We all work hard for our money, so it's important to make sure that we get the best value possible when we decide to splurge on a new toy. Although most deals at retail are just fine, there are some that will make you slap yourself over the head and shout, "What was I thinking?" as soon as you get home. To help you avoid that stress, we present a few of the most notorious scams to avoid (no matter how much those salespeople egg you on) when browsing the stores for your next tech purchase. (Click on Continue Reading to check them out.)
1. Refurbished computersThere are two key factors that make the purchase of a used or refurbished computer a nonstarter. With ever-more demanding applications, most of us find we need to upgrade to new hardware about every couple of years, so buying one that isn't bang up to date will only shorten the time before the onset of yet another case of upgradeitis. Then consider that computer prices continue to fall at a pace that will certainly make powerful brand-new machines just as cheap as a refurbished PC in less than six months, and you'll realize that this really doesn't make sense.
2. Extended warrantiesThere was a time when most high-tech electronics were really expensive, and if your $500 VCR stopped working, you would haul it to the repair shop to get it fixed. Now, however, you can buy a DVD player for less than the cost of a steak dinner, so paying something like $35 for an extended warranty is ridiculous. While environmentalists may cringe at the thought, most electronics just aren't economical to repair anymore, and with rare exceptions like plasma TVs, you're likely to come out ahead in the long run by saving that extended-warranty money to replace the rare item that does crap out three days after the factory warranty ends.
3. Dubious cell-phone accessoriesWith most people carrying a cell phone these days, this has become hot area for modern snake-oil salesmen to peddle their wares. When you mix fear into the equation, a good pitchman could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. Those so-called radiation shields that are supposed to block harmful cancer-causing signals are a prime example; the FTC says that they do nothing but line the pockets of the people selling them, so if you're really worried about cell-phone emissions, get a hands-free headset. Those little stick-on plastic antennas with a printed "circuit board" on them are another ripoff that does absolutely nothing.
4. Overpriced cablesAs an audiophile of long standing, I'll be the first to claim that good cables can make a subjective difference in the right system. The problem is that some manufacturers have seen this as a license to print money, where the correlation between price and performance often seems to be nonexistent. In most systems, the difference between one cable and another will be so infinitesimally small as to be totally swamped by the changes heard by taking a little additional care to fine tune the speaker positioning, an upgrade that enriches only yourself.
5. Floor modelsHaving worked in a retail electronics store at some point in the distant past, I can assure you that demonstration stock isn't exactly handled with the same care we'd use with our own equipment. There are a three basic reasons why a store will sell a floor model: 1) because it's become too banged up to look presentable, 2) because some part or function is broken, or 3) it's an old model about to be replaced by an updated version. In any case, you don't want it.