Unwrapping a nice lustworthy gadget only to learn that some crucial part is sold separately can be a major drag. But exercise patience: It's dumb to run to the first open store for HDMI cables and extra game controllers.
It's something worth repeating every holiday season: When retailers take a hit on TVs, they often make up the difference on ridiculously overpriced extras. You may find a genuine deal or two on a big ticket item at a giant tech retailer like Best Buy, but, as far as I am concerned, you would have to be a damned fool to buy any of their extras and accessories. You know about HDMI cables, but there's a lot more profit-driven accessorizing where that came from.
Even if you already did buy the accessories needed for your gadget gifts, go online and do some calculations before you toss out those receipts. You may want to return them when you see how much you could have saved. As for late shoppers—listen up. Getting batteries, cables, controllers, mounts and other necessities can really nickel-and-dime your holiday budget. Time may be running out to shop, but that doesn't mean you should allow retailers to take advantage of you.
And how about those high-margin extras? For example, I selected a random low-profile wall mount from Sanus designed for HDTVs measuring 30 to 60 inches diagonal. It's the kind of wall mount the average Joe would probably select for their new TV—a TV they may well have got a reasonable deal on. Best Buy is selling it for $169. Buy.com is selling it via Amazon for $94 with free shipping. Guess what, Best Buy—bite me. I can wait for the UPS guy if it means saving $75 or more.
So, I have to ask: Is the convenience worth spending $50 or more on that "high quality" 6-foot HDMI cable upsell in a store when you can get basically the same performance from a $3 version (shipped) from Amazon? Best Buy's cheapest 6-foot HDMI cables will still run you $13. Even discount giant Walmart can't get anywhere near the prices you can find online at places like Amazon and Monoprice. When you consider all of the various cables you might need to buy for your gadgets this holiday, the costs can really add up. My advice with cables is to suck it up, shop online and and wait if necessary.
For other products, you may not need to wait for an online shipment because the best price is just up the road. I don't know why anyone would spend $50 on a wireless Xbox 360 controller and $100 on a wireless-N adapter at Best Buy when they can hop in the car and head to Walmart and get them for $38 and $83 respectively. I know shopping can be hectic, and I understand why you would just want to get it over with, but saving money is going to be worth the inconvenience. As always, it is best to do your price comparisons before heading out. And if your local store is sold out, you can always order them.
Now that you're good and aware of the nature of this problem, let's go over all of the things you might still need, even after Santa has left the building.
Batteries: I don't expect you to order batteries online last minute, but the good news is that you can probably find great prices in your area. We recommend Duracell rechargeables, but if you try and pick up a basic 6-hour charger with 4 AA batteries from Best Buy, it is going to run you $28 compared to $20 at Target. Futhermore—if you already have the charger or are buying it separately—a 4-pack of extra pre-charged NiMH AAs runs you $18 at Best Buy and only $13 at Target.
Storage: Everyone who buys a new computer or even upgrades their OS suddenly finds themselves in need of a backup hard drive. Generally speaking, a big ole USB desktop unit is the best value. The going rate for a 1TB brand-name USB 2.0 drive is around $100, and while Amazon, NewEgg and Walmart all beat Best Buy on price in some ways, only Walmart, strangely enough, offers either the 1TB Seagate FreeAgent desktop drive or the 1TB WD My Book desktop drive for $99.
If you have several computers (especially with different OS platforms), you're going to want to check out setting up a network drive or array. We really liked the Iomega's Ix2-200 as a cheap but full-featured NAS solution. I actually ended up picking one of these up myself for about $40 off list at Amazon, but you can find a slightly (and I do mean slightly) better deal on Next Warehouse right now. NewEgg also has a great reputation for good prices on storage devices. In this case however, they come in third because of shipping charges.
Powerline Networking Kit: If you're getting a connected Blu-ray player, TV, Roku Box, game console, HD media player or other assorted networked thingamajigs, you may want to think about a powerline adapter, like Linksys' PLK300. It's a simpler and usually more broadband friendly alternative to Wi-Fi. But the PLK300 sells for $155 on Best Buy and a shocking $169 at Walmart. Amazon will hook you up for $122, but if you don't mind a little risk, NewEgg has an "open box" offer for $93.
Bags and Camera Packs: There are countless options when it comes to cases and bags for your gadgets, but one of our faves is the Timbuk2 HAL backpack. It has all of the storage you would need, and you can score it for as little as $96 on Amazon shipped. In other stores, it might cost as much as $120. eBags also has the Timbuk2 for $96 with a free 2-day air upgrade. Some cool bags aren't as easy to find on sale—Matt loved the Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home camera bag, and we can't really find it anywhere (respectable) for under $80.
Gadget Cases: When it comes to cases for iPhones and iPods, profit is the name of the game, so be careful about any potential screwings. Our best advice is to try doing generic searches—instead of a brand name, type in "silicone iphone case" or "rugged iphone case" and weigh your options. For the former, Amazon and NewEgg yield a huge selection of cases in the $15, while Walmart only shows just two $20 cases, and Best Buy has a similar two, for $25 a piece. A combination of thinking—and thinking ahead—is what works here.
iPhone and Smartphone Car Mounts: With many of us relying on our cellphones for GPS guidance these days, a good car mount is becoming essential. Unfortunately, those fancy iPhone docks with a GPS-boosting receiver like the TomTom and the Magellan are pretty overpriced (especially when you have GPS already built into the phone), and besides, they're in pretty short supply, as is the official car mount for Droid phones. So where does that leave you? Well, it leaves you with a lot of basic, no-frills options that do the job just fine. For the iPhone, you could get something as dirt-ass cheap as this $6 windshield mount from DealExtreme. Here's a secret, the Droid fits in many iPhone docks, especially ones that hold at just one end. But if you're gonna fudge it, go cheap, or else hold out for the official dock.
In-Car Phone Chargers: Don't ever ever ever spend money on specialized, phone-specific chargers if your phone happens to charge with USB. That's just a con. Just take the same cord you plug your phone into your computer with—regardless of whether you have an iPhone, a Droid, a Pre, really anything "smart"—and plug it into one of these super-cheap 12V USB adapters. Griffin's dual-USB one sells on Amazon for $7.50. With all the money you can finally save not buying proprietary car chargers, you may just want to buy a few of those, and while you're at it, stock up on extra USB cables.
Universal Remotes: You can get cheap universal remotes anywhere, but if you want something more high end, the Logitech Harmony 900 should fit the bill. On Amazon it's $280 shipped. How about Best Buy? Oooh, $380. See a pattern developing here?
As I mentioned in my recent article championing the HTPC, you can get something as simple as the HA-IR01SV from Mediagate to control Windows Media Center for only $25.41 shipped from Amazon. If you absolutely need it now you will have to pay a few extra bucks at Walmart.
When it comes to buying all of those extras for your holiday gadgets this year, my advice is simple: Use common sense and don't settle. Stores like Best Buy, Staples, Office Max and Gamestop are probably not the places you want to go to score your accessories. Look at the local discount stores like Walmart and Target first—and if you can't find a good enough price without ordering online, you're just gonna have to wait it out. As tough as that might be with a new gadget to play with, the savings will be worth it.
And if any of you have come across any good deals of your own on stuff to make your gadgets run at 100%, just throw them into comments—with pricing and a photo, if possible.
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