Amazing new technology comes out all the time. It’s always better, smaller, faster or smarter. But is it worth the money?
If you believe all the ads and hype, life would be difficult without the newest “fill in the blank.” Tech companies make a killing on accessories, too. Buy a new phone and you need a case. Your tablet wouldn’t be the same without a keyboard and cover. Might as well get another battery charger while you’re at it. And it seems like Amazon wants to upsell you a warranty on anything you put in your cart.
Well, most of us don’t have a lot of extra money right now, so it’s important to know what’s legit and worth and the money. Let’s start with the not-so-exciting but important topic because all tech needs them — cables.
1. Is it time for new cables?
Phone charging cables
It never fails — your phone will always run out of power at exactly the wrong time. And if your phone charger is on the fritz, even worse.
When it’s time to buy a new charging cord, remember: They are not all created equal. The cheapest cords have been known to cause gadgets to overheat and are potential fire hazards, but you also don’t want to shell out more money than necessary. Tap or click here to learn more about the dangers of generic phone chargers.
You can get reliable charging cables for under $15. There are just a couple of things you need to remember when picking them out.
If you have an Apple gadget, look for MFi cables. That stands for Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod and means the charger is certified by Apple. This is important because MFi certified cables are built with a chip inside that regulates the amount of current being delivered to the battery.
The cheaper cables don’t regulate the current, which is why overheating and fires are hazards. With MFi cables, you don’t have to worry about your safety.
For Android, you want to make sure any charger you use is compliant with USB-C specifications. Cables that are in compliance prevent the device from drawing too much power from a computer’s USB port when charging, which could cause damage.
Here are a couple of good replacement options from Amazon that are reliable and affordable:
You shouldn’t just be suspicious of pricey phone chargers. HDMI cables for your TV are often way overpriced, too. You can find inexpensive versions for less than $10, while others cost up to $100. The truth is, I’ve never really found a significant difference between the two. If you’re paying more than $15, you’re paying too much.
2. Don’t let the salesperson fool you
If you buy a new piece of technology like a smartphone, tablet, TV or even a stereo, the salesperson will likely try to sell you an extended warranty. You never know when something tragic might happen, after all.
They’ll even try to talk you into getting a warranty for something as simple as a Bluetooth speaker that costs $40. “Hey, would you like an extended warranty that costs $30 to cover a $40 item?” No thank you!
It’s no secret these warranties are big money-makers for retailers. If they weren’t, salespeople wouldn’t be pushing them so hard. But do you really need to pay to insure your new iPad? In most cases, the answer is no.
Consumer Reports recently collected information on gadget failures and learned most devices do not fail during the extended warranty period. Most manufacturing problems will show up within the first year, while the manufacturer’s warranty period is still in effect.
If your devices make it through the first year, they often won’t see wear and tear failures until after the extended warranty expires. That’s, of course, if you take good care of your stuff.
Another sad truth is most extended warranties aren’t as comprehensive as you might hope. It might not cover common types of damage, so even with the warranty, you could still be out of luck.
If you’re set on getting a warranty, look for other ways to get one. Check with your credit card company before making a purchase, as some offer an extended warranty or extra benefits automatically when you use certain cards. You might be able to get the manufacturer’s warranty extended for another full year at no cost.
3. Trust me, your gadget will last another year
Now that most mobile carriers have stopped offering free upgrades when you sign a two-year contract, is it a smart move to upgrade whenever a newer model comes out?
The short answer is no. Smartphones are incredibly well-built and will last for many years without needing to be replaced.
You might be surprised how well your phone will hold up with a little extra care. Just keep its operating system and apps updated, protect it with a case and a screen protector and clean out its storage regularly.
Instead of getting caught up in the annual upgrade track, wait for the upgrades and features you really can’t live without. Do you really need a selfie camera that offers 2 megapixels more than the one you have? Probably not.
This goes for other technology, too. Think about all the crazy smart home upgrades out there. Before buying that smart assistant-enabled microwave, ask yourself, “Do I really need to tell the microwave to heat up my soup for a minute or can I stick with pushing a button?” It might be cool, but it’s definitely not a necessity.
4. There are alternatives to that expensive software
Let’s face it, Photoshop is pricey. It can cost more than $50 per month, depending on which apps you want to use. Unless you’re a graphic designer, you don’t need the most expensive photo editing software available.
Fortunately, there are free alternatives to Photoshop. One is called GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) and it has a lot of the same capabilities as Photoshop.
There are filters, brush tools, gradients, smudging, cropping and erasing tools. You can add colors with a pencil or paintbrush, or fill in whole areas of your image. Tap or click here to learn more about GIMP and download the free software now.
If you’re more of a beginner with photo editing, try Pixlr X. This browser-based editing tool puts the power of high-end digital art software into a free package, no downloads required.
Microsoft Office is the most well-known office suite on the market, but it also costs a pretty penny. It can range from $70 annually for Office 365’s personal suite, to nearly $200 for the home and business editions.
There’s no need to spend that kind of money on office software when there are free versions available. One of the best alternatives is Google’s suite of web and app-based office tools offered within Google Drive. The most widely used are Google Docs, a word processor; Sheets, a spreadsheet app like Excel and Slides, a presentation app similar to PowerPoint.
There are two ways to access these tools: Go through Google Drive (tap or click here to access Google Drive) or navigate from your Gmail account.
- Open Google Drive and sign in to your account. Click New in the top left corner, then choose which app you’d like to open. If you don’t see the app you’d like to use in this menu, simply hover your cursor over More at the bottom of the list to see which apps you can access.
- If you want to reach these apps through your Gmail account, sign in to your account and click the Google Apps menu to the left of your profile picture. It looks like a box composed of nine dots.
- A box will open. Click to access to app you’re looking for. If the app you want isn’t visible in this box, click More at the bottom to reveal the rest.
If you prefer to stick with the classic Microsoft programs, there are a few ways to get Microsoft Office suite for free. Tap or click here to find out how.
5. Do you rent or own your modem and router?
Renting a modem from your internet provider used to be very common. The process was about as simple as it gets. Just place an order for internet service and the company would send a technician over to hook everything up.
The rental fee for the modem and router was included in your monthly internet bill, so many customers weren’t even aware they were paying every month to use it. This really added up.
Think about it. You could be charged up to $10 per month to rent a router from your provider. For one year, that adds up to $120. Two years? Say goodbye to $240.
You can get a really nice router for around $100 and they often last much longer than two years. Making the investment of purchasing your router upfront will pay off in the end.
There are a few considerations, though: First, your internet service provider may not let you use a store-bought router or modem, so be sure and check with them before you make the purchase.
Second, you may have to figure out how to install the devices yourself, and not everybody wants to deal with that. Lastly, do you expect to use the same service provider for more than a year? If so, buying your modem/router is definitely the way to go.
Here’s an example of a modem Wi-Fi router combo that works with all cable providers:
6. Stay away from in-app purchases
Gaming has drastically changed over the years. With always-connected platforms like consoles, handhelds, tablets and smartphones, in-app purchases and updated patches are now the norm.
Game companies have built a lucrative industry around in-app purchases and extra features you’ll probably never use. Popular games that are “free” to play, like Fortnite, were designed with this in mind. They hook players into paying to quickly level up and be more competitive.
Not familiar with Fortnite? Tap or click here to see how kids are becoming addicted to the popular game.
Sadly, this business model is creeping up on paid games, including the ones on consoles and PCs. Some game levels were designed to be difficult on purpose — unless you pay for a quick upgrade or for in-game items that allow you to beat it.
If you start noticing tactics like these on a game you’re playing, don’t fall for them. Don’t reward shady game developers by giving them your money for shortcuts they designed to snare you. Find a new game to entertain you, or put down the phone altogether.
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