I use a 15-ish-year-old Mastercraft set (from Canadian Tire): they have been essentially perfect for $17. The measuring faces are very straight and finely ground, the action is smooth, the hardness is good (enough to scribe with1), and the display is fast and clear (digits same size, good LCD contrast). I regularly achieve 0.001 in or better repeatability and accuracy, at least relative to small, precision ground reference objects (I don’t have a large precision standard to compare it to at the big end of the scale). I have dropped them, and they survived without serious damage. My only real complaint is that the battery terminal is circuit board mounted, and needs cleaning and maybe a bit of adjustment every few years. But at least it doesn’t have an always-on feature that burns batteries even when the display is off.
Also, cheap battery chemistries are not going to last long: see if you can find SR44 instead of LR44, and beware of counterfeit batteries being sold online,
The calipers I have are a clone of an older Mitutoyo Digimatic, but with generic markings (i.e. not counterfeits). The trouble is, there are a lot of bad clones that look almost the same. If you can’t inspect it in the store, or don’t know how to inspect it, just spend the $35 or so and pick up something from a machinist supply company’s value-priced line (or an equivalent recommendation from above). If instead of machinist’s suppliers, you go with budget tool suppliers, the Harbor Freight ones are significantly inferior to my Mastercraft, while the Princess Auto ones from their higher-end line are approximately as good.
Vernier calipers are a waste of time.2 The additional resolution takes way more time to read, and you can’t do unit conversions with them (unless they are dual scale) or zero them at intermediate locations. If cost is an extreme issue, you’d still be better off rolling the dice with the cheapest digital calipers that you can afford.
Dial calipers are only for the rare occasion when you need to measure something big quite finely (and can’t use a micrometer) and are content interpolating between graduations and averaging your measurements (this is almost never the case), when you need analogue sensitivity to changes in reading (maybe you’re measuring something of varying size and want a continuous sense of the variation), or when you are all out of batteries (this is a supply chain problem). Good ones always cost more than equivalently good digital calipers.
1 And yes, for someone who is using calipers for machining, and not quality inspection, scribing _through layout fluid or marker_ with calipers is correct and optimal. Transferring marks with dividers introduces error unnecessarily. Scribing wears $17 calipers out only after thousands of uses.
2 A vernier can be useful on a micrometer, but even then, I'll take my $35 Harbor Freight micrometer over any vernier version. Fairly repeatable, comfortable, precise, and even has carbide anvils.