By Tracey Dowdy
A co-worker of mine who has just made herself the target of my next April Fools’ prank reminded me the other day that there are only 9 more Fridays between now and Christmas. Good grief.
My family draws names with our extended families, so I don’t have a lot of people to buy for, but the older we get and the more settled we all are, the more challenging gift-giving can be. We all enjoy our tech, but finding gifts that come in under budget and are worth spending the money on can be tricky.
Here are a few suggestions to ease that “How many weekends until Christmas?” panic – all under $100.
Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player
The Google Chromecast allows you to stream videos, music and photos to your TV via your smartphone, laptop or tablet. About the size of a USB device, it’s easy to install and use. Simply plug it into your TV and connect to your wireless network. Compatible with Android and iOS platforms, you can stream services like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Plex, HBO Go, Pandora, ESPN, MLB.TV, Google Play, Crackle, Rdio and several others. It’s listed at $35 but several places online like Amazon and Walmart offer it for less.
Roku 3 Streaming Media Player
The Roku 3 is Roku’s fastest and most powerful streaming device yet. Toss your cable or satellite subscription and watch Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Vevo, Spotify, and PBS Kids, as well as an additional 1,500+ channels for free. About the only thing missing is iTunes – you’ll need Apple TV for that. Roku also offers a free app on iOS and Android and you can stream videos and music from your smartphone or tablet to your HDTV.
There’s no subscription fee for Roku, but you will need to provide credit card information during set up should you want to purchase content from the Roku Channel Store. Roku even offers gaming options like Angry Birds Space and Jeopardy, and features a motion sensing remote with game ready buttons and games. MSRP: $99.99.
If you’re on a tighter budget, there’s the Roku Stick. It doesn’t offer all the same features but at half the price it’s still a great option for streaming TV.
Trendnet Powerline 500 AV2 Adapter Kit
If, like me, your Wi-Fi doesn’t reach all the rooms in your house, then the Trendnet Powerline 500 AV2 Adapter Kit is a great solution. Powerline extends a hardwire connection from your router via your home’s AC power to anywhere in the house. The kit includes two TPL-408E adapters pre-encrypted for security. There’s no complicated installation process, adapters are literally plug and play – they auto connect straight from the box. The signal is strong enough to cover a 5,000sq foot house or 300 m (980 ft.) linear distance over electrical power lines. The adapters offer a power save mode that reduces electrical consumption by 80%. (MSRP: $85.99)
JVC HA-S400 headphones with Carbon Nanotubes
Referred to as “cheap headphones with rich sound” by one reviewer, the JVC HA-S400 headphones are an inexpensive alternative to higher-end headphones like Beats by Dre. At under $30, they don’t offer all the features of more expensive options, but they do offer a good sound quality and a hinged headband that allows users to fold them flat for easier storage. The foam padding allows for moderate sound isolation. (MSRP: $28.99)
JBL Flip 2
The JBL Flip 2 is a portable Bluetooth speaker that offers big sound, has NFC capability, can be used horizontally or vertically, and has speakerphone capabilities. The Flip 2 weighs less than one pound and can be easily carried in one hand. The soft rubber in the casing makes it easy to grip, adding to its portability. As the second generation Flip, JBL has improved the quality of sound from the original. It comes with a hard cover carrying case, a Micro-USB cable, and USB power adapter. (MSRP: $99.95)
Kingston DataTraveler SE9
The Kingston DataTraveler SE9 storage drive has a metal casing tough enough to hang out on your key chain and comes with a five-year warranty and free tech support. It’s smaller than a house key, capless, and supports Windows 8, Vista, XP & Mac. The SE9 features 4 different storage capacities, from 8GB to 64GB. Plus, you can’t beat the price: the SE9 starts at around $8, increasing to just $28.95 for the highest capacity model (current Amazon prices).