Finding a gift for your most tech-savvy friends and family can be tough, especially with electronics getting more expensive as the years go by. While it may seem like the only electronics worth getting are those that exist outside of your budget, that’s not actually the case. Plenty of tech gifts are available at affordable prices—the struggle is sorting through the junk to find the devices worth shelling out any amount of money for.
This is where we at Ars come in: we spend all year testing electronics, with prices spanning everything from “luxury” to “dirt-cheap.” So recently, we poured through our notes to find some of the best tech gifts you can buy that are under $50. All of the devices listed below have been tested and verified for excellence or for personal use on a regular basis. Instead of shooting in the dark or overspending when it comes to tech gifts this year, consider the following devices that we know will make any recipient happy.
Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.
Anker PowerLine II Lightning and USB-C cables for $12.99 (and up)
Here’s a simple one: if your loved one has bought a smartphone in the last couple of years, that phone probably supports some level of fast charging. If they have an iPhone that isn’t the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max, they need an external USB-C Power Delivery charger and USB-C to Lightning cable to make that happen. If they have a newer Android phone, the necessary materials probably came in the box, but the thing about good charging gear is that you can never really have too much of it. Either way, this fast-charging can prevent your loved one from spending any number of hours stuck near an outlet.
There are many chargers and portable batteries that can do the job here—for smartphones, just make sure you get at least 18W of power—but for cables, we’ve found Anker’s PowerLine II series to be particularly reliable. Its USB-C to Lightning cable is MFi certified by Apple to work safely with iOS devices and costs significantly less than Apple’s own alternative. Its USB-C to USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cable supports up to 5-amp/100W charging and up to 10Gbps data transfer speeds, so it can charge newer USB-C laptops like the 15-inch MacBook Pro as fast as possible (again, with a powerful-enough charger) and move videos and other large files quickly. The more affordable USB-C to USB-C 2.0 cable, meanwhile, supports up to 60W charging, which is easily fast enough to refill new USB-C phones and tablets at max speeds. Both USB-C cables are certified as compliant by the USB-IF, a nonprofit body run by Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and other major tech firms that looks over the USB spec.
In any case, each PowerLine II cable we’ve tested has performed as it should and shown no serious signs of wear after months of travel and regular use. If something does go wrong, Anker gives each cable a lifetime warranty. It’s not the sexiest gift, sure, but bundling a few cables together based on what devices your loved one owns could make their day-to-day a little more convenient.
Anker PowerLine II USB-C to Lightning Cable (6ft)
Anker PowerWave Stand for $15.99
Wireless chargers are really handy to have on a nightstand or an office desk, and Anker’s PowerWave 10W Qi wireless charging stand is a solid one at a great price of $15.99. It has a simple yet practical design that lets you use your smartphone in an upright position while it’s charging, and it can be positioned horizontally or vertically on the stand. It also supports phone cases up to 5mm thick, so most will not have to remove their phone cases to charge up.
Anker’s stand supports 10W charging on Galaxy smartphones and others, and up to 5W charging on iPhones. While it’s not the fastest fast charger we’ve ever tested, Anker’s stand will power most smartphones at least 30 percent in just one hour. The stand itself doesn’t get hot while charging either, nor does it raise the temperature of your smartphone too much. Overall, it’s a solid wireless charger for most Qi-enabled smartphones at an excellent price.
Anker PowerWave Stand
Fiio µBTR for $22.99
While it’s admittedly a niche product, a Bluetooth headphone adapter like the Fiio µBTR lets you use any beloved wired headphone with a headphone-jack-less phone. Unlike a wired dongle, though, it still gives you the freedom of leaving your phone in a separate bag, charging it across the room, or just generally using it without having a cable attached.
The µBTR itself is conveniently designed, with a built-in clip that can attach to a pocket and dedicated buttons for volume, pause/play, and activating Siri or Google Assistant (depending on your phone OS). It lasts about eight or nine hours on a charge, which should be enough for a typical workday, and it recharges quickly through a USB-C port. It pairs simply enough and has presented us with no significant connection issues in testing.
Going from a wired connection to Bluetooth almost inherently means a drop in audio quality, but for what it is, the µBTR doesn’t degrade things too much. It doesn’t support the higher-quality aptX or LDAC audio codecs, but it does support AAC, which is as good as iPhone audio gets. Switching to a Bluetooth headset is still the simplest solution for most people moving to a phone without a headphone jack, but if you know someone who is deeply into audio and has invested a good amount in a decent pair, the µBTR is a nifty compromise.