Hackin’ The Net

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Monday, 15 April 2013 14:21
  • Written by Ted Fleischaker

rainbow-pcTime for a few questions from the mailbox...and probably the biggest one to arrive from multiple sources lately is actually a repeat of a golden oldie: Do I buy that new (fill it in: computer/iPad/phone/laptop/music player) now or do I wait for the next one to come out?

And despite the playing field changing a lot since I last covered this, my reply has not changed much: buy the device you want when you can afford it and be 100% aware that about the time you get the box open they will come out with a new "latest/greatest" which will make you unhappy you did not wait.

You might be looking at my reply and laughing, but I am totally serious: There will always be something new either out, coming out soon or "in the works." The problem is you can't talk on, surf with or listen to a wudda, cudda or shudda — you need to have that player, computer, iPad or other tablet in hand — and for that you have to make a commitment.
I know what I am saying is not kind and gentle reassurance because the only thing you can be sure of is that someone, somewhere will be out with something newer, faster and better tomorrow. So that said what can you do?

First, be an aware consumer of electronics. Do some research online, in books and magazines or by asking friends. If you want a pc and all your friends are on Macs that might be a message in itself. If you have an iPhone, want a new one and all your friends love their Droids they got for half the price, that, too might be a message.

Also see what device fits. You'd not just walk into a shoe store, point to a pair and buy the sample would you? At the very least you'd ask a clerk for correct sizing then put them on and walk around on the stores carpets a bit. And the same applies here.

Visit Best Buy, the nearest Apple Store or other retailer (everyplace from Target to Kmart and Costco sell phones, pads and computers nowadays) and try out what you are considering buying. And kick the tires, too. If they don't have a demo out to touch, that alone is worth questioning.

And if you really want to go for a ride, ask a friend with that device if you can come over (take him to dinner after or bring a bottle of wine — it's just polite) and play with their laptop, desktop or iPad for an hour or two. See if it will do your spreadsheets, play your music with decent fidelity, stream your movies and Netflix and if it will connect to the internet and stay connected.

And ask the friend whose device it is if they'd buy one again. That will tell you way more than any reviews, magazines or store displays ever can. If they say yes, ask why and if they say no ask why, too. Remember that not everyone uses the same device the same way for the same purposes so if they tell you their partner doesn't like the sound quality but all he listens to is screaming rock turned up so loud that it distorts, don't take that for a final answer until you play your jazz or classical music at the level you like.

Also read a bit to be an informed buyer. Go see what the pundits have to say about a replacement for what you are about to buy. Is there a strong rumor that a new pc, pad, phone or gadget is about to be released? If so, what will it do or have that the one you could walk in and buy today can't?

We no sooner got used to our latest iPad than Apple came out with a newer, faster one. Do we regret buying when we did? Not at all as trying one of the newer ones we found the changes were barely noticeable for us who read newspapers on Pressdisplays app, magazines on Zinio's app, play Words With Friends and enjoy a spot of internet radio. Maybe if we were using the iPad for other things we'd feel differently, but for us the one we got almost a year ago (the first with retina display) is not only just fine, but still great. Remember those shoes — it's all about fit and chances are what fits your needs just fine today will still be pretty much perfect in a year or two.

Also, and finally on this topic, go into a new purchase looking at a life span. From past experience, we know that GUI's for a computer is about 4-6 years. For our iPhone, two years till we get a new subsidized replacement from our carrier. I'm on my 3rd iPad but only my 2nd laptop as I rarely even use my laptop which dates from 1999. It all depends what you personally need, want and use the device for and how often.

Our second question is closely related to the first and that's the calls we get asking about extras. "Should I buy personal training on my iPad?" and "Do I want AppleCare, Geek Squad or the pc equal?''

Again, my reply is to buy what you need, as well as what you will use and can afford.
If you have had six pc computers and this is your first Mac (or the other way round) then maybe you could use a year of the One to One or equal personal training to really figure out how to best use the bells and whistles on your new gadget. It's amazing what an iPad or laptop can do if you know where and how.

As far as the insurance, I never (ever) decline that on a computer, laptop, phone or tablet. That said; if you tend to be hard on your devices, then for sure buy that AppleCare Plus or other insurance. A dropped phone, cracked iPad screen or accidental dunk in the pool this Summer are way more easily "fixed'' if you pay the deductible and get handed a new device than if you have to buy all over. Just like any insurance policy, the company is betting you won't need it and they can keep your money as profit, and you are wanting to be 100% protected in case of disaster.

Remember, too, that most (check the options you get when you buy) insurance policies on computers also extend the warranty for a year or two on factory defects. A computer can just stop. A screen can fail. A cable can break. And a hard drive or charger can just quit. If you want to be totally carefree, ante up at the start and walk away smiling.
Do keep in mind that none of the policies cover abuse, neglect or willful damage, so no matter how much you'd like, hitting your ex boyfriend squarely on the head with your iPad is not covered damage! Oh, and none of the policies we know of cover biohazards, either, which is a polite way to say do not drop your pad. tablet or Kindle into the toilet. If you do, you are (ahem) shit out of luck!

Finally, we have had several questions lately on what to do with equipment you no longer want or need. You bought that shiny new iPad and have your first generation gathering dust. Or your phone got replaced when the contract was up and that old Droid is in a drawer taking up space.

There are a number of options, but the first thing to answer is something which should seem obvious: Does the old (fill in the blank) still work? If the answer is yes then there are many more options — from selling it at a yard sale to posting it on Craigslist or ebay. You could also donate it to charity (many in the area take used gear and give tax credits) or you could donate it to a school or student for learning purposes.

If you have a friend who might be looking for used gear you could also sell it to them if it's working. Keep in mind that some (not all, some) warranties will transfer to a new owner so if you happen to have one of those (AppleCare Plus is one such we have) and there's say six months left, the new buyer will get that coverage. But be warned: A friendship can be lost over a "working" computer or phone which quits working and has no replacement warranty or loses your former friend's data.

Finally, what if your device is d.o.a.? If the phone/pad/laptop is dead then your options are much narrower. Cities have tox-away days and special drop off points which will accept used, broken electronics for recycling. In downtown Indianapolis, there's a monthly drop-off collection at the May through October Farmer's Market on one of the Wednesdays which will take these items. There are also local schools and other groups happy to have your dead device.

One caveat, whether you sell, give away or junk your pad, phone or computer: clear off all of your personal information first! If the computer is dead, remove the hard drive and shred or destroy it. If it's your phone take your SIM card and remove all your personal contacts and other info. On iPads, restore to factory settings will erase your apps, contacts and other items (think Facebook friends in that app or subscriptions to publications, etc.) Remember that handing over your computer or other e-device is like handing over your identity and life — possibly to a complete stranger. Unless you sell to a best friend or close relative (and even if you do), my advice is clear it off and leave no information someone may find to chance! I'm not just talking dirty pics of you and an ex here... I'm talking credit card info, account numbers and anything which can be used to steal your cash or identity. Happy computing!