This is a bit of a love/hate article as I love shopping more than anything on this earth and hate using technology unless it is forced upon me.
However on a serious note it is true that you get a much better deal on the stuff you buy if you have some knowledge of what you are buying so here are a few tips:
1) Buy online, the prices online for technology are always considerably better than in the shops especially for things like SD cards for cameras – these should cost around US$7 for 4GB at the moment or maybe even less. In a British high street shop you’ll probably pay 4-5x that price.
2) Download software from a reputable site, the internet isn’t really an undodgy place like it should be – if you are getting new software get it from a reputable site like download.com, versiontracker or softpedia. Of course leading companies like Google (NOT from a search though), Apple, Adobe and Microsoft as well as any other reputable hardware manufacturer are also fine.
3) Install updates for software when they are made available, mostly software updates are about removing security flaws so you should make sure you are installing software updates for all the software on your machine, especially the more popular stuff like Windows Update, iTunes, Adobe Flash and Java.
4) Consider Apple products. Now yes they are expensive, yes Apple’s retail stores make more money per square foot than Tiffany & Co, yes they are overly obsessed with making products small. This is purely down to Apple being practically the only company who gives a damn about ease of use which means that although they are expensive you will actually be able to use the features you have paid good money for. That they can reach out to ordinary users is why they’ve had 500 million downloads from the iPhone AppStore since July when they’ve only sold at most 50 million devices – even hard core techies like me have only made 50 downloads or so. (AppleTV setup is a notable exception – it’s not really ready for primetime yet.)
5) Append site:arstechnica.com or site:macrumors.com to product searches, yeah they are techy sites, that’s the point (the first is better though.) – you will get decent advice and if a search doesn’t work post yourself – the only real requirement is to use proper English when asking a question (using text slang is lame.) – also don’t be afraid to Google, urban dictionary or ask about any acronyms used.
6) Buy a business PC, any PC with any Intel “Core” chip and at least 2GB RAM will be plenty fast enough for everyday usage, basically the only reason to pay more is for reliability*. Business PC’s as sold by all the major manufacturers (except Apple) and are more reliable and offer better support than home models, go into the “small business” section of their online store to pick out a business or enterprise PC for your next PC.
7) Consider Panasonic lumix cameras, they kick ass and are much easier to use than my Canon point-and-shoot I have now (and Canon is one of the better makes.) Of course if you are professional/semi professional user you’ll want a more serious camera (SLR) and they are mostly made by Canon or Nikon. If you aren’t a serious user you will actually take better pictures with a smaller and cheaper Point-and-shoot (POS) camera.
8 ) Windows Vista isn’t that bad, yeah aside from a few features noone is really using it is not much of an improvement over Windows XP and while I wouldn’t upgrade an existing PC (XP will be supported for the next 5+ years.). Windows 7 is the next version of Windows and will probably arrive in 2010, it seems to be pretty good though I haven’t tried it myself.
9) Be wary of any “expert” who rubbishes any of the opinions here. Unfortunately although what I’m saying is just my view if they really strongly disagree they probably either don’t know what they are talking about or they are lying. If you really think they may have a point get them to comment here or find some evidence on a reputable technology site like Arstechnica which backs them up.
* Seriously, due to reliability issues Apple replaced my 2006 MacBook with a 2008 MacBook. I can’t tell the difference in speed – I can only tell the improvement in build quality.