It’s no secret that consumers are watching what they spend. I, for one, have had to rethink my tech purchases. As much as I’d love a big-screen HDTV and new gaming console, the smarter option (for now) is to keep on top of my mortgage payments and high heating bills.
With the majority of Americans cutting back on their purchases, online retailers are faced with lots of challenges of their own. comScore recently released its 2008 fourth-quarter retail e-commerce sales estimates, and the results aren’t pretty: Online retail spending declined 3 percent versus one year ago; that’s the first quarter of negative growth since 2001 that comScore has reported. For all of 2008, though, retail e-commerce grew 6 percent to $130.1 billion—but this number represents a substantially lower growth rate than in previous years, comScore reported.
The times sure look dismal, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on cool tech gear. You probably won’t go out and drop a few hundred on a camcorder or netbook, but a $99 digital camera or a $50 speaker system definitely seems reasonable.
So if you’re in the market for a new digital camera, MP3 player, or other tech product, and you don’t want to spend a fortune, here are our 25 affordable recommendations. All of these tech products were rated 3 stars or better by our PC Labs analysts and editors.
Editor’s Note: All listed prices are current as of the date of publication—and apt to change quickly and often.
DIGITAL CAMERAS & CAMCORDERS
Casio Exilim EX-Z9
The EX-Z9 is an easy-to-use, entry-level shooter that takes terrific daylight shots and continues Casio’s tradition of quality video recording in digital cameras.
Fuji FinePix J10
The 8.2-megapixel Fuji FinePix J10 is an inexpensive camera that’s great for beginners. It has an easy-to-use menu system and effective image stabilization.
Creative Vado Pocket Video Cam
Creative’s 2GB Vado pocket camcorder improves on its prototype, the Flip Ultra mini camcorder, with a sleeker and slimmer design and a larger screen.
This 4GB iPod nano-esque player is a viable alternative for those not tied to iTunes. It offers good-looking graphics, easy, push-screen navigation, FM radio and recording, and voice recording.
The innovative Slacker Portable does a good job of letting you take customized Internet radio with you. This 8GB player refreshes music automatically via Wi-Fi, has a huge screen for album art and artist bios, and lets you ban songs you don’t like.
Hercules XPS 2.1 Lounge speakers
The Hercules XPS 2.1 Lounge speakers from Guillemot certainly sound as if they cost more than $50. They can handle deep bass even at high volumes (although if you push them to the absolute limit, they will distort). The wired remote looks clunky but has a bass level control, which lets you tailor the sound to your tastes.
HEADSETS & HEADPHONES
Motorola MotoROKR S9-HD
Motorola’s well-designed and affordable S9-HD may finally give stereo Bluetooth headsets a good name. It’s more comfortable to wear than true in-ear designs and comes bundled with an iPod adapter.
Fatal1ty USB Gaming Headset HS-1000
The Creative Fatal1ty USB Gaming Headset HS-1000 is a good sub-$100 USB headset, and the virtual surround CMSS-3D, X-Fi Crystalizer, and ambient EAX effects sound great.
With the PX100, you get excellent audio performance for the price. Plus, these comfortable headphones sit on the ear, delivering respectable bass with very little distortion.
Philips SHE9850 In-ear Headphones
Philips’s comfortable earphones certainly aren’t bass-heavy, but they offer a reasonable amount of low-end presence. The included shirt clip helps cut out cable thump, too.