From a $900 tablet that lasts just 4 hours on a charge to a $30 HDMI cable that’s really worth $2.99, the gadget world is filled with overpriced rip-offs. Fortunately, there are also many devices that are actually worth a lot more than their sticker prices, dramatically improving your work and play without costing an arm and a leg. Here are the 10 best bargains in tech today.
Samsung Chromebook Series 3 ($249)
While it probably won’t replace your main Windows or Mac machine, Samsung’s 11.6-inch Chromebook Series 3 is the ultimate secondary PC. Running Google’s browser-based Chrome OS, the 2.4-pound Series 3 lasts 7.5 hours on a charge, allowing you to edit documents, browse the Web, check your email, update your social media feeds for an hour longer than you’d get on most Ultrabooks.
At this price, the Chromebook Series 3 makes a great student computer or lightweight mobile workstation for business users on the go. It’s also a great system for older adults who don’t want to deal with Windows 8’s complexity or intrusive security updates. Chrome OS is practically hack-proof, making it unlikely that even your mom, who likes to click on everything, will get a virus.
Energizer XP18000A ($144)
With a street price of $144, at first glance the Energizer XP18000A seems expensive for a battery. But consider that this 1-pound, 18,000 mAh device has enough power to more than double your notebook’s endurance or quadruple how long your phone lasts on a charge.
With this much juice, you can save money on extra notebook or smartphone batteries. If you were thinking of replacing your older notebook because it doesn’t get as much battery life as you need today, you can delay that purchase for a while, saving yourself hundreds of dollars this year. Being able to get work done in areas that don’t have AC power (example: an airplane) also saves you time — and time is money.
Roku LT ($49.99)
You already pay every month for streaming video from Netflix, Amazon or Hulu Plus, but these services are a lot less fun when you can only watch them on your computer or mobile device. Starting at just $49.99, the Roku box lets you play content from any of more than 700 online video channels on your TV, without the hassle of connecting your laptop or tablet to your home theater. With Roku, you can even play audio-streaming services like Pandora or engage in a game of "Angry Birds," right on the big screen. The $79.99 version supports crisper 1080p video.
Crucial m4 mSATA SSD ($117)
If your notebook supports it, an mSATA drive like the $117, 128GB Crucial m4 mSATA SSD will give you the best of both worlds: a speedy SSD boot drive for your OS and applications that works alongside your existing hard drive. A 120GB mSATA SSD costs just around $100 and is about the size and weight of a stick of RAM, allowing you to use that 500GB hard drive in place for your data.
Samsung Galaxy S III on Sprint ($.01 / $79.99 a month)
Available on Amazon Wireless for just a penny, Samsung’s high-end smartphone rides on Sprint’s 4G LTE network for just $79.99 with no data caps ($109.99 with unlimited minutes). Though Sprint’s LTE network is still rolling out, you can get the high-speed service in more than a dozen major cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The S III remains one of the best smartphones because of its innovative sharing features, fast camera and big (but not too big) 4.8-inch display.
Android Mini PC RK3066 ($55)
I’ll never forget my first PC, which cost $1,800 in 1986 dollars, took up my entire desk and had a weak 4.77-MHz processor with just enough power to play the original "Flight Simulator." Today, I can buy a computer that’s hundreds of times more powerful, fits in my pocket and costs less than a dinner at Olive Garden.
About the size and shape of a USB Flash drive, dual-core Android sticks like the $55 Android Mini PC RK3066 are approximately the size and shape of a USB key, but offer enough oomph to play demanding games, stream 1080p movies or make Skype calls from your living room. For this low price, you can carry a workstation in your pocket or turn your TV into a connected entertainment system.
Xcom Global Hotpot ($15 per day)
As if your carrier didn’t charge enough for data here in the U.S., the cost of 3G/4G roaming when you go overseas is higher than many people can count. For example, downloading a 500MB file could cost as much as $10,200 at Verizon’s pay-as-you-go rate. Enter Xcom Global, the only company with an affordable, unlimited international data plan. For $15 a day, Xcom rents you a Wi-Fi hotspot or USB modem with a local SIM card inside and unlimited data. A week-long trip to England would cost you just $105, even if you have to download that 1GB demo video from the home office.
Google Nexus 7 / 10 Tablets (Starting at $199)
For most users, a tablet is still a secondary device that’s great for content consumption, gaming, social media use and light productivity. So why pay more for your slate than you would for a full-fledged laptop? Google’s 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet starts at just $199 and provides the latest version of Android, with over-the-air upgrades arriving as soon as they’re ready. Competing tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble cost the same or slightly less, but these devices have proprietary operating systems designed to get you to buy more content from their makers.
If you want something a bit larger, the 10-inch, $399 Google Nexus 10 provides an equally pure Android experience while costing $100 less than the current-generation iPad. Both Nexus tablets last well over 7 hours on a charge.
Zalman MZ230ED HD Monitor ($120)
In 1999, I paid $499 for a 19-inch, 1280 x 1024 resolution CRT monitor and thought I’d gotten the deal of the century. Today, you can buy a high-quality, full HD (1920 x 1080) screen like the 23-inch Zalman MZ230ED for as little as $120 at online retailers like NewEgg and Amazon. By attaching a large monitor to your laptop, you can double your workspace and increase your productivity by up to 50 percent.
Whether you put your email on one screen while you write documents on another, keep your Photoshop tools on the right display while the photo is on the left, or just use the second screen to play videos while you work on the main one, a second monitor is well worth its minimal price.
Western Digital My Passport 1TB ($75)
Whether your notebook has a low-capacity 250GB or 320GB hard drive or a measly 128GB SSD, you can add a lot of external storage for very little money. Starting at around $60 for a 500GB unit, USB hard drives weigh as little as 0.4 pounds and draw power directly from your notebook, allowing you to take them anywhere. A 1TB drive like the Western Digital My Passport costs as little as $75 when you purchase online, offering automatic backups, password protection for you files and fast USB 3.0 transfer rates.