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11 cheap gift ideas that actually make life easier
Life is hard. People need to get through the day to day grind and don’t have a lot of extra time to spend on hassles and inconveniences. Fortunately, we’re here to help out in that regard. There are a lot of great gift ideas out there that won’t break the bank, but will actually make your life (or the life of your gift recipient, wink wink) a lot easier.
With products that help avoid catastrophe (like losing your stuff) to ideas that add a measure of convenience to life, here’s our roundup of cheap gift ideas and suggestions that will help you smile a little bit more every day.
A personal assistant to fulfill your every whim… or you know, look up the weather
Home assistants are an emerging field of gadgetry that is in its infancy. They’re basically brand new products and we’re still learning how they can improve our lives. Fortunately, both Amazon and Google have lowered the barrier of entry into these products by having “mini” versions of their flagship products. Of course, the Amazon Echo Dot has been around for a while now, but with the introduction of the Google Home Mini, there is a real choice to be made in this product category.
Both options come in at under $50 which is basically an extra trip to the ATM. They’re both incredibly powerful in that they can control your smart home, manage your calendar and reminders, and even make phone calls without the need of a landline. Both of these products have a rapidly expanding repertoire of abilities and functions that they can perform for you. The Echo Dot in particular has an entire catalog of skills that allow you to do everything from ordering a pizza to asking Baby Groot the time.
Ultimately, it comes down to your choice of platform. If you are heavily invested into Amazon, you would be well served by the Echo Dot. And Google fans will find a lot to like about the Google Home Mini.
If you want to up your game a little, you can also check out the Vaux Speaker by Ninety7. This is a battery powered speaker that your Echo Dot fits into, giving the Echo Dot an upgrade to not only sound like an Echo, but also become portable with the battery. That device alone is also in the sub-$50 category.
Keep your precious tech running with a portable battery
There is little in life that is more frustrating than a dead phone battery. Portable power banks can be just what the doctor ordered to get back home at the end of the day, with some juice in the tank. But since we’re talking about portability, we can’t just toss a random 30,000 mAh battery pack in your bag. They’re too heavy and bulky. Something like the RAVPower Portable Charger 6700mAh Battery Charger is slim, lightweight, plus the battery capacity would allow you to power up your phone once or twice before needing a recharge.
If you want a little more juice in the tank, the Eighty Plus 10,000 mAh power bank is still very slim, but even more attractive and it supports Quick Charge 2.0, and has a USB Type-C output. This is the kind of battery that can slip into a bag easily and not add too much bulk or weight.
For even more options, check out some of our other battery related guides here:
Cords be damned, get a wireless charging plate
Many smartphones are including Qi wireless charging these days – and it’s about time. Simply setting your phone down on a charging plate is so much easier than fiddling with a charging cable. Even reversible connectors can be on the annoying side if you just want to set your phone down and let it charge.
The problem is, many phone manufacturers are NOT including wireless charging plates/stands. So we’re taking two steps forward then two steps back. Fortunately, there are a ton of options out there for those who want to get their Qi on. TYLT is one of the most recognized brands out there. Their flagship (well, flagship for a charging plate anyway) product is the TYLT Vu which is a Qi Charging stand that sits on an angle so that you you can…wait for it…Vu (view) your phone while it charges. It’s handy for keeping the phone on for movies, or just checking notifications as they come in.
If you’re more interested in a charging plate that lies flat, you can take a look at the Anker Wireless Charger Charging Pad. This is a low-profile charging pad that supports wireless fast charging for phones that support it. LED lights around the outside indicate when charging is happening, so it may not be a good fit for a bedside charger, but it is attractive.
Stop the cord madness with a charging station
Speaking of charging, a good charging station can be a lifesaver for folks that have one or more devices to charge every night. In a family of four, you can have as many as 10 or more devices that all need to charge. A charging station can help clean up the clutter of wires and confusion in your household by having one place where everything charges. Something like the Spater 7-Port USB Charging Station can make a world of difference when dealing with a bunch of different devices.
This charging station, like most, includes a brick of 7 USB ports and a stand upon which you can line up your devices. Having all of your devices neat, organized, and charged can make things like managing kids’ devices so much easier.
Find all the things with tracking tags
People lose stuff. People lose stuff a lot. Just the other day, I tore my house apart looking for me keys. There are two companies that are doing a great job at helping us locate our lost items. Tile and Trackr both devised tags that you can attach to basically anything. These tags work via Bluetooth to send their locations to your smartphone, helping you track down that lost item.
Both of these services also rely on the crowd to help locate items that are outside of bluetooth range. As such, the tracking tag systems that have built up a strong following are going to provide the most coverage. In that regard, Tile and Trackr are head and shoulders above the rest.
Light your home with cool way with smart bulbs
There’s little in life that’s cooler than telling your lights to turn on and off. Coming in the house at night can be a somewhat harrowing experience if you don’t have a light switch easily accessible. We’ve all been there when we lay down to go to sleep, only to realize we left the living room light on. Maybe you just want to set the mood for a nice movie...or whatever (Netflix and chill, anyone?). Regardless, smart light bulbs will get you there.
Most of the time, you need a “starter kit” to get things rolling. The Philips Hue has a starter kit which will get the ball rolling for you. The starter kit comes often with a control module and two bulbs. Once you connect them up with your assistant of choice and make magic happen every time you come in the house, or go to bed at night, or whatever.
Looking for even more options? Be sure to check out our guide on the best smart light bulbs you can buy.
Make your dumb stuff smarter with a smart plug
Sure controlling lights is nice, but controlling everything else is pretty sweet as well. Smart plugs are the other solution to the smart home problem. You can use smart plugs to turn anything on and off just about anything. Of course lighting would work, or other appliances such as TV’s (Kids, go to bed NOW) or a space heater – warm up that garage before heading out there for a project. Many smart plugs also monitor energy usage, so if you want to know how much you’re using that extra fridge out in the garage, a smart plug can tell you that.
Amazon has a whole gaggle of smart plugs available. The Wemo Mini Smart Plug is inexpensive and, depending on your outlet, may not even take up more than one space. Many smart plugs are a bit on the bulk side and can take up a lot of room, blocking one or more outlet, which isn’t the best. The design of the WeMo Mini Smart plug will often allow you to only use one outlet for one space.
Take cord-cutting to the next level with a media streaming device
With cord-cutting becoming a thing, and with the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, many people haven’t caught up with Smart TV’s just yet. In cases such as this, a set top box can bridge the gap between normal TV and Smart TV. Even if you have a smart TV, the reality is that a media streaming device is often faster and updated more frequently, making them a better solution for some users.
If you’re looking for a good gift option in this category, we highly recommend the Roku Express. The Roku family comes in a variety of styles, from HD all the way up to 4K, and it won’t hurt your wallet too much, regardless of the choice. Roku has a nice interface and a number of “channels” that give access to free movies and TV shows, as well as Netflix, Amazon, and more.
You also might want to consider a Chromecast for TV streaming. A Chromecast is controlled by a smartphone or tablet, but gets content directly from the internet, so it doesn’t suck up your data plan. What’s more, a Chromecast works beautifully along with that Google Home Mini higher up on the list. They make a perfect pair for your holiday gift giving this year.
Your favorite stuff to your door at the push of a button with Amazon Dash
Automating your home supply needs is one of the biggest time/frustrating savers. Amazon Dash buttons allow you to reorder most commonly refilled household items. From Toilet paper, to paper towels, to dish soap, just about anything can be attached to a Dash button. Dash buttons can be attached with an adhesive strip to an appliance like a clothes washer, or hung with a plastic hook anywhere you might be when you realize you’re running low on your product.
Press the button, and two days later (with a Prime membership), your stuff ‘magically’ appears.
Control all the things with a universal remote
Remember a long time ago when you had one remote to turn on the TV, change channels, and that was it? Gone are those days, by a long shot. Now, you have a remote for your TV, DVD, Set Top Box, Roku, Stereo system, and the list goes on. Keeping track of all those remotes is, at best, a hassle and it’s worse if you have kids. A universal remote can bring all those devices into one place easily.
Sometimes, they can be on the complicated side, but a remote like the Logitech Harmony 650 can bring all that together quite nicely. In addition to reducing the number of remotes you need, One-click activity buttons allow you to “watch a DVD” and sit back and let all of your devices do the rest.
For even more options, be sure to check out our best smart universal remote guide — though we’ll just tell you right now: all the good options are from Logitech.
Make your in-car experience a bit better with a CD Slot phone mount
You shouldn’t use your phone when you drive. But if you’re going to – and let’s face it, most of us are – putting your phone in a place where you can easily get directions and make phone calls is important. Having the phone in a place where you can see it and the road at the same time makes everyone a bit safer. Phone mounts for cars started off bad, and never really got any better. There were some that would clip to a heater vent, or use an adhesive to stick to your dashboard. Until the day someone realized, “Hey. Everyone is streaming music anyway, so no one listens to CDs anymore” and made a dashboard mount that fits into the CD slot that just about every car in the world has.
Life. Changing. There are a ton of them out there now. You can have clips on the side, or magnetic mounts, some that hold the phone horizontally. The Mpow Car Phone mount is just such a device. It holds most phones with three grips on each side and the bottom of the phone that are all mechanically adjustable. If you don’t use the CD player in your car, this is the best thing you can buy on Amazon right now.
For even more options be sure to visit our best phone mount guide.
Being generous doesn’t always mean you have to put a giant dent in your bank account, as some of these cool but gift ideas hopefully has illustrated. There are plenty of cheap gift ideas out there that not only aren’t expensive, but drastically improve quality of life. It’s a wonderful time to be in the most wonderful time of the year. Got any cheap gift ideas that we missed? Put them in the comments down below!