Cutting Back On Features When Gadget Shopping

The next time you go shopping for a camera, cell phone, video recorder, or other gadget, you can save money by deciding what features you really need, and moving down the model line instead of up to the most feature-packed gizmo, writes SmartMoney. For example, “Only 31% of cellphone owners actually use their phone to take pictures, while only 15% browse the Internet, and less than 10% listen to music, download games or watch videos.”

For cellphones:

As for features, you’ll have a tough time finding a basic phone that doesn’t have at least a color screen and a camera. If you’re determined to keep it simple, don’t buy a phone that is pared down beyond that point, warns Gartenberg. Manufacturers and carriers both know that added features pay the bills, so they don’t invest much money in the design or quality of their most basic phones.

For video cameras:

If you want to record your baby’s first steps with a brand new digital camcorder, don’t waste your money on high-definition versions, advises Brian Cooley, editor at large for electronics review site CNET. “The prices are high. They tend to struggle more to get a good image. Plus, the video is dicey to edit,” he says. It doesn’t help that most HD camcorders are compatible with either Blu-ray or HD DVD standards, but not both. That could make for a pricey — and quickly obsolete — investment should you buy the standard that goes the way of Betamax.

For digital cameras, something in the 5 to 7 MP range should suffice for most people, and you should skip the fancy-schmancy features like “face recognition” and focus on a retractable zoom lens and fast processor, then “consider using the cash you’ll save for a how-to photography book instead of trading up a model.”

“High-Tech Features You Can Do Without” [SmartMoney]


Edit Your Comment

  1. shan6 says:

    I am due for a “free” upgrade on my phone in about 3 days. I’m not sure what I am going to get, but I can say that it wont have much in the way of mp3/camera/video game/whatever else features.

  2. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Great advice. Resist the upsell! This also goes for extended warranties.

  3. Anitra says:

    When I replaced my cell phone a year and a half ago, I would have been happy to get the same model again, but it had been discontinued. So my choices were to move down to the crappy basic model, or up to the $200 model with camera, internet, etc. I moved up because I wanted to keep a color screen, and know that my phone would last at least 3 years; the other model looked like it would break in 6 months.

  4. varco says:

    After about a year of having an internet-enabled phone, I can’t imagine getting a new phone without that feature. That said, I hardly ever use my camera and I don’t want to think about the effect of using the mp3 player would have on my phone’s battery life.

  5. theninjasquad says:

    Its hard to find a phone nowadays that doesnt have all that crap. It either has it all, or it has none of it. They are starting to focus too much on all the features, and not what the phones main purpose is for, to make phone calls.

  6. UpsetPanda says:

    I have a Chocolate…do I listen to music on it? Nope. Do I watch TV on it? Nope. Both of these options cost money, and without paying for it, it’s entirely useless. I use the camera once in a while, and while I don’t use it on a day to day basis, I can think of a few times when I didn’t have my phone or camera and wanted to take a snapshot of something.

  7. BillyShears says:

    Manufacturer’s websites can sometimes help. I know I’ve been looking at getting a GPS unit to help me out whenever I go on vacation or venture beyond the means of public transportation and need a Zipcar. After poking around Garmin’s website I was able to find a model that was “just GPS”, had updatable maps via software and speaks street names.

    It stopped me from almost blind-purchasing a model that was $100 more and had features I’d never use, like MP3 playback and audiobook support (what?).

  8. Geekybiker says:

    Compatible with bluray or hd-dvd, but not both? Are they on crack? They often use the same codecs. The formats are just a storage medium. Worst case senario you have to re-encode the video.

  9. comopuedeser says:

    We need a phone that does everything and doesn’t cost that much. Phone companies make way too much money off technology that is really basic and old school.

  10. UpsetPanda says:

    @BillyShears: I guess the MP3 and audiobook support is for people who are still in the early 1990s and have no CD player?

  11. UpsetPanda says:

    @comopuedeser: How do you define “doesn’t cost that much” though? A lot of phones starting out are $250, $300. Manufacturers never make phones so they can be offered as free phones by cell companies. And the craptastic free phones cell companies offered don’t usually handle everything. In order to do “everything” and do it well, like a Treo or a Crackberry, it would be hard for a company to justify the costs of manufacturing it, even if the costs were dirt cheap. Most phones starting out are more technology oriented now, so I think something that does everything would cost much more rather than be very affordable. Do manufacturers factor in R&D when they price phones?

  12. comopuedeser says:

    @CaffeinatedSquint: MP3 capability has been out for years in China and other places. It is presented in the US as if its a new thing.

  13. comopuedeser says:

    Demand will continue to offer more options to cell phone buyers at lowers prices. We’ll just see which companies will take the gamble of offering more for less in order to win over the greatest market share.

  14. quail says:

    Recently did the upgrade thing after years of sweating over what I needed vs. what I wanted to pay. The “free” phones that were offered ALL got poor reviews at CNet and other cell phone review sites. I eventually walked into a store to hold the things and wound up paying US$100 after rebate for a durable phone. No buyer’s remorse yet.

    Can’t wait until phones, carriers and plans aren’t tied together and the free market can lower the prices of both.

  15. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Go, go, gadget arms! (This comment brought to you by short-attention-span theater).

    Typically, I find that you get the most bang for the buck if you shoot for the middle (at least on electronics). The top priced segment of anything is usually aimed at the “money is no object” and “I must have this as a fashion accessory” crowds, while the entry-level models are almost always stripped down and often don’t include basic useful features.

    If I’m buying something I’m passionate about or that I will use often, I don’t mind spending the extra money on something, while if it’s something that I’ll only use occasionally or that I don’t really care about, I can live with the stripped down model.

  16. madanthony says:

    I think one it can make sense to buy a cell phone with features you don’t use if the price is right. It certainly beats buying a cheaper phone and then later deciding that you need the features. And if you are on a program where you get a free or sharply discounted phone every two years or whatever, it’s a lot easier to resell a phone with more features. I’ve had good luck selling my old phones on eBay, and usually get back about half of what I paid two years earlier – something hard to do if you get the most basic phone

  17. spinachdip says:

    btw, does anyone here have experience with Motofone, which they market as the “dumb phone”, I belive? []

  18. nrwfos says:

    I’m about to be “forced ” into cell phone ownership. The lack of public pay phones and my health are going to make that a necessity. Obviously, I need a “geezer” phone. I’ve never found that any cell phone I’ve used has been “geezer-user friendly”. I don’t want a lot of bells and whistles (I never do on anything because I view it a just more stuff to go wrong). But I see the use of a camera – for example if you’re in a fender bender and need on the spot pics. I would like the “buttons” to be slightly larger because I have trouble with those tiny ones. Music I don’t care about. Games – well, maybe that would entertain my grandchildren. (I do like some video games – but they are of the RPG variety and not suitable for a cell phone.) I’ll not need a texting feature. And as for internet – well, I’m ot sure that would be all that useable on a cell phone. On the other hand, I’m seeing this “giant” red and white thing they call a cell phone (ostensibly for seniors) on TV that is hideous and huge. I think that something in the middle of the extremes is what I need. If I get a cell phone it would be on my person all the time even while I’m at home because I don’t want the “Life Alert” thing. Also it would be nice to have my cell number be my home phone number ( but I don’t want to get solicitor calls – how do you prevent that?) I foresee a lot of frustration coming down the road.

  19. shoegazer says:

    Funny, I had two phones on my person when I traveled to the US: my HTC Tytn on WM6 which I normally use to surf, as a 3G modem for my laptop, MP3 player, camera, and sometimes do office work on; and a $15 TracFone which is a basic [url=]no-frills Moto C139[/url] I picked up to call cheaply on the road.

    What I can’t stand is a middle of the road phone which will be missing that ONE important feature I absolutely NEED (or think I might need some day in the vague future). But that’s me.

  20. HawkWolf says:

    they have a good point about digital cameras. once you get above 6MP or so, what exactly are you paying for? you’re going to be shrinking down those pictures of your cat and that sexy girl at the club to be displayed on your myspace anyway, not making 11×14 art prints to hang in your library.

  21. Jurph says:

    What about people who work with sensitive data or in restricted areas? I’m not allowed to bring a camera phone past the front desk where I work. The last time I bought a phone (2005?) it was almost impossible to find a phone that was just a phone.

    I don’t want “features,” I just want a dial tone.

  22. kc2idf says:

    My provider is constantly trying to talk me into upgrading my current phone. I happen rather to like it. It is, for the most part, just a phone. Yes, it has a web browser and a colour screen, but I don’t use the browser. Not only that, but it is also a candy bar phone, ergo, no hinge to wear out or break. Furthermore, it is rubberised, and the buttons are clear, with the print on the underside so you can’t wear the print off like I did with my last phone.

    I kept my last phone for four years, and only gave it up when it actually stopped working. I expect to do the same with this one.

  23. Anonymously says:

    @spinachdip: Yes, I just bought that phone a few weeks ago. For $50 (unlocked) it was a great buy. Lasts about 5 days between charges, reception and voice quality are great.

    There are several annoying points:
    1) It thinks my Cingular SIM is roaming, but it’s not.
    2) It can only display a few characters of text on the screen at a time, and it displays them in mixed case.
    3) All sounds coming from the phone (including ring tones)start off very quiet and then get progressively louder. This makes it difficult to hear the first few rings.