September 30, 2020
It’s an understatement to say that many people are struggling to make ends meet this yea, 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.
Before we get to the list, however, here are a couple of pro tips for early holiday shopping:
- Prime Day starts Oct. 13: Don’t buy now when you can wait just a few more days. Amazon’s big Prime Day sale is running Oct. 13 and 14 this year, after being postponed from July.
- New Amazon Echo speakers: Amazon just unveiled new Echo speakers. While the cheapest model is a new Echo Dot starting at $50, prices on new (or older) Dot speakers could well dip below $30 during Prime Day or Black Friday sales.
- Google’s smart speakers get deep holiday discounts, too: Google’s equivalent to the Echo Dot, the Google Home Mini, has a list price of $49 but should also sink down to the $29 level during October and November sales.
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, 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.
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.
Amazon just announced two new Fire TV streamers available for under $40, but — before Prime Day discounts, anyway — if $30 is your cutoff, this entry-level Roku is your go-to choice. It delivers pretty much every video service you can think of, from Netflix to Hulu to countless more obscure apps, as well as the free-with-ads Roku Channel, too. The only current big holdout is HBO Max, but otherwise you’ll be hard-pressed to find more entertainment for your TV at this price. That said, if you can stretch your budget, get either the Roku Premiere (which adds 4K HDR for an extra $10 or so) or the Streaming Stick Plus (a better remote and dongle form-factor for about $20 more).
Yes, everyone is stuck at home, but you still might want to keep an eye on the dog, the baby’s nursery or a dozen other far-flung corners of the house. This Alexa-compatible Wyze model is a solid choice and costs only $26. Wyze has also rolled out several software updates in recent months to tighten up its privacy and security controls.
Read our Wyze Cam review.
This mini powerstrip can charge up to five devices: two USB-A gadgets, a USB-C device and anything left can take one of the full-size three-prong AC outlets on each side. It’s been an indispensable accessory on my desk since the virus lockdown started, powering my laptop while charging my phone, headphones and fitness tracker — with one outlet left as a catch-all.
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 four-pack of the step-down HS103 for as little as $24.)
True story: In my collegiate days, 3.5-inch floppy disks were a thing, and they stored a whopping 1.44 MB 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.)
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