Nobody has ever done a real study to see how much the average
person spends on technology these days, but once the basics are covered
— housing, food and transportation — it’s probably a safe
bet that technology accounts for a significant chunk of whatever discretionary
income we have left.
Televisions and computers remain huge purchases for most
people, requiring much hemming and hawing at the electronics store. Lump in
cell phones, cordless home phones, video game consoles, digital video
recorders, personal video recorders, digital cameras, music players, and other
gadgets, and the costs can be high. The added cost of maintaining an Internet
connection, digital cable or satellite (with or without high-definition) and a
cell phone plan also have a monthly impact on our bank accounts.
There are ways to reduce those costs, but the key is knowing
what, and when, to buy.
The longer you wait before buying a technology, the less it
will cost. But, the longer you wait, the less time you have to enjoy the gadget
before it becomes obsolete.
It’s this line of thinking that has kept me from buying an
iPod. I was all set to buy in more than three years ago when I heard about the
colour screens. Then the colour screens came out, but I heard about the full
screen model with a built-in phone. Now the phone is coming out and there are
rumours of a full-screen iPod with FM radio and voice recording
— the latter being a necessity of my job. At the same time Apple’s
competition is getting better and better at what they do, offering cheaper and
more capable players — most of which won’t play music and video
downloaded from iTunes, which is kind of a “must” for me.
I’m also playing the waiting game with game consoles. When the
Xbox 360 came out, I decided to wait and see what the Wii and PS3 looked like
before making a decision. Now, firmly convinced that the 360 is the way to go,
I decided again to wait for a rumoured version of the console with built-in
wireless, a larger hard drive and HDMI port. That version came out last week,
without the built-in wireless, but now I’m waiting for a version to come out
this summer with 65 nanometre circuitry that will consume less energy and run
cooler and quieter. Now I hear Microsoft is upgrading the video card to 65 nm
in the fall.
If I wait until November to buy, future promised upgrades
notwithstanding, the system will be two years old. If the lifespan of a console
is five years, as Microsoft has suggested, I’m cutting things close.
Knowing when to buy is tricky.
I researched high-def televisions exhaustively and came to the
conclusion that the best option was a LCD television good for broadcasting
1080i. Less than a year later I’m wondering if I should have waited until the
price point for 1080p-capable televisions came down, given the fact that all
next generation consoles and disk players will either be shown or upscaled to
the 1080p standard. The television I bought is a long way from being obsolete,
but I’m also a far cry from being state of the art. Not that I could ever
afford to live in that state, but it’s nice to know a shclub like me can at
least live in the neighbourhood.
Over the years I’ve learned a few lessons on when to buy.
1. Never buy the first generation of anything. It’s usually
expensive, can be buggy, and is never really all that compatible with anything
else. For example, high-definition televisions have actually been around since
the 1980s, but until the major networks got on board in the last few years
there really wasn’t much point.
2. Never buy anything until you’ve read the reviews. Thanks to
websites like Cnet (
), Engadget (
), Gadgetmania (
), and other sites,
qualified reviewers will actually take a technology apart and evaluate every
3. Take it for a test drive. Any electronics store selling high
definition televisions should be broadcasting movies in high definition to see
the system at its best, but should also let you see how regular television
would look. One of the biggest shocks I got with my new television was how
crappy analog quality stations look.
4. Get a guarantee. Usually it’s a year for parts and service,
but you can sometimes go for longer at no extra charge. Also make sure your
store has a money back guarantee for at least 30 days — you never really
know until you get something home if you really want it, or whether it works
with your other technology.
5. Research ahead. Don’t buy anything, computers especially, without looking what’s coming down the pipe in the immediate future. For example, if you want to know about iPods or whether to buy a new Mac computer sooner or later, visit sites like www.macrumors.com or www.thinksecret.com to get some idea what’s coming down the pipe. It drives tech companies insane, but these sites are right a lot of the time.