The best tech accessories you can buy for $25 or less: Back to school edition
Back-to-school budgets are already allotted to so many things -- room and board, textbooks, let alone tuition -- so every dollar counts. To that end, we've rounded up some of our favorite tech accessories available for less than $25. It's full of those everyday needs that will make your digital life easier: chargers, cables, cases, headphones, and even a bona fide gadget or two. The list is dominated by familiar names such as Logitech, Panasonic, SanDisk, Philips, and Amazon, and includes some items for as little as $12.
When the price gets below $10, your expectation for sound quality falls exponentially. But despite the bargain-basement cost, these Panasonic in-ear headphones sound surprisingly good. Depending on which color you opt for (it comes in a range of rainbow colors, as well as basic black), the price can be as low as $4 a pair. Buy them in bulk -- or spend around $12 to get the Ergotfit RP-TCM125, which adds an inline microphone for cellphones (but doesn't sound quite as good).
Everyone can use a spare USB flash drive, and the Kingston DataTraveler SE9 is rugged enough to live on your keychain while storing several DVDs worth of data. The 16GB model costs only about $9, the 32GB around $13, and the 64GB model can be yours for around $25.
The SanDisk Cruzer Fit USB drive is almost too small -- basically a USB nub similar to the transmitter for a wireless keyboard or mouse. That said, if you're looking for a quick, easy, affordable, and low-profile way to add 16GB (under $10) or 32GB (under $19) of storage to a laptop or Windows tablet, we can't think of a better way.
You'll pay a bit extra for the Lacie Petite Key compared to other USB drives, but it's worth it for the metal design, which is said to be waterproof to 100 meters. The 16GB model will run you about $15, the 32GB about $15 more.
Whether it's a camera or a smartphone, having a spare storage never hurts. SanDisk's microSD card works in micro or (with the included adapter) standard SD slots. You can snag a 32GB card for under $19.
Whether it's a dorm TV or a full-on theater setup, rule number one is the same: Don't pay extra for name-brand HDMI cables. Rather than pay $50 or more at your local Best Buy for a so-called "premium" cable, get the AmazonBasics two-pack for just $10 -- they'll work just as well, and you'll have a spare, too.
There are zillions of cases available for the iPhone 5 and its newer doppelganger, the 5S. But if you want a no-nonsense protector for your Apple phone, it's tough to go wrong with the AmazonBasics model, which is available in black or transparent clear plastic (great for the white or gold models) for under $4 each.
The road trip is a hallowed college tradition -- but it's no fun when your smartphone or tablet is out of juice. That's where the Anker USB Car Charger comes in. It can handle two gadgets at once, including a tablet. Not bad for about $12.
If you need to juice up any smartphone (or small USB-powered device) on the go, the Anker Astro Mini is your friend. This pocketable cylinder packs a 3,000 mAh battery for topping off phones when finding an AC outlet isn't an option.
Many USB wall chargers have a secret: they don't have enough power to fully charge full-size tablets like the iPad. The EasyAcc 4-port USB Charger is an exception: 2 of the 4 ports on the 20-watt charger output up to 2.1 amps, which is perfect for charging iPads. The EasyAcc also has fold-up prongs for easy travel.
Philips' nifty SPS2150WA charger folds up to protect the 3-prong AC plug when traveling. But unfold it, and you can start juicing up three standard AC devices, plus two USB products as well. It's not a surge protector, and the USB plugs only supply 1 amp of power each (so tablets like the iPad will only trickle-charge). But at just $6, we're not complaining.
As the name suggests, the Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger is a bona fide surge protector with a swiveling AC plug, which allows for maximum placement flexibility. The unit boasts 3 standard three-prong ports plus two USB connectors which -- unlike many smaller chargers -- have enough juice to power iPads and other 2.1-amp tablets (in addition to any of your other USB-powered gadgets). We wish the power prongs folded down for even easier traveling, but at just $20, it's still one of the best and most versatile travel chargers around.
You can find plenty of knockoff Lightning cables online, but if they're not certified by Apple, there's a good chance they won't work. That's where AmazonBasics comes in. The e-tailer's cables are officially certified, but they're less expensive than Apple's, and available in a variety of sizes (4 inches, 3 feet, and 6 feet) and colors (white or black). Just note that plastic housing around the Lightning plug may be too large for some iPhone cases.
You always need to top off your phone's battery, but you don't want to lug a cable around with you. That's where the Nomad ChargeKey comes in: the 2.5-inch flexible USB dongle fits on your keychain, and can be used to juice up smartphones and tablets, so long as you can scrounge up a free USB port. It's available in Lightning (for iPhone, iPad) and Micro-USB versions (for nearly everything else) for just $25. (If you prefer to store it in your wallet, the credit card-sized ChargeCard is available for the same price.)
Sure, maybe the mouse is dead. And maybe touchpads and touch screens are the wave of the future. But if you're like me, you'll have to pry the mouse from my cold, dead hand. And that's why I like to have a go-to model like the Logitech M325. This 2-button wireless mouse runs on a single AA battery for months, features a tilting scroll wheel, works with Windows PCs and Macs, and will set you back just $18 or so. It's available in a wide variety of colors and patterns, such as the "Into the Deep" seascape shown here. (The 2014 Color Collection adds even more designs.)
If you're looking for a replacement PC keyboard, Logitech's Wireless Keyboard K360 is a good starting point. For under $25, you get a QWERTY powered by 2 AA batteries that uses Logitech's "Unifying" wireless USB dongle -- which also communicates with a Logitech mouse, such as the aforementioned M325. Yes, it's a laptop-style design without much "travel" in the keys, but it's a good deal and works equally well with Windows PCs or Macs.
The iPod Shuffle costs $50, and still requires iTunes (yuck) and a USB charging/transfer dongle that's easy to misplace. This Philips GoGear SoundDot, on the other hand, can be yours for under $25. Just plug it in to your PC or Mac (the USB plug, which also handles charging duties, is hidden under the rotating gray clip), and drag and drop your favorite songs.
When a speaker costs just $20, you need to lower your expectations. But if you don't go in expecting audiophile-level performance from the Logitech Z50, you'll find a monaural, AC-powered speaker that does a serviceable job of amplifying your phone, music player, or PC -- anything with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It's available in grey (shown), pink, or blue.
Who said a stereo amplifier had to be expensive? If you want a "cheap but good" stereo for the a bedroom or den, just add a pair of speakers (like the under-$50 Monoprice MBS-650s) and an audio source (your phone, your PC, a CD player, whatever) to this little digital amp -- which costs less than $20. Given the bargain-basement price, it actually sounds pretty good, too.
Believe it or not, many Windows PCs still don't include Bluetooth as a standard option. Thankfully, that can be remedied by a tiny USB dongle like the Medialink USB Bluetooth Adapter. For just $15, it adds Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility to any Windows machine. We popped it into a laptop, downloaded and installed the drivers, and were streaming music to a wireless speaker a few minutes later.
We love Logitech Harmony remotes, but the cheapest model in the line is the $50 Harmony 350. Thankfully, Universal Remote's URC WR7 delivers a great alternative at half the price. It controls up to 7 devices, is powered by standard AA batteries, and is fully backlit.