Today’s Solutions: October 24, 2021

Isn’t it strange that when we buy highly advanced gadgets like a smartphone, we only expect them to last a couple of years?

At some point, we feel that we must upgrade. We must have the latest and greatest camera. We must-have apps that run faster. But here’s the thing: This is all the doing of marketing professionals, seared into our subconscious.

The reality is that consumer electronics, such as your phone, computer, or tablet, can last for many years. All it takes is some research. Strategically choosing tech with a longer shelf life is not intuitive. It involves assessing how easy or not it is to repair a particular product and determining when it makes sense to invest more money. To buy longer-lasting gadgets and slow the scourge of e-waste, here are some questions to ask yourself before buying a new gadget.

Is the tech easy to repair? The next time you shop for an electronic product, try this exercise: Before you buy it, find out whether you or a professional can easily fix it. If so, then go for it. If it’s too difficult, make it a hard pass.

Is the battery replaceable? Wireless earphones like Apple’s AirPods and Bose’s QuietComfort 35 are examples of popular products with irreplaceable batteries. Once the batteries die, you have to buy a brand-new pair. Before you buy, check of the product’s battery can be replaced easily.

Is the product reliable? Like household appliances, tech products have failure rates — the ratio of working to defective units. These rates can give you a sense of a brand’s reliability. Consumer Reports, well known for publishing reliability ratings for household appliances, compiles similar reliability data for smartphones, laptops, tablets, TVs, and printers by surveying subscribers who own the products. Or you can take a more grassroots-approach and visit web forums like Reddit to see what people are saying about a product. If a large number of customers report problems with the device, you might want to steer clear.

Should I spend more? While you don’t need to buy the most expensive phone on the market, you should consider investing extra for products that last and will keep you happy in the long run. Let’s use an iPad as an example. If you wanted an iPad, you could pay $329 for the base model with 32 gigabytes of storage. But it’s probably a better idea to spend $429 on the model with 128 gigabytes of storage — that’s quadruple the capacity. In tech parlance, this strategy is known as “futureproofing.”

Is the software easy to update? Software plays a key role in the longevity of gadgets these days. That’s because when a company stops providing software updates to a device, you can expect to run into problems, such as your favorite apps ceasing to work properly.

Does it solve a problem? Many smart home gadgets offer interesting benefits, like a refrigerator with a camera that sends an alert to our phone when the milk is running low. Just keep in mind that smart home products can create more problems than they solve. It all comes back to buying what you truly need. Sometimes a “dumb” product will do just fine.

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