Hardware Essentials for $50 or Less: Affordable Tech Roundup
Tech gadgets come in all different shapes, sizes and price points. It’s a common misconception that cost is directly related to how useful a device is. This article focuses on supporting accessories – devices that improve the use of other gadgets, enhance your quality of life or minimize inconveniences. In some instances, they’re outright essential. Best yet, it proves that you don’t have to spend a fortune to score some seriously helpful tech as nearly everything featured here can be had for under $50.
JBL Clip 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker ($40)
Music is exponentially more enjoyable when shared with others. Whether it’s an impromptu pool party or a planned gathering to celebrate that new promotion, music can help set the mood. JBL’s Clip 3 portable Bluetooth speaker is perfect for a pool party thanks to its IPX7 rating. It offers 10 hours of playtime on a single charge and even doubles as a speakerphone for your mobile device. The integrated carabiner makes it easy to attach to a backpack or belt loop so you won’t forget it. At $39.95, it’s also quite affordable.
Logitech Ultimate Ears 500 Noise-isolating Earphones ($37)
Few things are more enjoyable than putting in a quality pair of headphones and getting lost in your favorite playlist. Most solutions that ship with modern smartphones offer subpar sound quality or worse, a poor fit. The latter is especially true with earbuds as it can be next to impossible to find something that is comfortable for extended listening sessions.
My top recommendation in this category is the Logitech Ultimate Ears 500 noise-isolating earphones. They feature a 90-degree 3.5mm jack, a tangle-resistant flat ribbon cable and come with five sizes of soft silicone ear cushions and a set of excellent foam tips. I’ve personally been using the Ultimate Ears 500 as my sole set of earphones for close to seven years and have nothing but great things to say about them. At $36.99, you simply can’t go wrong here.
Soundcore Liberty Neo Earbuds by Anker ($45)
If being physically tethered isn’t your cup of tea (or perhaps your device doesn’t offer a 3.5mm headphone jack), the Soundcore Liberty Neo earbuds by Anker are a solid wireless alternative. Currently just $44.99 at Amazon, these wireless buds offer 3.5 hours of playtime from a single charge and an extra nine hours of juice when charged with the carrying case. They carry an IPX5 rating against liquids, use graphene-enhanced drivers, support hands-free calling and pair using Bluetooth 5 technology.
Tile Pro Hardware Tracker ($26)
If you’re the type to constantly misplace your keys, luggage or other gadgets, the Tile Pro could really make your life a lot less stressful or add peace of mind. Offered in your choice or black or white color schemes, it packs a 1-year replaceable battery with a range of 300 feet and is said to be three times as loud as earlier models. A two-pack of Tile’s Pro tracker in white and black with replaceable battery is available from Amazon for only $46.95, a single one is $26.
Anker PowerCore 20100 Power Bank ($50)
Removable batteries were once the common cure for low battery anxiety but now that manufacturers have moved away from that feature, the next best option is a portable power bank. Anker’s PowerCore 20100 offers a massive 20100mAh battery with 4.8A output that can recharge an iPhone XR or Galaxy S10 more than four times. It features dual outputs so you can charge two devices simultaneously and comes backed by an 18-month warranty – yours for just $49.99.
Amazon Echo Dot ($40+)
Amazon’s unassuming Echo debuted in late 2014 as an invite-only purchase. It quickly became apparent, however, that Echo wouldn’t flounder like the Fire Phone did before it. Before long, we saw a whole industry built around the concept that Echo helped popularize. Now in its third iteration, Amazon’s Echo Dot is the most affordable standalone Alexa device on the market at less than $50 — if you’re not in a rush, Echo Dots are usually discounted throughout the year and can be had for as little as $30 standalone, or even less when bundled with other electronics.
Google Home Mini ($49)
Smart speakers are in the homes of millions but they’re not all Amazon devices. The Google Home Mini featuring the Google Assistant is an excellent alternative to the Echo Dot (some would even say it’s better). At $49, you really can’t go wrong either way… assuming of course that you aren’t averse to using a smart speaker due to privacy concerns.
Seagate Portable 1TB External Hard Drive ($45)
Work with computers for any meaningful period of time and you’re bound to experience data loss, either through hardware failure, accidental deletion, corruption, malware, physical theft, natural disaster or otherwise. Cloud providers, streaming solutions and social media may minimize the impact of a data loss event but they’re no substitute for a multi-tiered plan that involves an on-site, physical backup. Seagate’s 1TB external hard drive with USB 3.0 connectivity is an ideal companion to help protect against data loss. Of all the products featured here today, it is arguably the most important. Everything else is intended to improve usability or make life less of a hassle but with the Seagate drive, you’re protecting against actual loss. Once a memory is gone, it’s gone. Don’t let it come to that. The 1TB drive starts at $45, $60 for 2TB and less than $100 for 4TB.
Anker Soundcore 2 Bluetooth Speaker ($40)
Should portability not be the most important aspect when shopping for a Bluetooth speaker, Anker’s Soundcore 2 is worth a look. It provides 12W stereo sound over Bluetooth 5 with an IPX7 water resistant rating and 24 hours of playtime for only $40. It’s still small enough to toss in a backpack, mind you, but has a slightly bigger footprint than some of the other smaller devices on the market.
Roku Premiere+ 4K HDR Streaming Player ($49)
Set-top boxes are so commonplace these days that their functionality now comes baked into many new televisions. While these built-in “smart TVs” are usually enough to suffice, some are outright crap. What’s more, plenty of older televisions persist that lack streaming smarts. To get exactly what you desire out of your media experience, you’ll need to throw down for a standalone device that best suits your needs like the Roku Premiere+. This particular Roku streamer features 4K & HDR support and even includes a microphone for voice search and control. You also get a free 30-day trial of Sling with cloud DVR, a $40+ value.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote ($40+)
Amazon’s Fire TV is one of the better streaming media platforms on the market. The dongle format is especially attractive for those with wall-mounted televisions or who simply don’t want another box consuming space on their entertainment stand. For $50 (usually discounted with proper timing, $40 as of writing), you get a 4K-enabled dongle that grants access to nearly every major streaming platform as well as Amazon’s Alexa-powered voice remote. HDR10+ and Dolby Atmos are accessible with select Prime Video titles, and the new Alexa remote is great to control all the basics including power and volume from a single tiny remote.
Samsung 256GB USB 3.1 Flash Drive ($50)
Flash drives may not be as ubiquitous as they once were but they’re still incredibly handy to have in a pinch. Samsung’s MUF-256AB/AM FIT Plus 256GB drive is especially attractive given its sub-$50 price point, USB 3.1 interface, five-year limited warranty and keychain-ready footprint. Everyday use aside, the drive could also make for a great backup solution if you don’t have a ton of mission-critical data that needs safeguarding.
Philips Hue White A19 LED Smart Bulb Starter Kit ($48)
Philips is a leader in smart home lighting and their white A19 LED bulbs are a great place to start, especially if you don’t care about colored lighting. This starter kit includes two 60W equivalent bulbs that are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple Home Kit and Google Assistant. You also get the requisite Philips Hue Bridge that can control up to 50 Hue lights, all of which is backed by a three-year warranty.
Wyze Cam Pan 1080p Smart Home Camera ($38)
Quality, affordable camera technology is having an impact outside of the mobile sector. Case in point is the Wyze Cam Pan, a 1080p smart home camera that affords decent image quality, night vision and two-way audio. It’s compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and IFTTT and although it is marketed as an indoor camera, many are using them as outdoor security cams by mounting them in weatherproof cases. At less than $40 each, this is a great way to add some peace of mind to your home security setup.
Logitech MX Anywhere 2S Wireless Mouse ($50)
Top PC peripheral maker Logitech has dabbled in a variety of product lines over the years but is arguably known for turning out some of the best mice ever created. The Logitech MX Anywhere 2S is one such example. This wireless pointer features a 4000 DPI Darkfield sensor that tracks across multiple surfaces, a rechargeable battery that’s good for up to 70 days per charge, hyper-fast scrolling and the ability to control multiple computers.
Raspberry Pi 3 Model 3+ ($35)
The Raspberry Pi made coding fun and accessible for beginners when it was introduced in 2012 but it didn’t take long for enthusiasts to latch on to the single-board computer. Several years in, the hobby board is more popular than ever and still hasn’t lost its edge – or its attractive price point. For around $35, you can pick up the latest Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ featuring a quad-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz, 1GB of RAM and dual-band Wi-Fi. What you do with it from that point is largely limited only by your creativity.
Microsoft Xbox Wireless Controller ($49)
There’s no substitute for greatness and if it’s gamepads you are discussing, Microsoft’s Xbox One controller is one of the best modern options on the market. Its familiar look and feel, wireless connectivity and respectable design make it a natural choice for PC gaming and at under $50 with a bundled wireless adapter, it’s hard to go wrong with this keyboard and mouse alternative.