Holiday Central 2010

Six Tips When Buying Consumer Electronics

China Retail
Eugene Hoshiko

Odds are you’re going to buy or receive a gadget this holiday season. Consumer electronics are always one of the top gift items in December, but the rush to get the latest gadget sometimes prevents people from thinking things through completely.

For the better part of 16 years, I’ve covered the video game and gadget space, making me one of CNBC’s go-to geeks. Along the way, I’ve learned a few easy tricks that make electronics shopping—and the early days of owning these devices—a bit more bearable.

In the interest of making your holidays a little less stressful, allow me to share them with you.

  • Smartphone = smart shopper Comparison-shopping online is old hat—and inconvenient when you see an item in the store and it’s the last one on the shelf. You have to make a decision fast—and even if you don’t feel that pressure to buy immediately—remembering the exact model number and manufacturer until you get home to fire up Google is a pain. Thanks to the app revolution, smartphone owners can get instant price comparisons—both for online retailers and local shops.

If you’ve got an iPhone , RedLaser is the app to get. Android users are best off with Barcode Scanner. In either case, you can see how the price matches up with other retailers to know if the so-called bargain in front you is, in fact, a good deal.

As an added bonus, you can also do a quick check for reviews to see if the item is actually as good as it might look in the store.

  • Ship or shlep? For a lot of people, delivery charges are an unnecessary expense if they’re not buying a sofa or bedroom set. Fitting a plasma TV into your SUV or the bed of your truck may not be a hard thing to do, but that doesn’t mean you should do it.

If you’re buying something big, know your limits. Today’s big screen TVs might be thin, but they still weigh upwards of 100 pounds. Will you need assistance getting the item inside? And even if you can get it into the house, does the item need to be hung? If so, pay the fee and save yourself the headache.

There’s one other important reason to consider paying for delivery. While it’s easy to hide an iPod, it’s less easy to hide a TV. Often you can schedule delivery for immediately after the holiday—or, if you’re lucky, the night before.

  • Power on—and walk away If you’re going to have problems with your consumer electronics purchase—no matter what you’ve bought—it’s generally going to happen within the first 48 hours of use. The best way to stress test the equipment is to turn it on and leave it on for that length of time.

Once a couple days have passed, turn it off and let it cool down for as long as possible (a full day is optimal). If it boots up fine at that point, you likely won’t experience any major problems for a long while. If it doesn’t, you’re still well under warranty.

  • Call for help No man (or woman) is an island. If something’s not working like it’s supposed to, don’t be afraid to call the manufacturer’s technical support line. Sure, you might be able to eventually figure out the problem yourself, but will it be worth the time, frustration and potential additional damage you will do?

While it’s rarely pleasant talking to tech support, as you may sometimes feel like you’re being spoken to like a first grader, it’s still often the best way to quickly solve the problem.

  • Think long-term This isn’t always possible for gift recipients, but as best as you can, try to plan out the space where you will put your electronics item before buying. Consider things like how much natural light (and, in the summer, heat) the device will be exposed to and how much airflow it will have on a day-to-day basis (the more airflow, the better.)

And while no one wants to think about housework when they’re eager to play with their new toy, try to keep in mind how easy or difficult it will be to clean and dust the gadget. Dust is one of the chief causes of problems with consumer electronics.

  • Need a TV? Check the calendar Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is loaded with low prices on LCD and plasma televisions—and shoppers invariably rush the stores to grab one. There’s nothing wrong with the sets, but they’re generally not the premium line from manufacturers.

If you’re looking for a set that has the highest ratings with critics—and thus the sharpest picture quality— wait a few weeks and those will usually go on sale. The prices won’t be as good, but you’ll be getting a high-end set for a nominal amount more than you pay for a lesser-quality set—plus you can avoid the frenzied crowds.

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