I am sure no matter what you decide it will be the right choice and he will be very happy you thought of this As a gift, but I think the type may be based on his personality. I think any smoker takes some skill and patience to do "right" but where you spend the time and effort is a little different. The following is my general opinion and in no way intended to be disrespectful. I only have my perspective and limited experience:
- if your boyfriend is a traditionalist that likes to be "off the grid" hunting, fishing, etc, and is happy with late nights and early mornings watching temperatures and figuring out how his fire behavesI recomend going with a charcoal or wood offset smoker. Walmart has a horizontal Oklahoma joe highland smoker for 258 or a Dyna-glo vertical offset for 291. IMHO this is more where we learn the foundation of smoking and nuances of the tradition.
- if your boyfriend is more into just cooking/smoking good tasting meats and cheeses and not the type to be Interested in more traditional methods or doesn't have the time ( time away from you too!) I think the MES is a good choice. Smoking on anything takes time we have to be able and willing to give.
From what I've learned here on SMF every type and method requires tinkering and practice and this is where you send him to research what to do. If you are thinking of this as a gift he obviously has an interest and he will be happy with your choice.
Final note, I have always used Webber or horizontal offset with charcoal or wood. I have not "mastered" either! But I have an appreciation for the basics and difficulties and for my personality that is important, I love heritage and history. I now have a wife and kid and so I am getting into MES because my time and attention is limited. When I do it right, and it is always an effort for me, the food off any of them tastes amazing and that's what counts in the end!