Good news for gadget lovers who have less money to spend on them these days: your local dollar store has a growing selection of electronic gizmos.
OK, so you won't be walking out of the store with an iPhone or Xbox 360 under your arm, nor can you expect the same level quality or longevity from products that cost 10 times more, but you may be surprised what you can find for mere buck or two.
After scouring a handful of stores from upstate New York to southern California, the following are ten high-tech picks to consider. Keep in mind, however, prices and brands might vary between dollar stores, but we visited five chains in total: Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, National Dollar, Dollar King and Dollar Market.
While you shouldn't expect great-sounding headphones from a dollar store, the Memorex-branded Comfort + Style earbuds might be music to your ears at under $2 for the pair — especially when you see them for as high as $30 on Amazon.com. Surprisingly decent in sound quality (though lacking bass), a set of three different tip sizes are in the box to provide a snug fit -- which also helps block out ambient noise around you. Available in multiple colors, such as orange and blue, these earbuds work with smartphones, but there's no microphone on the cable to place or accept calls.
As the name suggests, the IntrudAlert is a small alarm that can notify a homeowner of a possible break-in. Simply affix the two-part gadget to the opening of a door, window or cabinet, and should the two pieces of the magnetic device become separated a piercing 90-decibel alarm will sound. Made by L'Image Home products Inc., IntrudAlert has a small On/Off switch on the side to turn on only when needed. Three alkaline watch batteries (LR44) are required but included.
Not only can you pick up an 8-pack of Sunbeam-branded AA batteries for $1, you can also pick up a battery tester for that price. Determine if your batteries need replacing or charging with this red and silver device that can test AA, AAA, C, D and 9V batteries using the topside sensors. Three red lights on the face of the unit tell you if the power status of your batteries, ranging from 20 percent to 100 percent. If the battery is dead, no LEDs will light up at all. Naturally, this product requires batteries, too (three AG13 watch batteries), but they're included.
Kenko's Calculator Watch (model KK-628) is a digital wristwatch that provides the date and time on its 8-line LCD screen. But when you need a calculator — say, at the bank, restaurant, supermarket or while doing homework -- press the red On button and start calculating. Available in black or grey, basic tasks of this calculator watch include addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, along with square root, percentage and memory functions. Watch battery is included.
While it's no Logitech Harmony Remote, you can scoop a Circuit Electronics 6-in-1 Remote Control that lets you control home theater components, such as a TV, DVD player, satellite or cable receiver, or legacy products such as a VCR or CD player. Requiring two AAA batteries (not included), the silver wireless remote is fairly easy to program (code book included) and offers dedicated buttons on the top for your components. Plus, along with channel and volume buttons, it features VCR/DVD controls at the bottom (Play, Rew, FF, Rec, Pause, etc.), along with Menu, Mute, Aux and more.
Ever found yourself taking notes on your smartphone or tablet during a meeting or presentation and realized an old-fashioned pen and paper might just be faster? Stylus pens for "capacitive" multi-touch screens can cost up to $15 -- or you might opt for a no-name 3-pack of stylus pens for a single, smiling George Washington. These stylus pens have a thick, soft tip that lets you write, draw or tap on your digital device, and a handy clip to attach to a smartphone or tablet cover or case. This product is also ideal for those with long nails or if you want to keep your gloves on in the winter months. (Note: one of the tips fell off after two days' of use but the other two are still fine.)
LED book light
Unless you're using a tablet with a backlit screen, reading paper books or an e-book reader in dimly-lit environments can be problematic — unless you turn on a lamp or use a book light. If you prefer the latter, you can pick up the Electra Clamp-On Light for $1, which clips onto your paperback, hardcover or e-book reader. Twist the small ring to turn it on and then swivel the small LED light (up to 360 degrees) to find the right spot. Available in multiple colors, three small batteries are included.
Retractable iPhone cord
Travel much? Avoid the tangled USB cable for your iPhone, iPod or iPad by picking up the myTunes retractable data cable. This small white cable plugs into your iOS device on one end — via the 30-pin connector underneath it — while on the other end of the 26-inch cord is a male USB 2.0 connector to plug into your PC, Mac or in-vehicle stereo system. When you're done using it, pull the two ends away from one another and let go to retract the cable. Not bad for the same price as a cup of coffee.
Gaming AV cables
For $2, you can snag the Philips Universal Gaming cable that lets you connect your favorite video game system to a television — or up to three at one time — with support for Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2 or 3. Simply plug the correct connector into the back of your console (while not labeled, you'll see which one fits) and the other end is a color-coded composite ("RCA") and S-Video jacks for the TV. These aren't high-definition cables, mind you, but you can't go wrong with these Philips-branded alternatives. On a related note, you can also pick up a Vibe Axcess HDMI cable (male-to-male) for just $2.
You've spent at least $500 on your Apple iPad, so just how are you protecting your investment when you carry it around? One of best dollar store finds is a no-name neoprene case for tablets. While the label says "Laptop Case," the 7.8 x 10-inch stretchy sleeve is clearly designed for 10-inch tablets, which fits your device perfectly inside the flap. A small cover then wraps around the open edge to prevent the iPad from falling out. Available in multiple colors, this neoprene accessory houses a padded interior for extra cushion. Neoprene iPad cases usually cost between $6 and $20 at big box stores.