Low End Theory

Spread Eagled... for Value!


By Brendan I. Koerner

Last Friday, my girlfriend and I played hooky and ventured southward to Sunset Park, a polyglot Brooklyn neighborhood. On our way to an excellent Turkish restaurant on 60th Street, we passed by a JCPenney catalogue store—y'know, one of those joints where you can pick up those Sure Fit slipcovers you ordered for grandma. The store's window was jampacked with electronics, mostly of the cheap Coby and JWin variety. But there, amidst the low-end clutter, was a surprise: a Philips DVD/VCR combo for a relatively paltry $89.95.

That got me thinking about how some brands may be known for quality rather than value, but they're still not averse to mixing it up on the low end a bit. And no one has the bases covered like Philips, a super-conglomerate that caters to both the wealthy and the penniless. But when it comes to truly impressive value spread, Philips does not don the crown. The case is made after the jump. PLUS: How to rescue Best Buy!

Here's how I went about assessing Philips' value spread. First, I ventured into alien territory and looked for the most expensive consumer product they offer. Note that I said "consumer"; yes, I'm well aware that Philips makes a mighty nice patient monitoring system, the MP70 IntelliVue, and that it can be yours for the low, low price of $66,000. But I decided to keep things halfway manageable by taking into account only items that could be used by someone without an advanced degree. So, no patient monitoring systems, and certainly no $25,000 helium liquifiers.

Instead, Philips' price champs are its 50-inch plasma HDTVs. You can scoop one up for around $4,000, depending on the specific model. Not a bad deal, but definitely not something that us low-end types can ever envision owning.

But the Philips 35mm automatic camera, for a delectable $9.96? Yes, that'll fit into the budget quite nicely. They'll even throw in a roll of Polaroid 400 ASA film, a AA battery, and a carrying strap.

Equally affordable is the frills-free Philips clock radio. No, I'm not talking about one of the company's fancy-schmancy clock radios, like this $300 under-cabinet unit complete with seven-inch LCD screen and DVD player. Nah, I'm talking about this friendly little $10 unit whose greatest hype-sheet boast is "battery backup in case of blackout." Agreed, it ain't a lot to look at. But you gotta give props to the Philips folks for not forgetting us low-end types; they may make $66,000 medical gadgets, but they're still all about helping The People.

Low End Theory

So, for those of your scoring at home, Philips' value spread (a phrase I will soon attempt to trademark) is roughly $3,990—the difference between the company's priciest and cheapest consumer electronic playthings. That's pretty impressive, but there's some fierce competition. The current champ, based on my admittedly cursory research, is Sharp, with a value spread of $19,984. I'm basing that on this quoted price for Sharp's new 65-inch LCD TV, minus the $14.99 it'll run you to purchase the handy Sharp Electronic Organizer. I'm willing to wager that not too many folks will ever own both products.

Low End Theory

Like I said, I'm not claiming to know every company's value spread off the top of my head. Got a candidate who can beat out Sharp? Drop a line and I'll be happy to investigate.

SAVING BEST BUY: Lots of response to last week's column, which included an appeal for ways to make the Best Buy experience a more enjoyable one. Most readers wisely suggested that the salespeople go light on pushing those dastardly extended warranties, and that they stop the doubletalk with those misleading magazine ads. But no one broke it down quite like this wise reader:

In summary, Best Buy should stop treating their customers like fools who need to be separated from their money.

Indeed. You listening, Best Buy? And while you're at it, how about some free popcorn?

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.