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These are the best cheap products for entering the Apple ecosystem

best cheap products for entering the Apple ecosystem
(Image credit: Apple/Tom's Guide)

If you have even a passing interest in consumer technology then you’ve no doubt heard of the Apple ecosystem. In short, the Apple ecosystem (as it’s colloquially referred to) comprises the company’s various hardware, software and services. More specifically, it's about how well these various elements work together with one another.

The Apple ecosystem — which includes the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple Watch, AirPods and Homepod — is something that companies like Microsoft, Samsung and others have tried and failed to imitate.

Though some decry Apple’s “walled garden,” it’s hard to argue that it’s the most integrated and user-friendly ecosystem in all of tech. Since Apple only has to make software that runs on its own hardware, it’s easy for the company to quality control everything it produces. This also means Apple can dictate the price of said products, since it provides interoperability its competitors can’t match.

Price is undoubtedly a barrier to entry, but the Apple ecosystem isn’t completely impenetrable for the average person. You just need to find the right products for the right price.

To that end, we’ve rounded up the most affordable Apple products you can currently buy. With all of these at your disposal, you’ll be fully entrenched in the infamous ecosystem — without breaking the bank.

The Apple ID

The first thing you'll need isn't a product at all, but an Apple account. You can create an Apple ID either by registering on one of the company's devices or by going to the Apple website (opens in new tab). With an Apple ID, you can take full advantage of the ecosystem's interoperability. Creating an Apple ID is entirely free.

Apple iPhone SE 

iPhone SE 2022 home screen front

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone lies at the heart of the Apple ecosystem. With an iPhone, you’re able to connect and interact with many of the other products listed here. You can buy an Apple iPhone SE from Amazon for $429 (opens in new tab).

From our iPhone SE (2022) review: “The iPhone SE (2022) is a phone that crams modern guts into a classic design that's so small it’s almost quaint. Some might also accurately call it dated. But despite the retro vibes, the end result is pretty compelling for those on a budget.

“For $429, you get 5G connectivity and the same A15 Bionic processor that's in the iPhone 13, which means you'll enjoy best-in-class performance and great looking photos. Apple also promises two hours of extra battery life with the new SE versus the previous iPhone SE (2020) along with a more durable design. And while you don't get Face ID, some may prefer the familiar Home button with Touch ID for quickly unlocking your phone. It's easily one of the best cheap phones around.” 

iPhone SE 2022: $429 on Amazon (opens in new tab)
This is the iPhone SE's entry-level price. If you want to get the phone with a carrier and potentially get it for free (depending on the carrier and deal), be sure to visit the best iPhone SE deals page (opens in new tab).

Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)

iPad 2021

(Image credit: Future)

The next item you'll want to check out is an iPad. The 2021 10.2-inch iPad is one of the best tablets on the market, with features that make it almost as good as a laptop. While the iPad Pro and iPad Air might be more “modern,” it’s hard to argue against the standard iPad. You can buy the Apple iPad 10.2 (2021) for $309 on Amazon (opens in new tab).

From our Apple iPad 10.2 (2021) review: “The Apple iPad 2021 is a little different from its predecessor, offering the same winning combination of beauty and speed in a slim, relatively affordable package. It's still one of the best tablets you can buy, and this year’s model sports a faster A13 Bionic chip and an impressive new front-facing camera that set it apart from earlier models.

“However, I could stand to see Apple do a little more to improve the base iPad’s design. It still has thick black bezels around the screen, especially around the top and bottom, and it’s still limited to charging via Lightning cable when most iPads now support USB-C charging. On the bright side, it still has a headphone jack too, which for some people will make this the only iPad worth buying.

“Apple’s iPad 2021 is, like its predecessors, a well-made tablet that offers a great screen, smooth performance, and good battery life for a reasonable price. It’s the cheapest iPad Apple sells, but it doesn’t feel cheap, and the upgraded internals and selfie camera are meaningful improvements over the prior iPad.”

10.2" iPad (64GB/2021): was $329 now $309 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The 2021 iPad features Apple's A13 Bionic CPU, a new 12MP front camera, and 64GB of storage (instead of 32GB like its predecessor). You also get support for Center Stage, which uses machine learning to adjust the front-facing camera during FaceTime video calls. Deals on this base model are rare, so snatch this up while you can. The 256GB model is also on sale for $429 (opens in new tab) ($50 off) at Amazon.

Apple Watch Series 3 

apple watch 3

(Image credit: Future)

On its own, the Apple Watch is a great smartwatch with many useful features. Pair it with an iPhone and you’ll unlock the watch’s true potential. Instead of pulling out your phone to check messages, receive calls, or listen to music, you can do these things via an Apple Watch. Though it may not have the robust fitness tracking features of the Apple Watch 7, it has most of what you need.

The Apple Watch 3 is a solid device, even if a few years old. It's waterproof, has GPS, can play music, works with Apple Pay and has heart rate and sleep tracking. Turning to an older model like the Series 3 isn’t a bad way to get started with Apple's wearables, since the latest Apple watches are not cheap. Despite its age, the Apple Watch 3 also runs the latest watchOS 8 software.

If you're looking for a more affordable way to jump into the Apple Watch ecosystem, starting with the Apple Watch 3 isn’t a bad option. You can buy the Apple Watch 3 on Amazon for $199 (opens in new tab).

Apple Watch 3 (Aluminum): $199 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
This is the Apple Watch 3's current price but it frequently dips down by $30 or more. If you can find it on sale, don't hesitate to snatch it up. See our Apple Watch deals (opens in new tab) page for more discounts. 

Apple AirPods 3

The Apple AirPods 3 wireless earbuds resting atop the wireless charging case

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

You’ll need earbuds if you want to listen to music or watch content without bothering those around you. The AirPods are one of the most popular wireless earbuds for a reason: They deliver great sound, are comfortable to wear and have a distinctive design. The Apple AirPods 3 are available on Amazon for $149 (opens in new tab).

From our Apple AirPods 3 review: “Apple played it smart with the AirPods 3, offering just enough upgrades to make it a significant step up from the AirPods 2, while also keeping it a few steps below the AirPods Pro.

“Essentially, these buds are the AirPods Pro minus the eartips and a handful of features. Several series hallmarks show up on the spec sheet, including Adaptive EQ, spatial audio, and force sensor controls. Apple even added some new tricks to make them more distinctive, including skin detection for auto-pause/play, MagSafe charging, and recently launched iOS 15 features such as Enhanced Find My. Let’s not forget the boost in battery life, either; granted it’s only an hour more, but a win, nonetheless. There’s no denying the triumph that is the AirPods 3.”

AirPods 3 (2021): was $179 now $149 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The AirPods 3 offer Spatial Audio, which creates immersive listening experiences for music-listening, movie-watching, and more. They're also IPX4 sweat and water-resistant, a feature that was previously exclusive to the AirPods Pro. They're just $10 shy of their all-time price low. 

MacBook Air with M1 

Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020) review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Of course, we can’t forget about the MacBook. Apple’s long-running line of laptops has many iterations, including the latest MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch. Though MacBooks tend to be pricy, the MacBook Air exists for more budget-minded users. It's arguably one of the finest laptops ever released. You can get the MacBook Air with M1 on Amazon for $899 (opens in new tab).

From our MacBook Air with M1 review: “The Apple MacBook Air with M1 takes your idea of what a MacBook Air is, and throws it in the recycling bin. Yes, it's still got the same iconic wedge aesthetic, but Apple Silicon makes it far more powerful and capable than ever before — destroying Intel's CPUs and making it a MacBook Pro competitor. Thus, a new era kicked off for the MacBook Air — one with Pro-grade power that challenges Intel-based Windows PCs — and often beats them.”

Apple MacBook Air M1: was $999 now $899 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The 2020 Apple MacBook Air is one of the best laptops Apple has ever made. It was the first machine to feature Apple's new M1 chip, and it astounded us with its power. Seriously, for a laptop this thin and light, it can take on much heavier machines. MacBook Air laptops are on sale for $899 on Amazon, and Best Buy (opens in new tab) is also offering the same deal. 

Homepod Mini

Apple HomePod mini

(Image credit: Future)

We’re including the Homepod Mini on this list mostly because it’s an Apple product that plays nicely with the company’s other devices. That isn’t to say the Homepod Mini is bad, but out of all the devices we’ve discussed, it’s the least essential piece of the Apple ecosystem pie. However, if you want to be a completionist and own every single device in said ecosystem, the Homepod mini’s standard $99 asking price at Best Buy (opens in new tab) won’t sting too badly.

From our Homepod Mini review: “The mini sounds great for its size, and will certainly attract many more buyers than the $299 HomePod — which has now been discontinued — did. The HomePod mini also integrates well with your iPhone and other products in the Apple ecosystem. However, while I like HomeKit as a smart home platform, I’m still less impressed with Siri overall as a voice assistant. But Apple fans who have been looking longingly at Amazon and Google’s budget smart speakers finally have a device to call their own.” 

Homepod Mini: $99 @ Best Buy (opens in new tab)
This small spherical speaker aims to compete with the Amazon Echo, but in a package the size of the Echo Dot.  And for the size, there’s no better-sounding smart speaker than the HomePod mini.

Other benefits of the Apple ecosystem

Cloud services like AirDrop and iCloud help tie the Apple ecosystem. With AirDrop, you can easily share and receive photos, documents and more with nearby Apple devices. iCloud lets you store said files and apps in Apple's cloud servers so you can access them wherever you are and across multiple Apple devices.

Pairing Apple devices to one another doesn't require much effort. For example, if you get a new pair of AirPods, all you have to do to pair them with your phone is open the AirPods' case. It's touches like this that make the Apple ecosystem so inviting and user-friendly.

Final cost 

At the time of writing, everything on this list will cost $2,084. If we take away the Homepod Mini, the total comes to $1,985. That amount is still hefty, but considering how the entry-level MacBook Pro 14-inch alone costs $1,999, spending nearly that much on so many great products lessens the blow.

Apple’s products aren’t always the most budget-friendly, but if you can spring a little over $2,000 for what we’ve listed here, then you can enter the company’s consumer-friendly ecosystem.

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.