Category: Buying Tips

Buying that piece of computer hardware or software? Shop around

Most of us can easily prefer to buy a piece of computer hardware or software but may not be aware of bargains that may be of interest.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Spend a bit of time researching the equipment or software to obtain the best deal you can

In some cases, you may think that buying online is the only path to a bargain. But the bricks-and-mortar path may yield some possible bargains. For example, a friend told me how they were able to purchase a desktop-security package from an electrical retailer and were able to score a USB hard disk as part of the package. This may be because the “bricks-and-mortar” shops along with the distributors are wanting to keep people interested in purchasing packaged goods rather than a download-only deal for computer software.

Here, you may find that a game may offer multiple extras that may cost more if you buy it and the extras separately. Similarly, a piece of software may be sold as a multiple-user package and these packages may yield better value for money when you end up adding two or more computers in to the equation.

What if it breaks down?

New desktop comptuer at church

Research and bargaining has paid off in obtaining a good deal on this computer

When you are buying computer hardware, consumer electronics or similar goods, you will need to think of what kind of support do you get if the item breaks down. Here, you would need to pay attention to the warranty offered and where you can drop the goods off for repair. A multiple-year warranty is considered essential for most computer goods and consumer electronics. Similarly, you may have to be sure about being able to know where there is a service agent within reasonable transport distance from where you live or whether you can simply drop the system off at the retailer that you bought it from to seek any repairs.

You may have to present competitive offers for equipment or software of the same standard in order to have the retailers respond with better offers. This is a practice that has worked when I helped a church with getting the right deal for a computer. I had determined a minimum standard for a future-proof computer and specified a few different systems matching that standard and two other men shopped around and received better offers for a system of that standard including a system that was specified with a solid-state drive.

Another advantage of buying within your own country is that you are protected by your country’s consumer-protection laws a.k.a. “lemon laws”. Here, you have the weight of these laws behind you if you find that the goods are not up to standard. For example, there were a few times where I had suggested to people who had hard disks, DVD burners and other parts fail in their relatively-new computers to have these parts replaced at no cost to them.

The trick here is to be able to shop around through both the online and “bricks-and-mortar” channels, including independent dealers, so you can track down the best value hardware or software deals.

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Christmas Gift idea for pennies’ worth–A book stand

Christmas wreathThis is part of a series of gift ideas that you can either make if you have good woodworking and joinery skills or buy for pennies’ worth from  a wide range of locations.

A gift that transcends time and needs is the book stand.

Initially they were used to support heavy books that used delicate bindings but they have ended up as a way to angle books so they can be referred to quickly and easily. Similarly, there was the music stand which allows musicians or conductors to easily play from handwritten music manuscript or printed music.

Some of the book stands use a retaining device so one doesn’t have to contend with pages flipping up when you don’t want them to. These range from a recess which the book sinks into to a swing-up piece that you angle up to rest against the page.

Cookbook stand - image credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/37179882@N07/3746035708">Prop Cookbook Stand With Packaging</a> via <a href="http://www.imageslike.com">free images</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>

Cookbook stand – handy for tablet computers

The bench-top book stand is still sold in many homewares shops and similar locations as a cookbook stand so that a recipe book can be kept open as something to refer to when you are cooking from it. Even our Swedish friends at IKEA sell them with theirs being referred to as a “tablet stand”. This is while the freestanding varieties are sold as lecterns or music stands in music stores for musicians.

But these book stands still earn their keep with tablets and “2-in-1” computers, especially 11” devices. For example, you could use a cookbook stand for your iPad. Here, you could have it at that convenient angle for following a recipe that you are working from in the kitchen, viewing an online video, or keeping an eye on statistics like sports scores. If you are composing or arranging music using notation software on that 2-in-1, this can work well with the computer on that music stand.

Those bookstands that are very sturdy and have stronger hinges can earn their keep as a laptop stand, especially for ultraportable laptops when you use them with a full-sized monitor and keyboard while working at home or the office.

What you have to look for is something that is sturdy and can handle most tablets or 2-in-1s without it breaking. If you are buying that book stand from a thrift store (op shop), jumble sale, yard sale or similar location, you may have to look over it carefully for anything that is about to break easily or has broken like the hinges, the frame or backing.

This may not be of worry to you for those of you who know your way around the workshop and can fix anything. Here, you could reinforce a weakly-built cookbook stand like the one you picked up from the car-boot sale, or replace hinges and other hardware that has broken or renew some of the woodwork in that old wooden book stand.

Those cookbook stands or music stands still earn their keep with today’s portable computing equipment.

Cookbook stand – image credit: Prop Cookbook Stand With Packaging via free images (license)

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Should I buy a secondary printer for my home network?

Brother MFC-J4710DW sideways-print multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J4710DW – an example of a printer you would use as your main printer

Your existing printer or multifunction unit may be working satisfactorily for you at the moment but you may find that you or your household may benefit from a secondary printer that is connected to your home network.

Typically this may be brought about by you buying a printer with more functionality than the one you already own and you “pushing” down the existing printer to serve as a secondary machine like you would with the existing refrigerator or colour television set. In some cases, it is more attractive to do this with mid-tier consumer units or any of the business units where you spend more on the equipment rather than those units that cost as much as you paid for the machine to replace their ink or toner cartridges.

Of course, the idea of networking a printer would be to avoid the need to buy a printer for each computer at home but a different trend has risen. Increasingly, most printer manufacturers are implementing a “mobile-printing” strategy to allow you to print from a smartphone or tablet. This can be done through Apple AirPrint for iOS devices, Google CloudPrint for some Android devices or a manufacturer-provided app.

Similarly, most printer manufacturers are selling equipment on a “horses-for-courses” approach where different printers in their consumer and small-business product ranges suit different tasks.

What applications may cause you to think of a secondary printer?

There are two main applications where a secondary printer on your home network may be handy

A machine more locally placed

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer – suitable for use as a secondary printer

Most likely, you will have the printer kept in your home office or study where you do a lot of the computing. But, as you use AirPrint or similar features that enable printing from your tablet or smartphone, you may be wanting to order print jobs from other rooms in the house like the kitchen. Similarly, most of the recent crop of printers have a “print-from-Web” function to obtain hard copy from Web services like Dropbox or Facebook.

The idea behind this setup is that when your computer device asks you which printer to send the job to, you determine the machine that is local to you for that job. Here, you have the advantage of being ready to collect the job immediately rather than it piling up on the desk. You also have the assurance of hearing whether the machine has started to turn out your job or not so you are not worried about sending it to the wrong unit or mis-specifying that job.

This situation may be more real for those of you who live in a larger house or a multi-storey / split-level house and have the home office up the front or downstairs but have a significant activity area on the other side of the house or upstairs like the kitchen and family room that is located down the back of the house. Similarly, those of you who have a multi-building home network covering the garage,barn or bungalow alongside the main house may also find this situation applying to you. Here, you could keep a lesser-capable printer or multifunction in the bungalow while having another unit like a better model kept in the main house.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer

Another printer that can serve as a secondary unit

Here, you could keep a light-duty network-capable multifunction printer like the Brother DCP-J552DW, the Brother DCP-J562DW or HP Envy 120 in the kitchen or family room. This could allow you to do on-the-spot printing and copying in that area. A mid-tier consumer inkjet, low-tier business inkjet or a low-tier business laser / LED machine may work well for a study.

Some families may use this as a way to work towards providing their adolescent or adult child with a printer for when they “grow their wings and leave the family nest”. Here, the adolescent or adult child could be responsible for buying the consumables for that machine and then take it with them when they move onwards.

The ability to have complementary functionality

You could have the best of both printing types for your home office if you have both a laser and an inkjet printer. Here, you could benefit from the flexibility that this offers when it comes to choosing and using stationery for your printing requirements. An example of this could be to not worry about purchasing laser labels or inkjet labels for your envelopes because you can use the appropriate machine for the labels you have on hand.

Some users may benefit from a monochrome laser or LED unit for their routine document-printing needs while a colour inkjet can come in handy when occasional colour printing is required. Similarly, a photo-grade inkjet machine like a high-end HP Photosmart or OfficeJet or high-end Epson could serve your photographic or brochure-printing needs while a machine not so good with “presentation printing” or “photo-grade printing” can do the normal office printing work. This is more so as presentation-grade glossy or silk-look paper is more readily available at local office-supply stores for inkjet printers than it is for laser printers.

Brother HL-6180DW monochrome network laser printer

One of those mono laser printers you would see as a document-printing workhorse

Another example would be is having machines that handle different paper sizes such as A4 and A3. You could use an A3-capable printer or MFC for your large-sheet printing requirements while you maintain an A4-capable machine like most business lasers for most printing needs.

What must you consider?

A common issue associated with very-low-end printers when it comes to keeping them going is that the cost of purchasing replacement consumables is equivalent to that of purchasing a similar-standard printer. As well, a lot of these machines may not last for a long time nor would they be able to yield a significant number of pages.

I would also be careful of the two-cartridge colour inkjet printers because if one colour runs out, you would have to replace the colour cartridge. These can only work well for occasional work but I wouldn’t expect to run them hard for constant work.

On the other hand, I would pay attention to brands that use the same type of consumables across a large part of their product range. This is represented with Hewlett-Packard implementing the 564 series of ink cartridges across most of their Photosmart product range since 2009 and Brother using the LC-133 cartridges across all of their current-issue inkjet machines.

The latter example was underscored with the Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer which is a light-duty home machine and the Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 multifunction printer which is a heavy-duty SOHO unit using these cartridges – you don’t have to think of buying two different cartridge types for the different printers..

Conclusion

You can run one or more additional printers on your home network still as communal printers. But these can earn their keep either as a machine that is local to a point of activity and/or to provide functionality that is complementary to other printers that you own.

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Why it is important to think of value when buying equipment

A small church that runs on a hairline budget

A small church that runs on a hairline budget

A situation that comes across any small organisation, including non-profit organisations, is the need to purchase capital equipment such as computer equipment. This happens typically at the start of the organisation’s life, when the organisation is embarking on a newer effort or as the time comes to replace older tired equipment.

There is a great risk of buying the cheapest equipment around and finding that the equipment may not do the job adequately through its service life. In a lot of situations, you may find that the equipment won’t satisfy newer requirements like newer connectivity types or newer versions of the same software. The worst case is when you deal with equipment that fails too early thus requiring you to consider replacing it with newer equipment too soon.

Economy data projector with VGA input sockets

A typical low-end data projector used by a small church – only has VGA for advanced video connections and uses 4:3 as native aspect ratio

Just lately, I had moved to a newer church congregation and the pastor asked me for assistance regarding specifying a newer computer to replace the existing unit that was being used to show song lyrics and other video material during services. This happened quite a few months after another church pastor whom I know very well approached me for assistance to confirm he was on the right track when purchasing a colour LED printer. He also approached me again regarding the purchase of a newer projector for the church because the existing projector was at the end of its useful life.

I have previously covered this issue in a few articles about the availability of hardware and software that answers these organisations’ needs at a price they can afford as well as being easy to operate. One of these was about low-end data projectors that didn’t come with HDMI connectivity even though most current-issue video peripherals implement this connectivity while another was about the availability of AV playout software that answers the needs of these organisations at a price they can afford.

It is so tempting for organisations that run on hairline budgets like both these congregations to buy just on the cheapest price without factoring in the right specifications for the equipment or the equipment’s durability. This leads you to buying equipment that falls short of your current or future usage requirements or, at worst, purchasing equipment that won’t last for the long haul.

Determining the specification

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

Choosing the right equipment at the right price can yield benefits over the long haul

Firstly, you have to determine what kind of equipment should be used for your task. Here, you identify the task you are putting the equipment to and skew the specifications accordingly. For example, a computer doing video-based tasks like video playout or video editing should work with a discrete display subsystem so it performs properly at these tasks.

As well, you place weight on specifications and standards that promote flexibility and avoid rapid obsolescence. These include use of hardware and software interfaces that are accepted for the product’s type. For example, I place weight on HDMI connectivity for display projectors so that they can be used not just with computers but with any video peripheral that is on the market nowadays,

This is also the time you approach others in your community who are knowledgeable about the kind of equipment you are after and ask them for their advice. It is preferable to approach those who aren’t in the position of selling the equipment themselves but who may be involved in a support, media or advisory role such as company IT staff. This is because they aren’t under pressure to sell particular equipment.

In both cases, I looked for and specified up-to-date equipment that is to serve their needs properly for a long time so that the equipment is cheaper to run over the long haul. The factors that I thought of as being important was the ability to work not just with existing equipment but with newer equipment and to newer specifications. For example, in my congregation, I pushed for the computer to have HDMI connectivity and a graphics subsystem that can work at 1080p resolution. This is due to the fact that newer projectors offered at price ranges affordable to small businesses and community organisations will support these standards by the time the existing projector is due to be replaced.

A bit of homework now can save you money and sustain you for the future

Obtaining multiple quotes

Working from the same minimum specification that you have determined for your equipment, you then also identify a budget that you can afford but allows you to obtain reasonable-standard equipment. Then you go about obtaining price quotes from different vendors.

I obtained two quotes for the equipment with the same specification and passed the cheapest one of these on to my pastor who also obtained another quote for similarly-specified equipment. The idea behind having the many quotes allows for him to “haggle over” the right deal which is focused on value when it comes to purchasing the right equipment. You may also find that the just-superseded model that is being offered for clearance may become the option to go for as a way of saving money. This will typically happen as newer models are just being launched and the shopkeepers have to get rid of the older-model inventory to make way for the new models.

Sony MDS-JE520 MiniDisc deck working as an audio playout deck for a church

Sony MDS-JE520 MiniDisc deck working as an audio playout deck for a church

In some cases, you may find that particular vendors are consistently offering the right level of functionality and reliability for the right price. This may apply all across their product range or to a particular model in their product range and its successor models. Two examples that come to mind for me are the Sony MDS-JE520 MiniDisc deck and the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc player. Both of these units had the right functionality for their tasks with the MiniDisc deck being a reliable affordably-priced well-built unit having a comprehensive display and “auto-pause” which increased its appeal as an audio playout deck for churches, drama groups, community radio and the like; and the Blu-Ray player having full DLNA and Internet video functionality along with reliable Blu-Ray playback at an affordable price.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player – a Blu-Ray player that adds DLNA to an existing TV

It is infact a better practice to spend more time going about the process of purchasing the equipment than responding immediately to the first cheap offer you come across. Firstly, you are able to determine the specification that suits your needs, including the ability to call a minimum specification that you won’t go below. Here, once you have determined the specification, then you obtain different and competitive quotes for equipment of that specification.

As well, this kind of specification and purchasing encourages suppliers to answer the call by these organisations to supply equipment and software that fits these needs at a price they can afford. For that matter, if you have questions about purchasing the right equipment for your needs, please don’t hesitate to contact me by using the Contact Form on this site.

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Gift List–Mother’s Day

Sometimes you may be stuck for technological gifts to give Mum on her special day. Here, I have assembled a list of ideas to get you going, especially when it comes to high-value gifts where you can pool resources together to fund these gifts rather than buying many low-value gifts.

Tablets

Small size for the purse

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

The small 7” tablet computers come in to their own if the main goal is to have it on hand in your coat pocket. They can also fit comfortably even it to mid-sized handbags to use as an electronic notebook or electronic reference book.

To keep in the handbag, at home or the office

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tabletA 10” tablet may come in to its own if the main goal is to read or view online content while relaxing in that armchair or in bed. Similarly, they could come in to their own with a larger handbag or shoulder bag.

No tablet computer is complete without a matching accessory cover or wrap that suits Mum’s taste. If she owns a tablet computer, you may offer her a newer cover or wrap, perhaps to replace that tired old one that she has on that tablet.

Computers

Small ultraportables

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

Small ultraportable computers that range from 11” to 14” can earn their keep for “on-the-go” computing tasks. This is more so if Mum wants to create a lot of content like typing up many email letters, writing memoirs or simply working a blog.

Larger laptops

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement laptopOn the other hand, a standard-size laptop or “desktop tablet” computer may come in handy if the goal is a computer that is mainly used at home and the desire is to store it away neatly when not in use.

All-in-one

The “all-in-one” desktop computer, with the computing power, screen and storage in one slender box, can become an alternative computer option if you want an elegant desktop computer. They are also becoming increasingly capable rather than glorified “kitchen kiosks”.

Printers

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer – predecessor to the Photosmart 7520

As for printers, it may be worth looking towards a durable network printer that is cost-effective to run. Be careful of the printers that are cheap to buy because these units will be expensive to run due to short-capacity inks and toners, with situations where the cost of replacing ink or toner is as much as buying a printer of the same standard.

HP Photosmart 6520 or Photosmart 7520 desktop printers

HP Envy 120 – a neat aesthetically-pleasing printer for low-demand applications such as being a secondary printer

Brother MFC-J825DW or DCP-J725DW / DCP-J925DW

Small music system

1-piece including speaker docks and wireless speakers

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock (Photo courtesy of Marantz / Gap Marketing)

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

These single-piece systems, including speaker docks and wireless speaker systems, typically have a small footprint and can fit well on the kitchen bench or on the sideboard. Some of these may offer a “full” sound that encompasses te bass notes and the treble notes properly.

3-piece

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Sony CMT-MX750Ni – an example of a DLNA-compliant music system for a hotel room or serviced apartment

A three-piece system with separate speakers has increased flexibility. Here, you can keep the main unit on the sideboard and position the speakers further away, including mounting them on the wall or having them flank a fireplace or feature window.

Earphones and headphones

Creative Labs MA930 in-ear mobile-phone headset

Creative Labs MA930 in-ear headset

I would suggest that you look towards a few sets of headphones that suit different activities. For example, a pair of lightweight supra-aural headphones can work well for jogging or walking with good examples being provided by B&O (Form 2review), Bose, Denon, Sennheiser and Sony.

Earphones can also work well for public transport and other noisy environments especially where discreet use is required. Similarly a pair of good circum-aural headphones can go a long way for detailed music listening at home or in noisy environments.

It is worth having a look at this buying guide to be sure that the headphones fit yours and Mum’s desires.

Gaining the most out of the Internet experience

Internet setup

If there isn’t a broadband Internet service at Mum’s home, it could be a good gift idea to set up one there and install a good-quality router for the network as in the article that I had done about the “family house”.

To the same extent, optimising the home network with at least 802.11n dual stream coverage everywhere, preferably simultaneous dual-band 802.11n dual-stream Wi-Fi. As well, I would make sure that there is a HomePlug AV powerline segment in that network even if there is Ethernet in the house. This is to cater for ad-hoc wired-network setups.

The reason I would think of this is that you may be dealing with increased use of multimedia from online sources at the TV, laptop or mobile devices and you want reliable operation from these services.

Education

Similarly, you may pool resources together to give Mum access to IT education and support programs/ This is more so if she hasn’t got much in the way of computer skills.

Online content

As well, pooling resources to an online content service such as Spotify, Netflix, Hulu or QuickFlix may be a way to give her access to the music and movies that these services provide. In the case of Spotify, this may be about using it as an online music library or as a “music tryout” service that can be part of her complete music experience.

These services are not about replacing the existing content library but about hunting for new content that may be of interest.

Conclusion

I wish you all a very happy and prosperous Mother’s Day with lots of fun, with you using this as a way to choose the right gift that will be value for money.

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Product Liquidation at Sony Centres in Sydney–my tips and suggestions

Article

Sony Centres Liquidating Stock Today | Gizmodo Australia

Sony Centres prepare for store closures with liquidation sale | Current by Appliance Retailer (trade press)

Relevant Product Reviews

Music and AV equipment

Sony VAIO S Series

Sony VAIO S Series

VAIO Computers

My Comments

Those of you who are based in Sydney, Australia may find this of interest if you want to score a bargain on some of the Sony equipment that I reviewed on this site.

According to the article, the Bing-Lee-operated “Sony Centres” in Sydney’s central business district and in Drummoyne are clearing out the stock in order to downsize to smaller “concept stores”.

Here, it would be a good idea to have a look at the reviews listed above because these may help you think whether the products are a real bargain or not and whether they would suit your needs. This is because it is so easy to think that a product offered at that steal of a price is a bargain but you find out that it isn’t.

Best Bets from HomeNetworking01.info

Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker

Sony SA-NS410 Wireless Network Speaker

This could be a chance to kit out your home network for network-enabled entertainment and you may find that some of the equipment may help you “cut your teeth” on this concept.

For example, I would recommend the Sony CMT-MX750Ni as being a small music system that can play from CDs, USB memory sticks, your legacy iPhone or iPod Touch or home network as well as tune in to FM, DAB+ or Internet radio. Similarly, those Sony network speakers like the SA-NS410 could work as an auxiliary speaker / Internet radio for the kitchen or the deck or you may get your claws on the BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player for that “Big W special” TV set so you have Internet-hosted or network-hosted content on that TV as well as watch Blu-Ray discs.

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Sony CMT-MX750Ni – an example of a DLNA-compliant music system for a hotel room or serviced apartment

I would also keep your eyes peeled for the BRAVIA large-screen TVs or any of the network-enabled home theatre receivers if you are wanting to improve the AV setup in any of the lounge areas in your home. The higher-end Blu-Ray home theatre packages like the BDV-N990W which have more than one HDMI socket would suit those setups where you have Foxtel or a “personal-TV” device like TiVo and you want the sound through the home theatre with proper decoding for surround content.

As for the VAIOs, I would consider the VAIO S Series as a “best bet” if you want something that can yield high performance in a compact 13” chassis that you can travel with a lot of the time. Similarly a VAIO E or EJ Series at the liquidation prices may appeal to you if you want that performance laptop as a 15” or 17” laptop. The VAIO J Series “all-in-one” could appeal as a “first computer” or for anyone who wants to get their claws on a touchscreen all-in-one desktop for cheap.

If you do go to these sales, this can help you with choosing the right Sony equipment to add to your home network.

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