Yes, you can spend less than $50 and still get some great gadgets. Here are CNET's favorites, which include everything from video streamers to wireless speakers to -- yes -- even a tablet. (Last updated March 3, 2016.)
"Cheap tech" used to mean throwaway products -- but not anymore. Now, you can get some of the most convenient and useful gadgets available at amazingly low prices, including everything from headphones and video streamers to wireless speakers and fitness trackers. That's good news for you -- and good news for your wallet -- whether you're buying gifts for others, or looking for a good deal for yourself.
Let's start with some of the most indispensable tech you can buy today: video streamers. Google's Chromecast, updated for 2015, is the most affordable one on the market. For $35, it streams hundreds of channels, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Watch ESPN, HBO Now/HBO Go, Showtime and Vudu -- though you'll need to be a subscriber for each, of course, which often involves monthly fees or a cable/satellite TV account. The two downsides? You need to use your phone or tablet as the remote, and you won't find support for Amazon video.
For $5 more than the Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick adds a nice dedicated remote control. It's got most of the key services you want (Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Crackle, Amazon Instant), as well as HBO Now/HBO Go and the "skinny bundle" cable alternative, Sling TV. The 2015 model includes a voice-activated remote for just $10 more, and it's got some Alexa-enhanced smarts, to boot.
At just under $50, the Roku Streaming Stick is a tad more expensive than the Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick. But for the extra money, you get a wider selection. That includes nearly every big mainstream app like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Go/HBO Now, Showtime, Vudu and Watch ESPN, as well as thousands more niche programmers -- everything from independent podcasters to local churches to local news stations.
Moving from video to audio: The $35 Chromecast Audio turns any old stereo, boombox or dusty PC speakers into a wireless music system. Just tap a button on phone or tablet apps like Spotify, Pandora, NPR One or iHeart Radio, and the music is transported to those bigger speakers via Wi-Fi. It works with iPhones and iPads with a few apps, but Android users can send any audio from their phone without restriction.
Bluetooth speakers, meanwhile, are also ideal for music lovers who use their smartphones or tablets as a primary music source. The doughnut-shaped Logitech X100 is available in multiple colors and delivers good sound for its size and price (about $25).
If you've got a thing for retro design, the Philips BT2500 is a good option. It looks like an old transistor radio -- with a nice big analog volume dial -- but the BT2500 travels well and delivers impressive sound for its size. (Step up to the double-wide BT3500 for $70 if you want more gusto -- and NFC pairing.)
Looking for a more rugged wireless speaker? The Sol Republic Punk is water-resistant, so it's great for the pool, beach or shower. Originally priced at $70, it can now be found for under $50. But also note that its larger, better-sounding sibling, the Sol Republic Deck, can now be purchased for a few bucks more -- even though it once sold for $200.
The largest Bluetooth speaker on our list is still small enough to travel well, and it delivers a bit more oomph than the micro-mini models listed previously. The Amazon Basics model is also available in blue, white and red. A smaller model, the Ultra-Portable Mini Bluetooth Speaker, retails for just $30.
Everyone can use a new pair of headphones. The full-size but lightweight Panasonic RP-HTX7s do a good job of blocking out external sounds, and they sound great for the price. They're available in at least five colors (black, white, red, pink and green) for as little as $38.
We're starting to see prices on wireless Bluetooth headphones dip to below $100. But the Creative Sound Blaster Jam is the first wireless model for under $50 that we can recommend. It's perfect for anyone who likes listening to music on their smartphone or tablet, without being encumbered by wires.
The Misfit Flash is one of the only real fitness trackers you can get for $30 or less. The standard Flash (linked here) includes the wristband shown above, which is a better investment than the $20 Flash Link, which only includes a clip-on holder. Both, however, work with Android phones and iPhones, making them nearly universal accessories for tracking your steps.
The Tylt Energi 2K does double duty as a standard USB charger (with fold-away prongs) and external battery pack. That's because there's a rechargeable 2,200mAh battery built into the unit, which comes in three different colors (blue, black, lime green).
When plugged into the wall, the Energi 2K charges your device first, then its internal battery. When on the go, it should almost double the battery life of your phone.
No charging cable is included, but you simply connect a Micro-USB or Lightning cable and you're ready to charge whatever phone you want, whether it runs Android, iOS or Windows.
We're not gonna say this is a great tablet. But if you're buying a gift for an Amazon Prime member, you could do a lot worse than the new entry-level Fire tablet, which costs just $50 but boasts a 7-inch screen and includes expandable storage. (If you're buying for kids, spend up to the Kids Edition -- it's twice as much, but includes a no-questions-asked two-year replacement policy.)
Are you a tinkerer? If so, the Flic "smart button" will be right up your alley. This $34 gadget is literally just a button, but you can stick in anywhere and program it to do all manner of automated stuff by sending commands to nearby Bluetooth-enabled gadgets. Want a bunch? You can get four for $100.
That's it for our favorite sub-$50 products. But if you've got a higher budget, we've got plenty of more choices for you -- like the $150 Apple TV shown here. Check out the CNET 100 for the latest, greatest tech.