In cost-conscious times such as these, more than ever it pays to think ahead before making those all important technology purchases. but there’s a lot to know. From digital cameras to laptops and printers, DVD and Blu-ray players to Bluetooth and storage devices, as hardware becomes more sophisticated, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate the bargains from the lemons. So we contacted gadget expert, Ben Gracewood, and asked him for the inside scoop on how to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your technology buck.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Only get an extended warranty if convenience is important to you. Most items are covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act for failures inside a “normally acceptable lifespan”. In some cases, the CGA covers you for more than an extended warranty will.
• Look past the megapixels, especially with compact cameras. Pixel count is getting so high these days that it actually starts to impact on low-light performance. Go for a higher quality lens and less pixels if you can.
• Get the biggest screen you can afford. Having a large screen on the back of your camera is fantastic for reviewing shots and seeing everything clearly.
• Check the start-up speed. You don’t want to miss those great spontaneous shots because you’re waiting for your camera to come to life.
• Nothing beats DPReview.com (www.dpreview.com) for pre-purchase camera research. It’s the last word in camera reviews, specs and side-by-side comparisons.
...get a big camera just because it looks the part. A small camera you always have with you is infinitely better than a fantastic big camera that gets left behind.
• Set a budget. The range of laptops on the market is almost incomprehensible. You can narrow down your range by setting a firm budget.
• Get the right screen resolution. Unlike a PC, you can’t easily change the screen that comes with your laptop. Generally, more pixels means more money, but you can get some sneaky deals if you look hard enough.
• Get all the bits you need. If you think you’ll ever need Bluetooth, WiFi or Blu-ray, get them at purchase time (some outfits like Dell allow you to customise your laptop). It’s cheaper, and in a couple of years the options might not even be available for your model of laptop.
• Go for a laptop with discrete graphics. Modern laptop chips, like the Intel GMA950 will barely cope with 3D games. If you’re a gamer, keep a look out for the latest offerings from ATI and Nvidia.
...get sucked into buying an old ‘shop floor model’ (unless you really need a bargain). These laptops can be a couple of generations old, and have probably been sitting powered on 24/7 for their entire life.
• Check if you have enough spare HDMI plugs in your TV or receiver. With Sky, Freeview, game consoles, and other boxes, you can max out your connections very quickly. In a pinch an HDMI switch will set you right.
• Make sure your Blu-ray player has a network port (or even WiFi). The latest Blu-ray features require network connectivity, and the network port also sets you up for future software upgrades. A missing network port is a sure sign of an old-generation Blu-ray player.
• If you have an HD television, but you’re not ready to go Blu-ray, look for a DVD player that supports up-scaling. It’s not anywhere near Blu-ray quality, but it’s better than blocky low resolution on your expensive TV.
• Despite the dubious legality, a multi-region DVD player will come in handy if you want to play discs from around the world. I did not tell you this. I was never here.
...pay more than $50 for an HDMI cable. In fact, don’t pay more than $30. Unless you are running a cable over massive distances (>10m), expensive cables make ZERO difference (I could point you to an experiment using an oscilloscope, but that would be getting just a bit too geeky right?). Go online to Cables Direct (www.cablesdirect.co.nz) if you can’t find a cheaper cable in a shop.
• Check out the cost of ink. Some cheap printers will cost you almost as much as the purchase price to replace the ink cartridges.
• Get cheap(ish) refills. Don’t listen to the printer manufacturers that tell you refills are bad. In 99% of cases you will have no issues, and you’ll be saving yourself a bomb.
• If you have a laptop or multiple computers in the house, look for a printer with network connectivity. It’s wonderful not to have to find the cables or share the printer manually – a network printer is always on and always available.
• If you need high-quality, permanent prints, then see if you can afford a laser printer. The prints won’t cry in the rain, and the quality for text is incomparable.
...pay for a multifunction printer with a fax. Who sends faxes these days?
If you want fast, you want solid state. An SSD for your main PC drive (desktop or laptop) will speed up your boot and program loading times in a big way.
Spinning around. If you can’t afford an SSD, then get the hard drive with the fastest RPM you can afford. 10K RPM models are still pretty expensive, but definitely get a 7200RPM over a 5000RPM.
Go large! When in doubt, get the next size up of hard drive, USB stick, flash card, or any other storage. The trend in storage size for photos, video and music is just not slowing down.
Don’t be afraid of change. Adding drives to a desktop machine has to be one of the easiest modifications on the planet. Even a hard drive upgrade in a laptop is fairly simple as long as you remember to back everything up first. And make sure to check if your PC takes SATA or parallel ATA drives. Everything built in the last couple of years should be SATA.
...get one of those giant external hard drives that need external power. It’s not very portable if you have to drag a power brick around with you everywhere. Self-powered 2.5-inch external drives come in sizes up to 1TB these days.