A new computer is a big purchase; paying for an extended warranty to protect your new toy doesn't seem like a crazy idea. High-pressure sales tactics, applied as you try to leave the store, make it even harder to resist the allure of an extended warranty. When I bought a new laptop from Best Buy this past summer, the salesperson informed me that "one in three laptops will fail."
Well, here's the inside scoop: Extended warranties are rarely a good deal. Instead, you're better off buying the best brands or models (based on reviews and research that you conduct before you enter the store), and putting that extra warranty money into a repair fund in case something does go wrong.
If you put the extra $100 to $300 you would normally spend on an extended warranty into a catch-all repair fund, you'll almost certainly have enough to cover the cost of fixing a product that does fail. This is of course assuming that your camera, iPod, iPhone, laptop, and desktop don't all fail at the same time. But really, how likely is that?
Cameras make great holiday gifts--the gift of memories, as cheesy as that sounds. But get this: Practically none of the necessary accessories come with digital cameras nowadays. And yeah, they're expensive.
Need extra lenses, filters, flashes, padded cases, and high-capacity, high-speed memory cards? You’ll need to pull out your credit card one more time. As you might expect, you can buy these items from the same place you bought the camera. Or you can take to the Net and find lower-priced, good-quality gear on Amazon or Newegg.
Remember to pick up a memory card to give with the camera. Digital cameras these days rarely have enough internal memory for storing more than a couple of photos (if that). It's the holiday season, so a lot of high-capacity storage will be on sale at Best Buy, Office Max, and Staples.
So you're going to buy a spectacular high-definition TV for your family's viewing pleasure, as well as a high-quality Blu-ray disc player so you can watch movies in all their splendor? Prepare yourself: Just because you’ve dropped $300 to $4000 on the TV and another $100 to $400 on the Blu-ray disc player, that doesn’t mean the store will throw in any of the necessary cables.
That's right--you'll have everything you need, but no way to hook it up.
Here's some advice: Do not--I repeat, do not--let the salesperson talk you into buying a superexpensive HDMI cable that will make a "huge difference" in quality (these can run upward of $100). Sure, they'll work well, but so will HDMI cables that you can purchase on Amazon, eBay, or Monoprice for less than $5.
Cheaper cables are just as good as the $50, $80, and $150 cables you can purchase from Best Buy.
A note: If you're buying cables for a 3D system, make sure they meet the HDMI 1.4 standards, which are more stringent than typical HDMI (1.3) standards.
As you run around purchasing all sorts of new high-tech gadgets to give as gifts, try not to forget the batteries that a lot of them will require. In many cases, the batteries are not included. So what kinds of AA cells should you purchase for digital cameras, remote controls, and other devices?
Consumer Reports magazine suggested several years ago that consumers buy whichever brand of alkaline battery is on sale, because the battery brands generally perform on a par with one another. Last year the magazine tested AA batteries, and found that lithium batteries--although they initially cost more--ultimately provide more digital photos per set than non-lithium batteries do.
Ultimately, Consumer Reports found that for devices drawing "bursts of power," such as digital cameras and toys, rechargeable batteries make the most sense. But for devices that draw little power, such as remote controls, single-use alkaline batteries will be fine.