5 Ways to Avoid Buying Electronics You'll Regret

They're shiny and new right out of the package, and too often, they cost a pretty penny. They are the gadgets we drool over when they first make an appearance in stores, sometimes after standing in line for hours to be among the first to get their hands on them. (See also: 6 "As Seen on TV" Kitchen Gadgets That Are Actually Worth the Money)

While I've never considered myself enough of a fanatic to go to ridiculous lengths to buy a tech tool, I do love cutting edge features. I've loved them enough to get something based on hype, and then have deep regrets afterward. Here are just a few of my most notable instances of gadget buyer's remorse.

1. Replacement "Toys"

Every holiday, the toy commercials blast the gospel of how great a toy that acts like a tablet will be for your baby, toddler, or preschooler. And for a few weeks, the kids are always amazed that they can play games, take photos, and edit videos in a similar fashion to their adult counterparts.

But then the magic ends; kids realize soon enough that their tablet is not the same as an iPad. The limitations are too obvious, and for the price of a typical toy tablet, you can easily get into an entry-level adult tablet with all the protective gear you need to keep it safe from spills and drops. It will last the child far longer than a gadget aimed at babies, and you'll avoid finding it unused in the bottom of the toybox. This rule goes for anything that has been "kiddified" for marketing purposes (such as toy phones, cameras, and music players).

2. Cheap Versions of Popular Products

That $35 MP3 player that looks like an iPod Touch — but isn't — is what we're talking about here.

While there is no shortage of websites selling no-name versions of the product you really want, usually you are better off saving your money for the real thing. Not only is there an issue of quality to consider (can you even reach customer service for an unpronounceable tech company?), but compatibility is always a cause for concern. I remember getting three of my kids nifty music players that held just as many songs as an Apple product, but the file format turned out to be incompatible with most of the software we used for buying songs. The day-to-day implementation of these products was frustrating, and we ended up just giving them away.

3. Tech in the Midst of a Standards Battle

Remember Betamax? Laserdisc? HD-DVD?

These were all technologies embroiled in a bitter war during a competitive early market. All lost to other technologies, leaving the owners of their products with pretty worthless gadgets (and libraries of obsolete media). If you're on the fence about whether your tech of choice is actually the "tech of choice," you may want to wait a bit before buying. I don't know anyone who is proud of their investment in the losing competitor.

4. Printers With Expensive Refill Cartridges

Investing in tech can be a lot like playing the stock market: You really have to know your stuff to avoid making a significant investment in something that could tank hard down the road. If there is any technology more vulnerable to this than the printer, I don't know of it. Most mainstream printers (both inkjet and toner) start out at a rather high price point, only to become significantly cheaper in the months following their release.

Their ink solutions, however, can come way down or stay very high, and this is what is baffling for many consumers. Another factor in how cheap the ink will get is whether knock-off cartridges will be made for that model. Those that accommodate "remanufactured" ink products can save 75% or more for the user, but it's impossible to tell when or if your model of printer will be one of the lucky ones upon it's original release to market. (We regret every printer purchase we've ever made with ink that costs more per cartridge than the actual printer can be bought for.)

5. Mini-Anything

Little blenders. Tiny food processors. Baby coffee machines. Unless you are a hardcore follower of the "tiny house" movement, there is almost no good reason to spend just as much on a small version of a powerful kitchen or DIY tool as its full-sized counterpart. For one, most smaller appliances are lacking in power or quality parts. I have a lazy Susan full of these baby gadgets that were given to me as gifts, picked up for a dime during Black Friday, or just found their way into my home from a yard sale. In a cook-off between them and my mega-powerful-father-of-all versions, they lose. Every single time. So keep your three cup coffee brewers and invest in a 10-cup machine. You don't have to fill it all the way if you don't want to.

What tech gadgets do you regret buying?

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Guest's picture

I guess we've been lucky. Since I'm stingy and insist on something dying before we buy a replacement, we generally adopt technology at least a year (usually more) after it comes out. By then, the bugs have been worked out, and we've seen general reactions from friends and family.

The one exception? We got a Kinect. I really thought more games for adults would be developed. We're trading it and the Xbox 360 in for credit toward a PS4 once our PS3 gives out. So I guess some good will come of it finally.