Michael Sweet

Michael Sweet writes about consumer electronics. If something runs on electricity or ones and zeroes, he's interested in it. Sweet has written about PC technology and consumer electronics for 14 years.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Laptops

    The best cheap laptops have evolved considerably over the past few years. Chromebooks are shoving traditional laptops out of the budget price range, and some cloud-based Windows laptops have also hit the market. New features cropping up in cheap laptops include flash storage, faster USB ports, and faster wireless connections. Manufacturers are also starting to use metal or textured plastic finishes to give even their most basic models a more upscale feel. We researched models under $500 that have caught the attention of reviewers, poring over long lists of specifications and reading the assessments of numerous experts. Our goal was to find affordable choices that go beyond the basics to provide solid performance, the best available features for the price, and some fairly sleek styling.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap LED TVs

    TVs are on the verge of another major transition -- to 4K "ultra-HD" resolution, with four times as many pixels as current 1080p "full-HD" TVs. Although new 4K models with amazingly sharp pictures are dropping in price, they're still out of the Cheapism range. Moreover, TV networks don't broadcast in 4K, and a few streaming video services (YouTube, Netflix, Amazon) are pretty much the only sources of 4K content. In the meantime, the 1080p models at the budget end of the market are, for the most part, bigger and better than ever. (Shoppers may see a handful of smaller 720p TVs, but they're in the minority.) In our annual analysis of features and reviews of cheap LED TVs, we had no trouble finding good 48- and 50-inch TVs for less than $500.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Multifunction Printers

    For frugal consumers, there is an obvious appeal to buying a multifunction printer: It can save on the cost of numerous visits to a copy center or separate machines that would otherwise crowd a home office. The best cheap all-in-one printers can copy, scan, and in some cases fax, as well as print, without costing much more than a stand-alone printer. We've researched the latest models and longstanding favorites, sorting through expert reviews and hundreds of user comments to determine which budget printers stack up to the demands of both everyday home use and small businesses with modest needs. With starting prices under $100, all our picks are inkjets, not laser printers, but they're all compact enough to sit on a desk or small table. They provide a range of connectivity options and features that appeal to consumers looking for high-quality text and photo printing, ease of use, and convenience in addition to a low price tag.

  • Mobile

    Best Cheap Smartphones

    Shopping for a cheap smartphone is no easy task. With so many manufacturers competing for a place in consumers' pockets and purses, you'll find even premium smartphones for next to nothing if -- and this is a big if -- you're willing to swallow a two-year service contract. Some of the smartphones we recommend used to command a couple hundred dollars, even with a service plan, but have been around just long enough to trickle down to the budget realm.

  • Electronics

    Cheap GPS

    Whether you're driving across the nation or across town, it's nice to have a good navigator at your side. Several companies currently make GPS systems, but three dominate the category: Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom. Each offers several models at a variety of price points and with a variety of different features, but all display maps and bark directions. If you have a clear idea of the features you want, you'll have a choice of models costing less than $150. So, next time you hit the road, make sure you have a good, cheap GPS system riding shotgun.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap MP3 Players

    Dedicated MP3 players are becoming obsolete as smartphones muscle in as the audio player of choice for device-laden consumers. But don't give up on them yet. The cheap MP3 players on our list are designed for use in situations where playing audio on a smartphone would be impractical. They are tiny enough to clip to your clothing or slip into a pocket, making them ideal for exercising, travel, or just zoning out. Better yet, the best cheap MP3 players cost $50 or less.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Desktop Computers

    When purchasing a cheap desktop computer it's important to understand what you're getting. Entry-level computers are simple systems designed to carry out everyday PC tasks. They're not ideal for more intensive, graphics-heavy activities such as video editing or 3D gaming. Still, the best cheap PCs can do much more than handle email and surf the web. We sought out sub-$500 systems with the hardware for multitasking and multimedia. We found contenders from major manufacturers including Dell, Gateway, Lenovo, Asus, and HP.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Wireless Routers

    These days, no one expects to be tied to their desk when they need to get online to check email or update their Facebook page. A wireless network makes it possible to connect to the Internet from anywhere in your home. The first piece of equipment you need to set up a home network is a router. Many companies -- Linksys, D-Link, and Netgear among them -- make affordable wireless routers that sell for less than $60.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Gaming Computers

    Why spend the money for a cheap gaming computer? You can find plenty of home desktops priced between $300 and $600, but if you're dedicated to pulse-pounding PC gaming, those low-end off-the-rack systems won't cut it. They simply don't have the raw horsepower to run today's games at high settings. The latest and best games are full of luscious eye candy and fast-paced action, and a PC can't run those games in all their high-detail glory without some serious hardware.

  • Appliances

    Cheap Thermostats

    Who isn't concerned about energy costs these days? One of the best ways to save money on heating and cooling bills is to install a cheap programmable thermostat that follows orders you encode in the device. You can program these thermostats to use less energy when you're sleeping or away from home and automatically kick up the heat or AC when you need it. Indeed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pegs yearly savings at about $180 for the "average" household that uses so-called temperature setbacks and set ups.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Ereaders

    In this rapidly expanding digital age, it's no wonder that even those of us who love holding a book and turning its pages are captivated by ereaders. Cheap ereaders are basically electronic tablets that display text on a small screen in a way that emulates the pages of a book. But they are not tablets, netbooks, or digital photo albums. They are portable libraries, pure and simple. And while additional functionalities are welcome, their presence shouldn't tempt consumers to disregard certain "must have" features or performance standards.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap DSLR Cameras

    Compact point-and-shoot cameras and even smartphones are capable of taking fine pictures, but cheap DSLR cameras attract shutterbugs who crave something more. With a DSLR (which stands for digital single-lens reflex), you get a larger sensor for capturing higher-quality images. DSLRs also have removable, interchangeable lenses and generally boast more features and settings than point-and-shoot cameras. As you'd expect, they are also more expensive, but we found some top digital SLR cameras at relatively cheap prices.

  • Appliances

    Best Cheap Portable Generators

    Remember the last time the power suddenly went out? If you don't want to be left in the dark but are mindful of your budget, you need a dependable yet cheap portable generator. For emergency home use, experts recommend generators with a minimum of 3,000 watts of running power. That should be enough for your most critical needs (lights, refrigerator) plus a few extras, such as a radio, TV, mobile charger, and assorted handy items. We found plenty of portable generators in the target power range for less than $550. Our recommendations are top performers that will keep important appliances and electronics running while the rest of the neighborhood waits it out.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Headphones

    Some people rip through headphones quickly -- probably because many cheap headphones, like those that come with MP3 players, are not built for the long haul. Manufacturers such as JVC and Sony have jumped into this noisy market with a wide range of options that cater to a range of budgets and feature preferences. Budget headphones generally seem to be a mixed bag of poorly constructed products and a few gems. If you know what makes a good set of headphones and ignore catchy buzzwords, you can find a solid pair of cheap headphones that won't set you back more than $15 or $20.

  • Apps & Software

    Best Cheap Antivirus Software

    Viruses threaten to make your computer crash or slow to a crawl, send error messages and pop-up windows, and change home pages without permission, but you can inoculate your PC against such attacks with free or cheap antivirus software. Good antivirus software also lets you remove or quarantine infections and defends against little programs that can sneak into your PC and telegraph information about you -- your web-surfing habits, for example -- to someone else.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Tablets

    The original Apple iPad set a high bar for performance but also price. These days, consumers don't have to search hard to find good cheap tablets bearing price tags of $200 or less. Competitors such as Amazon, Samsung, Acer, Barnes & Noble, and Google have responded with smaller tablets that have fewer features and cost about half as much but are still functional and fun to use for web surfing and multimedia.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Scanners

    If you're a serious amateur photographer (or a professional, for that matter), it may be worth spending more for a high-end model rather than a cheap scanner. Higher-priced scanners offer higher scanning resolution and often have more features, including one-touch buttons for tasks such as scanning several pages of a document. The main benefit of costly models is the quality of photo scans, which tends to be superior to what you get with inexpensive scanners. But the difference in quality generally isn't significant enough for casual or frugal users to worry about. The point-and-shoot camera crowd will be more than satisfied with the best cheap scanners.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Monitors

    Monitors often are little more than an afterthought for home computer users. After all, many computer manufacturers and electronics retailers give away flat-panel displays as part of a desktop package. The packages aren't a bad deal, but not everyone needs a new monitor with a new PC, and there are plenty of users who simply want to replace their old monitor with a new, cheap monitor or add a second one to their work station. Given the variety and quality available, you'll have no trouble finding a good monitor in the $125-$200 range.

  • Fashion

    Best Cheap Watches

    With so many electronic devices on hand that display time, watches have become less of a functional tool and more of a design accessory for many consumers. Indeed, there are plenty of cheap watches that can add flair to your look and keep you on schedule when you don't have a cell phone right at hand. There are literally dozens upon dozens of watch makers selling models with a dizzying array of designs and features across a wide spectrum of prices. You can buy a watch for as little as $10 or as much as $50,000, perhaps more. Well-known manufacturers include Timex, Casio, Seiko, Omega, Hamilton, Armitron, Anne Klein, Bulova, Fossil, Cartier, Citizen, and, of course, Rolex. All the good cheap watches we found go for less than $35; Timex and Casio in particular offer quite a few watches below that price threshold.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Digital Cameras

    Smartphone cameras continue to improve, but they still haven't quite caught up to cheap digital cameras in terms of features and quality. Many frugal consumers also haven't sprung for a smartphone with the latest and greatest camera technology or simply prefer to use a dedicated device. You don't have to spend much to pack this extra piece of electronic gear in your purse or pocket. We've found several well-reviewed digital cameras with useful features for less than $100.

  • Electronics

    Cheap Bluetooth Headsets

    With more and more state laws requiring drivers to use hands-free devices when speaking on cell phones, cheap Bluetooth headsets are in demand. They use low-frequency radio waves to let users talk or listen to multimedia audio remotely. Some high-end Bluetooth headsets also convert text messages, emails, and tweets to audio. However, most frugal consumers aren't concerned with such features and just want a cheap headset that delivers good sound quality and fits comfortably.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Home Theaters

    Once upon a time, home theater seemed like a luxury. No longer. The advent of cheap home theater systems lets consumers deck out a media room with a flat-screen TV, Blu-ray player, and surround-sound speaker system on a shoestring. These days you can build a home theater one piece at a time or take the more convenient route of buying a home theater system with all the necessary trimmings. That said, consumers are increasingly moving away from the traditional home theater in a box and gravitating toward sound bars and smaller speaker packages marketed as home theater systems and adding components as they see fit. Either way, you can enjoy good quality sound for a maximum $400.

  • Accessories

    Cheap Printer Ink Buying Guide

    While affordable inkjet and multifunction printers abound, "cheap printer ink cartridges" may seem like an oxymoron. Prices for replacement cartridges vary by brand and model, but you can easily spend $30 or more on OEM ink cartridges. (OEM refers to the original equipment manufacturer, or the brand behind your printer, like HP or Canon.) If you print a lot of photos or color documents, you'll need replacement cartridges fairly often -- and the cost mounts quickly. Fortunately there are alternatives to OEM cartridges.

  • Automotive

    Cheap Hybrid Cars

    Many folks who might consider buying a hip, environmentally friendly hybrid car are put off by the price, and understandably so: Even cheap hybrid cars cost thousands more than their standard counterparts. However, thanks to hybrids' superior fuel economy and other factors such as depreciation, drivers can recoup the added cost in as little as a year, according to an analysis by Consumer Reports . Carmakers are also churning out more models with lower price tags.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap External Hard Drives

    With more and more people looking for extra space to store their digital images, movies, and music, interest in cheap external hard drives is growing. Over the past few years, the price of external hard drives has fallen even as the storage capacity has increased and the backup software has improved. Now you can find portable devices for as little as $50, but be prepared to spend closer to $100 for one of the best cheap external hard drives. We identified several hard-working external hard drives priced in the Cheapism niche.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Blu-ray Players

    Who doesn't love a good movie? Many of us still trek to the local megaplex on the weekends to see a show, but with a cheap Blu-ray player you can watch high-definition feature films from the comforts of home. Blu-ray players are the successors to DVD players, and the picture has never looked better. Blu-ray players were very expensive when they first appeared, but as with most electronics, prices on these devices dropped pretty quickly. Although top-end players sell at price points well north of $1,000, you can find a good cheap Blu-ray player well south of $150 and refurbished models for less than the lowest starting prices on new units.

  • Accessories

    Best Cheap USB Flash Drives

    Everyone should have a cheap USB flash drive. They're eminently practical and extremely portable. Use one to store a few key work files to be handed over to a colleague, say, or back up important photos and other documents you can't afford to lose. There are USB drives that are large enough to serve as a backup drive, although most people stick to smaller, cheap USB flash drives for quick and easy storage.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Cordless Phones

    Cell phones may be displacing landlines as the primary means of voice communication for many people, but cheap cordless phones retain a hold on the market. The availability of a dedicated frequency for cordless models has sparked a proliferation of products that aren't troubled by interference from wireless routers or appliances. Better yet, the best cheap cordless phones won't mess with your budget. We found models with one or two handsets going for less than $50.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap iPod Speakers

    If you can fit your entire music collection on an iPod that costs less than $250, you shouldn't need to spend more than twice that on a set of decent speakers so you can listen without earbuds. Indeed, you don't have to: Frugal shoppers will find plenty of good, cheap iPod speakers from companies such as Altec Lansing, iHome, and JBL. Anyone who has tried to find speakers for an iPod or iPhone knows there's an incredible array of options out there, from cheap iPod docks to portable speakers to alarm clocks with FM radio.

  • Frugality

    Best Cheap VoIP Service Providers

    Cheap VoIP services transmit calls over the Internet instead of through traditional landlines (the acronym stands for Voice over Internet Protocol). All the options we researched offer tremendous savings on your phone bill, but your choice of a cheap VoIP service ultimately depends on which one delivers the call quality and customer service you deem acceptable, along with the best deal given your phone usage patterns. The price differences among these companies are relatively small, but our research uncovered large differences in customer satisfaction.

  • Accessories

    Best Cheap Computer Mice

    If you have a desktop computer, you need a mouse. In fact, many laptop users prefer to use a cheap computer mouse rather than the touchpads built into their systems. No surprise, then, that computer mice are almost as prolific as their real-world namesakes. Lots of companies make computer mice, from simple wired mice to more extravagant wireless mice designed for PC gaming. But you don't have to spend a bundle to get a quality mouse -- there's a good cheap mouse for every PC.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap Camcorders

    There are plenty of good, cheap camcorders on the market, but if your budget is limited, you'll have to make a choice: a pocket camcorder that records video in high definition but lacks other features, or a full-size camcorder with more features but no HD. Not surprisingly, most well-known camcorder manufacturers are familiar names from the camera business, such as Canon, Sony, Vivitar, and Kodak. Flip Video is particularly well-known for its pocket models. Pocket camcorders range in price from about $75 to as much as $200, while the cheaper full-size camcorders go for $200 to $250 or so.

  • Computers

    Best Cheap Laser Printers

    Already omnipresent in large offices, laser printers are rapidly invading homes, home offices, and small businesses thanks to new technology and lower prices. Consumers have warmly welcomed cheap monochrome (black and white) laser printers and the sub-$150 range is bursting with product. We checked out budget-priced monochrome laser printers, including multifunction models, and identified several that would serve you well.

  • Computers

    Best Free Cloud Storage

    Online storage isn't just for backups anymore. Mobile technology and online collaboration have grown dramatically in recent years, and thus the need for access to data with just about any device anywhere that online connections are possible. Cloud storage services are a convenient means of keeping important files in one place and also serve as a reliable backup option. Fortunately, there's no reason to pay for this service: Some of the best cloud storage options are free and others cost no more than 50 cents a gigabyte annually.

  • Electronics

    Best Cheap 3D TVs

    With cheap 3D TVs, manufacturers hope to persuade consumers to add a new dimension to their home theaters. Movie makers have been producing 3D films since the early 1920s, but TV makers have struggled to make this technology popular. Some consumers may appreciate 3D, but it's clearly not a strong selling point. For one thing, the amount of 3D content is still quite limited. We've seen plenty of Blu-ray movies released in 3D and a smattering of 3D TV programming, but don't expect see a significant amount of 3D content from the major networks for a while. If you're planning to buy a new TV anyway and like the idea of watching 3D Blu-rays at home, then by all means, pick up a cheap 3D TV, but you should get an excellent 2D TV in the process.