Writing my TIME.com Technologizer column this week was a form of primal scream therapy. It feels like I’m spending more time than ever wrestling with new gadgets that don’t meet the fairly modest bar of consistently being able to do what they’re supposed to do for more than ten minutes at a time without crashing, choking, or displaying a cryptical error message.
It drives me a little nuts sometimes. In the column, I try to figure out why new stuff seems to be getting increasingly shaky. Executive summary: manufacturers think of everything as a beta, are inclined to fix problems in post-release firmware upgrades, and are working so quickly that there’s no margin for error.
So what’s a gizmo fan to do?
Well, you could just never buy anything, or only buy products that have been around forever. That would be one way to avoid problems. But you’re reading Techland. Unless you’re my mom—hi, Mom!—you’re going to buy stuff when it’s still fresh and exciting. And you understand that the stuff you buy might be imperfect.
For many folks, I think the most logical thing to be is a semi-late-early-adopter. You’re still an early adopter—one of the first people to try new products and new categories of products. You just aren’t someone who buys them the very moment they go on sale.
Instead, you wait long enough to give hardware makers time to fix the crippling glitches they should have fixed before they shipped the product. (Or, in less happy circumstances, to determine that they aren’t going to fix those crippling glitches and the product in question should be ignored.)
Reviews such as the sort folks like me write are helpful here, but ones from real everyday people are at least as important. If you wait for at least a few weeks before picking up a potentially exciting new device, you can check out sites such as Amazon.com to see what the consensus is among people who have paid for it with their own money and used it in the real world. And there usually is a consensus: either that the product does what it’s supposed to do acceptably well, or that it doesn’t.
I’m not saying that it isn’t fun to be the first person on your block to play with something new. It is. But being the second or third person on your block to buy new gear is almost as cool—and a whole lot smarter in the long run, unless you have an infinite amount of time and money to spend on glitchy gadgets.
LIST: All-TIME 100 Gadgets