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Steer clear of these 5 tech rip-offs

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Most people are pretty smart when it comes to buying computers and other tech gear.

They use the Internet to research products and compare prices. And when they're ready to buy, they take advantage of coupon codes and free shipping offers. But the tech retail jungle is filled with booby traps that can snare even savvy consumers.

Steer clear of these bad deals and save more of your hard-earned cash.

• Extended warranties/phone insurance

Extended warranties for computers and electronics can add hundreds of dollars to the price of your purchase. And they're usually bad investments.

The basic manufacturer warranty on most gadgets typically covers a year of use, which is when repairs most often are needed. Extended warranties will bring that out to two or three years, but by then most gadgets are outdated and not worth repairing.

The exception would be an expensive computer that you carry around, like a MacBook.

If nightmares of dropping your smartphone keep you up at night, you can buy yourself peace of mind by self-insuring. Put what you would have spent on protection into a savings account.

If something goes wrong, pay for the repair out of that fund. If nothing happens, take a vacation!

Check with your credit card company, too. Buying a gadget with certain cards can double the length of the manufacturer's warranty at no cost to you.

• Expensive cables

When you're shelling out big bucks for a high-end LED HDTV and a new Blu-ray player, spending an extra $100 or more on HDMI cables doesn't seem like a big deal. But it's money you don't need to spend.

Unless you're running digital cable through an entire house, there isn't any difference between the $10 or less 6-foot digital cable and the pricey gold-plated versions.

Back in the days of analog A/V, it's true that more-expensive cables did a better job of shielding the signal from interference. Digital cables, like HDMI, carry a stream of 1s and 0s. It either works perfectly or not at all.

Some companies recommend you purchase their expensive branded adapters when you buy their products. You can get generic adapters online for less that work just as well.

• RAM and hard drive upgrades from computer makers

Most computer manufacturers allow you to customize your computer a bit before ordering. You might add RAM or switch from a conventional hard drive to a solid-state drive.

While convenient, it's less expensive to buy the base model of the computer and perform your own upgrades. You can find RAM and SSDs for much less at an electronics store or online than computer manufacturers charge.

For example, if you order a Mac mini from the Apple Store and bump the RAM from 4GB to 8GB, Apple will tack on $100. The RAM itself only costs $60 elsewhere. HP and other PC makers have similar markups.

A PC maker will charge $300 or more to put a 256GB SSD in a desktop. A similar drive costs $220 or less elsewhere. Apple charges $400 to put a 256GB SSD in a non-Retina MacBook Pro.

• Carrier-provided GPS

For an extra $5-$10 per month, wireless carriers will turn your smartphone into a GPS navigation device! Isn't that great?

There's just one catch.

Every Android phone comes loaded with Google Maps. It's the best navigation software you can get, with spoken turn-by-turn directions, millions of points of interest, live traffic information and more. Don't forget it's free.

iPhones are preloaded with Apple Maps — again, it's free — which may or may not be good depending on where you live. However, you can download Google Maps free from the App Store.

Want to try something else? Waze is another very popular free navigation app available for both mobile operating systems.

• Tablet data plans

If you're on the go quite a bit, a tablet with a cellular connection sounds like a good idea.

Before you drop more than $100 dollars for the privilege, however, there's an alternative. Those with a 4G smartphone and a shared data plan from Verizon or AT&T can share Internet with other gadgets — even a laptop.

Enabling Internet sharing on your phone — also known as tethering — creates a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other gadgets to connect to. It's great when you need a minute or two to send or receive a file securely on a laptop or tablet.

That's better than spending $10-$20 every month for a tablet data plan or dedicated mobile hotspot.

Be careful, though. Tethering chews up cellular data very quickly and drains your phone battery even quicker.

Android users who aren't on a shared data plan can try third-party tethering apps like FoxFi or Easy Tether.

Email Kim Komando at

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