The 5 Worst Tech Purchases

Arm yourself with the knowledge to avoid tech duds the next time a salesperson pushes a receipt-padding purchase — you’ll know when to walk away.

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In the ever-changing world of gadgets, gizmos, electronics and technology, it can be easy to make a bad purchase. When you’re consumed by the heady thrill of a new purchase, your credit card sometimes goes into gear before your brain does. That’s how you end up with a junk drawer full of items that once seemed like the solution to everything — and now they’re just gathering dust.

Arm yourself with the knowledge to avoid tech duds the next time a salesperson pushes a receipt-padding purchase — you’ll know when to walk away. With that in mind, here are five of the worst tech purchases you can make today and why you should avoid them.

1. Cheap point-and-shoot cameras

There’s a fine line between cheap and inexpensive, and it can be hard to tell the difference. Back in the days when cameras used actual film, there were plenty of models and accessories to choose from. But with the introduction of digital cameras, there are seemingly infinite models available, including the point-and-shoot models.

The appeal of these cameras is that they are small, light and easy to use. But if you’ve picked up a point-and-shoot these days, you’ll find they’re packed with dozens of features that never get used. And while cheap point-and-shoots have plateaued in the race to see which can offer the most megapixels, that phone in your pocket includes a camera that has quietly been getting more and more powerful.

Admittedly, the midrange and high end point-and-shoots are worth holding on to, but the entry level ones aren’t worth the purchase price. Especially since chances are you have a modern smartphone somewhere near you right now that includes an impressive camera. Apple’s iPhone 5s packs an 8-megapixel camera, while Nokia’s Lumia 1020 has a jaw-dropping 41-megapixel camera.

So why buy a second piece of tech that you’ll probably forget at home? Became a phone photographer, and never look back.

2. Camcorders

Camcorders have long been a part of our culture. For many years, people filmed just about every facet of daily life, generating what must be millions of miles of video tape showing family holiday get-togethers, trips to theme parks and graduation ceremonies. Move over, box of 8mm film — a box of videotapes needs some room.

But just as cell phone cameras have been upgraded for still photos, their video quality has also improved remarkably over recent years. Most phones now record in 1080p high definition, and some include nifty features like slow motion and basic video editing. While cell phone video used to be murky and jaggy, it now looks sharp and crisp, and even the sound is decent.

So before you think about pouring money into a camcorder and accessories, look no further than your pocket for a gadget that already shoots great video and is ready at a moment’s notice.

3. Portable in-car GPS units

Speaking of gadgets that do double duty, back when GPS units first came to the market, they felt like the ultimate in James Bond wizardry. The problem is that they cost hundreds of dollars, making them a true luxury item meant to be mounted on the windshield next to your radar detector. But GPS units have been getting cheaper all the time, and today they’re frequently under $100 — so why not?

Here’s the thing: You probably already have one of these. No, I’m not talking about the in-dash GPS units that come as an option on your car (which are a huge waste of money). Actually, I mean that smartphone you check obsessively throughout the day.

Most phones these days come with GPS built in, and it works well on free software such as Google Maps, offering turn-by-turn voice directions to get you to your destination. Or you can purchase GPS apps by some of the old-school GPS manufacturers, such as Garmin and TomTom, that offer more whistles and bells.

So unless you need a GPS where cellphone signals don’t reach (like boating and wilderness activities) or don’t have a robust data plan, toss that old GPS unit into the drawer with your beeper and Betamax; you have a better GPS device in your pocket.

4. DVD players

Speaking of Betamax, we’re already on the threshold of seeing another form of recorded media go out of vogue: the DVD player. A few years ago, a battle raged between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, both vying to be the high-definition platform for delivering movies to your living room. Blu-ray eventually won, and it has slowly but surely been pushing out the tried-and-true DVD ever since.

So why would you buy a DVD player? The truth is that while Blu-ray players were very expensive when they first came out, you can get really fantastic ones these days for around $75. These include built-in Wi-Fi, allowing you to stream services like Netflix and Hulu Plus.

You might have a DVD player and not even know it. Got a PlayStation 3? Or did you recently buy an Xbox One or PS4? Just an FYI: These devices all include Blu-ray players.

If you’re afraid of having to jettison your entire DVD collection with the switch to Blu-ray, don’t be. Blu-ray players also play DVDs, so you won’t have to start from scratch. In fact, most Blu-ray players upscale the resolution of your DVDs, meaning they’ll look better than ever. (Just make sure you have an HD television so you can appreciate the picture.)

5. Name-brand HDMI cables

If you’ve ever wandered into a mega-electronics store like Best Buy in search of a simple HDMI cable, you might have felt slapped by sticker shock. Many retailers sell HDMI cables at an extremely high MSRP, or they market their own with exorbitant costs. But it’s a ridiculous expense that you should run away from as fast as your feet will carry you.

Back in the days when people wired their own speaker systems, the type of wiring you used might have made a difference with an analog signal. But modern video electronics use digital signals as the norm, and digital signals are either on or off. There’s no “better signal” with a gold-tipped, platinum-coated, hand-rubbed cable.

One manufacturer in particular is extremely egregious with its HDMI cable product, selling some cables that cost over $300. Avoid them. The best thing you can do is always buy your cables online from sites like Amazon or Monoprice. We like the AmazonBasics 3-meter cable, which costs just $7.49 and works just as well.

This article was written by Kevin Kelly and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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37 comments
Biggly
Biggly

I use GPS on my phone but once you're away from cell towers the actual GPS unit is pants, taking 10 minutes or more to figure out where you are and sucks the life from the battery really fast. 


In contrast a couple of AA batteries and a proper GPS unit means I can find my way around when trekking, scrambling or in my boat :)

TiffanyFreeman
TiffanyFreeman

When I took a seasonal job at a major electronics store the employee price for HDMI cables was extremely less than shopper prices. Absolutely ridiculously less. I scooped up enough for my dads' electronics for Christmas - they would have been a fortune without the discount.

ArnelisCrespo
ArnelisCrespo

I disagree with the GPS comment. GPS are life savers. The most important thing when I buy my car was to have an integrated GPS unit. They are big and very convenient if you travel a lot like me and if you live in the desert or in between hills. Cellphones use too much data, are small and normally are not handsfree so you need to be holding it and looking at it instead of the road. GPS units now can give you things such as: nearest hospitals, airports, restaurants, gas stations and even fuel prices. For me, they are the best tool in your car.

OmarSpence
OmarSpence

I will never become a phone "photographer". I refuse to shoot with anything with a sensor smaller than APS-C

Biddle
Biddle

Agree with the author on absolutely all points. I own a standalone GPS and it is never used. Google Maps is always updated, too. I own a D5100 camera--awesome camera, but I take as many pics with the iPhone because I always have it on me (and far more video than with the DSLR).

Also, anybody who disagrees with the author on HDMI, please stop flushing your money down the toilet. The cheapest HDMI is all you need.

GrahamSaunders
GrahamSaunders

mmm, I love playing spot the typo these days, Its so easy, for example its either supposed to say "become a phone photographer and never look back."  or "I Became a phone photographer and never looked back".

Basic grammar and spelling - Its not hard.


DavidLevine
DavidLevine

Using your iphone as a GPS is all well and good right up until you lose the signal. Not a big problem around the city, really a big problem finding that camping ground or friends place in the hills, Also smaller screen, an issue for those of us with aging eyes

laughon
laughon

I disagree with your comments  a cell phone is small, it cost you minutes and when you travel, 3800 miles on a trip there are blank spot ,   I gave my cell phone to the garbageman  it is the most useless object ever invented.  Good ol TomTom gps is still the solution if you travel.

laughon
laughon

I tend to disagree, the phone requires that you use your minutes and cost you dollars,  i had both and gave the phone to the garbage man     nothing will replace a full blown TomTom

albert71292
albert71292

Point and shoot cameras and camcorders would be a welcome gift for those of us who don't own cellphones!

MarkDoney
MarkDoney

The comment about HDMI cables is wrong,  I have had problems with cheap HDMI cables not sending video output from my laptop to the tv.  I find its worth buying high quality ones but not from a store , get them online I would agree there.   


The difference is in attenuation,  although it is a digital signal the strength of the signal is lost during transmission.  Although a digital signal is on or off, transmissions can have errors.  Digital signals have to be corrected by the receiver, the better the cable the less error corrrection needs to be done.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

The number one effect of the advent of smartphones is that people are suddenly willing to put up with utterly crappy photographs. A good camera is absolutely worth the money.


kenhirshuc
kenhirshuc

I have to disagree with your point about replacing a stand-alone GPS device with a smartphone. The maps on the phone are coming from the network, and will quickly use up data, which you note by saying "unless you don't have a robust data plan." Make that very robust. And if you are driving off the Interstates or in rural areas, you my not be getting 4G service, which will make the map downloads and updating very frustrating.

TommyGMyers
TommyGMyers

@OmarSpence And those 41 megapixels on that Nokia phone are not the same resolution as those found on an APS-C [cropped] or full frame sensor, either.  People get all geeked up about the megapixel number, yet they have no clue that not all megapixels are created equal.  Any one with any understanding of D.O.F. knows that phone cameras are okay for capturing a moment when nothing else is available, but DSLR is still the best way to go when you want to get anything remotely professional looking.

D7000 x 1 + D800 x 2.

AnahiGiron
AnahiGiron

@GrahamSaunders  

* First "m" in "mmm" should be capitalized. 

* There should be a period after "days". 

* It's, as in it is, not its.

* "become a phone photographer and never look back", 

* "I became a phone photographer..." (why did you capitalize the "b" in "became"?) 

* Basic grammar and spelling - It's not hard.

OmarSpence
OmarSpence

@DavidLevineI have a Garmin GPS as well; good luck navigating at sea with an iPhone. The idea that you can replace specialized tools with a cell phone is like thinking you can replace a complete set of mechanics tools with a swiss army knife.

checkoutmyash
checkoutmyash

@DavidLevine I have an offline map app that doesn't require an Internet connection. Paired with a solar charger and it is great for back country hiking and camping. 

Showshone
Showshone

@MarkDoney 


In my experience it gets complicated if you go over 5 meters. I have a 7 meter cheap cable that sometimes doesnt work properly. I will never buy a 100 dollar cable though. Ill just move my tv closer i guess.

Biddle
Biddle

@MarkDoney As long as the errors are within the correctable level, does it matter? All of my devices are running on the cheap $3 HDMI cables from Ebay (although as the author recommends I actually recommended Amazon basics to somebody yesterday). They all perform flawlessly.

MACRM32
MACRM32

@PaulDirks Entry-grade point-and-shoots are NOT good cameras, especially compared to the likes of the 5S or the Lumia 1020. Decently-priced cameras, sure. Cheap entry models? Unless it's a starting point for something more serious, not worth it.

Biddle
Biddle

@kenhirshuc You can buy standalone apps for the iPhone, with unlimited updates. They work in off-line mode, taking up a relatively modest size on the phone.

SumocatS
SumocatS

@kenhirshucMap data is a minor concern if the app uses simple vector-based maps and road diagrams, but the benefits of live traffic updates from smartphone nav apps, like Waze, are well worth the cost.

MACRM32
MACRM32

@kenhirshuc Not exactly. Some phones allow for offline maps, meaning you need only a GPS signal. Nokia Maps is an example of this.

Joe_Montfort
Joe_Montfort

@kenhirshuc In my experience, Google Maps navigation has not made a noticeable dent in my data usage. Granted, I'm not using it daily or for extended periods, but for my needs it has been a suitable replacement for a stand-alone GPS. Thank kind of use might be what the author had in mind. 

Nibs
Nibs

@kenhirshuc GPS on a smartphone will typically eat up about 300MB in a cycle with 4 hours of daily navigation


ZeusChavez
ZeusChavez

Ugh, if you're gonna pretend to lord you're grammatical skills over someone else, do it right.

"days." NOT "days".

"...look back," NOT "...look back",

AngieAlexander
AngieAlexander

@AnahiGiron @GrahamSaunders  What AnahiGiron said, and ...


*   Basic grammar and spelling - It's not hard.  (hyphen used incorrectly).

*   "I Became a phone photographer and never looked back".  (the period belongs inside the                  quotation mark)

storymark
storymark

@MACRM32 @PaulDirks By and large, this is true. But it does depend on circumstances. Ill still get more use out of a genuine optical zoom with a point-and-shoot than I would will with a cell.

kenhirshuc
kenhirshuc

@Joe_Montfort Nibs @kenhirshuc I yield to you both and the author on this point. I suppose the only concern is when one wanders away from a good signal, and for data I find less than 4g problematic. For me, my GPS purchases were made well before I had a smartphone, as I replaced my BB with a Galaxy S3 well afterward.,

ZRod
ZRod

@Nibs @kenhirshuc  Nope. I use it all the time and Google Maps never makes a dent in my data.  Caching and predownloading maps (but even without the saved maps, data use is minimal).

Yacko
Yacko

@ZeusChavez The punctuation point of yours is changing. The logic of punctuation seems to be superseding some fusty old rules. If punctuation is not intrinsically part of the quote and is part of the larger sentence then logically it belongs outside the quote

MichaelLee
MichaelLee

@ZeusChavez *your (the second one)

ZRod
ZRod

@albert71292 @mpgonzalez While landlines may be cheaper, I pay $30 a month for my Nexus 5 which only cost $440 (less for the lower memory model) and it is top of the line, no contract.
Tell people who use it to navigate, find things to do/places to go, stay in touch with local and international friends, use in emergencies to contact and find loved ones, etc.  
They don't have to be rip offs, you just have to be a smart consumer.