The best shopper is a smart shopper. While many of you will approach events like Amazon’s Prime Day, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday with a game plan, there are as many more who see a deal and let excitement get the better of them. They might happen upon an HDTV marked down to $300 and pull the trigger because they want to upgrade, not realizing that, with a little research, they could’ve found something even better for the same price.
To help you navigate the next day-and-a-half of Amazon deals, here are some of the major tech products I recommend you not impulse buy. That doesn’t mean you have to do a sweep of the entire product category before you make a purchase. It also means that you shouldn’t buy one of them simply because they’re on sale. The sale might be a good deal, but that means little if the device isn’t the best fit for your needs.
Don’t buy any speakers or headphones without researching them
There are a ton of speaker and headphone manufacturers out there. If you have a brand you love and absolutely want to stick with them, that’s one thing. If you’re just looking for a new pair of cans or want to give your living room setup an acoustic lift, don’t splurge on the first big Amazon sale you find.
Nothing against Amazon reviewers, but analyzing audio quality is hard even when you are comparing a bunch of products head-to-head. It’s the kind of thing you really have to develop an ear for, save for more obvious statements like, “These $300 headphones from a well-known brand sure do sound better than these $15 earbuds I got at the mall kiosk.”
I’m not saying you have to become an audiophile before you buy something that emits audio. If that’s a passion of yours, go for it; most people, I bet, would simply be happy to score a savings on a new pair of speakers or headphones that’s better than what they have. And that’s the problem: They have no idea what’s better, because they haven’t even listened to that which they’re looking to buy. Even if they did, they have nothing to really compare it against, save for their older gear.
My advice? Do a little research and see what some of the many, many audio experts love. Wishlist a few of their recommended headphones or speakers, and wait for those to go on sale. Unless you’re really in a pinch, don’t buy worse-sounding gear simply because it’s available. That’s pointless.
Don’t buy anything made by Apple
Apple gear is rarely going to be on sale on Prime Day. But just in case you find a deal—like, say, $50 off AirPods Pro—resist the urge. Apple is literally announcing brand-new products today. Give it a some time, and you’ll probably find older iPhones, AirPods, HomePods, or who-knows-what for an even bigger discount once the new gear drops (whenever that is). Buying anything “current” on Apple announcement day—or any time near it—feels like a fool’s errand, unless you see some confirmed (and substantial) price drops.
Plus, we’re so close to Black Friday, you can probably hold out and gamble that you’ll find a specific deal on the device you actually want—Apple or otherwise—if you don’t find that amazing deal today. That’s even more true if you’re shopping for smartphones, and double that if you’re willing to jump ship to a competing platform (Android). Hold out for the device you want; don’t splurge on something just because it’s on sale today. And don’t be the dummy that buys an Apple product (or several) the day of a major announcement.
Don’t buy a gaming console unless…
Second verse, same as the first. We’re on the cusp of the release of brand-new consoles from Microsoft and Sony. If you’re buying anything right now, it’s because you’re probably annoyed that you couldn’t get your hands on a preorder for either the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. But that makes no sense. Why buy a last-gen console when waiting just a few short months will get you something much faster, beefier, and more current?
Note, I’m only talking about Microsoft and Sony’s offerings right now. If you can score a deal on a new Nintendo Switch, go for it. Nintendo is obviously working on a new version of the Switch, but we’re still too far out to have any concrete details on that one. Patience won’t reward you here; get your Switch, get your Animal Crossing, and get to paying off a virtual mortgage.
There’s a lot of junk on sale during Amazon’s Prime Day. That may sound harsh, but it’s how I categorize all the knock-off products that seem a little fishy and just inexpensive enough to raise a flag or two. Here’s looking at you, USB-to-[whatever] cable manufacturers. Or you, seemingly random fitness/sleep-tracking companies. Or you, random company that makes a projectorthat will blast my laptop’s picture across a wall.
Don’t buy random knock-off gear from companies you’ve never heard of. At the very least, give them a quick Google to see if anyone legitimate has heard of them, reviewed them, or has any experience with them. Don’t just trust 120 random Amazon reviews for a gaming controller battery pack, a USB wifi dongle, or a Bluetooth anything.
What might seem like a deal may actually be a so-so product once you get your hands on it. Worse, you might have paid the same amount (or a similar amount) as something that performs much, much better. Do a little research before pulling the trigger on an unknown company, especially if their Amazon product description seems crude, their reviews sound a bit off, or the deal feels just a bit too good to be true.
That’s not to say there aren’t gems out there! I recently purchased of a car backup camera from some random-ass company that seemed like one of those that stamps their brand on the same generic devices other companies sell. And yet the reviews all seemed legit, and there were plenty of YouTube videos of other car enthusiasts installing and using the camera. Go figure,it worked perfectly for me.
Don’t buy a goddamn TV (or computer monitor)
If there’s any place where doing a little bit of research pays off, it’s when you’re considering buying something with a big screen, be it a television, a regular monitor, a gaming monitor, an ultrawide monitor, etc. To me, it all comes down to picture quality. Without reading reviews—whether they’re for the specific make and model you’re looking at, a differently sized screen within the same family, or even previous-generation products—you have absolutely no way of independently evaluating the quality of that which you’re about to purchase.
If you end up ignoring me and pulling the trigger, you might not even realize that your monitor or TV’s picture is shit because you’ll have nothing to compare it to. Everything looks good in a vacuum, right? (Or at least, what’s what I keep telling myself when I see people using one of their TV’s crappy preset modes like “Vivid” or “Sports.”)
Time, and time, and time again, I see people purchasing monitors or televisions because a small handful of specs sound like they should correlate with picture quality: resolution, HDR support, high refresh rates, a gigantic size.
Here’s the truth: A display can have the best specs in the world and still have issues accurately representing shades of gray and color. You might even fool yourself with a display that looks incredibly vibrant, but just because an image is overly saturated with color doesn’t mean that it looks right. You might prefer the vivid look, but you’ll be viewing your many movies, sporting events, and TV shows in a way their creators didn’t intend. You’ll rob yourself of a perfect experience because you don’t know any better.
There are plenty of TVs and monitors on sale for Amazon Prime Day, as there will be on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Most of them are junk. Sure, the specs will fit your needs, but the raw picture quality simply won’t be very good. Or, worse, you’ll buy something that looks pretty good only to find that it’s missing key components: enough HDMI ports (including ports that support the latest and greatest HDMI specs); an adjustable stand; USB; a higher-quality IPS panel (for monitors); HDR (especially supporting all the formats you need for the content you typically watch); VESA mounting.
Is picture quality everything? Of course not. If you’re a gamer who needs great frame rates, tear-free experiences, and a high refresh rate, you might not care as much if your reds, greens, and blues look a little off. But why not try to have it all?
There are such huge variances in picture quality that I wouldn’t buy any monitor or TV that hasn’t been put through its paces. That means I might skip over a lot of products on sale, and that’s just something I’ve come to accept. Unless I can find reviews that talk about a monitor’s picture quality—ideally, measured—I’m not going to risk buying something inferior just to save a hundred bucks or two. A monitor or TV is an infrequent upgrade, so why not wait until you can get the very best display?
Don’t buy a wireless router sight unseen
I originated Wirecutter’s testing process for wireless routers and spent years on the beat—likely irradiating myself, Hulk-style. Here’s what I learned: There is nothing, short of benchmarks and tests, that can give you a clue about a router’s actual capabilities. Full stop.
You can buy an expensive router. You can buy one that has the highest “AC rating” printed on the box. You can buy a router that supports the latest and fastest wifi connection standards, runs wireless networks across multiple bands, and looks like a reaper from Mass Effect. And it might do pretty well for your home, but it also might not give you the best performance where it counts: as far a distance from the router as you can get.
The only way to check this is through testing. Often, this testing will be done in an unceremonious fashion, by you. You’ll head to the bathroom, a workroom, or a distant bedroom, and wonder why you can barely stream a YouTube video. Surprise! The $400 router you purchased isn’t as strong as you thought—possibly not even as strong as a $100 router, or a $200 mesh setup, that could saturate your house’s nooks and crannies with wifi.
The surest way to know a router’s actual capabilities in a real-world environment is to read how well it performed in someone else’s tests. Ideally, that’s someone who reviewed the router. Reviews from previous purchasers could count in a pinch, but they won’t be able to provide the critical context of how the router you’re considering fares against other routers (especially cheaper routers).
As with monitors, this means that a lot of wireless routers you’re considering might not have a lot of reviews—if any. And that’s OK. There are plenty of great routers that have been reviewed by multiple experts, all of whom tend to stick with their own testing setups to evaluate competing devices. Read their work, and you’ll come away with an idea of what’s really great versus what just costs a lot and looks neat. Don’t buy a router because it’s on sale; buy it because it’s great.