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Back to school 2015: Best tech for under $100

Can't afford to spend a lot for back to school season? Despair not, you can get some nice gear for less than a 100 bucks.

David Carnoy
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
John Falcone Senior Editorial Director, Shopping
John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
Expertise Over 20 years experience in electronics and gadget reviews and analysis, and consumer shopping advice Credentials
  • Self-taught tinkerer, informal IT and gadget consultant to friends and family (with several self-built gaming PCs under his belt)
David Carnoy
John Falcone
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Best tech for under $100

Need to buy a gift for someone graduating from high school or college? We've got a great list of products to choose from that are cool, but won't break the bank. Each of the items that follows is available for less than $100.

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Roku 2

Whether they're cord-cutters or "cord nevers," many younger people aren't signing up for expensive cable TV subscriptions -- which makes mini streaming boxes like the $70 Roku 2 a perfect gift. It leaves off the headphone jack and voice-control option on the included Wi-Fi remote, but otherwise performs as well the step-up Roku 3, which is why we call the Roku 2 the best Roku for the money. It still streams great services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Amazon Instant, Watch ESPN, Vudu, YouTube, Sling TV, and literally hundreds of other channels -- most of which, of course, require separate subscriptions or fees. The Wi-Fi remote -- which doesn't require "line of sight" to the player -- also includes a headphone jack for private listening.

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Apple TV

If your laureate is invested in the Apple universe -- he or she owns an iPhone, iPad or Mac, or already has lots of movies, TV shows, and music on iTunes -- Apple TV is a better choice than the Roku. And even though it's coming up on its third birthday, Apple is keeping its box fresh new channels every few months, including Watch ABC and FX Now, HBO Go, and HBO's standalone subscription service, HBO Now. Better yet, it's price is now down to $69.

Amazon Fire TV
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Amazon Fire TV

Amazon's Fire TV ($99), a Roku and Apple TV competitor, is another top streaming media box with particular appeal to Amazon Prime members who get access to lots of free content. And with the addition of HBO Go and some other improvements, we think it's a worthy pick. Like other Amazon products on this list, you'll occasionally see Fire TV discounted by $15-$20.

Amazon Kindle 2012
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Amazon Kindle 2014

Yes, tablets and smartphones can double as e-readers. But the $79 Amazon Kindle has a long-lasting battery and a paperlike screen that avid readers will appreciate. And unlike more versatile devices, there won't be any calls, emails or texts to distract the reader, either.

Amazon's latest entry-level e-reader, which occasionally gets discounted to $59, adds a touchscreen, but leaves off the integrated light found in the step-up 2013 Paperwhite and Voyage models.

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UE Roll

The UE Roll ($99.99) is a rugged, fully waterproof speaker that has a unique, slim, discus-shaped design. It's one of the better sub-$100 Bluetooth speakers we've reviewed recently and comes with an integrated bungee cord, so you can strap the speaker onto your backpack or hang it from a tree (or whatever you want to hang it from).

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Logitech MX Master wireless mouse

Most kids probably wouldn't run out and buy Logitech's new $99.99 MX Master on their own. But this is a high-performance wireless mouse with a built-in rechargeable battery that anyone would appreciate as a gift.

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Plantronics BackBeat Fit

Plantronic's BackBeat Fit wireless sports headphone started out at $130, but can be had for around $90 online now. It comes in the green you see here or blue and is a good value if you're looking for a sporty wireless headphone.

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Garmin Vivofit 2

Shopping for a student who's health conscious? The Garmin Vivofit 2 is a low-maintenance step counter that's waterproof and has a one-year battery life, despite its always-on screen. Not bad for $100.

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Jawbone Up2

The $100 Jawbone Up2 lacks a screen, but who cares? You interact with the step and sleep tracking through its best-in-class Android and iOS apps, and it's more stylish than most competing health trackers.

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Amazon Fire HD 6

As much as we like e-ink readers, though, an extra $20 will get you a full-fledged color tablet. Sure, it doesn't have much storage (8GB) and it's not super-zippy, but the well-designed Fire HD 6 is one of the better options out there -- especially given its $99 price tag. It does come in a 16GB version for $20 more, and it's also worth mentioning that Amazon occasionally discounts both HD 6 model from time to time, making them even better bargains.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight
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Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight

If your grad isn't on the Kindle platform and wants an e-book reader that's also compatible with ePub files, Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader is a good choice. The 2013 self-illuminated GlowLight model used to cost $119, but has come down to $99 and (unlike the Kindle) is totally ad-free.

Seagate Seven
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Seagate Seven Portable Drive

The Seagate Seven 500GB portable drive ($99.99) may not offer the most storage bang for the buck, but it is the slimmest portable hard drive out there and offers excellent performance. It's great for backing up files from Windows PCs or Macs.

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Sol Republic Shadow Wireless

Wireless headphones are a perfect gift for students who use their smartphone as a music player. Sol Republic's Shadow Wireless has a flexible around-the-neck design. It's one of those Bluetooth headphones you can leave on all day and forget you're wearing it.  It's available in a lighter gray color.

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Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K760

The Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K760 is perfect for idealistic millennials who want their tech to be eco-friendly. They can use it with a Mac, iPad or iPhone, and never worry about recharging the battery.

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Logitech MX Anywhere 2 Wireless Mobile Mouse

Logitech MX Anywhere 2 is the company's top-of-the-line wireless mobile mouse and is nice gift pick for on-the-go, laptop-toting students.

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Wacom Creative Stylus 2

The Wacom Creative Stylus 2 is a perfect choice for creative types who like using the iPad as a sketchbook. And the sub-$80 price won't sting.

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JBL Flip 2

Young people love their digital music, and JBL's Flip 2 Bluetooth speaker will let them stream it from their phone, tablet or computer with style. It started out at around $130, but can now be found online for around $80. It sounds great for its size and comes in multiple color options.

Jawbone Mini Jambox
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Jawbone Mini Jambox

The Jambox Mini initially retailed for $179, but has steadily dropped in price and now can be had for a couple of bucks south of $100. This wireless Bluetooth speaker is small enough to fit in a woman's purse, and it's available in a variety colors.

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Beyerdynamic DTX 350p

If your student prefers old-school wired headphones, we've got you covered. Beyerdynamic makes some great high-end headphones, but lately  it's been putting out some value models with great sound. The on-ear DTX 350p, which comes in black or white, sounds better than a lot of headphones that cost twice the price.

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Sony MDR-7506

An oldie, but a goodie. Despite being first released in the 1990s, the Sony MDR-7506s may well be the best-sounding headphones you can get for under $100. They're a perfect choice for students with a hipster streak.

Logitech Harmony Home Control
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Logitech Harmony Home Control

We've got a few products here at the end of the round up that don't quite get in under the $100 mark, but if you're willing to stretch your budget a little, they're worth checking out.

First up is the Harmony Home Control. It costs close to $150, but it offers the biggest bang for the buck in the Logitech line, with an RF remote (no more line-of-sight issues) and the option to use iOS and Android devices as remote controls, too. It's a great gift for a grad who's moving into his or her own place.

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Kindle Paperwhite (2015)

Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite e-reader carries a list price of $119, but Amazon occasionally discounts it to $99. It's not quite as slick as the step-up Kindle Voyage, but Amazon's updated it with a sharper HD screen for 2015, and it's a good value, especially at $99.

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LG Tone Infinim Bluetooth headphone

LG's Tone Infinim can be had online for a little more than $100, but with its retractable earbud design, it's arguably the best of LG's popular around-the-neck style headphones.

Bose SoundLink Color
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Bose SoundLink Color

The Bose SoundLink Color will run you around $130. It doesn't perform quite as well as the $200 SoundLink Mini 2, but it's an attractive little Bluetooth speaker that delivers big sound for its size, is easy to tote around, and recharges with a standard Micro-USB cable.

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