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Shopping smart for tech

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! Well, another year past and another turkey bit the dust. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and were able to spend time with your family. This week we’ll take a short look into the remainder of the year and some things that we can expect, and my opinion on some of the things to keep your eyes open for as you wrap up (ha ha) your holiday shopping.

If you ventured out this Black Friday, you maybe had some specific ideas on what you were looking for. It always seems that there are some in-demand tech items that are such a great deal you can’t really pass up standing in line for hours. I will be the first to admit Black Friday shopping has no appeal to me whatsoever. I have never gotten up to stand outside in the freezing cold, in the middle of the night, just to pick up some baubles and trinkets.

To come clean, I did break down a couple of years ago and started a Black Friday tradition of my own. Prairie Bay, which is only a couple blocks from my house, has a buffet and I get up when it opens and pick up my family’s breakfast for later that morning. Best. Idea. Ever. Great breakfast, already made, and I got to relax instead of hustling to get breakfast made. If you have a chance to try that, I seriously recommend that.

One of the things that has evolved over the last few years has been the emergence of Cyber Monday, the de-facto designated day of trending tech purchases. The nice thing about Cyber Monday is you don’t have to stand in line for the majority of the deals; you can make most of these purchases online. Some stores will still have killer deals on site, but great savings can be found by perusing the Internet.

Sometimes there is a temptation to put together a watch list and if anything on that list gets a sale, you pick it up. The risk in this is that sometimes the items on your list aren’t going to get a sale price. So what is the magic to finding where the deals are for the items that you want? Or better question perhaps, is how do you recognize a great deal if you’re out and about this holiday season?

Let’s start with the first scenario. You’ve got a list of items that you want to pick up and trust your eagle eye to catch them. The problem is you have a very specific list and you have no control over the sales. One thing to try is to keep an alert for the specific items or maybe one of the harder-to-find items on that list. You can use Google Alerts to do that; simply enter the item on an alert and you will get web hits regarding it. Try combining the word Sale with the search term and anything relevant will be delivered to you in your email inbox. It’s a real timesaver trying to find some of the more in demand items.

Another thing you can try is using retailer’s mobile apps or websites to see if they have a way to check out items and when they will be in stock. Or, another option that may be handy is the site to store option that you have now. It allows you to buy an item online and have it shipped to a local store for you to pick up. This is a great way to avoid shipping costs, and get an in-demand item when it’s off the shelves of your local store.

Second scenario — you decide to brave the crowds and check out the deals in the retailers to piece together your list. With the popularity of tablets and smartphones you will get an onslaught of offers for cheap tablets and rock-bottom prices on smartphones. But how do you know if it’s really a good deal?

Some things to keep in mind:

Many of the low-priced tablets may not be worth your money. The majority of them run Android, which helps keep the cost down, and because of Android’s reputation it may seem appealing at first blush. However, it is worth looking at the specs. Many of these low-end tablets run Android 2.1 or sometimes less. They will also have sub-par processing power compared to many of the others, and some have to use a third party app store to even access the main Google Play store. If you want to look at an Android tablet check for this:

• Android 4.0 or higher. The newer versions of Android are really built to be both for smartphones and tablets, and will have more of the high-end function that you want out of a tablet

• Dual or quad core processor. Ideally, if you are looking at tablets, try for something with a quad core — the higher levels of Android will perform better with a quad core processor. Dual core is still adequate, but if you plan on using it for gaming, definitely splurge for the quad

• Storage size/expandable memory. Again, ideally, you want to find an option that has adequate storage space and/or expandable memory. This ensures that you will always have enough space for all your games and info

• Capacitive screen. It’s rare that you find a screen these days that is resistive, but if you see one that is a steal in the price category, but has a resistive screen, steer clear of it. Capacitive screens are what we are used to now and much more accurate and responsive

• Camera quality. This is more of a nit-picky item, but if the camera is less than 8MP, give it more consideration, if it’s less than 5MP, I’d avoid it. You, and your Instagram account, will thank me later

Most of these hints can be translated to Android smartphones too.

What about Apple products? You will see lots of sales on last year’s iPhones and iPads, or you can pick up prior models for a fraction of the cost of the new ones, but is it worth it? With Apple it’s not so much is it worth it, but more that you know what the life span of your device will be based on their update schedule. Unlike Android, Apple created an update system that eventually completely phases out hardware — ultimately, at some point you will not be able to update your device and it will be relegated to the junk pile.

If you’re looking at iOS devices, everything from the iPhone 4s and even the iPad 2 are viable options depending on what you want to do.

You could go back to the iPhone 4, but the 4s had some updates that will help it last a little longer for you. Even with the impressive sales numbers that the iPhone 5s placed, it may still be difficult to find deals on the just replaced iPhone 5, you may have your best luck finding a deal on a 4s.

I said iPad 2 even though it’s technically a little behind on the update schedule, but it’s still relevant. I currently use an iPad 2, and even with the updates to iOS7+ it still works fine. The only place that I am starting to see some lag is in some of the games, but seeing as I really don’t play a lot of graphically heavy games, it’s really a non-issue for me.

If you’ve been to Apple’s website, you will also see that you can purchase an iPad 2, but then the next option is the newest iPad Air. I actually just ordered mine, so expect an update and comparison between the two in the next couple weeks.

The bottom line is that in any device that you are considering should still be dependent on your needs from the device. If you get a chance to get hands on, demo your potential buys and see what you think personally.