What to Buy
Here’s how the gadget review sites break down:
David Pogue (New York Times), Walt Mossberg (Wall Street Journal), and Ed Baig (USA Today) provide in-depth, comprehensive reviews for the mainstream user. But there’s a limited number of reviews each year, and it’s hard to search online archives for specific product reviews.
The biggies in this category are Cnet, PC Mag, and PCWorld. All three review many products, and it’s easy to search by category on each. Still, there are gaps in coverage, and reviews and top picks may be old.
On Amazon.com (AMZN), everything is reviewed by everyone. Which means the reviews are comprehensive, but their quality can be all over the map. And star ratings are only good if based on 100-plus reviews.
CR offers extremely thorough reviews and rigorous testing regimens—its tech testing lab is no joke. But it’s slow to review some new tech products and requires a subscription.
(The Best Choice)
The Wirecutter reads all the reviews so you don’t have to. It then consults with experts, does its own testing, and comes to a combined conclusion as definitive as anything out there. The site is frequently updated—on the same day Apple (AAPL) announced new MacBook Airs, the Wirecutter added an update to its Best Laptop pick (it had been the previous version of MacBook Air), reflecting the change to the product. One downside: The Wirecutter gets right to the point in telling you what to buy, but the articles supporting its conclusions can be crazy-long.
When to Buy
There’s probably a word in German that describes that feeling you get when you buy a new camera only to find out that an updated version is coming in a week. To guard against this, use Decide.com. It has product ratings but also watches industry indicators to determine when an item’s about to be updated or replaced. And Decide’s algorithm analyzes a product’s price to determine whether it’s expected to go up, go down, or stay the same. If you buy from one of the retailers on its site, Decide will guarantee the price won’t drop for two weeks. If it does, it will pay you the difference. Access to these features requires an annual membership, which officially costs $30; but a quick Google (GOOG) search for “Decide promo code” will often reveal a password that lowers the price to $10.
What to Pay
Decide’s price guarantee is great, but you should also install the free Invisible Hand plug-in for your browser (getinvisiblehand.com). It can detect when you’re looking at a product page and alert you if that product is being sold for less someplace else. The alert appears as a discrete banner that drops from the top of your browser, showing the lower price and a link to that retailer. What’s nice about Invisible Hand is that it’s not just limited to tech—the plug-in works across all categories of products, from bath towels to airline tickets. You’ll get better price information no matter what you’re shopping for.