Just because you find yourself short on cash doesn’t mean you can’t afford a few cool tech toys – so long as you consider your local “dollar store.”
As evidenced in this Surf Report column – where we look at such deals once or twice a year – you might be surprised what you can buy for loose change in your pocket or purse.
Sometimes it’s a gadget, such as a clamp-on LED light for reading in bed; other times, it’s a low-tech accessory for your smartphone. “Case” in point: a fitted polycarbonate or silicone case for your iPhone or Android phone might cost you upward of $50 at a big box store but as low as $1 or $2 at places such as Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, 99 Cents Only Stores or Dollarama (in Canada).
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So long as you have reasonable expectations when it comes to quality and longevity, you should be pleased with your petite purchase – especially among those watching their wallet. (After all, results from a COVID-19 survey by McKinsey Insights found 4 out of 10 Americans say their finances will not return to normal until the latter half of 2021 or 2022 and beyond.)
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After scouring the aisles at a few stores, I picked the following seven items as some best buys to consider. Note: Not all stores carry the same items, and the brand names and exact prices may vary.
Moodlab Rex Fidelity Earbuds with Mic
Whether it’s for use with your mobile device, laptop or game console, it’s ideal to invest in a spare set of earbuds.
The Moodlab Rex Fidelity Earbuds with Mic were among the best-sounding (and most comfortable) pair I tried out of three different brands. I’ve got them plugged into my microphone used for podcasting, and they do the trick perfectly.
Available in several colors – including gold, blue, black and red – these 3.5mm earbuds feature a remote control on a 4.2-foot cable (with “flat wire” design).
Extra tips, for varying ear sizes, are included in the box.
Universal Smartphone Lens Kit
From Solaray, this three-piece lens kit ($2) lets you clip on special lenses on top of your smartphone’s camera lens – regardless of the make and model – to enhance the images you take.
The kit includes a wide-angle, fisheye and macro lens.
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The wide-angle lens is ideal for panoramic landscape shots, and the “hemispherical” fisheye lens offered a more playful look that rounds out the photo (not unlike some Snapchat filters). The macro lens is designed for taking close-up shots of an object, such as a flower or insect.
To access each lens, you simply unscrew one and attach the other.
Window and Door Alarm
For a mere $1, Window and Door Alarm is a two-part device that can notify a homeowner of a possible break-in.
Simply peel off the sticky adhesives on the back of this alarm, press it up against the opening of a door, window or cabinet and flick the switch to turn it on. Should the two pieces of the magnetic device become separated, a piercing 90-decibel alarm will sound.
Three alkaline watch batteries (LR44) are required, and included, to operate this inexpensive Dollar Tree product.
6-in-1 Stylus Pen
Another Dollar Tree find, this ordinary-looking ballpoint pen ($1) is like a Swiss Army Knife, of sorts.
There’s a black-ink pen on one end and a stylus on the other, to be used on touchscreen smartphones and tablets – perhaps during colder winter months when you might have gloves on.
Along the body of the pen you’ll notice a small window with liquid inside, as a bubble leveler (for, say, hanging a picture), as well as a ruler (up to 3 inches).
If you unscrew the soft stylus tip, you’ll find two screwdriver heads: One is a Phillips (cross-shape) and the other a flat-head to fasten or loosen screws and bolts.
iHip Rugged Durable 2.1 Amp Dual-Wall Charger
Why charge up only one device when you can charge up two at the same time?
For $2, the iHip Rugged is a charging cube to juice up smartphones, tablets and such, with one of the two USB-A ports a 2.1 amp slot for rapid charging, along with a regular 1 amp port for a second device. Simply plug the small, black cube into an AC socket and one or two gadgets into the female USB ports.
The company claims a “heavy duty” rugged exterior for added durability, in case you toss this doohickey into a backpack, purse or pocket
Tech-1 HDMI cable
Even keen-eyed home theater enthusiasts might not be able to see the difference between pricy cables and this $2 one from Tech-1.
For uncompressed, high-definition video and sound, simply connect the 5-foot HDMI cable from the output jack of your home theater components – such as a cable box, video game system or DVD/Blu-ray player – to the input jack of your television or audio-video (AV) receiver.
Keep in mind you can use an HDMI cable to connect a laptop to your TV, monitor or projector.
Eaget 16GB microSD Card
For our Canadian readers, I found a 16 gigabyte microSDHC card at Dollarama for a mere $4 (about $3 U.S.), which is enough to store many tens of thousands of documents, several thousands of photos or hundreds of TV shows – all on something the size of your pinky fingernail.
Though many Android smartphones and tablets (and some laptops) take a microSD card, a full-size SD adaptor is included in the box.
This microSD card is rated as Class 10 flash memory, which is fast enough to support full HD video recording.
Marc Saltzman is the author of Apple Watch For Dummies 4th Edition (Wiley). Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast here.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Got spare change? You can afford these 7 gadgets at your local ‘dollar store’
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