I have no buying advice for you. Instead, I lend my voice to the opposition. Here are the products and product categories you should avoid, or at least ones where you should tread carefully.
I spent a recent evening perusing half a dozen Black Friday store flyers. I found a lot of good products and deals, but also a lot of dogs. Or, worse, deals that look good but actually resemble a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon: bloated, full of air and ultimately worthless. I felt compelled to speak out.
The criteria is simple: Out of date, off brand and obsolete get a ride on the “steer clear” train. You won’t agree with all my choices and might even call me a gadget snob, but come December 26, you will thank me.
Apple’s portable media player is actually an excellent device, but has almost no reason for being. (The same goes for Sony’s Walkman and virtually any off-brand media player you can think of.) Your smartphone (iOS or Android) does everything an iPod can do and much more.
The only caveat here is if you pick one up for anyone under 12. Many feel children shouldn’t have phones, and an iPod satisfies virtually every other need, including photography, gaming, music, movies, TV and even social communication.
A point-and-shoot camera
Smartphones don’t have the greatest lenses, but they are more than capable of matching your average point-and-shoot photography. Camera manufacturers are well aware of this and are now offering 20 megapixel devices, which easily outstrip most smartphone image capture capabilities, for $89 or less. But you don’t want or need them. Most of the photos you capture and share are on social media in formats where 20 megapixels is almost meaningless.
Obviously, smartphones suffer from real image limitations, and if you’re a pro or even prosumer photographer, you’ll want something more. My suggestion is to skip right over point-and-shoots and go directly to DSLRs or mirrorless digital cameras, which offer auto and manual controls, plus changeable lenses.
A cheap desktop PC
There are some juicy deals out there, such as a $399 Windows 7 Dell box with 8GB of RAM and 1TB of storage.
I’m telling you, don’t buy it or systems like it.
There are a couple of red flags here. First, it’s a box! It’s also an Intel Core i3 system. Most of Intel’s CPUs are plenty strong and power efficient, but the i3 is best suited for word processing, light web browsing and not much else.
There are so many better system choices out there, including light, portable Chromebooks that cost $200, connect to the Internet and a host of online tools — even virtually unlimited storage.
If you’re out buying a computer this week, don’t accept anything less than a Core i5 and, if you can, save for a Core i7 and discrete graphics. (The offending systems doesn’t even mention graphics — never a good sign.)
They come with names like “Mach,” “Ematic” and “Zeki,” and tempt with prices as low as $69. They’re running Android (KitKat, even!), quad-core processors and even offer front and rear cameras.
Closer examination of any of these ads will reveal products that skimp on features like screen resolution, camera power and even choice of CPU (not to mention build quality). For $20 or $30 more, you can get a recognized brand name and a lot more value. Amazon’s new $99 Fire HD 6 offers a 1280×800 resolution screen, a more powerful forward-facing camera and access to a curated library of apps and content.
SEE ALSO: 11 gifts under $25 that look expensive
A portable DVD player
I can’t believe these are still a thing. First of all, they play DVDs and not HD Blu-ray discs. Second of all, for $30 more you can buy a cheap tablet and stuff it full of content, including music, movies and books that can keep a kid entertained for the long ride to grandma’s.
A disconnected printer
The paperless office is a myth, and the paperless home is a pipe dream. Students, in particular, still have to print stuff out.
What’s changed is how everyone prints. Many of us are printing from our tablets, which means you either need to print though a PC connected to a printer (a la Windows HomeGroup Network) or, better yet, direct to a Wi-Fi-ready printer.
Buying an old school, USB-cable-only printer will save you money, but not time and frustration. Find a Wi-Fi printer or one that will let you print direct from your iPad.
A wireless USB adapter
If you still own a desktop or laptop that doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi, you have bigger problems than lack of Internet access. Stop trying to upgrade your crummy old system and upgrade. As I noted above, you can buy a Wi-Fi-ready Chromebook for $200.
A 720p TV
You will see some very affordable 32-inch 720p HDTVs this week. Change the channel to a 42-inch 1080p unit. I know, you can’t fit it. But if you have a chance, take a tape measure to your local consumer electronics store. You’ll find that a 42-inch display isn’t as big as you thought. Because of its 16:9 aspect ratio, a 42-inch HDTV is usually 42 x 25 x 2 inches thick (or less) — and it can be easily attached to a wall, which means you don’t need space for a TV cabinet.
You will spend a little bit more, but not a lot, and your TV viewing image will be noticeably larger and better.
A phone or tablet, if it’s 8GB of storage
You’ll see a lot of great deals for mobile devices, but if you don’t pay attention to storage space, you could end up frustrated later.
With the amount of HD content and 8-20-megapixel images (not to mention 43-megapixel panoramas we’re storing), you’ll burn through 8GB in no time. The bare minimum storage space for smartphones and tablets is 16GB. And if you can afford 32GB, get it. I know, Apple cut out that mid-tier, and that’s unfortunate, but other manufacturers still offer that option.
I can’t believe I still have to say this, but as long as they keep appearing in these flyers, I have to remind people not to buy camcorders.
Now, I am not talking about the GoPros and Sony Action cams. You crazies that like to jump off mountains, cliff dive and scale high-rise construction sites will always need wearable, waterproof video cameras. The rest of us can make do with the quite impressive 1080p capabilities found in most smartphones. Heck, I can shoot 240 fps slow-motion with my iPhone 6, which fits in my pocket.
These camcorders do offer better lenses, but are too bulky and often too complex for average consumers. Get comfortable shooting video with your phone and move on.
Okay, okay, this is just me wishing people would stop singing over my favorite songs. If you can’t find a good karaoke bar, go ahead and buy this thing. Just don’t invite me over.
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