Twenty-one months after your humble narrator first opined on the admirable resilience of faux Discmen, the Reaper has come for Low End Theory: as of today, this column will (in the not-so-immortal words of Charles Manson) cease to exist. Its biodegraded carcass shall nourish the gazelles, who in turn nourish the lions, making it an integral part of the Circle of Life...uh, okay, scratch that. But hopefully y'all were occasionally entertained by LET's voyage through the Electro-Dreck Realms.
And what a grand voyage it was. After the jump, a rundown of lessons learned while bringing y'all—week in, week out—the very best in As Seen on TV specials, prison-approved radios, five-buck pagers, and oh-so-much-more.
&*$&!@ Best Buy True cheapskates look for their gadgets not at the local electronics shop, but rather at retailers who operate on the margins: pawn shops, government auctions, and, of course, dollar stores. There's no question that low-end electronics will continue to become more widely available through such non-traditional channels; I greatly anticipate the day when my local C-Town offers Nokia handsets alongside issues of Soap Opera Digest. (Note to Alltel: hooking up such a partnership would be yet another great way to compete with the big boys.)
The Lords of Guangdong It's obviously impossible to do a low-end column without frequently considering China's role. To that end, I've taken occasion to ruminate on how Shenzhen factories connect with American entrepreneurs, and how China's lax intellectual property enforcement has impacted the RC helicopters industry. I'd always hoped that Gizmodo would fly me out to Guangdong for some on-the-scene reporting. No dice, but perhaps that's for the best— China's time may already be passing, as the likes of Vietnam and Bangladesh try (with mixed success) to become the next Workshops to the World.
Nascent Giants Despite Gizmodo's paltry—okay, non-existent—travel budget, I did manage to scope out low-end items abroad: once in India (where it's all about the art of negotiation), and once in Brazil (where government over-regulation keeps prices high). Final verdict? God bless America's abundance of $4.99 "Walkmen" and $19.99 DVD players. We are truly, truly spoiled.
Low-End Needn't Equal Low-Qual I'm certainly not alone in noticing that the cheapest electronics can be surprisingly durable. We're conditioned to assume otherwise, of course, and the likes of Gizmodo are partly to blame: How often do blogs or magazines lay hands on a low-end demo unit? In the future, I'd like to see more Coby and jWIN products get a fair shake on CNet, etc. A cheapskate can dream, can't he?
Rip-Offs Abound The hazard of being a low-ender is that you can be mesmerized by price alone. But this is often to a consumer's detriment: take the case of layaway plans, which invariably end up being a far worse deal than even the most cynical cheapskates can imagine. And don't even think about cashing in your credit-card miles for some off-brand portable DVD player; the Man has the game fixed against you, natch.
#4,080#4,081 There's obviously a big crossover between music lovers and geeks—the same part of the brain that's responsible for obsessing over RAM must also play a role in appreciating organized sound. Good thing there's so many sweet deals out there for aspiring musicians who a) aren't yet ready to quit their IT day jobs, and b) barely have a nickel to their name. Tomorrow's Marc Bolans and Al Greens can record their songs for a song, rock some Danelectro guitar effects for a Jackson, or tickle the (fake) ivories on some choice Radio Shack keyboards.
ChipCorder vs. the Axis! Sorry, no real lesson or halfway clever observation in this column. Just wanted to namecheck it, 'cause it's one of my favorites—a meditation on whether the Allies would have won the war, had the Axis somehow built a time machine and gotten hold of a musical greeting-card chip.
And with that, Low End Theory shall go gently into that good night, raging against nothing save the high price of HDTVs. Thanks a million to everyone who commented, emailed, or simply read the columns. Y'all shall be in my heart every time I purchase a ludicrously cheap 4-gig USB drive from Newegg.com, or come across a $5 "Discman" displayed next to a package of irregular tube socks. Farewell, and keep it cheap.
STARTING JUNE 14th: The return of Hype Sheet!