When you buy tech, you can spend less or spend more. You can pick up a $150 Chromebook or a $2,500 MacBook Pro. You can choose between $60 Cowin noise-canceling headphones or $400 ones from Bose. Logic dictates the expensive tech is better, but is this really the truth?
Sometimes, you can get by with the cheap stuff. A $10 Amazon Basics HDMI cable works exactly the same as a $1,700 one from Audio Quest. They use the same digital signal, so any “premium” products are ripping you off. Tap or click to see more ways you’re wasting money on tech.
With so many products to choose from, it takes a keen eye to separate the rip-offs from genuine bargains. Here are some of the worst pieces of tech to avoid, and some genuinely good discount products that don’t skimp on security.
1. Cheap security cameras
If you’re trying to protect your home from intruders, don’t be stingy with security cameras. Cheap cameras open you up to other dangers like hackers and cybercriminals.
High-quality cameras come loaded with features like motion detection, smartphone integration and encrypted data storage. A cheap camera might not include any of these, and might be missing basic security measures like 2FA or encryption. This means a hacker can remotely tap into your camera, shut it down or even steal your saved footage.
A perfect example? A discount product called iBaby monitor. Despite its bargain bin price, the camera relies on an unsecured server for data storage, connection and control. That’s not worth saving a few bucks.
If a hacker gets into iBaby’s server, they can even gain access to other people’s devices. Tap or click here to see why this baby monitor is so risky.
When picking out a security camera, savings should not be your primary concern. You’re betting your safety on these devices, so a cheap knockoff camera without something as basic as 2FA can put you in more danger than if you had no security system at all.
Once you’ve found cameras you’re satisfied with, make sure you’re adjusting the settings so they’re secure enough to keep prying eyes and hackers out. Tap or click here to find out the best settings to use on your new home security system.
2. It’s not too wise to use this smartphone
Does a $17 Android smartphone sound like a good deal to you? Then the MYA2 from MyPhone would be the perfect addition to your gear — if it weren’t riddled with security issues. Tap or click to see why this cheap smartphone is bad news.
The phone includes an outdated version of Android that can’t be updated or patched, TKTKT.
It also comes with several pre-installed apps that can’t be deleted. Two of the apps, Facebook Lite and Pinoy, request reams of user data without a way to opt out or delete the software.
Everyone is familiar with Facebook’s history of privacy issues, but you still have a choice whether to use it. The MYA2 doesn’t even let you have that. Tap or click here to see why Kim thinks it’s time to break up with Facebook.
3.This laptop sinks to the bottom
You probably weren’t expecting to see a Mac on this list, but the 12-inch Macbook is in a league of its own. It’s not that the computer was a poor performer or full of security risks. It’s on this list due to a faulty build and shoddy engineering that was so bad, Apple had to discontinue it in mid-2019.
Although it wasn’t cheap when it first hit the market, you can find refurbished models for as low as $759 and new ones for under $1,000. That’s quite cheap for a Mac, but they’re absolutely not worth the money. Tap or click here to see why the butterfly keyboard was so controversial.
The biggest complaint users had involved the “butterfly keyboard,” which used a unique type of scissor-switch that would jam all the time. With enough exposure to dust and skin oil, any key on the keyboard could stop working for good.
When shopping for pre-owned laptops, always make sure you’re buying from a reputable source — and watch out for models that were discounted for good reason. The lowest-priced listing you’ll find on eBay could be from a sketchy seller or could wind up being a lemon.
Look for certified pre-owned listings or offers directly from the manufacturer. Even Apple offers discounts on pre-owned products, and those come with the same warranties as new Macs. Tap or click here to learn more about certified refurbished Apple products.
4. This phone can literally kill you
Remember the legendary failure of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7? The highly anticipated phone was a hit with consumers and critics alike — until the batteries started spontaneously catching fire. Tap or click here to read more about Samsung’s disaster Galaxy Note 7 launch.
To rectify the problem, Samsung issued a mandatory recall that led to millions of users shipping their phones back to the manufacturer in fireproof boxes. To curb the use of these phones in the wild, Samsung also pushed software updates that would prevent the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 from fully charging its batteries.
Samsung now estimates most of the devices they sold have been returned; however, you can still find shady online resellers offering Galaxy Note 7 units for dirt-cheap prices. Don’t be fooled. Using this phone is dangerous. And even if it doesn’t explode, the unit probably won’t even fully charge itself anymore.
If you go for the cheapest bargain, the “explosive deal” you got could take on a whole new meaning.
5. This cheap smartwatch is a privacy nightmare
Amazon is chock-full of cheap gadgets for kids, but this one comes with an added bonus: they’re vulnerable to hackers. These watches are sold under several brand names like the GreaSmart Children’s SmartWatch, Jsbaby Game Smart Watch and SmarTurtle Smart Watch for Kids.
But all of them likely come from the same factory in China. These products come with the default password “12345” for “security.” In the immortal words of Rick Moranis, “That’s the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage.”
All it takes to crack a code like this is a few minutes of brute-force attacking, or perhaps even a wild guess. If you’re thinking of getting a smartwatch for your kids, don’t skimp on the price or it could put them in danger.
6. Gas station tech: convenient, but a waste of money
When you’re on the road, the last thing you want is a dead phone. If you don’t have a charging cable on you, it can be pretty nerve-wracking.
That’s why people all over the country rely on gas station tech or cheap items you can buy at convenience stores. Regardless of what you buy, it’s cheap and easy to trick out your phone from the Flying J’s or Circle K.
But these items aren’t always good news. In a pinch, a third-party Lightning cable from a gas station can power your phone up. But many of these cables are known to fail or break after a short time. Some unofficial Lightning cables have even caught fire or broken off inside charging ports.
For this reason, most manufacturers recommend using officially branded accessories to keep your devices in good shape. Unfortunately, these official items can be a tad expensive.
If you want a cheaper alternative for your gadgets, you’re better off hunting on Amazon. At least there you can read user reviews to see if the product is worth buying.
Finally, some good news: Quality tech that won’t hurt your wallet
Not all cheap tech is created equal. Some manufacturers are great at blending value with quality. Here are some of our favorite picks for cheap gadgets you’ll love using every day.
The FitBit is big on value
Smartwatches and fitness trackers are exploding in popularity. But many people are afraid to dive in, thanks to the belief that they’re too expensive. In reality, it’s really only the Apple Watch that’s occupying the high-end smartwatch space. Other options like FitBit are much more affordable.
The FitBit Inspire comes in at less than $100 and gives you access to heart rate monitoring, activity tracking and sleep tracking in one device. Plus, it’s lightweight and easy to wear for all of your outdoor adventures.
Chromebooks are a great alternative to traditional laptops
One of the most important things to ask yourself when buying a laptop is, “What am I going to use this for?” If you work in media, create art or play video games, you’ll probably want more power. If you just browse the web, watch YouTube and write documents, a Chromebook may be more your speed.
These laptops use Google’s Chrome operating system, which gives you full access to the internet, YouTube and Google Drive services. And because they’re using this dressed-down operating system, the savings pass on to the consumer.
This Asus C523 Chromebook packs a 15.6-inch screen and 4GB of RAM in a sleek package that costs less than $250. For a similar PC, you’d be looking at over a grand. If a Chromebook fits your computer needs, it’s one of the best ways to have your cake and eat it too.
A phone that gives you more bang for your buck
In a time when smartphones regularly fetch prices over $1000, the Pixel 3A is a breath of fresh air. Manufactured by Google, the Pixel 3A gives you a sturdy budget smartphone that doesn’t skimp on the camera.
For less than $400, you’ll get a snappy smartphone with an 8-megapixel front camera and a 12-megapixel rear camera. That’s on par with some of the flagship smartphones you can buy on the market.
As you can see, you don’t have to pay out the nose for good tech. You just have to know how to weed out the good from the bad. And if your cheap smartphone or laptop can last you for years, that’s even more valuable than a couple of dollars saved.
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