Money-Saving Gift Ideas for Tech Gadget Fans

Looking for budget-friendly electronics? Here's what we uncovered in CR's labs.

a tablet, earphones, and smartwatch from Consumer Reports list of money-saving gift ideas
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Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, you may find yourself searching for novel ways to save money on popular tech gifts.

Do you really have to pay top-dollar for Apple's AirPods, for example? Noise-canceling headphones? A new Samsung smartphone?

No, says CR's test team. If you're willing to accept an alternate brand name (or a slightly different model), you can find plenty of attractive options that deliver great performance at a great price.

We like to call them Best Buys in our ratings charts. And they can easily net you a shiny new smartwatch, laptop, or tablet priced at hundreds less than you'd expect to pay.

Here are some of the best money-saving gift ideas from our tech testers.

Go to Consumer Reports’ 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider shopping tips, and much more.

Great Sound for $15
Scosche SportFlex 3
Scosche SportFlex 3

    Scosche SportFlex 3

    The Scosche SportFlex 3 is a steal at around $15. According to our tests, these earphones produce better sound than some models that cost 10 times as much.

     

    The manufacturer claims the SportFlex 3 is water-resistant. It also comes with built-in call and audio-playback controls that work with iPhones and most Android devices. And the ergonomic, adjustable ear hooks hold the earpieces in place during a workout.

     

    Those ear hooks also make the earphones a little bulkier than others, however, and that can take away from comfort and fit for some users. If you’re looking for other options in the same price range, the $15 Panasonic RP-TCM125 is a decent alternative, though the sound quality isn't quite as good.

    AirPod Alternative
    Anker SoundCore Liberty Air
    Anker SoundCore Liberty Air

      Anker SoundCore Liberty Air

      The Anker SoundCore Liberty Air earphones look a lot like Apple's AirPods, but they cost about half as much, and they have a few notable advantages. Unlike the AirPods, the Ankers have an isolating design that will muffle some outside sound, and our testing shows that the audio quality is significantly better, too.

       

      CR's technicians also note that the earphones fit and stay in place better than many true wireless models. According to Anker, the Liberty Air have a 5-hour battery life and come with a charging/carrying case good for three additional charges on the go. They're also advertised as water-resistant.

       

      The Liberty Air has tap controls for calls and playback, and support for digital assistants, and they come with the option to use the right earpiece alone for single-ear listening. They're available in black or white. 

      Low-Cost Noise Cancellation
      JBL LIVE 650BTNC
      JBL LIVE 650BTNC

        JBL LIVE 650BTNC

        These over-ear headphones currently sell for about $130, a small marvel given their performance. They deliver outstanding noise cancellation and great audio quality.

         

        JBL hasn’t skimped on features, either. The 650BTNC comes with a detachable audio cable for use with wired devices, a quick-charge function, the ability to simultaneously pair with multiple devices, and a generous 20-hour battery life, according to JBL. A free app adds some additional functionality.

        A Sub-$200 Tablet
        Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 (2019) Wi-Fi
        Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 (2019) Wi-Fi

          Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 (2019) Wi-Fi

          Priced around $150, this 8-inch tablet impressed our testers with its ease of use and versatility, earning a recommended rating. It’s lightweight, and the battery life—longer than most at 13.7 hours (web) and 13.1 hours (video)—will get you through the day or a long road-trip.

           

          The display is bright and crisp. The processor handles everyday tasks such as web browsing and email with ease. And if the 32 gigabytes of storage aren't enough for your offline video viewing, you can quickly and inexpensively add more with a microSD card.

          Inexpensive Apple Watch
          Apple Watch Series 3 (38mm) Aluminum case GPS
          Apple Watch Series 3 (38mm)...

            Apple Watch Series 3 (38mm)...

            Apple's new Series 5 smartwatch starts at $400 and can quickly set you back $700 if you opt for the cellular service and stainless steel case. But the company is still making the Series 3 watch, which now has a budget-friendly starting price of $200.

             

            The Series 3 watch has a smaller display and no built-in EKG or fall detection, but it provides just about everything else the Series 5 has to offer.

            Great Budget Phone
            Samsung Galaxy A50
            Samsung Galaxy A50

              Samsung Galaxy A50

              In a world of $1,000 smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy A50 stands out for its exceptional blend of features and value.

               

              It may not have the cachet of Apple’s iPhone 11 or Samsung’s Galaxy S10+, but it’s the only model in the top half of our ratings with a budget-friendly price. And while it doesn’t rise to the level of Samsung’s top-rated S-series models, it comes pretty close.

               

              In fact, the A50 scored well enough that Richard Fisco, CR’s head of electronics testing, decided to buy one for himself.

              Two Terrific Speakers
              Edifier S1000DB
              Edifier S1000DB

                Edifier S1000DB

                For that $350 price, you get a pair of the very best-sounding wireless speakers in our ratings.

                 

                Our testers were impressed by high frequencies that were clear but smooth and the extended bass, which remained musical, so you can tell the difference between an upright bass and an electric Fender Jazz Bass. And thanks to the studio pair, the speakers create a convincing illusion that the musicians are in a room with you.

                 

                We don’t really think of it as a shortcoming, but these aren’t the most versatile speakers. While they sport a variety of connections—from robust Bluetooth pairing to RCA and digital jacks—the Edifiers aren’t designed to work as part of a multiroom system. They’re all about playing music in one place with truly impressive fidelity, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

                A Fast, Reliable Laptop
                Lenovo Flex 15
                Lenovo Flex 15

                  Lenovo Flex 15

                  With a longer battery life than most other 15-inch laptops, this Lenovo is a good choice for portability.

                   

                  The model handles email, word processing, web browsing, and even some midrange gaming tasks with impressive speed. The convertible form factor allows you to use the touch screen much like a tablet. And the 512GB solid-state drive provides plenty of storage space for photos, videos, and more.

                   

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