Buying tech wisely
Tan Jee Yee 
Technology like laptops and smartphones are now essential to our everyday lives. But you might be overpaying for them –

MALAYSIANS love their technology. A 2016 study by Ernst & Young Advisory Services Sdn Bhd found that digital consumers spend an average of almost 14 hours a day on their devices, with 87% of them on the Internet.

It’s no surprise that in July, Germany’s largest market research organisation GfK said Malaysian consumers bought around RM6.8 bil worth of smartphones last year, rising from RM5.4 bil in 2015.

Gartner, a world-leading US-based research and advisory company forecasts Malaysia’s IT spending to reach RM71.7 bil this year, an 8% year-on-year increase.

Gadgets and techs like smartphones, televisions, and computers are essential to our lives, be it for work, communications or leisure.

There’s no doubt we will continuously spend on it. The question is whether or not we are spending wisely.

More often than not, people tend to spend too much money on devices that are ultimately overvalued compared to what they require out of that technology.

We may, for instance, buy an RM2,000 smartphone only to underutilise its functions, or wrongly get an expensive computer for simple tasks.

There’s no shame in that – not everyone has time to research accordingly before buying, and technology specifications can get overwhelming at times.

It’s not wrong to spend money on pricier brands either if it gives you peace of mind.

But there are ways to save money on technology too. Sometimes what you need may be way cheaper than what you want.


Generic brands

When buying an expensive product, you’re really just paying for a brand name.

A pair of Beats by Dre headphones can be two to three times more expensive than generic brand headphones, but to the untrained ears, its sound quality may not be too wildly different.

Generic brands may work better sometimes, and at a fraction of the cost.

This is especially true for accessories like HDMI cables (you don’t really need a RM240 gold plated one), phone chargers and computer mice.

However, be cautious when buying overly cheap chargers and cables, which may not meet the required manufacturers’ standards.


Waiting is key

The best time to purchase tech is when sales and discounts are offered. As such, waiting is key when you’re planning to buy a specific product.

Waiting doesn’t mean just for a sale. One can also wait for the product to devalue in the market over time.

For instance, a smartphone sold during launch-month versus a year later could be cheaper by 30 to 40%.

It’s also worth remembering that it’s alright to purchase an older model of a popular product.

Big tech brands usually refresh or update their models annually, which makes the previous ones cheaper.

Don’t fall into the trap of waiting for the newest models only, as sometimes the full price you pay is not worth the incremental features or slight changes.


Refurbished items

It’s also good to consider refurbished products, which are just as good as new ones.

This does not necessarily mean that second-hand computers which are refurbished and resold on the market are inferior.

Even major brands like Apple sell refurbished products from their demo line or those with some repaired defects.

It’s best to buy directly from the manufacturer or a reputable dealer, as they ensure that refurbished items go through rigorous testing and inspection.

The most important tip is knowing what you need out of your tech. Are you purchasing something just for leisure, or for work?

Do you need a powerful machine or just a simple one for Internet browsing? By knowing what you need the product for, you can effectively avoid overpaying for features you will underutilise.


Smartphone tips

It’s often tempting to fork out cash for a brand new iPhone. Telco packages also make it easier to own such high-end devices by letting customers pay in instalments through contracted packages.

Be careful when considering signing up for them, though. While they do allow you to finance your desired device over two years or so, you usually end up paying more than the phone’s retail price.

It also locks you into a particular package, making it hard for you to downgrade when times are tough, or when you intend to switch telcos.

The thing about smartphones is that a lot of really good devices costs less.

A few years ago, smartphones with powerful performances and good cameras were limited to devices above RM2,000. But today, you can easily purchase a really good smartphone for RM1,000 or less.

You need to ask the most basic question first before making your purchase – what do I need my smartphone for?

Do you use it mainly to browse social media, watch videos, send text messages and take pictures? Or do you use it for work, multitasking and handling company information?

If it’s merely for social media and multimedia, then it might not be necessary to spend more than RM1,000 for a smartphone.

Most devices around that price range are already offering basic features that high-end smartphones have – fast processors, full HD screens, dual cameras, fingerprint security and more. And, they come in all forms, shapes and sizes.

Spending RM2,000 and above for a high-end device may be redundant if you end up not utilising the features that come with it.

In 2014, American-based research group Gallup found that less than 5% of smartphone users utilise their handheld to its fullest potential.

However, higher-end devices come with features that make them more viable for people relying on their smartphones for productivity.

The Samsung Galaxy Note devices, and new features on Apple’s iOS 11 operating system allow users to effectively multitask.

If anything, the iPhone’s more advanced security system can keep sensitive information safer, though it’s not infallible.

You will need to ask if the features on the expensive, flagship smartphones are worth it. Things like 4K HD video recording and virtual assistants like Siri may ultimately be unused.

Do you truly need your smartphone to be waterproof for that one trip to Pulau Redang?

And even if you do want the features of the flagship device, it may be worthwhile to wait a year before buying it at a much cheaper price.

For the most part, new phone model upgrades are incremental and usually not a sudden departure from standard norms.

Going one step further, if your main reason for buying a phone is just to make phone calls and send text messages, there are mobile phones and flip phones with no smartphone capabilities available for as low as RM99.

They are very basic, but will get the job done, and there’s still a thriving market for them.


Computer tips

Budgeting properly for computers follow the same rules as buying smartphones. You need to know what the personal computer is for.

However, as opposed to smartphones, the spectrum may be quite varied.

If you’re getting a computer for work, for example, then you’ll need to ask what work you will use it for.

If it’s just to handle spreadsheets, word documents and Internet browsing, a laptop priced between RM1,000 to RM1,500 can do the job.

For such basic work, you don’t require higher specifications or powerful processors.

It’s only when work involves graphics, video, 3D rendering and graphic design that higher-end computers come to play.

Specifications that deal with quad-core, hexa-core and octa-core processors, alongside powerful graphics processing units and high numbers of RAM are usually reserved for these sort of work and also running the latest video games. Of course, they are much more expensive.

The rule of thumb when it comes to PCs is that desktop computers are cheaper than laptops.

A laptop running similar specifications with a desktop may cost double the price – hardware and video game enthusiasts much prefer to purchase individual parts and have it assembled instead.

A RM3,000 desktop computer can easily outperform a RM3,000 laptop.

Desktop computers also have the benefit of being a lot more modular. Parts that malfunction over time can be replaced or upgraded easily, while laptops can rarely be upgraded.

Portability aside, the problem with desktop computers is that they may appear intimidating to casual users.

But you don’t even need to assemble your own computers these days – most PC hardware shops are more than happy to assemble the parts you’ve purchased from them.

They may even recommend the specifications you need depending on what you need the computer for.

It’s likely that you’re more interested in laptops, though, as they are more versatile machines.

Once more, if the laptop is for basic work and multimedia consumption, you don’t need anything too expensive.

Laptops that go for RM3,000 or so are already capable of handling most video games and more demanding tasks like photo editing.

Only put down more money on laptops that you intend for very graphically demanding games or heavy digital work like graphic design or video editing.


Television/player tips

Televisions (TV) are also underutilised. Not that people aren’t watching anything on them, but most of the time they end up buying flat-screen TVs with features they don’t understand and use the TV for content that doesn’t maximise its full potential.

Flat-screen TVs have gotten immensely cheaper of late, and even RM5,000 can get you a TV capable of playing 4K HD video.

But once more, you need to ask yourself what content you plan to watch on TV?

Flat-screen TVs are all capable of full HD videos, meaning content that is broadcast or projected at a 1,920x1,080 resolution.

Full HD videos (listed at resolutions of 1080p or 1080i) on full HD TVs look great, with bright, crisp colours and images.

However, if your main video content is DVDs and the non-HD Astro channels, the images may appear duller, pixelated and sometimes warped.

This is because such content is in standard definition (SD), and modern TVs have larger landscapes and wider aspect ratio than the boxy TVs of old, making SD videos appear worse.

Desktops are cheaper to buy, and can be rigged to be more powerful compared to laptops for the same price –

New TVs now tout 4K HD capabilities, essentially videos that are four times the resolution of full HD content.

A 50-inch 4K-capable TV may cost almost double the price of a regular full HD TV. Problem is, if you’re not watching HD content, then a 4K HD TV may be even more redundant.

At the same time, true 4K HD content is still sparse. Most Blu-ray movies sold in the country are only in full HD resolutions, so really, you only need a full HD TV to enjoy really good images.

One important thing to note about TV resolutions is that, ultimately, it’s not as important as it seems.

4K TVs only make sense if the screens are 60-inches or larger, as the larger space can be filled by more pixels.

On a 50-inch screen or smaller, the extra pixels won’t matter unless you sit really close to the TV. Even then, you’ll only notice a difference between full HD and 4K HD.

Finally, you may have heard of “smart TVs”, which are televisions that come with programs that can connect to the Internet and access streaming services.

Naturally, they cost more than standard HD TVs, and you can safely skip them if you’re not the type who views content from sites like YouTube or services like Netflix.

At the same time, if you already own a laptop, it’s much better to connect it to the TV using a HDMI cable to access your favourite streaming site or have it function as a media player.

Alternatively, Android set-top boxes that you can buy virtually everywhere allows similar functions to smart TVs, pricing around RM100 to RM500. Truly, smart TVs are overrated.

For the sake of luxury

One can easily save on technology that’s to be purchased by deciding what it’s needed for.

Yet, there are many who decide to purchase expensive tech despite its price. What would their reasons be?

Public relations executive Danny Chong says he would gladly pay for an iPhone because he has already bought into the phone’s ecosystem.

“I purchased a used iPhone 4S some years ago and have now fallen in love with Apple’s ecosystem. Their apps and phone functionality are unlike any others,” he tells FocusM.

The iPhone is expensive and you might not need it. But its ecosystem and capability for productivity is undoubtedly preferred by many – Pixabay


Chong is waiting for his iPhone 8, which he is purchasing through his telco. “Everything from my work to private life is already tied to my Apple ID.


“It may be expensive, but I believe I’ll continue with the iPhone so long as it provides the same service quality,” he says.

Lee Teck Boon says the same for the Apple MacBook laptops he has been purchasing. Mac computers are preferred by graphic designers and artists who don’t mind the more expensive price tag for its capabilities.

But Lee, an accountant, goes for the MacBook because he has gotten used to the ecosystem.

“I grew up with Mac computers and have struggled with Windows for a long time. I don’t mind spending extra for it,” he says.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 257.