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Whether you're shopping for a coworker or participating in the annual Secret Santa, buying the right gift is never as simple as it seems -- especially if you're on a budget. After all, it's the thought that counts, and gift cards should be your last resort. That's why we've done the thinking for you.
For gifts that will bring holiday cheers without budget fears, look no further than ZDNet's grandiose list of tech for under $25.
I didn't think that I would be including a laptop stand in this list but after using MOFT's for the past month, it's one of my easiest recommendations going into the holidays. At $25, this slim laptop stand sticks to the base of any laptop (up to 15.6 inches) and can fold outwards into two "golden angles" -- 15 and 25 degrees. At those heights, your wrist and arms naturally adjust to a more comfortable posture when typing or watching videos. And unlike most clunky laptop stands, MOFT's can unfold and provide a nice cushion for your device.
Cambridge Soundworks produces some stellar audio experiences without costing you a premium. And with its Oontz Angle Solo speaker, it follows suit. The portable music player has a projected 15-hour playtime, enhanced bass-pumping sound, and a figure that is angular and easy to carry. You can snag one for your family, friend, or yourself for less than $20 right now.
Getting into smart home can be a daunting task, especially if you've never set up smart routines with appliances before. That's where the Kasa Smart Plug Mini comes in. It's a three-prong adapter that functions as an outlet and turns any appliance that you connect to it into a smart one! For example, you can connect a lamp to the plug and turn it on or off right from your smartphone. A pack of one typically sells for $22.99 but you can pick one up right now for just $12.99.
Gifting for someone who just upgraded their phone? If they purchased an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or even Google Pixel, chances are, they didn't get a charger in the box. A majority of smartphone manufacturers have joined the "Go Green" initiative over the past two years, resulting in more plastic-free packaging and less accessories in the box. The Anker Nano Pro can charge up to 20 watts, enough to fast charge iPhones and Android devices, and is as compact as Apple's own 5 watt charging brick.
A two-factor authentication (or two-step verification) security key is one of those things that you didn't know you needed until now. The same will apply to your gift recipient. Coming in a range of formats (USB-A, USB-C, Lightning), the FIDO-certified key by Trustkey goes for less than $20, but can save you from much more expensive losses if your online accounts -- like Facebook, Google, Dropbox -- are hacked. The gadget plugs into your laptop or desktop like a standard USB, and to use it, you simply press the hardware button when prompted during a login.
If you can spend a little more, I'd highly recommend picking up a YubiKey, which offers more functionality, like NFC and biometric authentication.
Since launch, the Apple AirPods Pro has been one of the best selling tech products, especially during the holidays. While you can't gift a pair of the wireless earbuds for under $25, I'm making a case for AirPods cases -- and I don't mean the actual charging case. I'm referring to the silicone-made capsules that will keep those shiny new AirPods protected from drops, dings, and scratches. This one, made by elago, even brings all the nostalgia of a classic Nintendo console.
Are you reading this from a phone or tablet? Turn your screen off and what do you see? Smudges? Fingerprints? Maybe some crumbs if you're snacking? Well, let me introduce you to the iRoller, a reusable, liquid-less touchscreen cleaner that wipes away all your display blemishes in seconds. As much as that sounded like an ad, it's the real deal. This gadget gets my recommendation for its ease of use, and function that benefits anyone that it's gifted to.
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. It also comes in handy if you plan on bingeing through the Christmas classics all December long.
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.