6 Ways Tech Companies Treat You Like a Sucker

People only buy a new notebook once every few years, so you’d expect them to take their time picking one out. But you’d be wrong.

Considering that the typical cell phone or mobile tablet contract involves over $1,400 in costs, you might think consumers would do lots of research before making that kind of purchase. Wrong again.

Every day, the PT Barnums of mobile tech find new and exciting ways to wring a profit from consumer ignorance and impulsiveness. They think you’re a sucker, but you don’t have to prove them right. Here’s how they target you.

1. Drop In, Make a Long-Term Commitment (Without Thinking)

The other day I was meeting with an executive for Best Buy Mobile who told me that one of the keys to the company’s success is finding the right store locations to attract maximum foot traffic. While location is key for any brick-and-mortar business, it’s really shocking to think that people are signing long-term contracts that commit them to spending thousands of dollars and using the same phone for two years just because they wandered into the right part of the mall.

I mean, seriously: Would you marry someone you just met in front of the food court without learning more about them? I don’t care if he has a dual-core processor in his chest or if she promises you the greatest download speeds you’ve ever seen; you need to do some research before making that kind of serious commitment. The typical 24-month cell phone contract lasts longer than many marriages.

So, for Jobs’s sake, do your homework before buying a phone. Read serious editorial reviews from outlets such as LAPTOP, check the latest prices online, and get a good feel for what interests you before you decide to buy. You’re not Dennis Rodman, and that phone sure doesn’t look like Carmen Electra.

2. Spend Thousands to Save Hundreds

You want that shiny new Android tablet for a little less than full price? Why not buy it from your friendly neighborhood wireless carrier? You’ll save a couple hundred dollars and get mobile connectivity to boot. There’s just one catch.

To get the subsidized price, you must sign a two-year contract and commit to pay for data for the next 24 months. So, for example, you buy the HTC Evo View 4G for $399 instead of buying its Wi-Fi-only equivalent, the HTC Flyer, for $580 ($499 plus $80 for the stylus) and you commit to its $34.99/month plan. But how will you feel in June 2012 when everyone else is rocking quad-core tablets  and you’re still tied to a single-core slate with WiMax that you bought a year earlier?

Obviously, the carriers are counting on you to be shortsighted and bad at math. To save $180 on the HTC tablet today, you must spend at least $840 in data costs (provided you’re already a Sprint customer or the prices are even higher). That means you’ve amortized the cost of the subsidy after less than six months. You’d be much better off buying a Wi-Fi-only tablet and either forgoing mobile broadband on your slate altogether or paying a little extra to use your smartphone as a wireless hotspot for your slate.

3. Look Over Here, This Gadget’s Glossy!

Putting a glossy display panel on a notebook is like selling a car with windows tinted dark on the inside. It looks great in the showroom, but it becomes a usability nightmare as soon as you take it home. Unfortunately, there are plenty of gobsmacked idiots who get distracted by shiny objects. So many, in fact, that you’ll have a hard time finding a consumer notebook with an anti-reflective matte display. Even worse, a number of  business notebooks have also gone glossy in the attempt to lure consumer dollars.

If you’re a narcissist, by all means get a notebook with the glossiest display you can find. Then you can stare at yourself instead of your desktop when you look at the screen with any kind of light source behind you. Better still, invite your friends over to watch Avatar on your super-glossy notebook, then laugh hysterically when they see glare instead of the characters.

4. Bonus: Free Trialware!

If you buy a computer and it comes with a working webcam application or even a usable password utility, you have a bonus. But if you buy a notebook and it comes with a 30-day subscription to antivirus software, or a phone that has a preloaded game with just one level, that’s trialware, my friends.

Vendors get paid big bucks to put trial software on the hard drive or internal memory in the hopes you’ll pay for an upgrade. There’s nothing wrong with them trying to make a few extra bucks through pre-loading partnerships, but they certainly aren’t selling points. If you want a free trial of Norton Antivirus or Office 2010 and your notebook doesn’t come with one, you can always download it yourself.

5. Buy This Protection Racket (Er, Plan)

It takes a lot of nerve to get someone who’s buying a $400 notebook to purchase a $300 extended warranty for it.  But the pied piping pimps at your favorite retailers have it all figured out. They’ll try to scare you into purchasing an extended warranty by telling you that your new computer will fall apart at the exact moment the one-year manufacturer’s warranty runs out.

Apparently, extended warranties are the biggest cash cow for retailers, because they are almost pure profit. The Consumerist has done a great job of debunking the deceptive practices retailers use to sell extended warranties. One exception: If you buy directly from a vendor such as Apple, Dell, or Lenovo and extend your warranty with them, you may be able to get priority service from representatives who actually know about the product.

6. Get Your Accessories and Upgrades Right Here, for Thrice the Price

Whether you’re buying an HDMI-out cable to connect your device to an HDTV or you’re configuring your new notebook with a slightly larger hard drive, vendors assume you won’t shop around for the best price. At Sprint, for example, a microUSB cable for charging your phone costs $19.99 while a similar cable is only $3.99 at Newegg.com. How many Sprint owners paid five times more than they had to for this accessory because they didn’t know better?

At Dell.com, you have lots of storage, RAM, and processor choices when you customize your new Latitude E6420 notebook. Yet the price delta between 3GB and 4GB of RAM is a whopping $45 when the price for 4GB of RAM all by itself is $39 on sites such as Newegg. You’d be better off buying your own 4GB of RAM, upgrading the Latitude yourself, and then selling the original 3GB on eBay.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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