- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A recent news flash might have sent a chill down the spines of some Santas: Google is con-

templating the introduction of a hand-held smartphone bearing its own label, tied to no particular carrier. The bad news is that it almost certainly won’t be available for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa giving this year.

What if it’s better than what I just bought Suzie? What if Justin is crestfallen? What if …?

Let me offer a simple suggestion: Exhale. Relax. Don’t worry.

Here’s why. There will always, always be something newer, fresher, better, faster coming on the market very soon after you buy whatever it is you’re buying today. Blame it in part on Moore’s Law, which has been oversimplified to suggest that computer processors become twice as powerful every 18 months while costing the same. This seems to apply to every area of technology now.

Blame it also in part on the people who are trying to sell stuff. Some buyers must be led to believe the “new” item is so radically different from the “old” model (which was “new” not that long before) that it requires a switch. Sometimes that is, indeed, the case, but it often may not be so.

For example: One manufacturer has some new stuff that will be very nice coming in January, which I can’t write about because of nondisclosure. Some of it is radically different. Other items may not be much nicer than what’s available this Christmas. In one case, a tweak or two to the existing item (in the form of adding an accessory or upgrading software, perhaps) will bring you pretty darned close to the “new and improved” model, certainly close enough for most purposes and pursuits.

So, what’s a consumer to do? I’m reminded of - and may have quoted in these pages once or twice before - the words of late Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey: “People don’t live ‘in the long run,’ they live in the every day.” We’re living now and shopping now, and unless you’re willing to consciously defer your holiday shopping until July (good luck with that), you need to buy what you can right now.

That’s why an iPhone 3GS, or the current phone based on Google’s Android operating system, is probably more than enough for any recipient, regardless of anything Google whips out of its magic hat at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (The show is an event for the retail trade at which next year’s “hot” items often are debuted. While this creates anticipation, I wonder how many folks get depressed reading the news from Nevada.)

Today’s devices - particularly, as noted here before, the iPhone 3GS - can handle so many tasks so very well that unless the newest Google phone also can shine your shoes, check your blood pressure and fry an egg, I wouldn’t worry about what it delivers. Most, if not all, of its features will be available elsewhere.

But how do you buy smarter? Some quick thoughts:

c Buy the best you can. If there’s a small difference in the price of a notebook computer with and without the Blu-ray drive, pick the one with Blu-ray: You’ll have more fun with movies, and it might have a slightly higher resale value down the road. Similarly, getting gear that has the most storage (e.g., a TiVo HD XL home video unit) and the most “oomph” will not only pay off in more satisfaction, but also in more bucks later on.

c Buy recognized brands with some history. I’d rather buy a Sony, LG or Samsung flat-screen TV than some off brands, just based on the name and my consumer experiences with both Sony and LG. (I’ve not bought a Samsung TV yet, but I have great confidence in that firm, too.) If a really nice TV came my way, however, and I wasn’t sure of the brand, I’d do some checking. Customer reviews at some online sites can be helpful, especially if the critiques sound reasonable.

c Realize that things change. You will see newer, better, faster items out there, but will they be that dramatically different? Probably not over the first two to three years after you buy something. After 36 months, consider replacements.

If you can’t wait? That’s why there’s eBay and this newspaper’s classified section.

Send e-mail to mkellner @washingtontimes.com.

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