MONEY Tech

The 3 Best Back-to School Gadgets You Can Actually Afford

smartphone laptop backpack with charger
David Arky

Give your favorite student a great start with these smart and affordable gadgets.

1. Rugged Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active ($699): Navigating the hallways, cafeteria, and sports fields isn’t for the faint of heart. Thankfully, Samsung has taken its popular Galaxy S6 line and produced the rugged S6 Active version. Anyone who has ever paid hundreds of dollars to repair a damaged phone will appreciate this tough guy’s dust-proof, shockproof, and water-resistant shell; it includes all the standard Android apps and features.

2. Versatile Laptop

Toshiba Chromebook 2 ($299): It may not be able to run full Windows programs, but this Chromebook packs a ton of features into its spartan design. You get a gorgeous full-HD display, respectable RAM, eight-plus hours of battery life, and an amazing keyboard in a three-pound, 13.3-inch package. Plus, the Chromebook is virtually virus-proof, so you’ll save hundreds on security software over the life of the computer.

3. Backpack With Solar Charger

Voltaic Systems Converter ($129): “Innovation” and “backpacks” don’t usually cross paths, but they do in this clever hybrid. The built-in solar panel charges after about eight hours in the sun (or one hour in an outlet) and lets you juice up your phone or tablet via a standard USB cord. The whole setup weighs just over two pounds and provides plenty of room inside for your other gadgets too, including a 15-inch padded pocket for your laptop.

For more of MONEY’s technology reviews, go to money.com/tech.

MONEY Tech

3 Gadgets to Amp Up Your Game

pro sports gadgets
David Arky

The pros use fancy gadgets to boost their performance, so why shouldn't you? Bonus points: These toys fit an amateur's budget.

1) Golf-Swing Analyzer

Resembling a chunky ball marker, the SwingTalk sensor attaches to the end of your golf-club grip. It packs a gyro sensor and accelerometer, which connect to your smartphone to provide three-dimensional swing analysis: tempo, club speed, trajectory, and shaft angles. Got the yips? It will even help improve your putting by measuring your backswing, follow-through, and clubface angle at the moment of impact.

Compatibility: iOS, Android

Price: $150

2) Floating Fish Finder

Toss the FishHunter in the water, and it will give you the depth (up to 133 feet) and temperature—and a whole lot more. A baseball-size, military-grade device that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, the Fish-Hunter has a mapping feature that lets you pinpoint fish-filled sweet spots or mark out hazards such as sandbars and rocky areas in a 150-foot range. It can be used for ice fishing and sports a blinking light for night fishing. Battery life is up to nine hours.

Compatibility: iOS, Android

Price: $169

3) Bike Computer

Wahoo’s RFLKT+ is a small, sunlight-readable, low-power display that attaches to your handle-bars and pairs with your favorite biking app. It serves up heart-rate info, GPS and elevation data, live temperature and humidity reports, and even music playback controls. Also, you can customize the viewing screens to keep your hands free and your mind on navigating while you ride. Includes handy stem, bar, and quarter-turn mounting hardware.

Compatibility: iOS, Android

Price: $130

Shopping Tip

You can often save 10% or more on Amazon by checking out the “Other Sellers” box on the right-hand side of the screen.

For more of MONEY’s technology reviews, go to money.com/tech.

MONEY cell phones

The Trick to Getting a Really Good Cell Phone for Less

Lucas Visser

Why drop $600 on the latest phone? These (slightly) older models offer plenty of features and cost hundreds less.

1) Great Sound: HTC One M8

The front-facing speakers and 32 gigabytes of storage make this a strong option for music fans. Also, HTC will replace it for free if you crack the screen, dunk it in water, or want to switch carriers in the first year. A slick aluminum body and long battery life round out a nifty product.

Carriers: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile

Cost: from $350

Features: 5-inch full-HD Screen, ultrapixel camera and 32 gigabytes of storage

2) Movie Making: LG G3

The G3 has a big screen, but it sits in a nearly borderless, compact shell. With double the pixels of many competitors, the phone delivers vibrant images, and the camera features laser autofocus and a floating lens to reduce shake.

Carriers: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile

Cost: from $350

Features: 5.5-inch -HD display, 13-megapixel camera and 32 gigabytes of storage

3) Versatility: Moto X

The Moto X has a snappy processor, a roomy screen, and nimble Android software. Best extra: touch-free control, which wakes the screen when you approach and silences the ringer when you wave your hand over the phone.

Carriers: AT&T, Verizon

Cost: from $360

Features: 5.2-inchfull-HD display, 13-megapixel camera and 16 gigabytes of storage

And if you must have an iPhone …

While the iPhone 6 gets the glory, the iPhone 5s is still fab—and it’s $500. It doesn’t have a 5.5-inch screen or Apple Pay, but you do get the fingerprint scan and all the Apple apps.

Carriers: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile

For more of MONEY’s technology reviews, go to money.com/tech.

Read next: The Best Cellphone Plans of 2015

MONEY Tech

The Best Budget-Friendly Earbuds

Lucas Visser

You don't have to spend a fortune to get rich sound. Here are four great budget-friendly buds.

1. Photive PH-BTE50 Lightweight Wireless Bluetooth 4.0

Best for: Exercise Junkies

Cost: $40

Lowdown: These sweat-resistant buds come with ear-gripping “tips” to help keep them from slipping out while you’re running, and a built-in mike lets you make and take calls that can’t wait until your cooldown. They also connect wirelessly to your phone and stay charged for up to seven hours. The sound quality is nice and clean too, an uncommon plus for wireless phones.

High notes: Bluetooth connection, phone mike

2. Shure SE112-GR Sound Isolating

Best for: Heavy users

Cost: $49

Lowdown: The outer sleeve of these earbuds blocks out ambient noise while being comfortable enough to wear for hours. They’re also remarkably durable, thanks to heavy-gauge wiring built to withstand the tugs and pulls of everyday life. And the listening quality is excellent, delivering a full bass sound without distortion.

High notes: Cleaning nozzle included; optional in-line volume and call controls (additional $10)

3. Sony MDRXB50AP Extra Bass

Best for: Rock fans

Cost: $32

Lowdown: If you’re looking for a little more thump on the cheap, these earphones will rock your world. Lows are deep without sounding muddy while the high and middle notes come through just as crisply.

High note: Android users can personalize the phone-control button via Sony’s Smart Key app.

4. MediaJVC HAFX32B Marshmallow

Best for: Sensitive ears

Cost: $9

Lowdown: With a pillowy feel that’s as sweet as their name-sake, these buds score double points in the comfort and sound-isolation departments. (The memory-foam earpieces even come in small and medium sizes.) They’re available in a rainbow of colors and push out surprisingly full sound for a pair of sub-$10 headphones.

High notes: Comfort, exceptional value

Read Next: 4 Devices That Let You Stream TV on the Cheap

MONEY technology

4 Devices That Let You Stream TV on the Cheap

TV streaming devices
Scott M. Lacey

Why drop $400 or more on a "smart" TV? These affordable devices will stream content to the set you already own.

The device: Apple TV
Cost: $69
Best for: iTunes users
How it works: For easy TV access to your videos, music, and other iTunes content, you can’t beat this set-top box and remote. Plus, families can pool content, using Apple TV to share up to six iTunes libraries. The system allows you to mirror your Apple device’s screen on the TV—great for viewing photos. Like all the devices in this story, Apple TV also lets you access third-party services such as Hulu and Netflix (some require a subscription).

The device: Amazon Fire TV Stick
Cost: $39
Best for: Amazon Prime members
How it works: The Fire TV Stick, which plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, promises to stream content instantly, without buffering. Use the device and remote to mainline your free Amazon shows, as well as video from the other big providers (no HBO Go yet; Amazon says it’s coming this spring). The Fire TV Stick is compatible with 300-plus videogames, though you’ll need a $40 controller for some.

The device: Roku Streaming Stick
Cost: $50
Best for: Media fiends
How it works: This plug-in device and accompanying remote work with all the usual channels, but the real appeal of the Streaming Stick is its wide range of niche selections. Users can access more than 1,800 channels, with categories from sports to news to kids’ programming. Roku also gets points for an outstanding remote, complete with “quick launch” buttons that take you straight to Amazon or Netflix.

The device: Google Chromecast
Cost: $35
Best for: No-frills streaming
How it works: The Chromecast has no remote; instead, you use apps on your smartphone or tablet to sling video to your TV. The device supports content providers, such as YouTube, HBO Go, and Netflix. To watch, pull up the app and tap the Chromecast icon to transfer the video to your set. Your phone controls volume and playback, and, using the Chrome browser, you can cast websites from your computer to the TV.

MONEY Tech

3 Gadgets to Cut Your Electric Bill

Unlike the rest of your devices, these items will actually reduce your energy consumption—and keep a few extra bucks in your pocket at the end of the month.

  • Honeywell Lyric

    Honeywell Lyric
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $279

    What it is: One of the latest “smart” thermostats, which claims to save users an average of $127 per year.

    How it works: The Lyric competes with the Nest and other high-tech thermostats but has a unique feature: It taps into your phone’s GPS to keep tabs on your location. That allows you to set up your system to, for instance, begin heating the house when it senses that you’re on your way home from the office. The thermostat also factors in humidity when setting the temperature, displays the day’s weather forecast for easy planning, and alerts you if it senses an HVAC system failure.

  • GE Link Light Bulb

    GE Link Light Bulb
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $15

    What it is: A super-long-lasting light bulb that can be linked to an affordable home-automation system.

    How it works: The Link has impressive stats: It uses 80% less energy than a typical bulb and lasts up to 22 years. However, to get the most from your Link bulbs, you must connect them to the $50 Wink hub, a Wi-Fi-enabled device that lets you control the lights (as well as compatible items such as locks and blinds) remotely. Use the hub to schedule when the Links should dim, brighten, and turn on and off.

  • Belkin WeMo Insight Switch

    Belkin WeMo Insight Switch
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $60

    What it is: This switch instantly turns any plug into an app-controlled outlet.

    How it works: The WeMo uses your home Wi-Fi network to communicate with
    a free iOS or Android smartphone app. Say you plug in a lamp. Using your phone, the WeMo allows you to turn the light on and off, monitor how long it’s been on, and see how much energy the bulb is using. You can also use the app to program your device so that, for example, your space heater turns on every day before you wake up, and off when you leave for work.

    Doug Aamoth covers tech news, reviews, and how-tos for Time. To see more of his work, go to time.com/tech.

TIME Ask TIME Tech

Ask TIME Tech: Good Streaming Security Camera?

Dropcam
Dropcam The $149 Dropcam streams live security footage to the web, accessible for free via mobile apps and computers.

We're looking for an easy, cheap way to catch an intruder in the act

Question: I just moved to a new apartment and for a number of reasons, I’m feeling like I need to have a video camera in my place. Mainly because I feel like the management company continues to come into my apartment to “fix” things, and it’s causing me to feel violated.

I was wondering if you knew of a relatively cheap camera that would hook up to an iPhone app and send some sort of notification on the phone when there’s movement.

Short Answer: The $149 Dropcam HD should do the trick.

Long Answer: There’s no shortage of streaming security cameras out there and while Dropcam isn’t the cheapest option, it’s really easy to set up, it’s reliable and its free mobile app works great.

There are two models available: the $199 Dropcam Pro and the $149 Dropcam HD. You’ll be just fine with the $149 model pictured above. The $199 version gets you a wider field of view (130 degrees versus 107 degrees), lets you zoom in closer (8x versus 4x) and has a newer wireless chip that can take advantage of faster connections.

Either model will alert you to movement via email and text message, and you can watch live footage from your phone or from a computer. You can also set up movement zones in your home, such as doorways and stairwells. This is handy if you have pets, for instance. You don’t want motion notifications going off all day when your dog is moving around; only when someone comes in through the front door. Each camera sports voice communication, too, so you can tell your dog to get off the couch or tell an intruder that you’ve called the police.

There are two service plans available, which record footage that you can use to play back later if you need it for legal reasons. The 7-days-of-recording, $99-per-year plan should be just fine. There’s also a $299-per-year plan that saves 30 days of footage.

Note that you don’t have to use a service plan at all, though. If you just want to check in on live footage and get alerts when someone enters your place, that’s all included without a plan. My advice would be that if you decide to go without a plan and you get an alert that someone has entered your home, capture a screenshot (or several) of the person in the act by pressing the power button and the Home button on your iPhone at the same time. That way you’ll have proof if you need it later.

Related:

TIME Gadgets

Amazon Fire TV Stick vs Google Chromecast vs Roku Streaming Stick

TV Sticks
Amazon : Google : Roku Clockwise left to right: Amazon's Fire TV Stick, Google's Chromecast, Roku's Streaming Stick

Amazon has jumped headfirst into the streaming stick game, squaring off against Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s Streaming Stick with its new Fire TV Stick. Here’s how the devices stack up against one another. Spoiler: They’re all good.

Price

Chromecast costs $35, Amazon Fire TV Stick costs $39 and Roku Streaming Stick costs $49.99. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick costs $20 until 6am Pacific on October 29, though.

Winner: Chromecast

Remote Control

Chromecast has no remote, so it sits out this round. You’ll need to run everything from your phone, tablet or PC, which is great if you’re the type of person who loses remotes all the time. If you’re hungover on the couch or watching stuff in bed, it’s marginally less relaxing than using a trusty remote, though.

Both Amazon and Roku include remotes, and both remotes work well. I’ll give Roku the slight edge here, as its remote has four quick-launch buttons — two of which are for Netflix and Amazon. The other two are for the far less-popular M-Go and Blockbuster On Demand.

Winner: Roku

Available Content

If you’re going for quality over quantity, all three sticks support just about every major streaming service. Notable omissions: Amazon’s stick doesn’t support HBO Go and Google’s stick doesn’t support Amazon content. Roku, on the other hand, has been around forever relative to its competitors and supports just about everything. And if there’s not an officially supported channel on Roku, chances are good that there’s an unofficial version that you can manually connect to the device.

Winner: Roku

Games

Amazon takes the cake here. Since the launch of the Fire TV box earlier this year, the company has done a good job porting games over, with the current tally sitting somewhere north of 200. The Fire TV’s $40 game controller works with the Fire TV stick, too.

Winner: Amazon

Performance

On paper, the Fire TV Stick handily bests its competitors, with double the processing cores, double the RAM and eight gigabytes of storage. The Chromecast has two gigabytes of storage; the Roku has 256 megabytes. Amazon needs more storage because of its emphasis on games and apps that can be loaded onto the Fire TV Stick, though: Storage isn’t really an issue on the other two sticks. Amazon also packs a better Wi-Fi chip than the Chromecast, though it’s on par with the Roku.

Winner: Amazon

Interface

I’m going to throw a curve ball here and say that the Chromecast’s utter lack of an interface makes it the best interface. You use the same apps you always use and, provided they have a Chromecast button, simply tap it to start playback on your TV. There’s no need to learn a new interface. Not that Amazon’s and Roku’s interfaces are overly complicated in any way — there’s really no bad interface for this category — there’s just something elegant about the Chromecast’s simplicity.

Winner: Chromecast

Device Compatibility

Chromecast works with certain iOS and Android devices and Google’s Chrome web browser on various computers. Roku works with certain iOS apps and Android devices and has beta computer and mobile screen mirroring features that are just getting off the ground for Windows 8.1, Windows Phone and Android. The Fire TV Stick works with certain iOS apps and Android devices, as well as with Amazon’s line of tablets. This one’s really close to a tie: Slinging your current browser tab to your TV is a great Chromecast feature; being able to use Amazon’s tablets with the Fire TV line is a great addition, and Roku has some interesting stuff in the works, too. In the end, however, the broader range of computers that can mirror Chrome to your TV means Chromecast takes a slight edge.

Winner: Chromecast

Which One Is Best?

Luckily, you have three dynamite options for under $50. You really can’t go wrong with any of these. If you have a lot of Amazon content and own an Amazon tablet or two, the Fire TV stick is a no-brainer. Same deal if you want to play games. If you don’t want to futz around with menus and you don’t want to spend a ton of money, go with the Chromecast. If you want a great remote and a nearly unlimited selection of content — both mainstream and off-the-beaten-path — head straight for the Roku.

Winner: Consumers

Here are some more in-depth specs from our friends at FindTheBest:

 

Read next: It’s Time to Seriously Start Expecting an Apple TV Again

TIME Paycheck Friday

5 Unique Winter Warming Gadgets for Under $50

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Handwarmer/Smartphone Charger Combo ($34.99)

hand warmer
Sharper Image

Convergence is your middle name. It used to be Brock, but you changed it. Your seemingly never-ending search for a convergence device that could warm your hands, charge your smartphone and illuminate your path finally led you to this product, a lipstick-looking doodad that warms your hands, charges your smartphone and triples as a flashlight. It beats your own invention you were using before: a flashlight duct-taped to a surge protector with finger-melting exposed wires that spark sporadically.

Product Page [Sharper Image]

Toilet Seat Warmer ($49.90)

toilet seat warmer
Amazon

You’re used to the finer things in life. You drive a Mazda. You drink Budweiser Black Crown. You have an above-ground pool. So it’s no surprise that you seem relaxed and refreshed all winter long. Why? A warm toilet seat, of course. Let the mouth-breathing heathens be shocked awake in the morning by their common plastic toilet seats. You prefer a bit more refinement.

Product Page [Amazon]

Pajama-Warming Pouch ($39.95)

pajama pouch
Hammacher Schlemmer

Your nanny used to terrify you with urban legends of a primitive people who wore room-temperature pajamas to bed. You’d shiver in horror until she pulled your perfectly-toasted pajamas out of your family’s heirloom pajama warming pouch. When she died, you buried the pouch with her. Ursula was always more of a mother to you than your own mother, a truth you wouldn’t come to accept until you were in your early thirties. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. She’s dead and it’s time to replace the pouch.

Product Page [Hammacher Schlemmer]

USB-Heated Narwhal Slippers ($24.99)

narwhal slippers
ThinkGeek

Narwhals? Adorbz. I can’t even. They’re sah cute. Other whales might make fun of them for their weird tusk thingies, but we don’t know that. For all we know, whales don’t judge other whales based on appearance. We can only assume they do, because we do. And we, as humans, are the best. Sah great.

Just as narwhals are bound to the ocean, so too are these slippers bound to your closest USB port. Plug them in and feel the heat; if you’re feeling adventurous, unplug them and walk around until they cool off. But then hurry back to sitting in front of your computer. Don’t mess around.

Product Page [ThinkGeek]

Heated Steering Wheel Cover ($49.99)

steering wheel
Sharper Image

Extending one or more of your middle fingers toward other drivers is a rich American tradition. But the cold winter months can leave your joints frozen and stiff, making it difficult to show other drivers your displeasure in a timely fashion. And that’s assuming you’re not wearing bulky gloves, which can make which finger you’re extending imperceptible to other drivers. Don’t even get me started about mittens. This rechargeable heated steering wheel cover will ensure your hands are toasty-warm, leaving your fingers loose, flexible and ready for quick extension.

Product Page [Sharper Image]

Past Nonsense:

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