7 Cheap Tech Products That Aren't Worth the Money

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Day-old sushi, watered down gas, half-price heart surgery. Some bargains aren't a good deal at any price. When you're shopping for gadgets or tech services, it often pays to spend a little more or delay a purchase rather than wasting money on something that will make your life more difficult--no matter how cheap the "bargain." How do you know whether that $80 tablet in the weekly circular is a steal or you're being stolen from? Check out our list of 7 cheap tech products that aren't worth the money.

Bargain-Basement Tablets

With a few noteable exceptions, you still need to spend around $150 to get a decent tablet. In our recent roundup of sub-$100 slates, just two earned as high as 3 stars on our 5-star scale: the $99 HiSense Sero 7 and the kid-friendly Fuhu nabi Jr. Overall, though, most dirt-cheap tablets suffer from very low-res screens, short battery life and sluggish performance.

Rather than staring at a dull lifeless disable while you're chained to an AC outlet and likely unable to access Google Play, spend the extra $50 to $100 and get at least a tablet with an HD screen, at least 7 hours of battery life and quad-core performance. If the extra money is too much to spend, delay your purchase.

More: 7 Android Tablets Under $100 Tested: What's Worth Buying?

Republic Wireless

It sounds too good to be true. Instead of spending thousands of dollars a year on mobile service, startup Republic Wireless charges just $19 a month after you pay a $10 startup fee and $259 for its Motorola Defy XT smartphone.

Republic charges so little, because it expects you to use your home or office Wi-Fi most of the time, even for calls. However, when you're out of hotspot range, you're riding on Sprint's ancient, slow 3G network. Even worse, in the Defy XT, you're stuck with a phone that's so outdated and slow that it would have been considered a low-end device three years ago. And did we mention that Republic Wireless doesn't support photo or video SMS messaging?

Even if you're on a budget, you deserve a modern phone with decent connectivity. If you need a contract-free service, consider Virgin Mobile, which starts at $35 a month and offers better phones and 4G connectivity.

More: 12 Obsolete Technologies Americans Still Use

AT&T's 300MB Data Plan

Imagine if you went to McDonald's wanting to eat chicken McNuggets for dinner and noticed that they appear on both the dollar menu and as a value meal. When you order off the dollar menu, the plate comes with just half of one single McNugget, not enough to be a meal and a lot less than the six full pieces you'd get for $3. 

AT&T's entry-level data plan is even less fulfilling. For $20 plus a line charge for voice and texts, you get just 300MB of monthly data on your phone, barely enough to whet your online appettite and a lot less than what a typical AT&T user consumes. However, for just $10 more per month, you get 3GB, 10 times more data and enough to satisfy your video, gaming and VoIP cravings on the go.

More: 10 Worst Tech Rip-Offs and How to Avoid Them

Budget Smartphones

When you're shopping for a new phone on contract these days, you're presented with a dizzying array of options at prices usually ranging from free to $199. While many high-end phones eventually end up costing under $100, you need to watch out for the handsets that were made to be cheap at launch. The $99 Pantech Perception is a perfect example of a penny-wise, pound-foolish purchase.

For a two-year contract on Verizon, you get a phone with the way outdated Android 4.0 OS, a dull screen and battery life of just 3 hours and 55 minutes. Do you really want to live with a bad phone for two years when high-end devices like the Galaxy S4 cost just $100 more. You're going to be spending the same thousands of dollars on data for the next 24 months, so you might as well get a handset you won't hate.

More: Best Smartphones 2013

Sub-$400 Laptops

Just because you can buy a laptop for under $400, that doesn't mean that you should. You can find a workable low-cost laptop with a Core i3 CPU, 500GB hard drive and Windows 8 for under $550, but when you start to sink below $400, you find bulky systems with underpowered CPUs, poor build quality, and lackluster, low-res screens.

For under $550, you can get a solid system with a good keyboard and modern processor in the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E431 or HP Pavilion g6z. When you want to get real work done for home, school or business, you turn to your laptop. And you need it to provide a good user experience.

More: What Were They Thinking? 6 Most Senseless Gadgets

Low-Res Monitors

Whether you have a desktop or a laptop that you attach to an external display, it doesn't pay to buy a monitor that's any less than 1080p resolution. For under $100, you can find all kinds of 15-inch , 17 and even 20-inch monitors but all of these have displays that are well under 1920 x 1080 and often have resolutions as low as 1366 x 768. 

With so few pixels on such a large display, you won't be able to fit much of your favorite web page, email or word document on the screen at one time, but you will be able to make out every pixel as clearly as you can see the dots in a Seurat painting. Considering that you can get a 23-inch, full HD monitor for as little as $110, there's no good reason to buy that $70, 15-incher with 720p.

More: 10 Terrible Tech Frustrations My Toddler Will Never Have

Low-Capacity SSDs

Every laptop user with a hard drive should upgrade to a solid state drive, because having an SSD will dramatically improve the speed of your computer and even save you battery life. Unfortunately, SSDs still cost quite a bit more than hard drives, so you might be tempted to purchase a low-capacity drive.

Today, you can purchase a 60GB drive for as little as $60, but you'll end up without enough space for even a few programs. Spend the extra money to purchase an SSD that's at least 120GB. You can buy one for around $120, sometimes less.

More: Triple Your Speed: How to Install an mSATA SSD Boot Drive in Your Laptop

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
  • Jaime Says:

    Mostly agree, but the new Nokia 521, which can be found for >$130 with no contract is a nice little phone for the price. Yeah, some corners were cut (5-meg camera, no 2nd front-facing camera, and no flash) to keep the price down, but it is incredible snappy, you get offline GPS, free music streaming and offline, a microSD slot, Wi-Fi calling, and a very good sounding phone. It may not be a phone for a gamer or power phone junkie, but work great for the average user.

  • hkapp Says:

    Yeah, I considered Republic Wireless, for a moment. Then I found Ting. It too uses the Sprint network, but the whole network. With Google Voice and GrooveIP you have free calling and texting in WiFi zones. And you pay as you go for the minutes/texts/data that you do use. My wife and I together pay less than $35/month.

  • ivanmmj Says:

    With some shopping around, you can definitely find a decent $300 laptop with i3, etc but it requires research and patience. As far as the SSD size, that issue only applies if you're using Windows. I added a small 30gb msata SSD to my laptop and was able to install a full Linux distribution including every single app I could want and still have over 20gb left. I left the internal hard drive installed as the home directory to store my pictures and videos. Other than that, I agree 100% with the rest of your list.

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