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9 great gifts for graduation 2021 for $50 or less

Looking for an affordable tech gift for an upcoming grad? There's some great stuff for less than $50.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
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, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Carnoy
David Katzmaier
5 min read

It's that time of year again. We've lived in the shadow of a worldwide pandemic for more than a year, but graduation season 2021 might look a bit more normal -- although ceremonies, if they happen in person, will still be largely outdoors, masked and distanced. Regardless of whether you're looking for a high school graduation gift or something spectacular for a recent college grad, you can help restore a much-needed sense of normalcy for your loved one by choosing a great gift, and you'll find plenty of decent tech graduation gifts under $50

So if you're ready to reward your favorite grad for all of their hard work, this gift guide offers a look at some of our top picks -- from Apple's new AirTags to affordable headphones to streaming-friendly entertainment and other Gen Z-friendly gifts. Any of these would be welcome in a dorm or a new apartment, and with a perfert gift, you'll be the biggest hit of the graduation party!

David Carnoy/CNET

You can snag a decent set of noise-canceling true wireless headphones for your grad without spending a bundle. The EarFun Free Pro buds have active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2. Rated for seven hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on, or about six hours with it, they're IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water.

They sound very good for the money, with relatively clean, balanced sound and bass that has some kick to it -- they're pretty open-sounding. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, they have little fins that help keep them securely in your ears, and they're fairly discreet-looking.

Don't expect them to cancel noise as well as the AirPods Pro, but they do provide some decent muffling. It's worth noting that you can use either the left or right earbud independently, and there's a low-latency mode for video watching (and presumably gaming). Call quality was decent, too: Callers said they heard some background noise but it wasn't intrusive and they could hear my voice well. The touch controls were responsive.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Does your grad always lose their keys? Do they own an iPhone and want the latest and greatest Apple accessory? Do you want to give an affordable graduation gift? AirTags might be the perfect choice for your graduate. The brand-new accessory works with any Apple device and uses the company's FindMy network -- the same one used to find lost iPhones. Attach it to keys, a backpack or just about anything else. It's $29 for one, $99 for four -- and if you go through Apple, you can get free customized engraving, too.

Read CNET's hands-on with Apple AirTags.

David Carnoy/CNET

What student doesn't want to blast their music on the go? Tribit's StormBox Micro is one of the best sounding pocket-sized Bluetooth speakers we've tested, with bigger bass and volume than most other tiny speakers. It's IP67 dustproof and water-resistant (this grad gift idea can be fully submerged in shallow water for a short time) and has up to 8 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. 

Read our Tribit StormBox Micro review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If your grad prefers Alexa then you can get the Echo Dot for the same price. But we like the Nest Mini and Google Assistant a bit better. Google Assistant is a smarter voice assistant than Alexa. It responds more flexibly to voice commands if you can't remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Google's grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of smart devices than Amazon's similar routines. Overall the Google Nest Mini is a great graduation gift that is a low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.

Read our Google Nest Mini review.

David Carnoy/CNET

I was a fan of Creative's original Sound Blaster Jam headphones that came out in 2015 and had a decidedly retro look and feel with good sound for the money. Now the headphone is available in a 2.0 version that has some key upgrades, including Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging, improved call quality and multipoint Bluetooth pairing that allows you to pair it to two devices simultaneously. Battery life is rated at up to 22 hours.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Biolite's PowerLight Mini is a multifunction portable -- and wearable -- LED light that can be used as a flashlight (bright white light), bike light (with a flashing red light mode) and even a power bank for charging your phone. It fits easily in a pocket and is a good safety item for grads. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

These days, it's nearly impossible to get a TV without a bunch of "smart" streaming apps built-in. But that's not true of older TVs, and even newer ones don't have all the top new services, like Disney Plus. Enter the Roku Streaming Stick Plus: For under $50, this plug-in streamer will deliver literally every online video service you can think of -- Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and hundreds more -- at resolutions up to 4K for under $50. Oh, and the remote will control your TV's power and volume, too. If you're looking to give that old TV a new lease on life, this is the gadget to get for your graduate. (Note: The Roku Express 4K Plus hits in May, and offers nearly all the same features for a bit less.) 

Read our Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A more stylish alternative to the Tribit, the JBL Go 3 has a completely new look -- this great gift idea is now covered in durable fabric instead of having the naked plastic design of its Go predecessors -- and surprisingly decent sound for its small size. Available in multiple colors, it has an IPX67 water-resistance rating (it can be dunked in water and is dustproof). Battery life is rated at up to 5 hours.

Read our JBL Go 3 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the grad who loves streaming and owns a Roku TV or streamer, this brand-new remote could be the perfect graduation gift idea. It's rechargeable, so your grad doesn't have to keep batteries on-hand, but its best new feature is a finder. Just say, "Hey Roku, find my remote" and the clicker will beep from under the couch cushions. There's also a headphone jack for private listening and there are volume and power buttons for Roku TVs -- just don't expect Alexa or Google-level voice smarts.

Read our Roku Voice Remote Pro review.

nest hub owl lamp desk
Dale Smith/CNET

Got double the $50 budget to spend on your grad? The newest version of the Nest Hub arrived in 2021 and it's a great entry point for the category. It's the smartest and best overall, making the $100 price a great value. Thanks to the built-in Google Assistant, the Nest Hub responds to all of the same voice command options as the Google Home Mini smart speaker. The touchscreen is small at 7 inches, but the adaptive brightness makes pictures look particularly great. Google will even customize a slideshow of family pics as your screensaver -- a great way to remind your grad of home.

Read our Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) review.