Whether you’re buying for a recent graduate from high school or college, there are plenty of great gifts that won’t cost a fortune.
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Belkin Wemo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Plug ($25)
Best smart plug
Tyler Lizenby/CNETSmart home tech is a big, hairy market with lots of niches to get lost in. We like the Belkin Wemo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Plug because it’s an easy way to get into home automation. Its benefits are easy to understand (lets you automate a lamp or a fan or anything else you can plug into it), and because it works with Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit, it keeps every major avenue open if your grad wants to explore smart home tech further. At $30 or less, it’s also very low-risk.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air ($80)
Best truly wireless headphones under $100
Sarah Tew/CNETAirPods and other name-brand truly wireless headphones cost $160 and up. But we found the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air earbuds to deliver solid sound quality at half that price. This model also offers better noise isolation than the AirPods, and it’s available in black in addition to white.
UE Wonderboom ($70 at Amazon)
Superb waterproof wireless speaker
Sarah Tew/CNETI’d say the JBL Clip 3 is arguably the best travel-friendly wireless speaker, and it’s currently sold for as little as $40. But if you want something to gift something a bit beefier, the UE Wonderboom is a great choice. It’s available in about a dozen fun colors, it really can float — and it sounds great, too. It’s sold for around $70 at Amazonand elsewhere.
Google Nest Hub ($99)
The best smart display
Juan Garzon/CNETThere are plenty of great Alexa-powered Echo products, but in this price range, we’re loving the Google Nest Hub (formerly known as the Home Hub). The smart display gives you instant access to a world of answers whenever you say, “Hey, Google,” and the device’s lack of a camera makes us feel better about having it in the bedroom. Note that Google just introduced a larger 10-inch version of this product with a camera called the Nest Hub Max, but that will run you $230.
Kindle Paperwhite (often on sale for $90)
Sarah Tew/CNETYes, the Kindle app is available for free on phones and tablets. But if you’re buying for a book lover, the Kindle Paperwhite beats a phone app because it offers distraction-free reading. Other ways the Paperwhite beats a phone: It’s readable in full sunlight or in a darkened bedroom, it’s fully waterproof and its battery lasts days or weeks, not just a few hours. The Paperwhite normally retails for $130, but it’s often on sale for $90, which is why we’re including it here.
Amazfit Bip ($80 or less)
Best smartwatch under $100
Sarah Tew/CNETThe Fitbit Versa Lite, Galaxy Watch Active and Apple Watch Series 3 cost $159 and up. But if you want to gift a smartwatch with a sub-$100 budget, the Amazfit Bip is your best bet. Despite the low price, it’s got an always-on display, water resistance, heart rate tracking and — most importantly — battery life that blows away the Apple Watch.
Fitbit Inspire HR ($99.99)
Best Fitbit under $100
Érika García/CNETFitbit has several fitness trackers under $200: the $180 Versa, the $160 Versa Lite and the $120 Charge 3. But in this price category, the new-for-2019 Inspire HR comes in at the $100 price point. The HR is so named because it has always-on heart rate monitoring, and its battery should last up to five days. If you want the name brand cachet and superior smartphone apps, the Fitbit is a good trade-up from the Amazfit mentioned above.
Roku Streaming Stick Plus ($60)
Best video streamer under $100
Sarah Tew/CNETNetflix, HBO, Hulu and every other streaming video service under the sun — Roku has it all. This $60 HDMI stick delivers all those channels at up to 4K resolution, and the included remote controls the TV’s power and volume, too. It’s a great gift for grads who almost certainly don’t want a traditional cable package in their first apartment.
Gloomhaven board game (around $95 on sale)
Nerdiest board game under $100
Andrew Gebhart/CNETGloomhaven is a card-based dungeon crawler with a choose-your-own-adventure vibe. It started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2015and has become a huge hit in tabletop gaming circles, despite the $140 asking price (it weighs 22 pounds and has hundreds of tiles, cards and gamepieces). If you’re buying for a seriously geeky gamer who’s ready to move beyond videogames, Gloomhaven is a great choice — especially if and when you can find it on sale for under $100.