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It can be tough to decide between the new gadgets you should upgrade to and the ones you should leave on the shelf. Do you really need that expensive new smartwatch or can you get the same features from a more budget-friendly version?

Not all tech is created equally, and it’s easy to get caught up in the hype over the latest and greatest devices. If you’re in the market for a smartphone, browse these options under $500.

So, how do you decide which ones are worth the investment? You can start by researching what all the new tech devices offer — which could take a while — or you can start with the list below instead.

A helpful smart speaker

Smart speakers act as digital personal assistants and are more powerful than you might realize — capable of a lot more than playing music or giving you weather updates. Tap or click here for steps on how to set up routines, the best way to supercharge your smart assistant.

There are plenty of smart speakers available on the market, but two reign supreme: The Echo Dot and the Google Nest Mini.

The Echo Dot has all features you’d expect and it comes in around $50. This version has multiple layers of privacy controls, including a “microphone off” button that electronically disconnects the mic. Plus it comes with tens of thousands of skills, and it can learn more over time as you use it.

The Google Nest Mini is another good option around the same price — and it’s perfect for streaming music and podcasts. The Nest Mini is built for sound, but it can still do everything you want from a smart gadget: Make calls, give weather updates, make purchases, set timers … The list goes on and on.

An essential streaming device

Chances are you’ve spent some time streaming a show or two (or 50) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Binge-watching shows has helped many of us pass the time while social distancing, but if you’re streaming content from your laptop or phone instead of your TV, you’re missing out.

You don’t have to invest in a smart TV with built-in streaming capabilities. You can opt for an affordable streaming device instead. Our picks? The Roku Streaming Stick and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.

Roku is one of the most popular streaming device brands. Why? It works with almost every content provider out there. It has apps for Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, Plex, Sling TV and Apple TV+. Its streaming stick is a good value and comes with a voice-enabled remote.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is another worthy contender. It’s tiny but packs a big punch. All you need to do is plug it into the HDMI slot on your TV and plug in the power adapter. The Fire TV Stick supports 4K content, HDR and Dolby Atmos and, best of all, it’s budget-friendly.

A feature-packed smartwatch

Now, do you need a smartwatch? No, probably not. Are they nice to have? Absolutely. If you’re keeping an eye on your health or watching your weight, they’re a great way to track activity. If you love staying connected no matter where you are, you can get your calls and texts right to your wrist.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 costs significantly less than the just-released Galaxy Watch 3. While you’ll have to sacrifice a few bells and whistles, it’s packed with a ton of features for a couple hundred bucks. The Active2 includes heart monitoring, pace coaching for running or walking, sleep tracking and insights on your fitness and heart rate.

The Fitbit Charge 4 can sync with iPhones, but you’ll get more messaging and phone capabilities out of it if you’re an Android user. Standout features include built-in GPS tracking, text and smartphone notifications, Fitbit Pay and tons of fitness features.

Not in a rush? You can preorder one of the three new Fitbit models available on September 25 instead.

If you’re an iPhone owner, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a no-brainer. The Series 3 watch is Apple’s budget version, coming in well under $200. This watch integrates with your iPhone so you can make calls, send messages and access your apps from the watch — and you’ll get lots of fitness features, too.

Note: Apple is expected to unveil its Series 6 Apple Watch on September 15. Unless you need that Apple Watch Series 3 right now, you could save some money by waiting.

Related: Everything we know about the iPhone 12

A great pair of headphones

If you’ve been working from home, you know the value of a good pair of headphones. If you want over-the-ear headphones to help drown out the background noise on video calls, check out the noise-canceling Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. These fan favorites have top-notch sound, a built-in microphone and last over 30 hours on a full charge.

Looking to go the streamlined route with wireless earbuds? Our sponsor Raycon offers high-quality options that won’t break the bank. Listen to music or podcasts, connect to Bluetooth-enabled TVs or make hands-free calls from your smartphone.

These earbuds start at about half of the other premium brands. You can save even more with Kim’s special link. Tap or click here to buy and use code KIM to save 15%.

Desktop alternative

Not everyone wants to deal with a bulky desktop when working or surfing the web from home. Or maybe you just want another option when your workday is done and you want to surf the web.

An iPad can easily replace your desktop — especially if you add a wireless keyboard and mouse to the mix. This model connects to Wi-Fi, and the 10.2-inch screen is big enough to respond to emails, watch TV or shop online.

A Chromebook is another solid choice. Acer’s Chromebook Spin 11 converts to a tablet and has an 11.6″ HD touchscreen. It comes with a Wacom pen so you can draw or take notes by hand and the battery lasts up to 10 hours. That beats most laptops out there.

There you have it. Need more shopping help or product recommendations? Browse through Kim’s latest picks:

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