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13 Cool Tech Gifts you must have and don’t have to spend a fortune on them

Dave SmartierDec 18, 20173 9204 votes +4 rating

If you’re a generous type and have a big family or lot of friends, the holidays can be a financially taxing time. Not many of us can afford to spend thousands on gifts for all our loved ones. For tech-savvy friends, though, there are a number of gifts in the $50 range, a sweet spot that says “I like you enough to buy something just a tad pricier than a stocking stuffer.”

© Article’s author: Chloe Albanesius.
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13 Cool Tech Gifts you must haveMajor companies like Amazon, Roku, Logitech, and Google have gadgets galore at prices that won’t break the bank, from media streamers to wireless speakers.

Put down those ties and candles, and pick up one of the gifts on this list.

1. Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)

Buy it from Amazon

Amazon Echo DotThe Amazon Echo Dot brings Alexa voice assistance to your home for nearly half the price of the original, and you can connect it to your favorite home speaker. It replaces the original model from last year, and it sounds better, picks up voice commands more easily, and rings in at $40 less. That makes it an easy recommendation.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

Needs security! Anyone in range of this things Bluetooth can connect and start playing music or speaking through this thing on cell calls. First few times I started hearing random voices in my living room, I was a bit weirded out, because I had no idea where they were coming from. Then one day, I heard Alexa announce that a Bluetooth device had connected, so I opened the app and discovered numerous devices, that weren’t mine. After kicking them all off, I attempted to find some kind of security protocol to keep out unwanted connections, but soon discovered that there wasn’t any. Now, I get to randomly hear other voices or music start playing, in the middle of the night, anytime the people in the apartments behind me decide they wanna screw around.

Other than that, the thing’s works pretty well. Some of the functionality, like the particular nature of commands, takes a little getting used to, but about 99% of the time, it understands perfectly. Until Amazon decides to add, what should have been a no-brainer, security feature, I cannot give this thing a good rating. The fact that anyone can be woken up in the middle of the night, by a random person connecting to their device, is ridiculous. Fix it.

2. Google Home Mini Smart Speaker

Buy it from Amazon

Google Home Mini Smart SpeakerThe Google Home Mini smart speaker takes on Amazon’s Echo Dot with a cute, fabric-covered design and Google Assistant smarts. A smaller, more affordable version of the Google Home, it provides a better audio experience than the Echo Dot, but its lack of an audio out is a major bummer.

3. Roku Streaming Stick

Buy it from Amazon

Roku Streaming StickThe Roku Streaming Stick is a tiny, fast, full-featured media streamer that adds some interesting new features thanks to a companion mobile app.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

It came with absolutely no instructions. I had to go online to figure out how to use it. Then it worked once and I have not been able to use it since. There is no on/off button on the remote so I had to unplug it after the first use because I could not get it to go off so I could get back to normal TV watching. I even went to Best Buy to see if they could help me but they were too busy and this was several months ago, not the holiday rush. When I have more time I will try it again because I did love the streaming on the big screen, just a little too complicated for a senior citizen.

4. Amazon Fire TV Stick With Voice Remote

Buy it from Amazon

Amazon Fire TV Stick With Voice RemoteAmazon launched the Fire TV Stick three years ago, offering a microphone-equipped remote as an optional accessory or as part of a premium $60 bundle. Its latest media streamer, and its only one available in “stick” form, comes with a remote out of the box that gives you access to voice search and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. It also features an upgraded quad-core processor, and perhaps most impressive of all, is available for just $39.99. Despite a few omissions in streaming apps, the Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote easily offers enough in the way of features and value to make it our Editors’ Choice for budget media streamers.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

Beware of the screen size that doesn’t fit! The 1st generation firestick had an option to calibrate/resize the picture so that the edges don’t get cut off. The 2nd generation firestick adds “Alexa” as a new feature, but they also took away the option to calibrate/resize the picture. Instead that screen says to adjust your TV so that the picture fits. My TV has absolutely no display setting that is compatible with the firestick! So I am stuck with the edges of the screen being cut off. Reading a bunch of forums about this where other people complain about the same issue, evidently Amazon was aware of this issue at least 9 months ago and they told customers that they were going to release a fix for this problem in an upcoming release.

Well 9 months later, there still is no fix for this problem, despite the fact that they did release new firmware, which basically re-arranged the menus on the firesick from the left to the top. This picture size issue won’t affect everybody because every TV renders the screen differently, and I’d like to believe that most TVs may be able to resize the screen after you go through the menus on the TV so that the video signal from the firestick fits the screen. But I have a TV made by Sharp that just won’t fit the screen properly from the firestick. The people who make the Firestick certainly had to have known that this would be an issue, because they had the feature to calibrate/resize the picture in the 1st generation firestick. Why is that useful and nescessary feature missing on this 2nd generation firestick? So I give it ONE STAR... until Amazon pushes out new firmware that fixes this problem.

5. Amazon Fire

Buy it from Amazon

Amazon Fire“Another product from Amazon?!” you ask? What can we say? Amazon is seriously rocking gadgetry at the lower-end price point right now. The company makes all this great hardware in order to lure customers into its Amazon Prime ecosystem, where Amazon’s real money comes from. But, in the end, do you really care about Bezos&Co.’s business plans? The fact is, it makes some really cool entry-level gadgets, and at only $50, the 7-inch Amazon Fire is a damn decent slate. It’s far from the specs of some higher-end models, but the Fire will easily allow you to browse online, play games, and stream movies and TV. What else do you really need your tablet to do?

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

It broke down immediately after the 90 day warranty expired. I ordered this for my sister, who is handicapped, and she LOVED it, babied it like nothing else since her kids 40 yrs ago. Couple of weeks before the end of of her 90 day LIMITED warranty, it started to not charge well. She didn’t mention it to me because she thought she was doing something wrong. Of course it finally died altogether within a couple of days of the warranty’s end. That’s when she called me. She thought she had broken the charger. So she took it into an electronics store looking for a new charger. Guy looked at it and said, “7th Gen Fire right? it won’t charge.” And she was was like, “Yeah! exactly! How did you know?” He said he had seen so many lately he could see them coming. Previous customers had come back to tell him Amazon’s charging $80 to fix it, a $65.00 ’bargain’. But she wasn’t convinced yet, so he plugged her into a new charger, and nothing. She asked if maybe that charger was defective, so he plugged it into a device he had and it immediately started charging. She’s heartbroken.

6. Logitech K480 Keyboard

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Logitech K480 KeyboardLogitech’s K480 Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard lets you connect a computer, your phone, and tablet, all of which could be using different platforms, to a single keyboard with solid results.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

I’m not a fan at all of this keyboard. Normally, I’m a big fan of Logitech products, but this keyboard is the exception, Here are the reasons:

1. Poor construction – the keyboard make a LOT of noise. The case is rickety, making creaking noises from the outer case pieces not resting against each other snugly. The buttons/keys are loose and make a lot of noise when striking them.

2. Unreliable – I don’t know if this is an overall defect or one affecting my specific keyboard, but the alt/cmd key will only work if you are pressing it straight down. For me, I hit this key with my thumb, and for every other keyboard I have this isn’t an issue, but with the Logitech keyboard it is. This results in a lot of “c” and “v” characters inserted into the document where I was wanting to cut or paste. Super frustrating.

7. iPhone 8 Plus / 7 Plus Leather Case

Buy it from Amazon

iPhoneClass up your iPhone 7 Plus or 8 Plus with a leather case, made by the source: Apple. Get it in a range of colors, from black to red. For more case ideas, check out our roundup of cases for 8 Plus and 7 Plus.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

I always get the Apple leather case for my iPhones. I buy this over the silicon case because of the buttons. The leather case has metal buttons while the silicon case has rubber buttons, I like the feel of these buttons. The case fits nice but does scratch easy in your pocket because it is leather. The feel and size (very slim) is much nicer than the bargain cases.

8. Brother P-touch Cube

Buy it from Amazon

Brother P-touch CubeAre you shopping for an extremely organized tech enthusiast? With excellent design and comprehensive print software, the reasonably priced Brother P-touch Cube prints several sizes and colors of good-quality plastic (laminated) labels from your iOS or Android mobile device.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

Great Hardware but the App not so much. This little label maker is very nice! Compact, options to run off battery or plug it in, can use different color ribbon, and on and on! Prints faster than I would have thought, about the same speed as a handheld unit I had did. The app causes me to rate this lower. If I were to rate the app by itself I’d give it 2 stars.

While you have the option to do the labels manually, it’s not a WYSIWYG style. Enter your text here then see what it will look like instead of here is a sample label and type in it. If you happen to be able to use one of the precast styles then you’re in luck and it is more WYSIWYG then manual. Which is the opposite of what I expect. The app does get the job done it just doesn’t flow too well. I only used the Android version so maybe the Apple version is better? Luckily the option of the label maker outweigh the app or this review would be inverted!

9. Skullcandy Jib Wireless

Buy it from Amazon

Skullcandy Jib WirelessBluetooth earphones don’t get much more affordable than the Skullcandy Jib Wireless, which packs a strong bass punch for the price.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

Fits small ears! First and foremost, these fit my ears! I’m a short woman at 5’2” on a good day. I have a smaller head and can easily wear youth hats, sunglasses. .etc. Most headphones will simply not stay in my ears. Even the small tip won’t fit, most are too big. I must have tiny ear holes compared to most people or companies simply do not consider that women may be petite and need a smaller ear tip option. Needless to say I swapped out the ones on the headset for the smallest set in the kit. They stay in when I’m outside doing yard work and working around the house. Nothing falls out when I bend over and that alone is worth 5 stars for me, but it does do a dropping/fading thing. It seems like if I downloaded a song from somewhere else and transferred the file via USB, it tends to almost drop the song.

The volume drops significantly and the song will continue to play so it’s not a true drop, more of a dip in volume. it’s annoying. I don’t seem to have problems with songs I’ve downloaded from Amazon. I always have my phone in my back pocket so I can’t blame the volume decrease in not being near the phone. I also have noticed that if it’s a busy day and the local military base is doing air maneuvers or training, more songs tend to have that dip in volume. It’s also not unusual for them to cause my WiFi to drop or to flicker so I wonder if some of the dips are just due to interference or whatever radars they’re using on base. The sound is good. They’re not as good as my wired ink’d but I like them and they suit my needs.

10. RHA MA390 Universal

Buy it from Amazon

RHA MA390 UniversalThe $30 RHA MA390 Universal earphones outperform more expensive options in both design and audio performance.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

Great entry level earphone from RHA if you listen to a variety of music. This is the first RHA product I’ve purchased. The first five minute impression was it is shiny, feels expensive, and I like the braided cable at the bottom half. I wish the braided cable was also on top half though. The factory cushions are comfortable for hours, I didn’t bother trying the other included sets. The sound is loud enough at 60% volume on a phone when indoors. The sound has no distortion associated with budget earphones when you raise the volume (whew). The bass is acceptable, and I would not call it bass-light or bass-heavy. The vocals are very clear, more forward. The earphone picks up small details really well in music and you can hear the layers of instruments. Pianos, guitars, and live instruments sound excellent.

11. Tile Pro Style

Buy it at Tile

Tile Pro StyleAlways losing things? With Tile Pro, long-range Bluetooth tracking locates tagged items, and a loud built-in alarm lets you know if they’re in the same room. Choose from two versions: Tile Pro Sport is a waterproof, ruggedized tracking device that helps athletes and everyone else keep track of easy-to-lose items; Tile Pro Style is a more slim and stylish version.

Customer’s comment on Tile:

I have been using Tile for about three days now and it works great! I bought it because my significant other kept misplacing her keys. What I love is that you can also find your phone if you have your keys and vice versa. I have the ’Style’ Tile and it looks great on my key ring. Great product so far!

12. Retro-Bit RES Plus

Buy it from Amazon

Retro-Bit RES PlusThe Retro-Bit RES Plus is an inexpensive retro game console that lets you play your classic NES games on your modern TV.

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

A great budget NES Clone in HDMI for now. Good video quality and sound. Color palette is very similar to the NES. Includes two Controller which are excellent. Built quality is OK as long as you be careful when taking out the games. I gave it 3 stars because I had to return one because of the death grip on carts and you have to set your TV to 4:3 to play in the original aspect.

13. Netflix Gift Card

Buy it through Amazon

Netflix Gift CardNot only does Netflix have tons of original (i.e. exclusive) shows and specials in just about every genre, the content it produces tends to be of an exceptionally high quality. We’re talking titles like Stranger Things, Narcos, Master of None, Mindhunter, and that’s just to name a few. Netflix is the place for good TV right now.

So it’s probably not a surprise that Netflix got a price hike this year, but nothing drastic. Netflix offers three streaming price tiers: Basic ($8/month); Standard ($11/month, comes with HD and allows two simultaneous screens, i.e. TV and a tablet); and Premium ($14/month, has UHD streams and allows up to four screens). If you want to give that special someone Netflix, you can give them a gift card to get them started. The weird thing is that the only place you can purchase a Netflix gift card online is through Amazon (technically, a Netflix rival at this point). Weird, right?

Customer’s comment on Amazon:

It’s a $30 Netflix card what more can you say? Each time I order this the code works just fine and Amazon sends these nicely packaged. Easy gifting. Convenient...

Reader’s reaction on a popular website:

Have to agree, gift cards are a rip-off. But, cash just seems so generic. You are changing cash (usable just about anywhere with no restrictions, to a card with all kinds of restrictions and even expiration dates. Gift cards should be discounted to account for the restrictions. But, I guess if we keep buying them, that will never happen. Anyway, gift cards just seem more special... you know, like you gave the gift some thought.

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