8 Worst Tech Rip-Offs And How To Avoid Them

Whether it's a phone carrier charging you for services you don't need or a cashier pushing pricey protection plans for your tablet, the tech-world is filled with mobile Madoffs trying to con you out of your hard-earned cash. Fortunately, you don't have to be the victim of information superhighway robbery. These are the 10 worst gadget rip-offs and how to avoid them.

There are plenty of gadgets that are plenty worth their hefty price tags. But as Laptop Mag's Avram Piltch explains, there are also plenty that just aren't worth it. Here are then biggest ripoffs in tech. Buyer beware!

Core i5 Tablets

The world's most popular tablet, the iPad, costs $500 and gets 12 hours of battery life while 10-inch Android tablets usually go for $300 to $500 and provide 8 to 10 hours of juice. Unfortunately, a number of PC makers have released pricey Windows 8 tablets with Core i5 processors, speedy SSDs and really poor battery life.

From the $1000 Acer Iconia W700 to the Microsoft Surface Pro, which starts at $US899 ($US999 with a keyboard), and the $1,199 Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T, these Core i5 tablets cost twice as much as their Android and iOS competitors while weighing 25 per cent more and providing significantly less battery life. Though they are designed to provide high performance, their small screens and keyboards aren't enough to make most people toss their laptops, making them $1,000 secondary devices.

Solution: Buy an Atom-powered Windows 8 tablet like the ThinkPad Tablet 2, which starts at $US579, weighs just under 600 grams and lasts 9 hours and 42 minutes on a charge. Tablets with Atom processors aren't powerful enough to do the most intense tasks, but are inexpensive enough to let you afford that Ultrabook you've been eyeing.

Paying Extra for 3G on Your Tablet or Laptop

You pay for data on your smartphone, but that's not enough for your mobile provider; it wants you to pay another monthly fee for every laptop and tablet you own.

Solution: Use your smartphone as a hotspot and connect your other devices to it via Wi-Fi.

Pricey Cables

All the major connections on your computer, phone and home theatre use digital cables; there's no tangible difference between one brand and another. So why does a 4-foot Monster HDMI cable cost $100 while someone like Kogan just a handful of dollars for one of its 4-foot HDMI cables, which will do the same job? The cable gougers are hoping you won't notice.

Solution: Don't fall for marketing gimmicks by purchasing expensive name-brand cables. Online retailers like Kogan, Amazon and GetPrice have great prices on cables from lesser-known brands.

Phone Insurance

When you purchase a new phone, some carriers will try to sell you an insurance plan that costs anywhere from $6 to $11 per month, and promises to repair or replace your phone should it be lost or stolen. But this phone insurance often has huge catches. Some insurance policies might not give you a like-for-like replacement on your phone, while others don't cover liquid damage.

Solution: Don't buy phone insurance. The worst thing that could happen is that you lose your phone while you're ineligible for a subsidised upgrade and must pay the full retail cost to replace it, a cost of $500 to $700 from most carriers. Fortunately, you can usually find a used or refurbished version of your phone online for significantly less.

However, if you buy insurance and don't lose your phone, you end up paying hundreds for certain to protect against the possibility that you might have to spend an additional $US300 in the unlikely event you lose or break your phone. Take the gamble that you won't.

RAM and SSD Upgrades From Notebook Makers

A number of vendors, including Dell, Lenovo, HP and Toshiba allow you to custom configure your notebook when ordering from their websites. Unfortunately, they charge you a lot more for RAM and storage upgrades than you'd pay if you bought the parts on your own and installed them at home. For example, Lenovo charges $80 more for a ThinkPad T430 with 8GB of RAM than with 4GB. Meanwhile, you can buy a name-brand 4GB SODIMM for just $23 online.

Dell charges $346 more for a Latitude E6430 with a 256GB SSD than the same system with 320GB hard drive while online you can buy a reputable 256GB SSD for under $200 or the blazing-fast Samsung 840 PRO Series for around $230. If it costs you $23 for a SODIMM and $200 for an SSD at retail, how much less must it cost PC vendors, who buy parts in bulk at wholesale, but jack up the margins on their customers?

Solution: Buy a notebook with the lowest amount of RAM and smallest hard drive available. Then purchase your own memory and SSD or hard drive upgrade at a low-cost retailer you can find on StaticIce.

Exorbitant International Roaming Charges

Want to use your Australian phone to download a 500MB video while you're working in the US? You better be a millionaire, because carriers like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone charge huge figures per megabyte for data transfer there, making that standard def episode of ,em>Breaking Bad you wanted to see cost as much as $10,000

Solution: If you don't need to make phone calls over cellular, renting or buying a hotspot or USB modem from someone like Globalgig is your best bet.

If your phone is SIM unlocked, you can also buy a local prepaid SIM card when you arrive in your destination. Local SIMs can cost as little as $US10 or $US15 for 500MB of data and plenty of voice minutes and texts. If your phone is not SIM unlocked, your carrier may be willing to unlock it for a fee.

Internal Storage on Your Phone / Tablet

Outside of the jewellery industry where it's routine to charge customers 300 per cent more than they paid for a bunch of useless rocks, internal tablet and phone storage carries the biggest mark-up. The base level iPad costs $539 with 16GB of NAND memory while the 32GB model costs $110 more, despite costing Apple just $US16.80 more for the additional 16GB, according to IHS iSuppli. The 64GB model goes for $759, despite costing just $US50.40 more than the base model.

IHS iSuppli hasn't estimated a bill-of-materials cost for the Samsung Galaxy S III, but it's safe to assume that the $US50 difference between the 16GB and 32GB versions of that phone is about triple what costs Samsung for the higher-capacity NAND. You can bet that Microsoft is also making bank on the $US100 extra it charges to go from the 32GB to 64GB versions of the Surface with Windows RT.

Solution: If you can buy a phone or tablet with a microSD card slot, do it. You can buy a 32GB microSD card for under $25. If you have your heart set on a device like the iPhone that doesn't have a microSD slot, you have two choices: use online storage to keep more of your files in the cloud or buy a wireless storage device like the Kingston Wii Drive, which lets you access your files over the local network.

Extended Warranties

Shopping at a big box retailer these days is like walking a dodgy park at midnight; everyone's trying to sell you something bad that you don't want or need. From the sales people on the floor to the cashier, store employees are heavily incented to hard-sell you on extended warranties, aka "protection plans."

In-store stooges will tell you all manner of half-truths and outright lies, to get you to plunk down hundreds of dollars extra to add an extra year or two to your warranty. They don't tell you that most products don't break in the 3-year warranty period, that the first year is usually handled by the manufacturer anyway and that, after a couple of years, most gadgets aren't even worth repairing if they do break.

Solution: With few exceptions, you should never buy an extended warranty. If you're a small business and want to purchase additional service options for your corporate computers directly from the manufacturer (Dell, Lenovo, HP), it might make some sense. But when the blue shirts try to scare a few Franklins out of you, just keep walking.

Republished with permission from Laptop Mag. Laptopmag.com brings you in-depth reviews of the hottest mobile products, the latest tech news, helpful how-to advice, and expert analysis of the latest tech trends.


Comments

    Bloody Apple tried to charge us an extra $90 for another years worth of warranty on a new iPod classic.

    Sorry stopped reading when you said Surface Pro was a rip off because it had a real CPU in it and wasn't as big as a laptop.

      +1 Battery life is not the only thing worth considering, and it definitely doesn't make any device a 'rip off' based on that alone.

      Regarding the solution: personally I would recommend that nobody, ever, EVER buy anything with an Atom processor. After having to struggle with a device that uses one I consider them to be capable of little more than monotasking. They're fine if you just want to browse, or just want to edit a word doc, but both at the same time? You could just about make a cup of tea in the time it takes to alt-tab.

        Remember: Giz repeated another laptop mag article this week that blasted not JUST the surface pro, but win8 convertibles in general.

        Whilst using some BS cost-to-battery life percentage, in a non-repeatable 'oh we is just browsing with no actual metrics' test.

        I am currently listening to Itunes, browsing Giz, loading a youtube video and I have a 200Mb excel doc open. all on a Clover Trail Atom based Acer W510

        alt-tabbing is pretty instantaneous

        (with a 16hr battery life)

        Last edited 15/02/13 4:55 pm

        I'll just let my Atom 330/ION powered file/media server and media player with 2 concurrent logons for watching media and remote management do it's thing then shall I? It will quite happily run XBMC on the TV while I simultaneously remote desktop into it to deal with downloads, organising media onto the correct drives while it also streams to another system in the house. Atoms are powerful little buggers with low power usage easily capable of doing more than 1 thing at a time.

      I read the whole 'article' (opinion piece) and I think they completely missed this point of the hybrid touch laptops.

      I'm in the market for one, but I want to be able to play games too (when I'm not traveling, and away from my desktop). I'll be looking for whatever one is the most powerful with a battery life of at least 2hrs (train journey).

      Edit: Spelling.

      Last edited 15/02/13 4:32 pm

    yet another moron bashing on the surface due to lack of knowledge.

    The Ipad is utter shit in a windows work environment, where BYOD is encouraged. (Ipads should be the first item on your list)
    The android tabs have limited functionality for office use, and not enough power
    The ATOM devices don’t have enough power for what decent techs would use them for day to day.

    the surface is a great concept and great technology and fills a HUGE gap that IT professionals have needed filled for years.

    just because you don’t do anything but surf facebook and twitter to copy paste regurgitated info for you're articles doesn’t mean the device is a rip off, for what it offers its a great device for a reasonable price given its internals and its first generation debut.

      I looked at the other articles "Avram Piltch" has written, and 90% of them seem to be garbage.

      Agreed. Shorter than the review but made more sense. Tired of Tech bashing.

      I am yet to come across an IT professional who is able to provide any kind of platform other than Windows. Windows XP seems to be their breadth of knowledge. Anything more modern than that is considered unnecessary. I have worked in NSW Health. Was able to configure my iPad. However if I rang IT support I would (have) get a reply stating iPad is not compatible with the network/software

        I worked for a IT department for a University. I can tell you now, iPads were supported across our network, plus the public health network that piggy backed off of ours. Unless the IT tech is clueless they know that BYOD is a reality and support for BYOD is required. However, I must note that alot of users were disappointed at the poor range offered by their iPads on our wireless. Thats a fault of the iPad though, but the fanboys hate hearing that.

    I have to disagree with your extended warranty section. I'd disagree on the Surface, but I don't know enough to make an informed comment on that. With the extended warranty, I got my sister an Alienware, and it broke down literally right after the normal warranty ended. However, thanks to me buying the extended warranty, she had no problem getting it fixed for free. My mothers laptop broke down after a year. Extended warranty. My chair broke. $30 extended warranty when I bought it, free replacement for a $150 chair

    Extended warranties can be good

    Local bricks and mortar retailers such as Jaycar and MSY also stock cheap HDMI cables.

      If only it was possible to actually find anything on MSY's site.

        just go to the MSY parts list and search for the item or category you are looking for.

        Hmmmmm, MSY!

        I went there yesterday to buy 4 x 3Tb HDDs. Drove because they don't answer their phone or email and the fax number is "unknown".

        Waited in a queue 45 min (thankfully 5 people gave up before me and made it a bit shorter) to find out no stock, no price match on the HDDs.

        So yet again MSY saves me big bucks. In this case $676.

        As I observed if this was bloody Apple I'd have had my stuff and been out, or surfing their free fast internet. MSY, like most things PC, gives a whole lot more as well as being served up in a shithole by autistic nerds who let both their landline and mobiles ring out incessantly for the whole 45 minutes I was there.

        Did get to see the painful returns policy on 2 of their "same as Apple, only cheaper" PC products.

        ...and beats last Saturday, when they hadn't even bothered to show up for work.

    Good article, I can agree with everything mentioned, to some extent.

    I couldn't disagree more about the i5 tablet section.

    I've been using my Samsung 700T and keyboard flawlessly for work, and as an IT Consultant, that's a lot. Of course battery life is miserable if you thrash the living daylights out of it by playing movies on it all day, but for non-stupid use on the road it lasts an entire day, if not more. Even the keyboard is comparable to an ultrabooks.

    Boot times are fantastic, and when I get back into the office I can plug it in and even watch a match or two of Dota.

    Wow, talk about flame-bait. Sadly, I have to bite:

    Surface Pro (and other i5 tablets) are comparable to ultrabooks, not ARM-based tablets. Put up against their real competition, they compare quite well.

    The phone insurance point is only valid for the market balance of the USA. In Australia the excess is almost always less than buying the same phone new from eBay, and arranging a replacement is as easy as taking the broken phone into a shop. A few days later, you have a new phone, no hassles.

      But ultrabooks have much longer battery life. It's literally one of the tests they have to pass to use that moniker.

    Want to use your Australian phone to download a 500MB video while you’re working in the US? You better be a millionaire, because carriers like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone charge huge figures per megabyte for data transfer there.

    not true. i work for a telco, and the vast majority of roaming data charges come from the overseas carrier who then bill your carrier.

      Regardless of where it originates, it's still a complete ripoff.

      That's true, it's not fair to point at our Telco's and assign blame - it's the international guys that set the prices. However, our local telco's are just as pricey to overseas visitors here too. I'm looking forward to the AU+NZ deal being investigated to agree to cheap roaming charges between the two countries - hopefully that will push other countries to join the cheap-roaming-charges club

    Heavily flawed logic on some of these so-called ripoffs. The author is expressing his opinion, not giving clear evidence of price gouging in all cases.

    Everybody has a different idea of value, so the person who buys the extra memory online while ordering the computer might just not want the hassle of messing around with buying a cheap memory upgrade later just to save a few dollars. His/her time might be worth more than that. Equally, the 'pricey' cables do actually have science behind them particularly when you use them in a high-end system. They carry the signal better, have less distortion, less resistance and generally are fit for purpose, rather than some cheap piece of wire that isn't designed for the job. Extended warranties can be very useful, as can insurance.

    The only one that I really agree with completely is international roaming charges, but then we all know this one.

    All of this just shows Mr. Piltch's lack of effort in researching and writing this article.

      Equally, the 'pricey' cables do actually have science behind them particularly when you use them in a high-end system. They carry the signal better, have less distortion, less resistance and generally are fit for purpose, rather than some cheap piece of wire that isn't designed for the job.

      In the famous words of MotorMouth: "REALLY?" Define a high-end system, where expensive HDMI cables will make a difference. The author wasn't speaking of said "high-end systems"--and I hope you don't mean that by someone's personal home cinema setup--rather the opposite: general home users running spaghetti behind their TV units.

        Name a cable and name there pseudo science

      I hope your talking about analouge cables but this isnt true for HDMI given the way it works works. Being all digital with built in error correction, amongst other features of HDMI standards, over short runs your cable either works or it doesn't. There is no such thing as improved picture contrast, colour, clarity, sharpness or what ever terms these cable gougers claim. In long runs those terms are bogus too. The exemption here is You might get breakup, similar to dvt interference, or sync issues on a long cheap cable similar to DTV so a pricier cable is worth it for a long runs. But for behind the TV to the bluray player below there is zero need for a $$$ cable. I have a 3m cheap cable i bought some 5+ years ago, it hasn't missed a beat, never given any trouble and apart from some dust is like new. There are some great technical articles out there busting the myths on these hyped up cables and their terminology and claims.

    No matter how small, light, long-runtime, which OS/CPU you want... there are certain physical boundaries that define the genre, and it has nothing to do with apple, samsung or microsoft.

    - Energy density of the battery pack (Li-XX are the current winners in a domestic product)
    - Thermal management (no fans defines a strict limit unless you want to toast your lap/work surface)
    - Screen backlight power usage
    - Storage technology disk / SSD / NAND flash
    - Weight & size - variable.
    - AMD vs Intel - take that argument offline !

    Cheers

    And again with the Gizmodo Pro-Microsoft fans coming out.

    On a separate note, actually related to the article, mobile phone insurance is just the same as all other insurance. If you never claim it's a rip off. You need to weigh up your lifestyle and financial situation, if your the kind of person who gets in to situations where they're losing or dropping their phones frequently, and don't have a spare $400-700 to spends on a new hone at any moment, then maybe paying the $6-11 a month is a better option for you.

    It is all a matter of perspective, really."The world’s most popular tablet, the iPad, costs $500 and gets 12 hours of battery life while 10-inch Android tablets usually go for $300 to $500 and provide 8 to 10 hours of juice. Unfortunately, a number of PC makers have released pricey Windows 8 tablets with Core i5 processors, speedy SSDs and really poor battery life." An equally valid point of view would be - the world's most popular tablet costs $500 and cannot run any of the thousands of dollars worth of software you have invested in for your home computer. Fortunately, a number of PC makers have released Windows 8 tablets with Core i5 processors and speedy SSDs. The trade-off is higher cost and comparatively poor battery life but if you want a tablet that is more than just an expensive fashion accessory, and/or don't want to be locked into a walled garden/monopoly, you'll find the compromises more than worth it. I wouldn't spend 50c on a tablet with 200 hours battery life if I couldn't install and run the software I use every day. To suggest that battery life is the sole arbiter of the value of a tablet is completely absurd. It would be like buying a torch that lasts for 6 months on a single AA battery but can't light the footpath in front of you. It might become a factor when comparing two devices of similar utility but I doubt anyone goes into a shop and asks the salesman to sell him the tablet with the longest battery life, regardless of any other features.

    The fact that they singled out Surface Pro and didn't just say "Core i5 tablets" tends to show that they are probably trying to bait a hook (or maybe the author is just a tool) but there are plenty of other stupid statements in there, too. e.g. MicroSd cards can be painfully slow. Maybe on an ARM device it doesn't show up too much but microSD is no substitute for SSD storage and it will only save you a few bucks in the end anyway. The "Paying Extra for 3G on Your Tablet or Laptop" item is a bit weird, too. Surely the only time your telco would be out to gouge you on your tablet's 3G connection would be if you bought it from them and if you did, then it is probably because you want a separate data plan for it. No mention of how ridiculously expensive an iPad Mini is compared to a Nexus 7 or Fire HD or anything that might be a little obvious to any objective observer.

    I have no idea why anyone would buy a Android/iOS tablet to begin with; talk about in-built obsolescence in 6 months time.

      You might as well not buy any tech ever if that is something that worries you. It's the nature of the beast unfortunately. You just have to enjoy it while it's cutting edge but accept that it won't be that way forever.

      Obviously you would expect a reasonable amount of manufacturer support and overall relevance and compatibility in that timespan, a year or two would be great, but sadly, as you mentioned, it seems to be more and more the case that 6-8 months is becoming the benchmark.

      Last edited 15/02/13 10:51 pm

    I ALSO ANECDOTALLY DISAGREE WITH ONE OR MORE OF THESE CHOICES

    I would agree with phone insurance. I had a phone insured about 4 years ago. Lost the phone and had to pay $200 to replace the original phone I had which at that point was worth roughly $200 retail anyway.

    If I did a bit of travel, then having a separate 3G dongle to me would make a good amount of sense. Sure, if you sit at home all day then you can use wifi, but if you are stuck at airports and the like you probably dont want to deplete your phones battery because you were using it to provide date to something else. If you can find a spare power point you may be ok, but there are times where it's good to not rely on the phone for a data connection.

    Strongly disagree about skipping a tablet sim card. My first tablet was wifi only and I used my phone as a wifi hotspot for it - it worked, but was slow and annoying to set up, so my tablet felt like it was 'offline'. Now for my second tablet, I got a 3G capable model and put in a $10/month kogan data sim and its the best money I've spent for a while.

      Thank you for pointing out the Kogan $10/month sim. I've been looking for a data only sim for a while and haven't found anything of value like this. Most providers I've looked at are charging $20-30 for only 1GB or less.

    I can't believe morons like you can blog for a living. it makes me sick to my stomach.

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