Don't discount Dollar Tree, Family Dollar for bargains on technology and gadgets
The next time you pop into your local “dollar store” to pick up odds and ends – such as greeting cards, snacks, or kitchen utensils – be sure to take a walk down the electronics aisle as you’ll likely be surprised what you can find.
For just a buck or two (or sometimes a bit more), you can score some decent digital doohickeys. So long as you have reasonable expectations when it comes to quality and longevity, you won’t be disappointed with what’s on the shelves.
I trekked to a handful of these kinds of discount stores over the past few weeks – namely Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, 99¢ Depot, and Dollarama (in Canada) – and here's the following are some smart picks I found and tested.
Be aware, not all stores have the same products, but you might find a very similar item under a different brand name. All products cost $1 unless otherwise specified.
Case the joint for a phone case
It was impressive to see a brand name like mophie at two different dollar stores. Usually $20 to $25, the mophie Hold Force Base Case is a thin, transparent polycarbonate case – found for iPhone 7, 8, or 8 Plus – with integrated magnets designed to attach a variety of supported accessories (including an extra battery, folio wallet, and more).
For iPhone X, I also found an Olympian Case from Aconic, a fitted rubberized case that wraps around the sides and back of the device. Small cutouts leave a space for buttons, the camera lens, lightning port and more.
Get a smartphone mount
With Aduro’s Solid Grip Mag Clip, securely mount your smartphone to your vehicle’s air vent, so you can more safely glance at it for maps and directions, music playback, and more – when it’s safe to look at or touch the device, of course.
In the box you’ll find two magnetic mounting plates, which you’ll stick to the back of your smartphone using the 3M adhesive, and then it’ll magnetically affix to the base clipped to your air vent (rubberized to minimize road vibrations and reduce slippage). Aduro says its product can even work through most smartphone cases because of the strength of the magnetic connection.
Improve your selfie game
Available in several colors, the Travelocity-branded Connect & Shoot Selfie Stick ($2) is an extra-long monopod that expands from 9.5 inches while collapsed to 43 inches when extended.
Simply snap in your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera into the spring-loaded adaptor -- it can hold larger phones, too – and if your device has a headphone jack, plug in the attached 3.5mm cable and then use the shutter button built into the non-slip handle to snap the pic. (Otherwise, set the timer on the front-facing camera.)
Other features include a hand strap and adjustable swivel head (to adjust the angle of the phone or point-and-shoot camera), plus it can be connected to a universal tripod, too.
Tiny speakers, pretty big sound
Doubling as a clamshell compact used to apply make-up, the Hype Compact Speaker ($2) is also an external speaker for your favorite audio device such as a smartphone, tablet or music player.
While it’s not Bluetooth-compatible, the Bluetooth wireless speaker comes with a custom 2-foot cable that plugs into the source and an integrated USB connector to juice up the rechargeable battery. Stereo sound quality is surprisingly loud.
I also found non-rechargeable speakers for a cool $1 (triple-A batteries not included).
For $4, there’s the MoodLab Mini Bluetooth Speaker with LED Lights. Battery life wasn’t the best at about two hours, but the speaker is still nice for the price.
Smart speakers:Amazon, Google personal assistants can handle more chores. Just ask them
A mouse for not much money
Thinking of hitting up a big box store if you need a spare computer mouse? Instead of paying more than you need to, for $2 you can find a Retractable USB Mouse from Tech-1. Available in white and gray or black and gray, this small right- or left-handed mouse plugs into an available USB (Type-A) port on your PC or Mac – no drivers needed – and you can pull on the retractable 30-inch cord to give yourself as much range as you need. At the very least it’s a good travel companion.
For $1 more, Tech-1 also has a wireless mouse, which comes with a teeny transceiver to plug into an available USB (Type-A) port.
Lastly, I found an assortment of zippered Built BYO-branded neoprene laptop and tablet sleeves. The soft inner lining and stretchy outer "wetsuit" skin of the sleeves help protect your tech from the bumps and knocks of everyday life.
I found multiple colors and designs to choose from (including polka-dotted) and varying sizes – to fit a 7-inch tablet all the way up to a 16-inch laptop. These fashionable and functional accessories are well worth the small investment.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at www.marcsaltzman.com.