There are gadgets that are merely cheap, and then there are true values. The difference is key, and it's one that Tom's Guide obsessed over for our first annual Best Tech Value Awards. Over the course of 2017, we tested dozens of low-priced, best-selling products — many of which we purchased straight off of Amazon — to bring you this list of unbeatable bargains.
Looking to get your smart home going? We have four helpful options for under $100 to get started. Ready to cut the cable cord? Our favorite streaming stick, cable-replacement service and HDTV antenna will save you hundreds versus going through your provider.
From fitness and mobile to music and kids and family, we picked top tech values across 9 categories to help you get the most bang for your buck. Our community selected their top bargains as well, providing 9 overall Readers’ Choice awards. All of these award-winning items also happen to make great gifts, so you're bound to find something for everyone on your shopping list, as well as yourself.
Last but not least, we wanted to find out how much you wanted to pay for your next gadget -- to help guide our selections -- so we surveyed more than 8,000 of you to find out. The results may surprise you.
Survey says: More than half of our respondents (57%) said they consider $50-$100 to be a reasonable price for a smart home speaker. That makes the Amazon Echo and Google Home a great start for many.
Smart Plug: iHome ISP5 Control Smart Plug
Plug anything from lights to coffee makers into the iHome ISP5 and instantly make that device a smart device that you can control from your phone, anywhere. It's not just the plug that's great — using the app, you can connect the iHome plug to Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit and more, and you can create schedules for when it turns on and off.
Lights: Sengled Element Classic Starter Kit
Smart light bulbs generally aren't cheap, as there's extra tech built into them. However, Sengled's Element Starter Kit, which includes two lights and a hub, is an exception. It works with a lot of smart home systems, and you can schedule when the light will turn on and off. Better yet, extra bulbs are just $9 each.
Robot Vacuum: Eufy RoboVac 11
The Eufy RoboVac 11 doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but this robot vac is good at cleaning, is small enough to fit underneath furniture and has a handy remote for when you want to direct the device around your house. Plus, its large dustbin is really easy to empty.
Security Camera: Belkin NetCam HD+
This 720p webcam is easy to set up, sends you alerts when it detects motion and can even see in the dark. In addition,the NetCam HD+ works with Belkin's other WeMo products, so you can set it to turn on the lights if it senses someone. To save recordings, you'll want to subscribe to the Cloud+ Premium service, which costs $9.99 per month or $99 per year. There's a free 30-day subscription.
Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo Dot
The Google Home Mini is very good, but the Echo Dot remains the best inexpensive way to get the best all-around voice assistant in your home. The Echo Dot lets you access thousands of skills and control hundreds of smart home gadgets using just your voice. It doesn't have the best audio, but the Dot can be paired with other speakers easily, and its small size makes it well-suited for rooms where you don't want a piece of tech cluttering everything up.
Survey says: The highest percentage of respondents (38%) said they'd spend $200-$300 on a new phone, which is less than half the cost of premium flagships like the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8. Our Best Value pick, the Moto G5 Plus, goes for $229.
Phone: Moto G5 Plus
If you're looking for a jack-of-all-trades phone that'll last a very long time on a charge and cost a third of the price of Apple and Samsung's best, the Moto G5 Plus has you covered. This 5.2-inch metal-clad bargain features a zippy Snapdragon 625 processor, a bright full-HD display, a solid rear camera with dual-pixel autofocus and nearly 12 hours of battery life — all for $230. And thanks to a delightful software experience and thoughtful gesture controls, it feels much more premium than its price tag suggests.
Key Finder: Tile Pro Series
Tile has been the leading maker of wireless key finders for a few years now, and that's still the case even as the company rolls out different models. The $25 Tile Mate remains a great choice if you want a no-frills key finder with two-way finding features that also help you track down your misplaced phone. But we'd suggest putting up an extra $10 for the Tile Sport or Tile Style. Not only do these $35 key finders offer a more elegant design, but they also feature an even louder alarm as well as IP68 water resistance, making them as durable as they are functional.
Wireless Mouse: Logitech M510 Advanced
If you're looking for a cheap wireless mouse to chuck in a bag while you travel, the Logitech M510 Advanced is the best option for the money. For just $20, you get a mouse with a comfortable, ambidextrous design and customizable side buttons (though they're admittedly on the stiff side), in addition to Logitech's SetPoint software. Two AA batteries should power it for two years, and it works wirelessly with a USB dongle that slots into the bottom of the mouse when you're not using it. It's not the most advanced mouse on the market, but for something better than your trackpad, it's a steal.
Ultraportable Laptop: Asus ZenBook UX330UA
The Asus ZenBook UX330UA is a steal at $699, because it gives you everything you'd expect from a premium ultraportable laptop at a great price. This includes an aluminum design, a colorful and bright full-HD screen and a 256GB SSD. And, unlike other super-skinny systems, the UX330UA includes a full-size USB 3 port, an SD Card slot and a USB-C port. The Harman Kardon speakers sound pretty sweet, too. Add in a swift Core i5 processor and more than 10 hours of battery life, and you have one of the best laptop values of the year.
Best Phone Service: T-Mobile
There are cheaper services (T-Mobile's MetroPCS subsidiary offers lower monthly rates), and archrival Verizon may have the more extensive network. But T-Mobile hits the sweet spot for value, with an attractively priced unlimited-data plan, fast LTE performance and excellent customer service. T-Mobile also doles out the perks, including weekly giveaways. If you have two or more lines with T-Mobile, the carrier will even pay for a $9.99 monthly Netflix subscription for you.
Credit: Getty Images
Best USB Type-C Hub: Anker 4-Port USB-C to USB 3.0
If you're dealing with the frustration of a laptop that has only USB Type-C ports, the pocket-size Anker 4-Port hub will restore order to your world, for only $18. That means you can connect your keyboard, mouse and external hard drive to your notebook, as well as charge another item, all at the same time. There are a lot of USB Type-C hubs out there, and while they can get pretty pricy, the Anker offers everything you need in a neat metallic design.
Smartwatch: Keoker KW18 Smart watch
Most smartwatches under $100 are junky, but we were pleasantly surprised by the Keoker KW18. It's not only the best-looking budget smartwatch we tested, but it also includes a heart rate monitor, pedometer and music player. You can even make calls from this watch if you take advantage of the SIM card slot.
Survey says: Most respondents (60%) would spend between $10-$50 on earbuds, but many (26%) would spend between $50-$150.
Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Flex 2
While this budget tracker lacks a display, the svelte Fitbit Flex 2 can keep tabs on your runs and swims — yes, it's waterproof. You can also outfit the Flex 2 in a huge range of wristbands; it can even be worn as a pendant. In addition, you'll get connected into Fitbit's huge community of users, who can help motivate you to get out there and exercise.
GPS Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 25
The Garmin Forerunner 25 is a great running-watch bargain for those who want to know their pace and distance on the fly. It lasts up to 10 hours, it's waterproof to 165 feet, and most importantly, its GPS is very accurate. Plus, it has Bluetooth, so you can wirelessly sync it with Garmin's smartphone app. It has a sunlight-readable 128 x 128-pixel display, as well as a backlight for when you're running in the dark. The Forerunner 25 comes in several colors and two sizes, to fit both your taste and your wrist.
Running Headphones: Koss FitClips KSC32
Koss' FitClips are stylish and sporty, sweat-resistant, wired headphones that nail the trifecta of comfort, great sound and price. Their flexible hooks can be adjusted to fit over any size ears — even when the user is wearing glasses — and they come with three tip-cushion sizes to make them fit more comfortably. Despite their relatively low price, these buds have great audio quality, especially on the bass. They're perfect for blocking out the world when you want to work up a good sweat.
TV and Streaming
Survey says: The highest percentage of respondents (37%) said they'd spend $600-$1,000 on a 4K TV, but if they chose our Best Value winner, they'd only have to shell out $480.
4K TV: Insignia NS-55DR620NA18 with Roku
While many 4K TVs run in the thousands of dollars, affordable Ultra HD sets are out there, and the 55-inch Insignia Roku TV is the best value. Of the sub-$500 sets we tested, it had some of the best performance available, with great brightness and color accuracy, and the Roku smart TV interface is one of the best available, with apps and features galore and an intuitive interface.
Cable Replacement Service: Sling TV
Sling TV offers 29 channels — including AMC, CNN, TNT and Comedy Central — for only $20 per month, the most affordable option available for cord cutters. Also, it's great for sports fans, as it packs ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3 (no word on The Ocho), so you don't need to give up live sports. If that's not enough, an extra $5 per month adds on more than 14 sports channels, including NBA TV, the NHL Network, ESPNEWS and ESPNU.
HD Antenna: 1byOne Super Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna
Cutting the cord doesn't mean you need to spend a lot on subscription streaming services, not when you can get HD stations for free with an antenna for under $20. The 1byOne Super Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna is the top performer of any antenna we tested in the under-$20 set. The antenna has a unique, transparent design that makes it ideal for placement in a window, and it pulled in a whopping 38 watchable channels in our tests. It even comes with a 20-foot cable; that's twice the length of the usual bundled coaxial cable.
Streaming Service: Netflix
Netflix gives you more great content than anyone else at a great price. You don't need to spend a ton for access to Netflix's Marvel originals, hysterical stand-up comedy specials, critically acclaimed original documentaries and revivals of popular comedies. Netflix's content extends far beyond its own creations, though, as the service's library contains more than 4,800 movies and TV shows. The $7.99 starting price is cheap, but we’d step up to the $10.99 plan to enjoy HD resolution and 2 simultaneous streams. The $13.99 plan includes 4K support and 4 streams.
Streaming Device: Google Chromecast
The Google Chromecast is one of the cheapest streaming devices on the market, but it's also one of the best. This $35 dongle doesn't bother with a complicated operating system or a bevy of unneeded bells and whistles. Instead, you just plug it in, then use your phone or computer to cast content to it. If you know how to use an app on iOS or Android, you already know how to use it on Chromecast. Better still, the Chromecast just accepts commands from a phone or computer, but it doesn't stream content directly from one of those devices. That means your battery life won't suffer, and you'll be free to use your gadget as you normally would.
Survey says: The highest percentage of respondents (40%) said they'd spend between $150-$300 on their next gaming console, making our Best Value winners — Nintendo 2DS ($79) and SNES Classic Edition ($79) great buys for them and even better buys for the 34 percent of respondents who said they'd only spend $80-$250 on a new console.
Console: Nintendo 2DS
Nintendo's 2DS is a great buy for folks who want to dive into a huge library of fantastic games for a low price. This $80 portable gives you access to Nintendo's sweeping 3DS catalog, which includes essentials such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Fire Emblem Awakening and Super Smash Bros., as well as new hits like Metroid: Samus Returns and Pokemon Sun and Moon. Better yet, you can get the 2DS bundled with New Super Mario Bros. 2, allowing you enjoy some classic Nintendo platforming right out of the box.
Retro Console: SNES Classic Edition
Thanks to its stellar, timeless game lineup, the SNES Classic Edition isn't just a cheap nostalgia toy; it's a legitimately good console filled with titles that still hold up today. With 21 preloaded games — including Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and the never-before-released Star Fox 2 — as well as two included controllers, the SNES Classic packs everything you need for months of joyous retro gaming into a charming $80 box.
Desktop: CyberPower Gamer Xtreme VR
Buying a gaming PC that can handle virtual reality will typically run you close to $1,000, which makes the $699 CyberPower Gamer Xtreme VR an excellent bargain. This entry-level desktop packs a Core i5 processor and an AMD RX 580 graphics card into a sleek and easily upgradable chassis, delivering everything you need to enjoy VR and the latest AAA games without breaking the bank.
Mouse: Logitech G302 Daedalus Prime
If you want top-quality engineering for half the price of other gaming mice, check out the Logitech G302 Daedalus Prime. This mouse eschews colored backlighting, tunable weights and wireless functionality, instead delivering a comfortable grip, a precise sensor and a few extra buttons in strategic locations. Like its more expensive cousins, it also runs on the Logitech Gaming Software, allowing unprecedented customization. Whether you play competitively or alone, the G302 Daedalus Prime is a worthwhile peripheral.
Keyboard: Turtle Beach Impact 100
If you don't want to splurge for a mechanical gaming keyboard but don't want to settle for an uncomfortable office peripheral either, this is a good middle ground. The Turtle Beach Impact 100 is a membrane keyboard that imitates the feel of a mechanical one. With decently deep key travel and a full-size profile, the Impact 100 is simple but worthwhile for the budget-conscious. There's no tedious software to grapple with, either; just plug it in, and you're ready to play.
Headset: HyperX Cloud Stinger
A good gaming headset has a comfortable fit, a clear sound profile and a sensitive microphone. The HyperX Cloud Stinger has all three qualities, and costs $50 — a far sight less than most high-end gaming headsets, which start at around $80. The headset might look out of place on the bus, and the music quality is so-so, but for both multiplayer matches and single-player adventures, the Cloud Stinger is easy to wear for hours at a time, and that's probably the most important quality a gaming headset can offer. Furthermore, it attaches via 3.5mm audio jack rather than USB, so you can plug it into just about anything.
Laptop: Origin PC Eon15-S
Typically, you have to think about taking out a second mortgage when buying a gaming laptop. But somehow, Origin PC found a way to deliver power, portability and affordability into a rather slim package. The Eon15-S offers good gaming and overall performance with speedy file transfers and solid (for a gaming laptop) battery life. The audio could be better, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with a nice gaming headset.
Kids and Family
Survey says: While the highest percentage of respondents (37%) said they'd spend between $50-$75 on a kid's tablet, many (27%) also said they'd spend between $75-$130. Our Best Value pick, the Amazon Fire HD 8 for Kids, is at the top of that price range, but it gives you more for your money.
Kid Tracker: Trax Play
Our favorite GPS kid tracker also happens to be one of the more attractively priced options. Trax Play costs just $99, and if you prepay for two years of service, you'll pay just $4 a month for your data plan. (That's compared to $9 a month for six months of service.) Trax has improved the signal retrieval and positioning from earlier models, and we really like a cool augmented reality feature that shows your child's location and distance on a smartphone screen, making it easier to track your kid down in a crowd.
Online photo storage: Google Photos
Not only is Google Photos a cost-effective place to store and share your pictures and video, but it also lets you make edits; tag people, places and things; and share your media easily with others. You get unlimited space and uploads for photos up to 16 megapixels and video up to 1080p. If you want to store bigger images or video, you'll need to pay for space on Google Drive, which starts at $1.99 a month for 100GB. The most popular option is 1TB for $9.99 monthly.
Baby Monitor: iBaby Monitor M6T
iBaby's M6T gives parents what they need to check in on their baby without putting much of a dent in the kid's college fund. Even though it has a sub-$200 price tag, the M6T still allows its 720p HD camera to rotate a full 360 degrees, providing a clear video stream over Wi-Fi of every corner or the nursery. Parents will also appreciate a push-to-talk feature to soothe a crying baby and the ability to play lullabies through the iBaby mobile app.
Stem Kit: Lego Boost
To help kids get ahead in the 21st century, there's a huge market of robot kits that teach kids to code, but most of the good ones cost well over $200. A fantastic value at just $159, the Lego Boost kit lets you build five different types of robots and learn to program them with a dead-simple mobile app. The app makes it really easy and fun for children to learn to program, even if they haven't yet learned how to read, and the different Lego creations are infinitely expandable.
Indoor Drone: Parrot Mambo
This cute Parrot Mambo drone is a cinch to fly, and can be piloted using either a smartphone app (iOS and Android) or the optional Flypad controller ($39). Plus, you can purchase fun snap-on accessories for the Mambo, including a small cannon that fires green pellets ($19), a pincer claw and a 720p camera. A new FPV pack includes the drone, the camera, the Flypad and FPV goggles, all for $179.
Tablet: Amazon Fire HD 8 for Kids
The two-year, no-questions-asked return policy that comes with Amazon's Fire Kids edition tablets is fantastic, but you need to pair that policy with the best slate Amazon sells. Sure, the $99 Fire Kids Edition is the most affordable kid-friendly tablet out there, but its the Fire HD 8 for Kids gives you a lot more. For starters, you get an extra 3 hours of battery life per charge, as the HD 8 lasted 10 hours and 12 minutes, while the Fire 7 made it only 7:06. Also, you can store more apps and media on the tablet with its 32GB of storage (the Fire Kids starts at 15GB).
Laptop for Kids: Dell Inspiron 11 3000
Dell's Inspiron 11 3000 laptop is great starters for young children who don't need a ton of power. You get an attractive plastic chassis in fun colors, surprisingly solid audio for the money and over 11 hours of battery life, so kids can stream to their hearts' delight. The Celeron processor should be enough for a child who doesn't need to multitask, so you won't need to upgrade until they have serious homework to do. Just be sure to opt for the $200 model, which comes with 4GB of RAM.
Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide
Laptop for Families: Acer Aspire E 15
Usually, to get a laptop with a solid screen, you have to pay a pretty penny. The E5-575-33BM variant of the Acer Aspire E15 costs just $350 and includes a vivid, 15.6-inch, 1080p display, along with plenty of ports and even a DVD drive (for families that still use those). The notebook gets a solid 8 hours of battery life, and its Core i3 CPU will handle web browsing and streaming videos without any hiccups.
In terms of hours of fun per dollar, it's hard to think of a better value for kids than Minecraft. This beloved world-building game allows your young ones to create and play in the pixelated kingdoms of their dreams, whether the kids are crafting their own levels or digging through a trove of pre-built and community-created content. Minecraft is available on just about every platform for less than $30, and the console versions support split-screen multiplayer, making them perfect for playing with your kids.
Survey says: Most respondents (58%) said they'd spend anywhere from $10-$100 on a Bluetooth speaker. Our Best Value pick, the Anker SoundCore 2, falls on the lower end of that price range at $39.99.
Bluetooth Speaker: Anker SoundCore 2
The Anker SoundCore 2 delivers the sound quality and features you'd expect from a Bluetooth speaker that costs twice this price. This $40 speaker delivers big bass, a 24-hour battery and a built-in microphone within a compact, water-resistant design, making it the perfect companion for enjoying your favorite tunes anywhere from the kitchen to the beach.
Soundbar: Vizio SB2920
The Vizio SB2920 is the ultimate sub-$100 soundbar, serving up the kind of rich sound and solid build quality that you'd expect from a premium-priced speaker. This device delivers big, detailed sound that's loud enough to fill your living room, all within a sleek package that will look great sitting under your TV. This soundbar also features DTS TruVolume to prevent jarring jumps in volume, as well as DTS TruSurround to get you fully immersed in your favorite movies.
Music Service: Google Play Music plus YouTube Red
Even though they both cost $10 per month, Google Play Music gives you more than a Spotify Premium membership will. Google Play Music boasts the same 40-million song count that Spotify does, the same family-plan deal (six users for $14.99 per month) and availability on Android, iOS and the web. But Google also throws in a free YouTube Red subscription, which removes ads from the popular streaming site. Google Play Music also packs a cloud locker service for storing your tunes.
Earbuds: HC-RET In-Ear Earbuds
For a pair of $13 earbuds, the HC-RETs punch way above their weight class, delivering sound quality typically found in much more expensive earphones. We were floored by the thunderous bass, tight midrange and natural highs, as well as the super-comfortable fit. Plus, the HC-RET is pretty durable, but we wouldn't blame you for getting a few pairs for work, the gym and travel.
Wireless Earbuds: Plantronics Backbeat Go 2
The Plantronics' BackBeat Go 2 free you from being tethered to your smartphone, offer good audio in a comfortably secure design and do so at a great price. Even better, they're extremely light, fit comfortably around your neck and come with ear inserts that stay put during exercise, so you can go that extra mile. Expect up to 4.5 hours of listening time between charges.
Survey says: Most respondents (56%) said they'd spend between $60-$100 on an instant camera. But a significant number of respondents (totaling 44%) said they'd spend more than $100. Our Best Value pick, the Polaroid Snap Instant Camera, sells for $100.
iPhone Lens: Amir 3-in-1 Smartphone Lens Kit
The Amir 3-in-1 Smartphone Lens Kit includes a 180-degree fish-eye, 25x macro and 0.4X super-wide-angle lens, all for just $12. Don't expect superior quality, but it's good for the price, and its near-universal clip-on mechanism fits iPhones 5s and later, a ton of Samsung smartphones, as well as a host of other Android devices.
Compact Camera: Sony DSC-W800
Want to get great pics without using up your smartphone's battery? This 20-megapixel compact camera measures just 2.1 x 2 x 0.9 inches when turned off and weighs 3.5 ounces. The Sony DSC-W800's 2.7-inch LCD screen is also pretty large considering the size of the camera. The W800's 5x optical zoom goes from a 26mm-equivalent wide angle to a 130mm telephoto, good enough for a wide range of shots.
Instant Camera: Polaroid Snap Instant Camera
Polaroid's funSnap Instant Camera takes 10-MP digital photos, but it wouldn't be a Polaroid if it didn't also spit out a hard copy. Built into the camera is a Zink printer that produces 3 x 2-inch photos right after they're snapped. The Snap comes in several fun colors, too.
DSLR: Nikon D3400
Nikon's entry-level DSLR is well-suited for those making the jump from a smartphone or point-and-shoot to more professional photography. The D3400, which comes with an 18-55mm lens, has a 24-MP sensor and a 3-inch display, and can shoot video at 1080p. Best of all, it has a number of guides to help you learn more about what the camera can do.
All-in-one printer: Epson Expression XP-640
Most of us want something that prints clean documents and great photos but doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Look no further than the Epson Expression XP-640, one of our favorite all-in-one inkjet printers. It was one of the fastest printers we've tested, but it also boasts excellent printing of photos and high-quality graphics. With a five-color ink system, it delivers richer colors and better fine detail in photos, while still keeping the cost of printing low, so you'll even save money in the long run.
Photo-Editing Software: Affinity Photo
Affinty Photo is half the price of the big boys, but it offers such features as RAW image processing, adjustment layers, masks, color management, dynamic paint brushes, a healing brush, lens correction, and CMYK and RGB editing. It can even read, open and edit Photoshop PSD files. There's a bit of a learning curve, but the investment in time is worth the money you'll save.
Antivirus Software: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus has nearly perfect malware detection and a great selection of extra tools. There's a built-in password manager, a secure browser for online banking or shopping, dedicated protection against encrypting ransomware, and automatic adjustments that optimize the software's impact on your system when you're watching a movie or playing a game.
Password Manager: LastPass
LastPass combines ease of use, support for all major platforms, a feature-rich free version, a variety of configurations and an affordable premium subscription. The free version syncs across an unlimited number of devices on all platforms. You don't even need to install a desktop application; LastPass can live entirely in browser extensions and in a full-featured web interface, as well as in mobile apps.
VPN services/software: Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access is not only the cheapest full-fledged VPN service we've tried, but also the top performer in our tests, with more than 3,000 connection servers. You can sign up and pay anonymously. You don't get to pick your own username (it gets assigned to you), but overall PIA is cheap, fast and reliable.
Online backup service: Backblaze
The small, sleek Backblaze offers everything you'd expect from an online-backup servicefor unlimited online storage for one PC or Mac, including backups of external drives. It will also mail you a drive containing all your files in case you lose them. There's no family plan or other discount for multiple machines, but overall Backblaze is a great value at just $5 per month.
Router with Parental Controls: Netgear R6220
Routers don't have to be expensive just to get you online. The Netgear R6220 stands out with the right mix of performance and features. This dual-band router offers solid 802.11ac performance, but also boasts excellent software and parental controls. Features like a USB 2.0 port for connecting peripherals, a switch for turning off wireless transmissions when you're on vacation and parental controls that filter out objectionable websites only make it a better bargain at this affordable price.