Beware of imitations: sometimes you do get what you pay for.


September 6, 2012 by quirkyuncle

I’m up for a good deal as much as anyone. In fact, saving a few bucks often becomes an obsession. In many cases, you can score generic products at awesome prices that are in some cases even nicer than the same name-brand item – not always, but sometimes. You can find deals everywhere: online, at the mall, in local shops, and at convenience stores. Major retailers often have clearance areas in their stores.

It’s a great thing!

Not always. Proceed with caution! While a cheap cellphone case might be perfectly fine, there are instances where it does matter what you buy. Appearances can be deceiving.

In this posting I’ll give an example about a simple USB cellphone charger. The same rules apply in lots of areas: auto parts, computers, electronics… any place where function goes beyond mere aesthetics. It’s a tough call trying to figure out when spending more matters. Consider the value, monetary and otherwise, of what the item you are purchasing is being used with, or for, and go with your gut.

I’ve read a lot of articles lately about electronics gear being destroyed by no-name charging devices. Tech websites have disassembled some of the chargers in question, to see what went wrong. All predicted that they’d find substandard components being used.

What they found inside these seemingly normal chargers was totally unexpected: it wasn’t substandard components, but missing components. The manufacturer had omitted the voltage regulators, wiring more or less directly from the input plug to the output.

Voltage regulators are the parts that protect your smartphone or music player, should the input voltage fluctuate, so them being left out is a big deal. If everything is normal, you’d never know the difference. However, should something go wrong – and believe me, there are a lot of things that can affect this – your device is toast. Pretty appalling, considering how cheap these parts are… like pennies, cheap.

So, how do you know what’s good and what’s not?

Research. Spend some time reading reviews. This is always a good idea for more pricey or specialty items, and there is plenty information to be found online for the bigger stuff. It can get into diminishing returns for the little things, though.

A good method for determining quality for the small, lower priced items is to check and see which third-party products are being sold by major manufacturers. With the USB charger, for instance, I looked to see which ones Apple sells on its website: there could be little argument about voiding your warranty if you use a product that they sell in their own store.

I view this as their unofficial endorsement. Once you figure out which products or manufacturers the big guys, like Apple, think are safe, you can then have at getting a deal on them from a reputable seller.

A $4 USB car charger for your $600 (no contract) smartphone might look pretty tempting, but is it worth the risk? You won’t pay that much more for a better product and can breath easier whenever you plug it in. The same can be said for the brakes on your car. Use your head and practice caveat emptor – that’s Latin (how cool) for “let the buyer beware.”

(Updated 7 September 2012): Just as an FYI, regarding car chargers… we have Griffin Power-Jolt Dual chargers in both our cars. They will power two USB devices at a time and have adequate capacity for larger electronics, such as iPads. Shop around and good deals can be found. I’ve had good luck with accessories from both Griffin and Belkin over the years, so I tend to prefer their offerings.


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