According to Mr. Ulanoff of PC Magazine, to avoid buying yourself a lemon of a ‘present’ this holiday season, you just need to follow his tips. But in reality, the things you shouldn’t buy are the points in this article. Here are some snippets from the recently published article that elicited a few chuckles from me. Let’s start if off with his advice for desktops.
Don’t buy: Any PC with integrated graphics.
I promise you that you’ll rue the day you saved $200 but did not opt for an nVidia or (ATI) AMD graphics CPU with discrete graphics memory. I contend that discrete graphics capability will speed up your gaming, browsing and video-viewing pleasure.
I contend that discrete graphics will not speed up browsing, and for most people, will not increase video-viewing pleasure. There’s a reason why the majority of computers still ship with integrated graphics – because most people need nothing more. Not everyone plays games. And if the article is to be taken at face value, integrated graphics will somehow decrease browsing and video-viewing pleasure – it won’t (short of 1080P video, but then you’ll probably be watching that through Blu-Ray/HD-DVD on your HDTV…).
Maybe buy: A mini PC.
The Apple Mini and HP Slimline are cute and fit in tight spaces, and though they don’t offer all the power I’d want, they have more than enough to satisfy most midrange users. If you’re ready for a PC in the living room, don’t want to spend more for a full-blown media center and hate the idea of a BTX-style case next to your 50-inch plasma, mini PCs could offer the perfect solution.
Funny how this follows immediately after the above do-not-buy-integrated-graphics rant, since almost all mini PCs (and ironically enough, the two named ones) are outfitted with integrated graphics. I’m also not quite certain what he means by a BTX-style case? BTX is a motherboard form factor… Alright, moving onto laptop advice.
Don’t buy: A sub-$500 laptop.
I came across a deal for a Dell Vostro for under $400. That seems like a real bargain until you try to visit a flash-driven Web site, view online video, or play even the simplest PC-based game on one.
Again, more misinformation. I don’t know whether the author actually tried this ‘$400 Vostro’, but I can assure you, it will have no problem with a flash-driven Web site, viewing online videos, or playing Solitaire (probably the simplest PC-based game?). Of course, what’s more likely the case is that he hasn’t used this $400 laptop and is just making stuff up. Just as cheap doesn’t automatically mean bad, expensive also doesn’t automatically equate to good. Don’t buy something more expensive because it is more expensive. That’s just dumb.
Maybe buy: A $400 One Laptop per Child PC (part of the “Give One Get One” program).
Yes, I know this contradicts my first point, but if your child or grandmother can live with what is essentially a toy PC, you’ll be doing a mitzvah for an underprivileged child who could never afford a PC.
If you’re in a giving mood, I think you’re better off making a nice $400 cheque out to UNICEF or another charity of your choosing. I’ll let PC Mag’s own article do all the counter-arguing that is necessary. In short form – a laptop for the internet is not terribly useful in a place where there is no Wi-Fi, no internet connection, and no schools. Plus, are you seriously going to saddle your kid or grandmother with this thing?
Do buy: Any laptop with a widescreen.
Standard 4:3 aspect ratios are yesterday’s news, and not just because it’s hard to play widescreen video on them. A widescreen gives you more screen real estate, so you can run e-mail and the AOL Instant Messenger window next to each other without hiding anything on either interface.
I’m going to nitpick, just because this guy deserves it. A 19″ 4:3 LCD typically has a native resolution of 1280×1024 while widescreen versions are 1440×900. Both yield nearly the same number of pixels; in fact the 4:3 display has slightly more. Still, he makes a good point. Widescreen monitors are a better suited for multitasking, presumably emailing and chatting at the same time (wow).
Next up, Digital Media Players.
Don’t buy: PC-less players.
These players from Haier and Slacker sound cool—there’s no PC required and music streams directly from a Wi-Fi connection—but the reality is that they’re not ready for prime time. The more content you put on Haier’s arguably innovative new player, the slower it gets. Plus, though Slacker (which works with Internet Radio stations) will work with open Wi-Fi networks, it pulls music onto the hard drive for off-line playback. So how is that so different than what you do with an iPod classic?
No PC required, but you can still use a PC with them. The more music you put on it, the slower it gets? Where did he get that from? Of course Wi-fi is going to be slower than playing straight off the hard drive, but did he forget that the Haier still has a 30GB drive for music?
Do buy: An iPod touch.
The most lust-worthy digital music player ever made simply has no equal.
He’s right – almost no other player of that capacity (8GB and 16GB) is that expensive ($299 and $399 respectively). Lust-worthy? Sure. But then I’d rather converge it all in an iPhone if the interface if what you’re after.
Don’t buy: A digital camera with less than 5 megapixels.
The deals on 7-megapixel-and-above cameras are simply too good. Obviously, 4 megapixels will print decent 4-by-5-inch photos, but 8-by-11-inch and larger images (yes, you may someday print larger ones) need more resolution. Plus you can’t zoom into detail on a 4MP image the way you can an 8MP one. You’ll be surprised at what you see when you look closely enough. (“See, Honey? I was wearing my wedding ring on that business trip.”)
It’s this sort of mentality that started the megapixel race between the digital camera makers. The result is cramming millions more pixels into the same (or smaller) sized sensors. Consequently, picture quality in point-and-shoots for the most part hasn’t gone much of anywhere over the last little while. I bet the 5MP 2/3″ sensor of my Sony F717 (from almost 5 years ago) beats the pants off 98% of the point-and-shoots today. Zooming to 100% of many of the high resolution photos taken with anything other than the lowest ISO presents a nasty mess of noise and/or noise reduction.
Don’t buy: Linux.
The world’s cheapest operating system is the darling of every do-it-yourselfer and the potential bane of every cheapskate user. You’ll save money and, I bet, lose your mind if you switch to Linux. Note to DIYers: This advice is intended for middle-of-the-road tech consumers. You, with the screwdriver in your hand, please feel free to download as many copies of Ubuntu as you want.
Even with the included post-script at the end of this ‘tip’, it’s sure to get a bunch of you Linux enthusiasts’ panties in a wad. I mean even I was a little irked at the comment. I mean, who buys Linux in the first place?
Do buy: A new PC.
You won’t know how slow you’re going until you bring home a brand-new PC that’s pumped full of high-end graphics, bottomless storage, and loads of RAM. If you skimp on any of these areas, you’ll be sorry. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it’ll happen someday and likely continue for another three years, until your next PC purchase.
Again – not everyone is a video gaming, HD video-watching, multitasking geek. Average families, spend half the amount this author wants you to and still be able to do all the things you wanted, without the ‘high-end graphics, bottomless storage, and loads of RAM‘.
Well, that’s it for now. Remember, this holiday season, don’t buy into the ‘What to Buy for Christmas’ lists, but even more so, don’t buy into the ‘What Not To Buy’ lists. Thanks for reading.