10 biggest tech shopping myths, busted

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10 Tech Shopping Myths
It's time to debunk these 10 common myths about buying tech gear.
Photo: Jarmoluk/Pixabay

One of the best things about living in the digital age is the ease with which you can compare prices. It’s never been easier to find great deals, especially on technology. But even though finding discounted gadgets is pretty easy, some people still end up overpaying for tech because they’ve put their faith in misguided shopping myths.

If you’re looking to save money and get the most value for your dollar, make sure you don’t fall victim to one of these common misconceptions about buying electronics. Read on to learn more about the biggest tech shopping myths out there, why we believe them, and why those myths are just dead wrong. Our guide busts some Apple-specific myths, as well as some more general misconceptions about how to save money when shopping for gadgets.

Myth No. 1: The Apple Store never has sales

The Apple Store has a reputation for never having sales, and it’s a reputation that’s somewhat deserved. Even their Black Friday sales are pretty paltry, at least compared to the eye-popping discounts you’ll see at other retailers. That being said, there’s one notable program that will get you a new iPad or iMac for less — Apple’s education discount lets you take $200 off the price of a new Mac, or $20 off the price of a new iPad.

You might think that you don’t qualify if you’re not a teacher or a student, but Apple’s education discount terms are fairly broad. You can claim this discount if you’re a parent buying for a college student, for example. Homeschool teachers and those in non-teaching staff positions at universities are also eligible.

If you don’t have luck scoring a discount at the Apple Store, you can always shop for discounted Apple products at Best Buy or MacMall.

Myth No. 2: You need to drop serious cash on a gaming PC if you want to be a gamer

The conventional wisdom states that you need a top-of-the-line gaming PC if you want to play the latest PC games. While insane specs and special cooling systems can definitely enhance your gaming experience, it is possible to find perfectly serviceable gaming PCs for under $500. And if you’ve got the know-how to build your own PC, you can spend even less.

You don’t even necessarily need to own a PC to be a PC gamer, especially if you are primarily looking for a machine to play older titles from your youth. Steam has tons of classic PC games available for Windows, OSX, or even the Linux-based SteamOS. Not sure where to start your search for a cheap gaming machine? You might want to read Cult of Mac’s guide to building a cheap gaming Hackintosh.

Myth No. 3: Buying antivirus software for a Mac is a waste of money, because Macs don’t get infected

The underlying logic of this myth does make a bit of sense, but this is a weird old bit of “wisdom” that just isn’t true. The logic goes like this: People who write malware want to make money. Therefore, they construct code that’s going to target the largest market share possible. With PCs having a bigger user base than Macs, it makes sense that more viruses would be written to target Windows users.

Contrary to popular belief, Macs are vulnerable to infection. Still, when a Mac vulnerability is discovered, it’s usually a big enough deal to make headlines (see this TIME magazine article about a recent rash of Macs affected by ransomware, for example). Bottom line: Buy antivirus software for your Mac, and use safe browsing practices to protect yourself. Macs may have a reputation of being more secure than PCs, but that doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable.

Myth No. 4: New tech is always a smarter buy than a refurb

There’s a misconception that open-box or refurb items are never as reliable as their brand-new counterparts. But depending on where you buy your refurb gear, the risk of getting a lemon is very low. In fact, some refurbished products undergo testing that’s more rigorous than products that have just come off the assembly line. Just do your research before buying a refurb or open-box gadget, and make sure the retailer has put the device through its paces.

Myth No. 5: You should only purchase tech from electronics stores

Best Buy and the Apple Store are two solid options to consider, but you’d be a fool to assume you’ll always get the best value from a dedicated electronics store. Costco has a nice selection of name brand electronics, which can be placed under warranty using SquareTrade. And if you’re really looking for a bargain, you might have luck buying a reliable second-hand gadget from Craigslist or eBay.

Myth No. 6: The best deals on electronics are always on Black Friday

Black Friday deals are designed to grab your attention, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best electronics deals you’ll see all year. While there are some deep discounts to be found, those discounts are often on older tech that retailers want to clear out.

You don’t need to wait until this fall to make your next electronics purchase. If you have a particular model in mind, you should consider tracking fluctuations in its price online. A website like camelcamelcamel is a great resource for setting price alerts, and for monitoring the price of an item on Amazon over the past year. By doing a little homework, you can get a better understanding of what a good price looks like for a given item, and get insight on when the price is likely to drop again.

Myth No. 7: You can easily gauge the quality of a smartphone camera by its megapixel count

When shopping for a smartphone (or a digital camera), you might think that the number of megapixels is the most reliable measure of quality. You also need to consider the aperture size, since a larger aperture lets in more light (and therefore, more detail). You’ll also need to consider the benefits of single-lens cameras versus dual-lens smartphone cameras.

As an example, a recent smartphone shootout conducted by iMore found that the 12-megapixel camera on the iPhone 6 Plus was superior to the 16-megapixel camera on the Samsung Galaxy S6.

Myth No. 8: You’ll always find the lowest prices for tech online

One of the early perks of online shopping was the much lower price of goods, compared with brick-and-mortar stores that had higher overhead. These days, many big-box stores are fighting back against their online competitors. Best Buy, for example, will price match against the following online competitors: Amazon, B & H Photo Video, Crutchfield, Dell, HP.com, Newegg and TigerDirect. Even if your local electronics store doesn’t advertise a price-matching policy, it never hurts to ask the manager if they will match an online price.

In addition, stores sometimes have cheaper-than-the-internet prices on clearance tech or open-box goods. One of my best tech purchases ever was an open-box Harman Kardon receiver that had an MSRP of $499.99. I scored it for just under $170 at Best Buy, and it’s been completely reliable over the past three years.

Myth No. 9: Gift cards never go on sale

Some people like to give gift cards as gifts, while others purchase them for personal use, sometimes to help moderate their spending. While some people still believe that gift cards rarely go on sale, it’s actually possible to find deals on discounted gift cards year ’round.

This infographic from DealNews sheds some light on how to find discounted iTunes gift cards, but there are plenty of other types of tech gift cards that are also easy to find at a discount. Best Buy, Amazon and online credit card shopping portals are good places to start your search for discounted gift cards to finance your next tech purchase.

Even if you only save a few dollars off the regular price of each gift card, those savings can stack up. If you were stockpiling gift cards to pay for a large purchase, you could end up saving a tidy sum.

Myth No. 10: Buying a console bundle is cheaper than buying all the items separately

If you’re in the market for a new gaming console, it might be tempting to buy a console bundle. These bundles usually come with at least one game, a console, one or two controllers, and some additional extras. But these bundles aren’t necessarily cheaper than buying the components separately, especially if you don’t want or need some of the game titles or accessories in the box.

That being said, some bundles do come with gift cards or additional game download codes that can make them a great deal. It always pays to price out each individual item in the bundle you’re looking at, and compare their combined price to the bundle’s advertised price.

In researching this article, we found instances where the bundle was slightly cheaper than buying the components individually, but we also found cases where the reverse was true. It pays to shop around, particularly if you’re looking to buy a bundle that contains an older video game title that you could find used and at a discount.

Got more tech shopping myths?

What’s the biggest tech shopping myth still making the rounds? Set the record straight in the comments below.