9 great gifts for graduation 2021 for $50 or less – CNET

It’s that time of year again. We’ve lived in the shadow of a worldwide pandemic for more than a year, but graduation season 2021 might look a bit more normal — although ceremonies, if they happen in person, will still be largely outdoors, masked and distanced. You can help restore a much-needed sense of normalcy for your grad by choosing a great gift, and you’ll find plenty of decent tech items for less than $50. Here’s a look at some of our top picks — from Apple’s new AirTags to affordable headphones to streaming-friendly entertainment and other Gen Z-friendly gifts.

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Does your grad always lose their keys? Do they own an iPhone and want the latest and greatest Apple accessory? Do you want to give something affordable? AirTags might be the perfect choice. The brand-new accessory works with any Apple device and uses the company’s FindMy network — the same one used to find lost iPhones. Attach it to keys, a backpack or just about anything else. It’s $29 for one, $99 for four — and if you go through Apple, you can get free customized engraving, too.

Read CNET’s hands-on with Apple AirTags.


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For the grad who love streaming and owns a Roku TV or streamer, this brand-new remote could be perfect. It’s rechargeable, so your grad doesn’t have to keep batteries on-hand, but its best new feature is a finder. Just say “Hey Roku, find my remote” and the clicker will beep from under the couch cushions. There’s also a headphone jack for private listening and there are volume and power buttons for Roku TVs — just don’t expect Alexa or Google-level voice smarts.

Read our Roku Voice Remote Pro review.


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If your grad needs new earbuds but you don’t want to pay up for Apple AirPods, the Mpow X3 is a great budget alternative. These wireless earbuds sound shockingly good for their low price of $50 (a $10 instant discount coupon from Amazon is currently available), with good clarity and powerful bass. They even have active noise cancellation that’s fairly effective. They’re fully waterproof (IPX8) and get up to 7 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging and the charging case looks like a fat version of the standard AirPods case.

Read our Mpow X3 first take.


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What student doesn’t want to blast their music on the go? Tribit’s StormBox Micro is one of the best sounding pocket-sized Bluetooth speakers we’ve tested, with bigger bass and volume than most other tiny speakers. It’s IP67 dustproof and water-resistant (it can be fully submerged in shallow water for a short time) and has up to 8 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. 

Read our Tribit StormBox Micro review.


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If your grad prefers Alexa then you can get the Echo Dot for the same price. But we like the Nest Mini and Google Assistant a bit better. Google Assistant is a smarter voice assistant than Alexa. It responds more flexibly to voice commands if you can’t remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Google’s grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of smart devices than Amazon’s similar routines. Overall the Google Nest Mini is a great, low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.

Read our Google Nest Mini review.



Just what every student needs by their bedside: A voice-enabled smart lamp. This Aukey lamp is works with either Amazon Alexa or Google Home and has a companion app for iOS or Android that allows you to adjust the brightness and color temperature. It’s more of an ambient light than a light you’d use to light a whole room, but it works just fine for reading.


Perfect for the grad whose phone is always dying, this power bank from Aukey has both wired and wireless charging options. If you use the USB-C port, you can get 18 watts of charging. Go wireless and lay your phone on the charging dock battery and it will wirelessly charge at 10 watts, which is where the iPhone currently maxes out for wireless charging. This phone charger has a massive battery (20,000 mAh), a built-in kickstand and a digital readout listing the remaining charge. It comes with a USB-A-to-USB-C cable, but you’ll need to supply an adapter to charge it.

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These days, it’s nearly impossible to get a TV without a bunch of “smart” streaming apps built-in. But that’s not true of older TVs, and even newer ones don’t have all the top new services, like Disney Plus. Enter the Roku Streaming Stick Plus: For under $50, this plug-in streamer will deliver literally every online video service you can think of — Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and hundreds more — at resolutions up to 4K for under $50. Oh, and the remote will control your TV’s power and volume, too. If you’re looking to give that old TV a new lease on life, this is the gadget to get. (Note: The Roku Express 4K Plus hits in May, and offers nearly all the same features for a bit less.) 

Read our Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.


Sarah Tew/CNET

A more stylish alternative to the Tribit, the JBL Go 3 has a completely new look — it’s now covered in durable fabric instead of having the naked plastic design of its Go predecessors — and surprisingly decent sound for its small size. Available in multiple colors, it has an IPX67 water-resistance rating (it can be dunked in water and is dustproof). Battery life is rated at up to 5 hours.

Read our JBL Go 3 review.


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Got twice $50 to spend on your grad? The newest version of the Nest Hub arrived in 2021 and it’s a great entry point for the category. It’s the smartest and best overall, making the $100 price a great value. Thanks to the built-in Google Assistant, the Nest Hub responds to all of the same voice command options as the Google Home Mini smart speaker. The touchscreen is small at 7 inches, but the adaptive brightness makes pictures look particularly great. Google will even customize a slideshow of family pics as your screensaver — a great way to remind your grad of home.

Read our Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) review.


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