Tips for Buying Gadgets

Tips for Buying Gadgets (unedited version)
Gabriel H. Mercado

Share and Synch. Buy gadgets that complement one another.

Bluetooth, Infrared and USB are popular ways to get two things to talk to one another, so if possible buy gadgets that have any of these. This allows you to share files and consequently, create backups whenever you transfer them. Too tired to lug your laptop along? Need to distribute a file to classmates and friends? No problem, you can save a copy of it on a USB stick, your phone or in some cases, even mp3 player.

Connectivity amongst gadgets was developed so you can synch things like address books, calendars, pictures and even music playlists, but you can also use it to store documents and other important stuff. With even low end phones allowing up to 10mb storage these days, it shouldn’t be a problem to store Word documents which are usually less than a megabyte in size.

Use it to the max.

Now that you’ve bought your gadget, I urge you to use it to the maximum it’s capable of. Maximize your caller groups. Create cool ringtones from .wav files of movies or music that you like. Learn how to make custom wallpapers to make your phone distinct from the rest. Google up on the vCalendar (.vcal) file format and saving as comma separated values (.csv) format to learn how to transfer information amongst your desktop computer, laptop, cellphone and web-based calendar or email services like Yahoo or Gmail. If you can connect and update it via the Internet, by all means go ahead.

These things are no longer the realm of geeks. Rather, these are ways to express and organize yourself, akin to adding markers to your notebooks or using multicolor pens for your notes. Much more, tinkering with them will make you more comfortable with technology, preparing you for jobs that involve such things in the future. But don’t think of it that way. Just have fun.

Buy only what you need.

If your funds can only buy a certain model, then this piece of advice won’t apply to you. However, even if you can afford the top of the line, make an effort to buy only what is important to you, and no more.

Why? Manufacturers are aware of the many different target markets for their products, and spend millions researching on how to make the exact perfect product for them. This is why, in a recent launch I attended for a major cell-phone brand, the products they were latching the future of their company on didn’t necessarily have the latest and greatest features on it. In fact, some of them were rather simple by most standards.

The reason? Their marketing studies show that a great segment of people who buy phones just because ‘they were the latest’ do not use and therefore do not appreciate these high-end features anyway, and this in turn reflects badly on the manufacturer, making people think that they were made to buy a useless feature, amongst other negative things. Ultimately, because it’s underused, this also hampers the growth of those features that they were trying to promote, and even might artificially promote technologies which aren’t worth our while.

The response? They conduct study after study to figure out exactly what, for example, students – an important demographic, use and appreciate in their daily lives. This means that somewhere in a manufacturer’s lineup is a phone built almost exactly for you, and in all likelihood, you will enjoy more than if you had bought the highest available model.

How is it possible that a lower model phone could outdo a higher one? Remember, it’s not the features that count, but how it was designed with you in mind.

Share What You Know.

Ultimately, we all share the blame whenever a certain make or model turns out to be a dud. Gadgets that hang, have crashing operating systems, slow response times or faulty workmanship are all things we could avoid if only the people who knew about them told everyone else.

So if you’re unlucky enough to be one of these, tell anyone who cares to know. On the other hand, if you happen to own a gem, be just as forthcoming as well. Participate in Internet forums, complain or give praise to the manufacturer, give your friends and relatives advice. Save people from the hassle of buying a lemon, or promote the ones that have served you well. Incidentally, this will also help teach you become a more discriminating buyer, as you’ll study which features you appreciate most and least an important characteristic for buying or selling anything. If more people did this, it will also send the message that the Philippine market doesn’t just buy the latest new thing, but demands quality as well.

2 Pieces of Advice re Laptops

Two things to remember re laptops: First, size and weight are king. We all dream of all the wonderful gains we can achieve, like getting promoted or having more time for our families, if only we could work at the park, by the lawn, in the coffee shop or the like. So if that’s your dream, make sure it doesn’t weigh like the dictionary in the school library.

2.2 kgs. is standard weight for most notebooks, while anything between 1.8 to 1.5 kgs is acceptably light. Anything lighter is probably going to cost twice as much, but will be about as heavy as a thick magazine, weigh a little less, and is the most likely tool with which you will write your Great Philippine Novel by the park.

However, a reduction in weight means a loss of some features. Therefore, the second thing to remember is that you shouldn’t expect laptops to have the same connectivity and overall ease of use as a desktop PC.

Desktop PCs are designed to have everything we would ever need for computing in every area, such as connectivity, a large screen, ability to read CDs and DVDs, easy to use keyboard and mouse, etc. All these become options when buying a notebook. It’s therefore a good idea to decide which features are most important, and which you can live without.

For most people, my best advice is to buy a light and small notebook, whilst still having a desktop computer at home for more general work. This is a ‘best of both worlds’ situation, where you are able to perform some work while sipping moccachino at the mall, but have the power of a PC at home when the need arises.

Your gadget is a tool that should work for you.

One of the most important things to remember with gadgets is that these are mere tools that are supposed to help you achieve your work or studies faster and easier. Anything that doesn’t serve that purpose is either not doing its job well, or is not being used correctly. So if you catch yourself tinkering with it more than healthy interest allows, then it’s time to adjust.

Consider the other tools we use in our lives, such as notebooks (you know, the one with paper and Jolina on the cover), and the wall calendar. While we take these for granted, these essentially serve the same purpose as gadgets. I know this is a major shift in thinking, especially considering the disparity in costs and complexity, but ultimately their purpose is the same to provide us with information that help us do things faster and easier.

I’m sure a lot of people will find that hard to consider, or even disagree. However, thinking of gadgets as mere tools, I believe, will help us mature as gadget buyers. These things are no longer special. Laptop PCs for example, have been around for more than a decade. It’s time we put manufacturers to task, and force them to deliver on the ‘increased productivity’ and ‘more time for ourselves’ as promised in their brochures. Instead, we spend just as much if not more hours tinkering, fixing, and upgrading them, not to mention working to afford them as well.

Consider gadgets by how much less work it makes you do and how much time it gives you for other things, just like it said it would do. If we buy with this in mind, manufacturers will develop things that will truly be useful to us, and less of the flash and fancy that pervades.

This article came out at the Philippine Daily Inquirer here.