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, CNET’s gift picks with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.
It’s an understatement to say that many people are struggling to make ends meet this year, so it’s important to remember that great gifts are available without going into debt. We’ve rounded up some top options available for $30 or less, all of which we’ve personally tested.
New for Nov. 1 are some updates that include early Black Friday deals. Note that pricing and availability were accurate at time of publication, but both are subject to change without notice.
Amazon’s top-of-the-line video streamer usually costs $50, but since Prime Day, it’s been hovering at $30. In addition to 4K HDR video quality and excellent integration with the Alexa voice assistant, this model also includes a remote that can control your TV’s volume and power.
Buying for someone who prefers full-size headphones? Priced at around $33, the Tribit XFree Tune has long been our go-to affordable full-size wireless headphones. But there’s now an even cheaper model, the XFree Go, that can be had for as little as $21. At the lower price, you get plusher, more comfortable ear pads, Bluetooth 5.0 and 24 hours of battery life, and a 10-minute charge gives you four hours of playback time. The sound is a little more bass-forward than that of the Tune, but at this price, it’s really hard to complain about what you’re getting.
The Lenovo Smart Clock has long been among one of our favorite “cheap but good” smart home devices when it’s on sale (you can now find it for as low as $35). But if you want to save even more, the new Smart Clock Essential opts for something of a dumbed-down monochrome screen, but it still delivers the time, temperature and weather, along with full access to Google’s voice assistant. The USB-A port in the rear makes it easy to charge devices on your bedside table, too.
Surf around on Amazon, and you’ll see countless no-name true wireless headphones available for $50 or less (see our favorite tested models under $50). The less you spend, the more challenging it is to get a decent-sounding model, but we’ve had good luck with the Tranya brand. The Tranya Rimor earbuds started out at $50, but they’ve since dipped to $30. They have decent sound and an IPX5 water-resistant rating, which means they’re sweatproof and can withstand a sustained spray of water. Their charging case is fairly compact and charges via USB-C.
At five hours, battery life isn’t fantastic, but the charging case does give you three extra charges. At $30, they’re a bargain, with larger 10mm drivers than the 6mm found on the similarly priced Tranya T3. For a few bucks more, you can also check out the Tranya T10.
We’re all cooking at home a lot more these days. And the Lodge Grill Pan is a cheap and easy way to bring the essence of the grilling experience to your stovetop. (Mine gets used at least two to three nights a week.)
Ben Fox Rubin/CNET
For 2020, Amazon has introduced a spherical Echo Dot, but we haven’t yet seen it on sale below its list price of $50. That may or may not happen by Black Friday, but in the meantime, its third-generation predecessor has been selling for just $19. (If you want even cheaper, grab the Echo Flex for just $10.)
It’s tough to beat Amazon’s Fire TV Sticks when they’re on sale. But the Express HD remains the cheapest entry-point to the Roku smart TV system, which we still think edges out Fire TV by a nose. Roku also has NBC’s free Peacock streaming service, which remains a no-show on Fire TV.
This product was selling for $22 to $24 during Prime Day week in October, but has returned to its normal price of $30. Note, however, that Best Buy has already announced that the Roku Premiere (which adds 4K HDR) and the Streaming Stick Plus (adds a better remote and dongle design) will be priced at just $25 and $30 respectively during upcoming Black Friday sales.
Need an easy way to keep an eye on the dog, the baby’s nursery or a dozen other far-flung corners of the house? Newly updated for 2020, version 3 of the Wyze Cam adds better nighttime image quality and a wider field of view. Wyze has also rolled out several software updates in recent months to tighten up its privacy and security controls. But despite all those upgrades, this camera maintains its predecessor’s insanely low price of $26 (including shipping).
There are plenty of cheap smart plugs out there, but the TP-Link Kasa HS105 is our current favorite. This plug converts any lamp in the dorm or home into one that’s voice-controlled via Alexa or Google Assistant. Plus the trim design leaves the second outlet open for business. (If you’re only connecting low-wattage devices like table lamps, note that you can grab a two-pack of the step-down HS103 for the same price.) Buying gifts for someone with Siri-powered smart home? Opt for the Belkin WeMo Smart Plug instead.
True story: In my collegiate days, 3.5-inch floppy disks were a thing, and they stored a whopping 1.44 megabytes of data on them. This flash drive costs under $21, and it stores 128GB, the equivalent of almost 89,000 of those floppy disks. This model sports both USB-A and USB-C connectors, so it’ll work with any computer out there as well as newer iPad Pro models.
Wizards of the Coast
OK, this posits an optimistic future where we can gather together and play traditional games in the same room. But if you’re buying for a quarantine pod that already has a quorum of tabletop-gaming fans, some old-school D&D is a nice face-to-face break from the virtual world of video games. The Essentials Kit gives you everything a group of pencil-and-paper adventurers need to get questing, but true beginners can opt for the equally affordable Starter Set instead. (Those bored with D&D can start saving their pennies for Frosthaven, of course.)