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AmazonBasics isn't the flashiest brand in the game—it sells, well, the basics. Like the store brand of your favorite cereal, the AmazonBasics line is made up of Amazon-branded versions of several popular items that typically cost less than their name-brand counterparts.
Batteries, cables, dishcloths, and other home essentials are its raison d'être, and lets face it: those are some pretty unsexy products. Sifting through AmazonBasics is like sifting through the flotsam that washes ashore on Tom Hank's island in Cast Away; you might find a cool pair of ice skates, but for the most part, you're looking at VHS tapes and a dress that doesn't fit.
But if you know where to look, you can find some absolutely killer products that live under the AmazonBasics umbrella. Like, well, an AmazonBasics Umbrella ($14.99 and under!) Here are the best and worst buys from Amazon's store brand.
What to buy from AmazonBasics
Lightning cables for iPhone/iPad - $7.99 (6 ft.) to $9.99 (10 ft.)
Fans of the iPhone will be the first to tell you that Apple's Lightning cable is anything but durable; the wires fray, the connective piece fails, and before long, you're stuck with a cable whose connection flickers on and off unless the wire is tilted at just the right angle.
Instead of dropping close to $20 on a new Lightning cable from Apple, why not stock up on a whole bunch of cheap ones? Having a dedicated Lightning cable in each room of your house (or, say, at the office) will also limit the amount of wear-and-tear you'd otherwise put them through.
Two of my colleagues informed me that AmazonBasics is their go-to source for new Lightning chargers, and I can totally see why. Even if these cables crap-out on you somewhere down the road, you've still saved a considerable amount of money.
Nylon-braided Lightning cables - $9.99 (3 ft.) to $12.99 (6 ft.)
AmazonBasics also offers a slightly more premium nylon Lightning cable, which should offer more protection than the casing on the standard cable. You can nab six feet's worth of cable length for just $12.99, which is still significantly less than picking one up from an Apple store or via Apple's website.
And, if you think you can get away with just three feet of cable length, that'll only set you back about ten bucks.
Batteries - $12.49 (AA 48-pack) or $7.99 (AAA 20-pack)
Everyone hates running out of batteries when you least expect it. I have this automatic hand soap dispenser that I keep by my kitchen sink, and like clockwork, the batteries will drop dead right in the middle of me handling a bunch of raw meat.
Get out in front of these hassles by stocking up on cheap alkaline batteries via AmazonBasics. The brand's AA-sized batteries, for example, only cost about a quarter per pop—way below what you'd pay if you picked some up at the grocery store.
Silicone baking mats - $13.74 (2-pack)
I do a fair amount of cooking with my oven, and as a result, I tend to make a mess of my baking sheets. These non-stick silicone baking mats fit half-sheet pans (11.6" x 16.5") and bypass the need for cooking oils and greases.
Each mat can withstand temperatures up to 480°F, and they're dishwasher-safe, so when you're done cooking you can just throw 'em onto the top rack of your dishwasher. This pack of two silicone mats will only set you back $13.74, which is substantially less than what'd you'd pay for a single mat from a company like Silpat.
6-outlet surge protector power strip - $9.04 (2-pack)
I've seen some fancy-shmancy surge protectors in my day: faux-wood surge protectors, surge protectors that flex, and surge protectors with USB ports.
But you know what I love about these power strips from AmazonBasics? They're plain ol', garden-variety surge protectors with a bunch of outlets and an on/off switch. You can also get two of them for under ten bucks, and if you ask me, that's about as much as I want to spend when I'm buying something boring like surge protectors.
These 200-Joule power strips are outfitted with two feet of cord and they're also available in white. And with that, I think I've run out of things to say about these surge protectors.
A ridiculously large pile of washcloths - $12.49 (24-pack)
Look at this insane stack of cotton washcloths. Just look at it. There are so many washcloths here that I almost can't believe it, and all of them can be had for under $13.
With this many washcloths, the possibilities are endless (so long as those possibilities involve using a washcloth for something). You could keep some in the bathroom cabinet, take some with you to the gym, or just stack them all up in a pile and admire your tower of washcloths.
In all seriousness, washcloths are precisely the type of thing you probably shouldn't be spending a lot of money on (unless they're embroidered with your initials, or something).
A digital kitchen scale - $9.99
We found that, despite the scale's somewhat-chintzy materials, it was accurate enough and easy to use for most kitchens. You won't find a backlit screen on the AmazonBasics kitchen scale, nor will you be enjoying any smart features. But it's a perfectly fine digital scale for its affordable price.
Plus, the batteries are included (and you better believe they're AmazonBasics batteries).
What not to buy from AmazonBasics
AmazonBasics is a great resource for miscellaneous, inexpensive household essentials, but if you're about to drop $100 on a single piece of electronics from AmazonBasics, you really owe it to yourself to explore some bigger brand-name options.
Along with looking really—well, ugly—this soundbar apparently lacks the loud punch of its competitors. Several users also found the bass to be noticeably weak, even with the inclusion of a built-in subwoofer.
What to buy instead:
I've recommended this Vizio soundbar so much, but am I sick of recommending it? Heck no. This was one of our favorite wireless soundbars when we tackled the best soundbars under $250, and it's never been cheaper than it is via Amazon right now.
You'll need to spend around $30-$50 more than the AmazonBasics soundbar, but that cost nets you a wireless subwoofer, support for major formats (like Dolby Digital, DTS Studio Sound, and DTS TruSound), and a much better-looking system altogether.
Apparently, you get what you pay for with this iPhone 7 case; users report that the opening for the iPhone 7's mute button is too small for toggling the silencer, that the volume buttons are very hard to press, and that the general build quality is cheap.
What to buy instead: We've compiled a list of some of our favorite cases for the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus that highlights six options ranging in price, but if you want something that costs roughly the same as the AmazonBasics case, we recommend the Caseology iPhone 7 case.
$14 will buy you a reasonably-priced phone case from a company with an actual track record of success when it comes to manufacturing reliable cases. It does exactly what you need it to do and it doesn't look garish. Hard to argue with that!
According to a ton of people on Amazon, these bamboo cutting boards fall apart like stalks in a panda's mouth when put up against a particularly sharp blade. There's also the very serious issue of slippage; when a cutting board is too lightweight, you might find it slipping around your countertop, which is not a very fun thing to have happen while you're holding a knife.
What to buy instead:
This 13" x 10" bamboo cutting board from Kitchen Active is about fourteen bucks and is one of the best-reviewed bamboo cutting boards on Amazon. Sure, it doesn't come with two additional sizes, but what you lose in size versatility you make up for in quality; the Kitchen Active board's got a bit more heft and will stand up to your knife better than the AmazonBasics boards.
If you decide to pick one up, be sure to take care of it—wooden cutting boards deserve a whole lotta love. Check out our cutting board maintenance guide to get the most out of yours.
AmazonBasics in-ear headphones (or really, any pair of headphones from AmazonBasics)
I know it's tempting to pick up a new pair of earbuds for under $13, but that doesn't mean you should just start throwing pairs into your Amazon cart all willy-nilly. In-ear headphones are a dangerous thing to haphazardly buy solely based on price. If you don't get a good fit with a pair of in-ears, your music is going to sound like it was mixed inside of a tin can.
We've been let down by the fit and performance of AmazonBasics headphones in the past, and we wouldn't wish that on anyone.
What to buy instead:
If you're dead-set on in-ears and price is a serious priority, these buds from TaoTronics will suit you much, much better. They're not incredible performers, but they'll fit nicely compared to the AmazonBasics earbuds and sound way better in action. Plus, the TaoTronics earbuds are wireless and offer a decent amount of battery life.
You're spending a bit more than you would if you just settled for the AmazonBasics in-ears, but trust me—you're going to wish you'd sprang for something that fits better in the long run.