It was one of those humid South Florida days when even the fish looked hot.
When I walked into my hotel room, a drink of water sounded good. There was a pint bottle of the stuff next to the TV. The price tag was $7. I would drink out of the sink before paying that much for water.
I am pretty sure $7 water was invented by a computer marketing guy. Many of us end up buying the computer equivalent of that overpriced bottle of water. If you buy that $7 water, you get a nice refreshing drink. If you buy the computer equivalent, you get a fine machine. In both cases, you’re paying way too much.
Today, we’ll talk about a system for buying consumer electronics — computers, HDTVs, digital cameras, camcorders — that will let you enjoy your purchase without feeling like a sucker.
We’ll start with the best buying tip I know. My friend the rich guy taught it to me one night at a restaurant. I was ordering some wine and, before I could say “Chateauneuf,” he stopped me. He said the top-priced bottles are there for people who want to show off. The cheapest bottles are there for folks willing to forgo quality to save a few bucks.
The sweet price spot with both wine and most consumer electronics is generally in the middle. Unless you are designing a nuclear submarine in your basement, the fastest machines are usually overpriced and over-equipped. The cheapest computers are underpowered. For ordinary users, the best buy comes in the middle prices.
It’s the same story with digital cameras, printers and scanners. The law of diminishing returns starts to kick in when you get to the highest-priced models. The cheap stuff is, well, cheap.
I do know how to save a buck or two on gadgets. There’s a lot you can do to make sure you get a good buy. When you get ready to buy your next gadget, keep your wallet in your pocket for a while. Don’t even read the ads.
Instead, sit down with old-fashioned paper and pen. Make a list of what you want to accomplish with the new gadget or computer. Also, come up with some sort of a budget figure that lets you know how much you can spend.
Having a good idea of what you want to accomplish makes reading the reviews of the gadgets competing for your dollar a lot more sensible.
For instance, if battery life for your laptop computer is a big deal, you’ll be able to check that out and eliminate all those machines that have average or worse running time on a single charge. By doing this, you can narrow your list considerably.
Now it’s time to eliminate even more of the competition. Cross out all the gadgets that exceed your budget figure. You’re not going to enjoy that new computer or HDTV if it means dining on pork and beans.
The number of items that remain on your list of possibilities is a lot smaller now. You’ll have time to carefully read through the reviews of the remaining prospects.
My favorite spots for computer product reviews — along with many other consumer electronics items, including HDTV — are CNET.com (www.cnet.com) and PC World magazine (www.pcworld.com). I find that the reviews are honest and untainted by influence from advertisers.
For digital cameras, there’s the excellent Digital Photography Review at www.dpreview.com.
Besides offering advice that strikes me as unbiased and sound, the information on each camera goes really deep. It would be hard to read a complete review — usually including photographs taken with the camera — and still have questions.
The three sites mentioned are precise enough for knowledgeable shoppers but easy enough to understand for a beginner.
So far, we’ve figured out what we want the gadget to do and how much we can spend, and checked what the experts think about the devices that made the cut.
There’s a final step.
That’s to put everything aside for a week or so. After the week, when you’ve cooled down a little, decide whether you want to make the purchase.
The idea here is simple. Never buy water while you are thirsty.
Bill Husted writes about technology. Contact him at email@example.com.
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