make watching it pretty painful. Shrewdly, YouTube offers a solution. A $12/month subscription removes all advertising, but there are a number of other benefits as well. If you're watching on a phone or tablet, you can download basically any video and save it for offline playback. Videos also can play in the background, which means you can switch to other apps without stopping. This comes in handy for picture-in-picture, or if you just want to hear the audio while you switch away to send a text message.
Premium also comes with a subscription to YouTube Music, the company's competitor to Spotify and Apple Music. It's a pretty solid service, and it does a few things that Apple and Spotify can't offer. For example, all of YouTube's music video content lives alongside its standard streaming catalog, which means users can build playlists that combine videos uploaded to YouTube alongside official artist releases. For $12, the combination of a better YouTube experience and a full-fledged music streaming app is a pretty good deal.
Stack magazine subscription
Most of the recommendations on this list are for purely digital items, but there’s something to be said for a tangible item, like a magazine. Instead of a standard subscription to one magazine, though, Stack digs through the vast world of indie magazines to find one unique issue to deliver every month. It’s a great choice for anyone who likes to be surprised by something thoughtful in the mail or people who like to enjoy writing they might not otherwise come across. Stack offers monthly, quarterly and annual plans that start at about $15 / month, depending on how long of a commitment you make.