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Best cheap tech gifts 2021: Top gadgets for under $100

ZDNet recommends our top picks for tech products, gadgets, and accessories for the 2021 holiday season.

It will be December before we know it, and with the holiday season fast approaching, the hunt for gifts for both friends and family begins. 

The last few years have been tough for many of us but there is no need to get into debt to make this holiday season special. There are plenty of gift options available that can match a variety of budgets, whether you're looking for games, mobile accessories, stocking fillers, or a bigger gift. 

It is also worth considering refurbishment options if you're trying to cut back this year -- when they are sourced from reputable vendors, they will be serviced, under a warranty, and checked for flaws before being put back on sale, often at a substantial discount. 

If you're looking for affordable present inspiration over the 2021 holidays, check out our top picks below.

Buyer's Guide

Bose Frames Alto

A cheaper option for audiophiles

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Bose

Bose Frames are an affordable gift for music lovers. The Alto series are Bluetooth-enabled glasses that can be connected to your mobile device to listen to music with quality sound without the need for standard headphones -- allowing users to also stay aware of their surroundings. 

Pros:

  • Excellent audio quality
  • Can be tailored for prescription wear

Cons:

  • Refurbished (tested), +$100 for new
  • The style won't suit everyone

Govee Flow Plus Smart LED Light Bars

Smart lighting

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Amazon

The Govee Flow Plus Smart LED light bars are an affordable gift suggestion for those who like fairy lights, lamps, and to create ambiance beyond typical ceiling lights. These LED bars can be controlled through a mobile device or voice assistant for different colors and brightness, best used for movie or gaming sessions.  

Pros:

  • Alexa and Google Assistant compatible
  • Scene modes

Cons:

  • Bulky design 

11-in-1 Universal mobile lens kit

Photography enthusiasts

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Amazon

As either a stocking filler or a main gift, Bostionye's 11-in-1 universal mobile lens kit is worth looking at for photography fans. The kit contains a telephoto, a wide-angle, macro, and a fisheye lens, together with filters, a carry case, tripod, and smartphone-mounting clips. 

Pros:

  • Value for money
  • Lens variety

Cons:

  • Users report confusing instructions

Also: Best photo printers of 2021

Amazon Kindle (8GB)

One for readers

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Target

While a decent tablet or e-reader can cost hundreds of dollars, a slightly older model or one with less storage can still be a valuable gift for those who enjoy reading -- whether at home or while traveling. Over at Target, you can pick up an 8GB Amazon Kindle for a budget-friendly price, containing a front light, e-ink screen technology, and battery life that can last weeks with judicious use. 

Pros:

  • Anti-glare screen technology
  • Long battery life
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Low storage space

Also: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review: A classic e-reader made modern

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 camera

Instant photo hardcopies

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Target

The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 camera is a fun, colorful gift. This product, pulling inspiration from old Polaroids, is a sturdy camera with auto exposure, a selfie mode, and flash, and is able to print photos immediately after taking them. 

Pros:

  • Six colors available
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Film sold separately

Also: Best cameras of 2021

OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth speaker

A portable speaker

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Amazon

This year, you could consider a portable Bluetooth speaker as a gift. These devices can be handy to have on the road, and when summer rolls around there are opportunities for use on days out, festivals, and days in the park with friends. The OontZ Angle 3 speaker is Bluetooth-compatible, water-resistant, and has a peak output of 14 watts.

Pros:

  • Available in three colors
  • Focus on bass

Cons:

  • Video lags reported when used with a mobile device for streaming

Google Home

Entry into the smart home

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Walmart

The Google Home smart speaker and voice assistant could be a fun addition to a college dorm, lounge, or office space. The speaker can be used to control smart home accessories including lighting and security products and can also be used to tap into Google searches, stream content, and manage your daily calendar.

If you're looking for something cheaper, you can also pick up a Google Home mini for $29.

Pros:

  • Can tailor services depending on your voice
  • Connectivity to a range of apps and services

Cons:

  • Best for Android users

Also: Best smart speakers in 2021

Redragon S101 wired gaming keyboard

Entry-level gaming accessories

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Target

Enthusiastic PC gamers often end up buying accessories designed with playability and controls in mind, and this includes keyboards, headsets, and mice with programmable controls. No matter the age of the gamer, the Redragon S101 wired gaming keyboard is likely to prove a hit this holiday season, coming with backlights, a wrist wrest, and a mouse thrown in. 

Pros:

  • 7 different RGB Lighting modes and effects, 4 backlight brightness levels
  • Wrist support

Cons:

  • Non-mechanical

Also: Best keyboards in 2021

Roku Express streaming stick

Access to your favorite shows

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Walmart

The Roku Express is a simple and cheap streaming option, potentially of particular value to kids and students. This streaming stick plugs into the back of a television set via HDMI and allows users to access a range of free channels and services including Netflix, HBO Max, and Hulu.

Pros:

  • Affordable option to make a TV smarter
  • HDMI included

Cons:

  • Basic HD streaming quality

Also: 

Also: Best streaming devices of 2021

Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon's smart home ecosystem

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Walmart

While slightly over $100, another smart home option is the Amazon Echo Show. This 8-inch device can be used to manage IoT devices at home, call friends and family, tap into Alexa Skill services, or listen to music or the news, and more. Cooking fans might like this present, too, as Amazon has included a feature for accessing Food Network Kitchen recipes. 

Pros:

  • Solid sound quality
  • Good screen resolution

Cons:

  • Legacy option

Also: Best Amazon Echo in 2021: Which Alexa device is right for you?

Anker Soundcore Life Dot 2 wireless headphones

Long playtime, small stature

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Walmart

For travelers, commuters, and students who appreciate high-quality sound, the Anker Soundcore Life Dot 2 wireless headphones could be a great gift this Christmas. Anker is well-known for its battery tech but has branched out into audio products which include these earbuds, made of silicon and sporting a 10-minute charge time. 

Pros:

  • Solid sound quality
  • Quick charging

Cons:

  • Maximum play on one charge is 90 minutes

Also: Best wireless earbuds in 2021: AirPods and alternatives

Samsung Galaxy Tab A7

An affordable tablet

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Walmart

Over at Walmart, you can snap up an affordable, high-quality tablet in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7. This refurbished model, available for $130, is 10.4-inch Android model is 7mm thick, comes with 32GB storage, rear and back-facing cameras, and supports fast charging.

Pros:

  • Available in 32GB or 64GB models (external +1TB)
  • Dolby Atmos surround sound

Cons:

  • Low RAM (3GB)

Also: Best cheap tablets of 2021

How did we choose these products?

With affordability top in our minds, we chose products that would not only fill up a stocking or that would be fun ideas for Secret Santa, but also items that are suitable -- and budget-friendly -- as larger gifts. 

Are there alternatives worth considering?