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Favorite gadgets, tools, and wearables under $50

Aug 25, 2023Aug 25, 2023

By Barbara Krasnoff, a reviews editor who manages how-tos. She’s worked as an editor and writer for almost 40 years. Previously, she was a senior reviews editor for Computerworld.

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Okay, let’s face it — there’s a thrill when you go into a store and try out, or even buy, an $1,800 Samsung Z-Fold 5 or a $999 iPhone 14 Pro. But sometimes, you can feel a real sense of accomplishment when you find that you own something that costs under $50 and turns out to be something you really, really enjoy using.

We asked the staff of The Verge to come up with their favorite inexpensive items, and we got some really interesting answers, ranging from electric screwdrivers and wired earbuds to stick vacuum cleaners and snazzy watch bands.

So here’s some of the neat stuff that we own, use, and like.

Jay Peters, news editor

Inexpensive wired earbuds that come in a variety of colors.

If you just need a pair of affordable headphones that you won’t sweat losing or breaking, you might want to check out Panasonic’s ErgoFit Wired Earbuds.

I’ve recommended these before, and I’ll recommend them again. These are my favorite ultra-cheap wired headphones with a mic, and I use them for things like gaming, for Zoom calls, and even as a wired mic for appearances on podcasts and television.

Do they sound great? Maybe not great, but audio is perfectly fine. Is the mic good? Not as good as a USB mic, but good enough!

David Pierce, editor-at-large

Apple’s wired earbuds are comfortable, provide fine audio, and includes a built-in remote.

Here’s a little-known fact about Apple’s wired headphones: outside of a professional microphone, they’re probably the best gadget on the planet for sounding good on phone and video calls. Add in the fact that their battery never dies (because they don’t have one!) and the fact that they’re more comfortable to have in your ears for hours than any of the AirPods, and the old-fashioned EarPods are a staggeringly useful accessory.

You can get EarPods with a Lightning jack for your iPhone or a 3.5mm jack for everything else on Earth. Heck, they’re under $20, get both! I have a set in my suitcase (for emergency plane-screen situations), a set in my backpack, and a set in my car. If you ever call me and think gosh, David sounds so great, there’s only one reason for it: wires.

Sean Hollister, senior editor

Inexpensive 9V batteries.

Look, I’m not going to promise these are perfectly safe — every one of these lithium batteries I’ve seen comes from some alphabet soup Amazon company, and li-ion batteries are inherently flammable even if fires are rare. But considering how rarely I ever actually pull out a 9V battery, how expensive they can be, and yet how quickly they drain in serious use (see: my TENS muscle relaxing machine that also happens to be sub-$50, wink wink), I immediately bought some as soon as I discovered they’re a thing.

Here’s the most recent set I picked up from a seller called SPYONG, simply because they were the first ones I saw with integrated USB-A charging cables so I can plug ‘em directly into my USB-port-wielding outlets. You can find plenty more here, including ones with their own built-in USB-C ports.

Becca Farsace, senior video producer

An SD, microSD, and SIM card holder with a built-in 3.1 USB-C card reader and SIM card removal tool.

As a video person who is constantly on the move, there is nothing better than the consolidation of gear — especially when it pertains to dongles. So when fellow video extraordinaire Vjeran Pavic (The Verge’s supervising producer) recently surprised me with a very cute birthday note and this magical little gadget, I was elated.

And if that wasn’t enough, it has a carabiner hook. It is everything I have ever wanted in a rubber case and more. To have both my SD card reader and all my cards in one place is priceless (well, actually $39.95). Thank you, Vjeran. <3

Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor

Lightweight vacuum cleaner suitable for floors, flat rugs, and furniture.

I am not enthusiastic about cleaning. In fact, I can get so lazy that, on the recommendation of a Verge colleague, I’ve been using an app called Tody to try to guilt myself into occasional bouts of dusting, sweeping, and vacuuming.

It’s this last chore that’s been the most troublesome for me. I’ve never had a lot of upper-body strength, and schlepping a vacuum cleaner around the house is so much trouble that I’d do almost anything to avoid it, which is why I’m so happy with the Bissell Featherweight Stick Lightweight Bagless Vacuum. It’s not a smart vacuum — sorry, smart home fans — and it won’t work on your plush carpeting. But it’s inexpensive, it sucks up dust and crumbs from floor surfaces and worn, flat carpets (of which I have a couple), and best of all, it’s incredibly lightweight — 2.6 lbs. — so that I have no trouble carrying it up and down stairs. I can pull the handle off to convert it to a hand-vac for couches and chairs, and it takes only a moment to dump all that collected dirt into the trash can. It’s not perfect — you don’t get the power of a full-scale vacuum cleaner, and it would be nice if the 15-foot power cord was just a little longer — but I’m doing a lot more vacuuming than I was before, which is definitely A Good Thing.

Alex Cranz, managing editor

A 46-piece screwdriver kits that can help you repair practically any tech device out there.

I own at least two of these little Tekton Everybit Tech Rescue Kits, and I frequently buy them for friends and family, too, because for an average price of $25, you get a screwdriver with nearly every bit you’d need for most gadgets (including the weird ones for Apple products), a plastic and a metal spudger, tweezers, and a suction cup. I’ve replaced batteries in iPhones with this kit. I’ve built entire PCs with this kit. I’ve swapped out backplates on Steam Decks and housings of Joy-Con controllers with one of these kits. I’ve even used it to repair my eyeglasses.

One of the best parts of the kit is it all goes in a single case that can be tossed in a computer bag or purse or be left in a desk drawer at the office. But honestly, the main reason I love it is the selection and quality of the bits. Too often, precision screwdrivers have super soft bits that strip the first time you use them with a screw that’s been tightened by a machine. Given that most gadgets have at least one too-tight screw, I’ve gone through quite a few cheap screwdriver kits before I settled on this one. While I’m slowly building out a high-quality selection of precision screwdrivers, most people don’t have that luxury or necessity. This is a great alternative — plus, you feel like kind of a badass when someone asks you to help fix a gadget, and you just pull this kit out of your bag in the middle of Starbucks and get to work.

Dan Seifert, deputy editor

Hoto’s electric screwdriver is perfect for making small to medium-sized repairs around the house. In addition to a USB-C port, the screwdriver comes with a case and 12 steel bits.

Cranz can talk all she wants about that little screwdriver kit, but I’m here to say the Hoto electric screwdriver is one of the best cheap tools you can keep in your kitchen gadget drawer. It’s compact, comes with enough bits to cover anything you might need, and is ridiculously powerful — I’ve used it to drill screws into walls without bothering with a pilot hole. It also charges over USB-C and has a handy light when it turns on to help you see where you’re screwin’. My only complaint is that the bits themselves are stored in the case and not on the screwdriver itself, but at this price, there’s really little to find fault with here.

This screwdriver is so nice I’ve now bought it twice — because once he saw mine, my father-in-law insisted on having one, so it was an easy Father’s Day gift.

Emilia David, reporter

A cutting tool with a ceramic blade that’s quick, easy and safe.

I admit Tiktok made me buy this small safety cutter, but it’s been indispensable to someone who may or may not have an online shopping addiction. The Slice Micro Ceramic Blade safety cutter’s tiny blade cuts through paper packaging tape cleanly, opens plastic wrapping, and keeps me from going insane opening blister packaging. It doesn’t damage whatever is inside, which unfortunately happens very often with my regular metal box cutter.

The downside is that it’s so small you may lose track of it if not in use, but it does have a handy dandy hole for a keyring and a built-in magnet. And while it doesn’t fully slice through a cardboard box, it will still leave a scratch, although that could ultimately damage the ceramic blade if not used properly. I’ve had my Slice Micro for a few months, so I’m not worried about it dulling yet, but it is unclear if the blade is replaceable.

Antonio G. Di Benedetto, writer, commerce

A good-looking (and inexpensive) ballistic nylon watch strap.

I own a bunch of traditional watches, both mechanical and quartz alike, and my go-to straps across many of them are slip-through NATO nylon straps. They’re timeless, they’re dead-simple to swap out in less than a minute, and they come in a dizzying amount of colors and designs. I often keep it simple with all-black, gray, or black-and-gray straps, but I own more than 20 for the few watches in my collection that are compatible with them — each totally changing the look and vibe of my timepiece to blend in or pop out in a unique way.

While NATO straps have their roots in the military and, therefore, traditionally lend themselves to functional tool watches for casual wear, I’ll even wear them with slightly fancier outfits on a night out or to an event. They typically offer a snug fit that prevents the watch from sliding around, but they feel light and airy on your wrist, like you’re wearing nothing at all.

And, maybe most importantly, they’re dirt cheap. You can build a small collection of them for very little, with generic ones that are totally fine selling on Amazon for around $20 for a batch of eight. I splurged a little on my most recent one, spending a whole $17.99 (wow, I’m so fancy) for a fully blacked-out NATO to wear on my new Mission to Mercury MoonSwatch. (Look, I have a thing for gray and black stuff, okay?) While none of my watches are worth more than a few hundred dollars (and most costing much less than that), you can bet that even if I one day sprung for a luxury piece — like a Rolex, Tudor, or Unimatic — I’d still be putting it on a trusty NATO.

Barbara Krasnoff

A necklace made from faux suede cord with a silver or bronze ring to keep your eyeglasses handy.

It comes to us all — or, at least, to most of us. The day that you are told that you need reading glasses. Besides the general emotional trauma (“Oh, come on, I’m not that old!”), it’s a pain in the ass. What do you do with them when you’re walking around the office, and you know you’re going to need them, but you don’t need them right now? Prop them on the top of your head? Hang them from the neck of your shirt? (Warning: either way, you’re eventually going to bend down to pick something up, and the glasses will end up on the floor.) Shove them in your pocket and scratch the lenses all to hell?

I was going to settle reluctantly for one of those old-fashioned glasses chains you see in the old movies until I came across this nifty necklace. It’s really just a cord with a metal ring at the end, but it’s attractive, and you can hang your glasses on the ring so they’re out of the way but always available. Mine has a plain black cord with an unadorned silver ring, but the cords come in a variety of colors, and the rings in a variety of styles. And it means no matter where I go, I don’t have to squint to read.

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