The Cheapskate Hall of Fame: Best cheap products of all time
See the first seven inductees to earn this top honor.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
I've been at the cheapskate game for over 13 years, and in that time I've tested hundreds of products and written about thousands more. Along the way, I've identified a select few that really stand out, that offer an unbeatable blend of performance and value. Every so often, I find myself thinking, "This is really a hall-of-fame deal."
And that's the story behind the Cheapskate Hall of Fame, my newly created pantheon of all-time greats. To kick things off, I'm inducting seven products and services. Over time I'll add more, while also revisiting the list to make sure everything still qualifies. (This isn't like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where spots are permanent. If a product gets discontinued, for example, or no longer represents the same amazing value, I might pull it.)
Watch this: The Cheapskate Hall of Fame: The first 7 inductees
Read on for my picks, and be sure to let me know what products or services you think deserve to be included.
I've been enamored with the Amazfit Bip for years now, and the newer S model is even better. For a mere $70 (sometimes $60, if you catch a sale), you get a smartwatch with an always-on transflective display, one that's more readable in direct sunlight than even a high-end Apple Watch. Plus, it can run for weeks on a charge, even if you use features like GPS and heart-rate monitoring.
No, you can't reply to text messages or invoke Alexa, but a few compromises are to be expected at this price. Read CNET's Amazfit Bip S review to learn more.
Think back just a little. When iPads burst on the scene in 2010, the starting price was $500. The Amazon Fire 7 costs literally one-tenth as much, yet it can do even more than Apple's original tablet. Sure, the iPad has matured greatly since then, but it still starts at $329.
The Fire 7 may have a lowish-resolution screen and old-school Micro-USB power port, but it's $50. (Very often, it goes on sale for $40, and occasionally even less than that.) With it you can stream video, read books, play games, check email, listen to music -- all the things.
Yes, the smarter buy is the Fire HD 8, which offers a host of improvements for not a lot more money. But the Hall of Fame nod goes to the Fire 7, just for destroying expectations for what a $50 tablet can do.
I've already given my family instructions to put this on my tombstone: "You need a password manager!" Maybe I should include an asterisk: "...but you don't have to pay for one." Bitwarden is an open-source (read: no-cost) password manager that's fast, versatile, easy to use and secure.
For me it replaced a not-free, overly bloated app that was increasingly causing problems on my PC. Bitwarden has been smooth sailing for nearly a year; I'm glad I made the switch.
There's a Premium option available (just $10 annually) and a six-user family plan as well ($40), but I suspect most people won't need either. Bitwarden works on all your devices and offers the all-important capability of automatically synchronizing between them. I can't recommend it highly enough.
I've lost count of how many AirPods alternatives have crossed my desk. But the EarFun Air stood out for one simple reason: Good sound, lots of features, low price. OK, that's multiple reasons, but they combine to make this the current Hall of Fame earbuds pick. (Note to EarFun: A lot of very good competitors are gunning for you.)
The noise-isolating Air 'buds don't offer ANC, but they do come in a USB-C case that can also charge wirelessly. And they have one of my favorite features: in-ear detection. Take out a 'bud, the music pauses. Put it back in, the music resumes.
EarFun lists these at $60, but they're almost always on sale. At this writing, for example, there's an on-page coupon that takes 20% off, bringing the price down to $48. And I've occasionally seen deals that drop them below $40. That's an awful lot of bang for your earbud buck.
Assuming you're not interested in live TV, Hulu is the best value in streaming, period. Your $6 buys you access to a mammoth library of current and past TV series, some award-winning original content and, OK, a so-so selection of movies.
Yes, Apple TV and Disney Plus are competitive at $5 and $7, respectively, but they don't offer anywhere near Hulu's breadth of content -- much of it exclusive to the service. You'll find comfort viewing (Seinfeld, Happy Endings), cutting-edge creations (Devs, Mrs. America) and FX superstars (Fargo, Legion, What We Do in the Shadows). I think the Hulu original Palm Springs was perhaps the funniest movie I saw in 2020.
The bad news: The $6 plan includes commercials. You can get rid of them, but it'll cost you double. At least you get the choice, unlike when you're watching cable.
With rare exception, all power banks are the same: flat, black bricks. Bo-ring! This one looks exactly like the Sony Walkman cassette player of my youth, and even has working (though non-functional) buttons and sliders on the side.
The Hotline's 16,000-mAh battery can charge up to three devices simultaneously: one via a Type-A USB 3.0 port that supports QuickCharge, one via a USB-C port and one via Qi wireless charging. There's even a little LED flashlight and a bank of tiny lights that show how much power is remaining.
So this is no mere novelty device, something that gets by on looks alone. It's a terrific mobile charger, and yet it's priced like a fairly ordinary one: just $40.
I still get looks of disbelief when I tell people about the Wyze Cam, which does everything a smart security camera should but costs only $20 (plus shipping). It's a hall-of-famer in its own right, but I'm giving the nod to the $30 ($38 shipped at Amazon) Wyze Cam Pan, which can rotate a full 360 degrees on its base and has a 93-degree vertical range to boot.
The Pan would be a great deal at twice the price, given that it streams razor-sharp HD video (day or night) to your phone, provides two-way audio, alerts you when it detects sound and/or motion and stores video locally or in the cloud -- at no extra charge.
Wyze makes a number of startlingly affordable smart-home products that are also Hall of Fame contenders. For now, however, the Cam Pan is a slam-dunk addition. Read CNET's Wyze Cam Pan review to learn more.