En español | Just because you're tight on cash doesn't mean you can't afford some great gadgets.
Your local dollar store has a tech section, believe it or not — it's small, but it's there — and you might be pleasantly surprised at what you can buy with the loose change in your pocket or purse. As long as you have reasonable expectations when it comes to quality and longevity, you'll find a few handy tech toys for a mere buck or two.
The following are a few bargains found at locations such as Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and 99¢ Depot, as well as Canada's Dollarama. Please note: Not all dollar stores have the same products, and often you'll find a very similar one under another brand name.
1. Battery tester
Sunbeam battery tester. Not only can you pick up batteries on the cheap at your local dollar store, you also might find a battery tester for only a buck. Determine whether your batteries need replacing or charging with the Sunbeam battery tester, which can evaluate AA, AAA, C, D and 9V batteries via the topside sensors.
Three red lights on the face of the unit tell you the power status of your batteries, ranging from 20 percent to 100 percent. If a battery is dead, no LEDs will light up. Naturally, this product requires batteries, too — three AG13 watch batteries — but they're included.
2. Book light
GE LED book light. Unless you're using a tablet with a backlit screen, reading an ebook or paper book in a dimly lit environment can be a pain unless you turn on a lamp or use a book light. If you prefer the latter, you can pick up the GE LED book light in blue, pink and other colors and clamp it onto your e-reader, paperback or hardcover.
While we've seen book lights for less, this $2 GE product is much brighter, durable, adjustable and comes with a 10,000-hour LED bulb, the company says. Two AAA batteries are required but not included, but you can pick up an eight-pack of Sunbeam batteries for a buck.
Tilt top calculator. Why spend more on a calculator than you need to? The $1 tilt top calculator from Studio has an automatic power-off feature, an easy-to-read and adjustable eight-digit display that can be propped up for a better view, a handy palm rest for lengthy sessions around tax time and large buttons. No batteries needed because this is solar powered.
Alternatives: Scientific calculators and one in the shape of an electric guitar also were offered at a couple of dollar stores.
4. Double headphone adapter
HRS-Global double adapter. If you're on a road trip and the grandkids want to hear the same song, movie or video game while in the back seat — without disturbing you in the front seat, of course — consider picking up the HRS-Global double adapter for $1.
On one end of this small black device is a male 3.5mm jack to snap into your digital device of choice. On the other end are two female ports to plug in two sets of earbuds or headphones.
Maxell Wrap'd earbuds. For just a buck, the gray and yellow Maxell Wrap'd earbuds sounded surprisingly decent when connected to a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Plus they're comfortable, durable and feature a built-in microphone to take calls — though they have no button to activate a personal assistant.
The 4-foot flat wire cable eliminates tangling, and included with the earbuds is a soft, rubberized silicone case to conveniently wrap the cable around when not in use. Also in the package are different-size ear tips to give you a perfectly snug fit.
6. HDMI cable
Vibe Axcess HDMI cable. Even discerning home theater enthusiasts might not be able to see or hear the difference between pricy cables and this $2 one.
For uncompressed, high-definition video and sound, simply connect the 5-foot Vibe Axcess HDMI cable from the output jacks of your home theater components — such as a Blu-ray player, digital cable or satellite box, or a video game system — to the input jack of your television or HDMI-supported audio-video receiver. You also can use an HDMI cable to connect laptops to your monitor, projector or TV.
Magnavox foldable headphones. Speaking of audio, Magnavox foldable headphones are ideal for the grandkids because they don't go inside your ears and they're not too loud. These $1 model #MHL1600 headphones are lightweight and foldable for extra portability, and they are available in one of three colors.
Like the above-mentioned Maxell earbuds, these on-ear headphones can be connected to any 3.5mm audio jack — be it an iPod touch, laptop, portable gaming system or smartphone.
The technical specs are equivalent to what you would find for other headphones that are not high end.
8. Remote control
RCA 4-in-1 universal remote. While this $2 universal remote doesn't have any bells and whistles, it can let you control up to four home theater components or replace a broken remote for your cable box, DVR or television. Requiring two AA batteries that are not included, the black wireless remote is easy to program with the code book included.
It offers dedicated buttons for TV, DVD, VCR, CBL/SAT and audio. Along with channel up and down, it includes DVD Menu, Guide, Mute, Picture-in-Picture and Sleep buttons.
Alternative: We also found a 6-in-1 no-name remote with an extra button to cycle through various TV inputs.
9. Selfie stick
Tech-1 monopod. Available in black, blue or pink, the $2 Tech-1 monopod is an extralong selfie stick that expands from 7 inches while collapsed to nearly 40 inches when extended.
Simply snap your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera into the spring-loaded adaptor, which can hold larger phones, too, such as the iPhone XS Max, and then use a wireless shutter or the phone's timer to take wide group shots. Other features include an adjustable two-way tilt knob, hand strap and standard-size tripod port on the bottom of the stick to add onto an additional tripod if desired.
10. Sensor home alarm
Window and door alarm. As the name suggests, a $1 window and door alarm is a small device that can notify a homeowner of a possible break-in. Peel off the sticky adhesives on the back of this two-part alarm; press it up against the opening of a door, window or cabinet; and flick the switch to turn it on.
Now, should the two pieces of the magnetic device become separated, a piercing 90-decibel alarm will sound. Three alkaline LR44 watch batteries are required but included to operate this no-name product from Dollar Tree.
Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast Tech It Out aims to break down geek speak into street speak.