Life’s easy for stamp collectors – unless you’re a Penny Red completist, your hobby will leave you more than enough money left over to eat and pay the broadband bill.
But gadget fans? It’s an expensive business, even if you rigourously employ all of our brilliant bargain-hunting tips. That’s why we’ve decided to shine our spotlight on the more affordable corners of the tech-sphere and compile a list of our favourite sub-£100 gadgets.
Because gadget brilliance and a suitable price tag were our only criteria, we’ve ended up with a quite delightful mix of impulse buys for everything from smarthome upgrades to stargazing, via VR gaming.
So whether you’re after a last-minute gift or a weekend treat, have a rummage through our box of bargain delights. Just don’t buy them all at once.
25) Xiaomi Yeelight (£49)
If you know someone who could politely be described as a heavy sleeper (and impolitely as The Bedbadger), get them this smart Bluetooth LED lamp.
Its sunrise-imitating Wake-up Mode will slowly begin brightening their room half an hour the alarm is due to go off, while the Night Mode’s soft orange glow will help them get a better night’s sleep. You can also turn it virtually any shade imaginable with the dedicated app. Not bad for something that costs less than a Philips Hue Bridge.
Further Enlightenment › Xiaomi Yeelight review
24) Polaroid Snap (£90)
Polaroids have swung back into fashion as some of us yearn for something more tangible from our snaps than a couple of social media ‘likes’. What other camera can print your snaps right away, as well as saving them to SD?
The Snap uses thermal printing wizardry, which means there’s no ink. Don’t worry, you can still shake your shots so they develop quicker (we know it doesn’t work, but we still like it). Snap a selfie with your beau to be, jot your number on the back and hand it over – 60% of the time it works every time.
23) Celestron Travel Scope 70 Refractor Telescope (£60)
The price tags for beginner telescopes (whether Newtonian or refractor) usually rocket up into the hundreds, but if you just fancy a ‘scope to lob on the backseat of a bike and take out to the hills then this travel refractor model is a celestial bargain.
An optical length of 400mm and 70mm aperture is enough to pick out some of eternity’s larger entities, and the 5×24 finder scope lets you narrow down the sky before you take your eye to the big guy (though it pays to do pre-trip research using the bundled software). Best of all, there’s also enough room in the bundled rucksack for a late night picnic egg or two.
22) AKG Y50 (£57)
You could very easily drown in the number of on-ear headphones that are available for under £100. Fortunately, in Baywatch fashion, AKG is running down the beach to save us from chronic indecision with its Y50s.
These colourful cans are both balanced and insightful, providing an open sound that certainly doesn’t mirror the price. The build quality follows suit; the cups are aluminium instead of plastic and the headband is steel, but at under 200g and foldable, AKG provide a pair of headphones that are both sturdy and portable. Just don’t wear them into the water, they won’t actually save you.
What About Wireless? › Best wireless headphones – reviewed
21) 3Doodler Create (£84)
We’ve long been fans of this 3D printing pen (probably more so than of 3D printers themselves) and this latest version has refined 3Doodler’s mini glue gun even further.
There are now 65 different plastics to choose from, with matte, glossy, clear, metallic, glowing and sparkly finishes to give your models that extra bit of panache. Not that it’s just for making plastic toys – we often use ours for making quick fixes to things like model toys. In fact, it’s hard to think of a more versatile gadget that you can pick up for under a ton.
20) Amazon Fire TV 4K (£80)
If you’ve recently completed phase one of Project Telly (buying a 4K TV), it’s time to take step two and fill it with lovely content from Amazon’s latest media streamer.
The new Fire TV offers the holy televisual grail of 4K streaming from both Netflix and Amazon – so if your TV’s lacking one of those, it’ll fill the gap nicely – plus voice controls and great gaming functionality. No media streamer is perfect, but this is the most complete one you can buy right now.
Best of the Rest › The best TV streaming boxes and sticks – reviewed
19) TP Link AV1200 Powerline Starter Kit (£55)
If your Wi-Fi signal is restricting your ability to watch cat videos in the farthest corners of your house, it’s time to take action. Powerline passes the internet through your home’s power cables, and this kit is our favourite signal booster.
Luckily, the setup is a lot less complicated than its name – just plug one in near your router, then sprinkle the others wherever the signal sucks. You don’t even lose a power socket, as there’s one on the back of each plug. There are cheaper solutions like Wi-Fi repeaters, but if you need to boost your singal without any performance hit, this kit rules.
18) Hackaball (£75)
"Hey kids, want to play a programming game?" isn’t exactly a guaranteed excitement sparker. But change it to "hey kids, want to invent your own game with this amazing glowing orb" and we reckon you’ll get a slightly different response.
The Hackaball is a super-smart sphere that will engage even the most far gone Minecraft addict by encouraging them to change the reaction of the ball (light up, vibrate, play sound) depending on different actions. They do this through the app, so start to learn the basics of programming without even really realising it. Stealth education, there really isn’t anything more satisfying.
More Tech for Tiddlers › Christmas Gift Guide 2015: 19 gadget gift ideas for tech kids
17) Terrier i-Temp (£27)
You might not think you need zonal heating, but once you’ve tried it you’ll wonder how you ever lived in a house with rooms of equal temperature. Terrier’s i-Temp is the budget way to bring room-based temperature control to smart heating systems that don’t yet offer zonal powers.
Add it to your lounge’s radiator (all it needs is a couple of AA batteries and some twisting motions to screw it onto your radiator’s thermostatic radiator valve head), and you’ll be able to tell it to stay cool until the evening, saving you a few pounds of unnecessary heating every month.
Honey I’m Home › This super-smart doorbell lets you answer the door from anywhere
16) Soul Electronics Flex (£50)
When you’re thinking about sports headphones (and really, when aren’t you?) there are a few features that are generally classed as essential: flexibility, water-resistance, an in-line remote and most importantly, hooky bits to stop the damn things falling out.
Soul Electronics Flex offer all of these, and more. Not much more, mainly different colours (yellow, blue, black) and four different-sized earbuds. But when you’re getting all of the essentials, plus strong sound performance, for this price? Run with it.
Extra Exercise › The best sports headphones – reviewed
15) Philips Hue Starter Kit (£60)
Despite the lack of competition in the multi-room smart lighting market, Philips has pushed on with evolving their Hue collection with new software features and multiple extras. Whether you want Lightstrips to stick around your TV, a portable Go lamp, or any of Philips sleek ceiling lights, the Hue series has you covered.
To limbo under our £100 bar we’ve only picked out the essentials; the starter kit has a bridge and a single white bulb. However with the bridge installed you can then connect to any new light-source you get from the Hue collection and control it using their intuitive app. The individual lamps will work without the app, but if you want to use Apple’s HomeKit to talk to your tech then the bridge is a must-have.
14) Beasts of Balance (£69)
Yes, you could buy a game like No Man’s Sky for twenty quid less, but for family gatherings or post-dinner drinking games, this is our new favourite iPad entertainer. Beasts of Balance is a bit like next-gen Jenga, and it’s as fun as that is hard to say.
The challenge? To build, with up to four other people, a tower from the game’s lovely geometric animals and symbols. Sounds simple enough, except the corresponding iPad world, created by scanning each piece as you add it to the scale, must be a clever balance of elements and animal types to succeed. Designed for kids it may be, but this strategy element makes it one for us older folks to enjoy too.
13) Leapfrog Epic (£90)
The Leapfrog Epic is your new favourite babysitter, and this one definitely won’t steal your cutlery or teach your kids swear words.
Okay, it won’t actually let you leave the house, but if you leave your little one with this child-focused tablet you can be sure that they’ll be set up with safe browsing, (secretly) educational apps and a store built specifically to prevent your bank balance getting melted by in-app purchases. A six hour battery life and rubber cover means the Epic can endure some serious play-time too, so hop to it.
Keep Them Quiet › 6 Instant Upgrades: Travel tech for kids
12) Philips OneBlade (£30)
Having used all sorts of electric shavers from the cheap and cheerful to the £200+ self-lubricating, self-cleaning flashy ones, you could call us facial hair taming experts. But preferably not to our face.
We really weren’t expecting much from the OneBlade given its low price, but the instant we tried it, we were blown away by how well it performed, cutting better than shavers ten time its price. Its £12 replaceable head lasts for months, and it performs just as well as a beard trimmer too, thanks to its included guards.
11) Apogee Jam (£89)
We’re big fans of GarageBand, as you may have gathered from our in-depth guide to mastering Apple’s brilliant music-recording tool. The JAM is the missing link between your guitar (or bass) and any iOS device running GarageBand.
Plug your guitar cable into the Jam’s input, then its lightning cable into your iOS device, and you’ll be laying down your debut album in minutes. For an extra £30, the JAM 96k further ramps up the quality in terms of build and recording resolution.
10) Nanoleaf One (£20)
Bargains are great. But bargains that also save you money in the long term? They’re the best.
The world’s most energy efficient lightbulb promises to shine on for over 27 years, which is probably even more than your neighbour’s seemingly immortal cat. Combine these savings (potentially around £100 a year) with the Nanoleaf’s funky dodecahedron design, and you have an essential bit of homeware. By the time it needs swapping out, bulbs will be so smart they’ll be changing themselves.
More Smart Savers › Smart Money: 5 of the best money-saving gadgets
8) HRT dSp (£84)
We like the HRT dSp partly for combining mysterious looks with a mysterious, acronym-based name. But that’s not really worth £84 on its own. What is its ability to significantly boost the sound quality of your smartphone or laptop.
Yes, this is a DAC for using with Android phones, Chromebooks and Windows or Apple computers (iPhone owners should check out the equally capable i-dSp). Just plug the microUSB cable into your smartphone or tablet (or the USB one into your PC or MacBook), and treat your golden ears to the full brilliance of those 24-bit downloads. For the full audiophile look, make sure you tie it to your smartphone with rubber bands too.
More Sound Advice › HRT dSp review
7) Samsung Gear VR 2016 (£80)
Samsung has retained its mobile VR crown with the new Gear VR. A few minor design changes (an extra button and a flatter touchpad) aren’t the main reasons this headset is staying on top; the new Gear VR also has a significantly wider field of view.
Combined with something like the Note 7’s AMOLED screen, it is the most immersive mobile VR experience out there. So if you’re looking to play the likes of Hitman Go in VR, or enjoy Netflix or live sport in 360 degrees, this headset is your launchpad.
A Closer Look › Samsung Gear VR (2016) hands-on review
6) Ikea Riggad Lamp (£49)
If Ikea’s allen keys still give you flashbacks to ‘Wardrobegate’, fear not – the Riggad is a different beast. Its instructions are only two steps long, and that ‘plus’ sign on the base marks an induction charging point that is compatible with any Qi-certified smartphone (including Samsung Galaxy models, Google’s Nexus phones, and many others).
We’ve found it to be bright enough to light a room on its own, and particularly like its ability to simultaneously charge our smartphone and a fitness tracker plugged into our phone’s microUSB port. If you don’t have a lamp-shaped hole in your life, Ikea also offers a wireless charging bedside table and the option of converting existing furniture using the Jyssen wireless charger (£30) and Fixa five-piece hole saw set (£5). If you dare.
5) SoundMagic E10C (£40)
SoundMagic is undisputed royalty when it comes to budget buds, and the E10Cs are one of the biggest jewels in their crown. The sound is remarkably clear and the bass is strong. For a pair of in-ears they’re impressive – for under £40, they’re stupendous.
The wires are tough and the E10Cs certainly aren’t going to need replacing as frequently as a certain infamous white rival. And the balance is just right for most types of music, especially with a crisp treble that never sounds harsh.
Sound Good? › SoundMagic E10C review
4) Amazon Kindle 2016 (£59)
Amazon’s latest entry-level Kindle offering is its best budget model yet and top of our holiday packing list (though yes, we have forgotten the suncream again).
At 167 ppi this Kindle’s screen has around half the pixels of Amazon’s next comparable Kindle, the Paperwhite. That said, it’s costs almost half as much and reading with it is just fine. It’s also thinner and lighter than its predecessor and has a battery life that’ll last even the most luxurious beach break.
Read More › Clash of the Kindles: which one should you buy?
4) Vodafone Smart Prime 7 (£75)
On specs alone, the Smart Prime 7 beats phones that are twice the price. But we don’t just review phones on specs, and it’s in real-world use that this affordable Android blew us away with its ludicrous value.
Vodafone has made a skinny, lightweight phone that does the basics perfectly. It might not have lightning speed or a compact-trumping camera, but the the screen is punchy and the battery will cruise through over a day of use. Yes, you have to use a Vodafone SIM and there a couple of Vodafone apps pre-loaded, but for this price it’s hard to find anything to complain about.
The Bigger Picture › Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review
3) Moov Now (£45)
You know you’re onto a winner when your fitness tracker isn’t just a tracker, but a personal trainer too.
The Moov is a honeycomb-covered workout guide with voice coaching and rep-counting. Yes, it still tracks your daily steps and auto-detects your sleep, but it can also pair with third-party heart monitors for those extra readouts on your painful, sweaty exertions. Combine this with accurate tracking and training, and you have a wearable that just pips the Fitbits on the line.
Other Budget Bracelets › Best cheap fitness trackers 2016 – reviewed
2) Raspberry Pi 3 (£30)
You don’t have to be big on coding to enjoy the Raspberry Pi. With some basic tweaking, you can turn this £25 tiny-puter into a very respectable desktop PC, retro gaming machine or media centre – and that’s just the start.
The Pi 3 is also the perfect update to its predecessor: you get loads more power (about the same as mid-range smartphone), integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and it still costs less than a PS4 game. What a time to be alive.
Beats by… Pi? › Get your Raspberry Pi rocking with this tiny tube amp
1) Google Chromecast Audio (£30)
Remember the Chromecast, that nifty little thing that made every TV smart enough to stream Netflix? Well, the Chromecast Audio is here to do the same for your hi-fi.
This little disc, which plus into speakers via 3.5mm, optical or RCA ports, doesn’t just transform the streaming capabilities of your speakers, it can increase their sound quality too thanks to its ‘High Dynamic Range’ option. And it’s definitely superior to streaming via Bluetooth, with less battery drain and no interruption from calls.
Cheap, simple and devastatingly effective, it’s a worthy champion of our sub-£100 gadgets list.
Listen Closer › Google Chromecast Audio Review