April 25, 2024

Tyna Woods

Technology does the job

It’s Okay to Skimp on These 10 Tech Products

It’s Okay to Skimp on These 10 Tech Products
A red iPhone SE (2022 version) being pulled out of a person's jean pocket.

Many believe that if you’re not buying the latest and best version of a product you’re settling for hot garbage, but that’s not always true. In reality, you can save money on a lot of tech products without compromising your overall experience.

HDMI Cables

If you’re buying an expensive new TV, you might feel inclined to spend a bit more on cabling for devices. Don’t be fooled. As long as your HDMI cable is capable of carrying enough data for your given usage, it’s good enough. Spending more may get you a cable more durable against repeated plugging and unplugging, but in most cases, your HDMI cables live at the back of your TV and are rarely unplugged.

Amazon Basics 18 Gbps HDMI 2.0b Cable
Amazon Basics

If you want to use an HDMI 2.1 compliant device with your TV, you’ll need a cable that meets the HDMI 2.1 standard. That means a cable that’s capable of carrying 48GB/sec, or a 4K image at 120Hz. If you don’t have a TV with a 120Hz panel, you don’t need to worry about this at all.

All of our top-recommended HDMI cables are inexpensive, like the Amazon Basics Premium HDMI 2.0 cable. The only thing to be aware of is buying a fake HDMI 2.1 cable. You can check for fake cables using an app, but not all apps are approved in this manner. Your best bet is to buy cables from a trusted retailer so that you can get a refund if the cable isn’t up to scratch.

Best HDMI Cable Overall

SD and microSD Cards (Usually)

SD and microSD cards are easily categorized by their speed, with higher speeds associated with faster read and write times. This sounds great in theory, but it only applies if the device you’re using can take advantage of those speeds. You should match your microSD card to the device you’re going to be using to get the best performance-to-price ratio.

One example is the Nintendo Switch, which Nintendo states is capable of maximum read and write speeds of around 95MB/sec. That means a standard UHS-I memory card is your best bet since the Switch lacks the additional row of pins required to make use of faster UHS-III cards.

Nintendo Swtich microSD slot location

The same is true of digital cameras. Many require faster write speeds to capture high bitrate video, while others don’t. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations in terms of optimum write speeds for these devices, and remember that exceeding the recommended speed won’t necessarily provide any benefit. You may be better off buying a higher capacity, slower card instead like the SanDisk 512GB Ultra UHS-I.

SanDisk 512GB UHS-I microSDXC

That said, in certain use cases you can’t afford to skimp on write speeds. For example, the SD card you pick for your Raspberry Pi can have a dramatic effect on your experience.

USB-C (and Similar) Adapters

The transition to USB-C is upon us, with many devices lacking USB-A connectivity at all. This includes laptops like Apple’s MacBook range, portable devices like Valve’s Steam Deck, and even many new cars. Adapters allow you to use your old USB-A cables with devices that lack USB-A ports.

USB-C adapters like the Syntech USB-C to USB multipack are great value compared to buying all-new cables, but you can still save some money. Some adapters are limited to USB 2.0 speeds, which means they’re slow for data transfer but fine for carrying a charge. Others conform to the USB 3.0 or greater standard, which means higher speeds for faster data transfer. If you don’t expect to need a ton of files moved quickly, a USB 2.0 adapter will do.

Best USB-C to USB-A

USB Cables

USB cables carry a digital signal between two devices. What matters is that the speed of the cable matches the speed of your devices, so if you’re transferring data from a hard drive or digital camera that supports USB 3.0 speeds, choose a USB 3.0 cable to get the best possible speeds.

Nyko USB-C to USB-A Cable

You don’t need to spend money on gold-plated USB cables since standard nickel-plated ones do the job just fine. Spending more money on a cable might provide you with a more durable cable (which may be a good idea if you need a cable you’ll be traveling with and folding up a lot), but it won’t make your transfers any faster.

The same is usually true when purchasing charging cables for smartphones and other mobile devices. Always check manufacturer’s recommendations and reviews to ensure a cable will be suitable for your device.

RELATED: Do I Need Gold Plating on My Cables?

Rechargeable Battery Banks

Most rechargeable battery banks found on websites like Amazon are “good enough” for most uses. Even cheap models now include features like fast charging, the ability to charge multiple devices at once, rugged and weather-proof construction, and solar panels for topping up.

The most expensive models can’t stave off the aging process that affects all lithium-ion batteries, so there’s little benefit in terms of longevity. As the total number of charge cycles increases, the total capacity of the battery pack decreases. Rather than buying the most expensive version from a recognizable brand, instead look for features you’re interested in like high capacities, slim form factors, the ability to fast charge devices, the presence of USB-C ports, or weather-proof designs.

Use our best battery guide and customer reviews to guide you in the right direction, and avoid anything that has a low number of ratings and verified purchases.

Computer Cases

If you take a look at the best-selling cases on websites like PC Part Picker, NewEgg, and Amazon, a trend begins to emerge: the most popular cases are around $100 or less. In particular the Corsair 4000D, a sub-$100 case features prominently. There’s a good reason for this: the more money you spend on a case, the less money you have to spend on the parts that really matter like your CPU, GPU, and motherboard.

Best Selling Computer Case

What exactly are you going to be doing with your case, anyway? Tucking it away under your desk? Hiding it with an ultrawide monitor? Covering it in stickers and cat fur? The most important thing your case needs to do, aside from protecting your components, is to provide good airflow (and the 4000D does a fine job of that).

Of course, not all cheap cases are good cases. Spending slightly more can get you features like dust filters, better acoustics, room for larger radiators, and overall better build quality. Learn more about picking the right PC case for your needs.

Smartphones (Sometimes)

You should put a lot of thought into your smartphone of choice. These devices have taken over many aspects of digital life, from online messaging and email to banking, shopping, and even consuming video content. You shouldn’t buy the cheapest, nastiest smartphone you can find if you’re going to be using it a lot and putting it through its paces.

With that in mind, you might not need the very latest release from Apple, Samsung, Google, or whoever else you’ve sworn loyalty to. Apple offers last year’s iPhone at a discount, and even sells models like the iPhone SE to those who want a solid but pared-back experience. This provides access to the same apps, services, and software updates as the latest models at a significant discount.

Close-up of the iPhone SE's camera bump
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

The same is true of cheap Android devices from Samsung and others. Last year’s model is usually available at a discount. In 2022, the 2021 Moto G Play is a great buy, whether you buy directly from the manufacturer or an online retailer. You can save even more money if you turn to the second-hand market, though you won’t get the same treatment with regards to warranty.

Best Budget Android Phone Overall

Moto G Play (2021)

Coming in at around $170, this budget Android phone is packed with more features than you’d expect! You’ll get a decent camera, good battery life, upgradeable storage, and more for a surprisingly low price.

One thing to keep in mind is that the older a device is, the less software support you should expect. iPhone models generally receive between five and seven years worth of updates from new. Android devices vary depending on the manufacturer, but three years isn’t uncommon.

RELATED: How Long Will My Android Phone Be Supported With Updates?

Tablets (Depending on Usage)

The iPad is the best tablet you can buy, but plenty of cheaper options exist. Even within Apple’s tablet range, you probably don’t need the iPad Pro unless you’re looking for a tablet experience that can replace a laptop entirely. That’s why we recommend the iPad Air as the best overall model, with the standard base iPad a close second as a compelling budget option.

Best Budget iPad

But there are many cheaper tablets on the market if you don’t want to spend iPad money. Android models have never had the software or user experience to rival Apple’s offering, but that might not matter if you’re not going to be using a ton of apps or playing games.

New iPad Air

Some people just want a tablet for watching movies while traveling or in bed. Others use the device with Google apps like Gmail and Docs to take notes or respond to email messages. Others don’t want to play the very latest games but would rather load up on emulators and use an external controller to play instead.

At the time of writing, Amazon’s 7-inch Fire tablet is one of the cheapest on the market, or you can spend about twice as much and get the 10-inch 1080p model instead for around $100. Even Samsung has some good options like the Galaxy Tab A7 Lite for less than half the price of the cheapest iPad.

Budget Amazon Fire Tablet

Fire 7 tablet, 7” display, 16 GB, 10 hours battery life, light and portable for entertainment at home or on-the-go, (2022 release), Black

Read How-To Geek’s Full Review

At this price point, it’s hard to complain about the 7-inch Amazon Fire tablet. Use it to watch videos, check Facebook, read books via Kindle, or play games.

TVs (for General Use)

Buying a TV for general usage like watching rolling news channels or kids’ TV programming during the day is a bit different from buying an OLED for movie night or a TV for gaming.

OLED panels are self-emissive, with perfect blacks and excellent contrast ratio which makes them unbeatable in a dark room. They don’t get as bright as comparable LED-lit LCD panels, and they may be prone to burn-in if you subject them to the same images frequently (like rolling news tickers, or channel logos in the corner of the screen).

Gaming displays should ideally be HDMI 2.1 compliant with 120Hz panels to support the latest standards in use on the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and PC. They should support features like variable refresh rate (VRR) and have very low latency to deliver a smooth and responsive gaming experience.

TCL 6-Series R635

You can save a lot of money by opting for an LED-lit LCD from a brand like TCL, Vizio, or HiSense. It’s not hard to find a display that gets plenty bright enough for daytime use in bright sunlight that foregoes a perfect contrast ratio or the latest gaming features. If you’re not using the latest consoles, you don’t need HDMI 2.1, VRR, or low latency modes. You don’t even need full-array local dimming, especially if you won’t be using the display in the dark.

Check out our best budget TVs that cover a wide range of price points.

Monitors (for Office Use)

Monitors for gaming or professional photo and video use come with a lot of features that most people don’t need. Even if you occasionally edit the odd video or play a round of Valorant, if your primary use is staring at spreadsheets, checking email, or managing a social media empire then utility trumps all.

MacBook owners take note: Apple makes some very nice displays, but you can save a lot of money if you settle for something from LG, Dell, or Samsung instead, like the Apple-styled Dell U2723QE. You can buy two excellent 27″ monitors and power-up your productivity with a multiple-monitor setup for the price of a single Apple Studio Display.

Best Mac Monitor Overall

Higher refresh rates than the standard 60Hz and 75Hz offerings result in smoother on-screen motion, noticeable when dragging windows or scrolling a web page. This is nice, but not strictly necessary unless you’re looking for a “premium” experience. If you’re going to be sitting in front of your monitor working for hours a day, what’s most important is comfort and screen real estate.

Spending a bit of money on a good monitor mount that you can move into an optimal position, and making sure you have everything you need in front of you trump features like 100% sRGB coverage or G-Sync compatibility.

More Ways to Save Money

There are all sorts of ways to save money on tech products, like buying used. You can save money on Apple products using the Apple Refurbished program or simply buying while abroad, where products are cheaper.

Cutting your streaming bill and rotating between services is another good tip for reducing your monthly outgoings. Lastly, if you’re a gamer make sure you’re saving money on your Switch games, making the most of Steam’s summer and winter sales, and buying your iPhone and iPad games when they’re cheap.