Every buying decision we make comes down to a choice between price and quality. Sometimes the cheapest product does the job perfectly well, but there are some areas where you should always look to buy quality instead.
This is especially true in the tech world, for a range of products — whether they’re just a few dollars or a few hundred. Here are seven products where you won’t regret pushing your budget as far as it will go.
If you’ve only ever bought budget headphones, or even just stuck with the ones bundled with a smartphone, you may have convinced yourself that they’re good enough. Or that only audiophiles will notice the improvements afforded by a better pair. This isn’t true.
Upgrading from cheap headphones to even a low cost mid-range set, such as the Audio Technica M40x, will completely revolutionize your listening experience. And it’s something everyone can, and will, notice.
Quality headphones have a wider frequency range, better bass, and less distortion, and play the music exactly as it was recorded. They help you rediscover your favorite music, and even tracks you’ve heard hundreds of times sound fresh. You hear subtle sounds at the back of the mix that you’ve never heard before, simply because your cheap headphones weren’t able to reproduce them.
All that said, it’s important to note that headphones shouldn’t be judged on price alone! Not all expensive headphones are great.
Also, the differences become less apparent the more you spend. If you already own some good headphones, then a move to great ones will give you less dramatic results. The quality of your audio gear and the format your music is in are likely to hold them back.
For disposable batteries, the question of branded versus generic is not overly important. Tests have shown that the difference between them is negligible, and even if branded batteries do last longer, the benefit will be cancelled out by the increased cost.
There is a difference, though, between alkaline and lithium batteries. Lithium is better here: they last as much as four times longer, they work in a wider range of temperatures, and are lighter. They cost more, but are worth it in the right device. It would be a waste to put one in your TV remote, but in a high power device you should choose them all the time.
For rechargeable batteries — like what you’d use in a laptop, smartphone, or camera — it’s always worth spending the extra on an official battery and buying it from a reputable source. Third party batteries can be a lot cheaper, but there are many stories of them catching fire. Cheap batteries also might not have the capacity they claim, and there are lots of fakes doing the rounds, too.
3. USB-C Cables
Conventional wisdom states that you shouldn’t ever pay more than the bare minimum for any of your cables. That fancy gold-plated HDMI cable the salesman tried to get you to take with your new TV? Don’t bother.
Yet there are growing suggestions that you might be better served with a higher quality cable, at least when it comes to USB-C.
Google engineer Benson Leung has taken it upon himself to start testing cheap USB-C cables, and he’s not impressed with what he has found:
You may not just get weird behavior from your devices with these bad cables… What some of these vendors are doing is downright dangerous.
The problem is mostly with USB-A to USB-C cables. Leung says that some third party vendors “blatantly flout the specification”, with the result that they may damage chargers or ports that they’re plugged into.
Until the issue is resolved cheap, no-name USB-C cables are best avoided. For recommendations, you can read Benson Leung’s Amazon reviews, and a helpful Reddit user has compiled the test results into a spreadsheet.
4. Camera Lenses
Photography can be a super expensive hobby. There’s always more gear to buy, and it all comes with the promise that it will make you a better photographer. It’s so addictive and common that there’s even a name for it: Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or GAS.
Sadly, we can’t cure your GAS, but you can at least make sure you’re getting the best value for your money. In short, when buying lenses, go for quality rather than quantity.
It’s tempting to try and get as much focal length coverage as you can, especially when investing in a new system. This leads you to buying kit zooms and cheap third-party lenses that often won’t give you results any better than what you’d get from your iPhone.
Of course, an expensive lens won’t make you a better photographer, but it will make you happier with your good shots. You can expect a better lens to be faster, sharper, have less distortion, and be able to resolve more detail. If it’s a choice between several cheap lenses or one quality one, then invest in quality every time.
And lenses are an investment, too. Camera bodies are replaceable and lose their value quickly, but buy a quality lens today and you’ll be using it for years to come. And if you do finally sell it, you should still get a decent price for it.
As a general rule, it’s worth paying a little extra for anything you use a lot. The keyboard is one of the most overlooked parts of your computer, and one of the areas that manufacturers will skimp on to cut costs. If you do a lot of writing or play PC games, then an upgrade to a mechanical keyboard will work wonders.
Most keyboards are membrane keyboards. They use a three-layer plastic membrane across the entire keyboard, acting as a giant pressure pad. The result is a mushy feel when you tap the keys, with little tactile or audible feedback.
On a mechanical keyboard, each key is individually mounted and spring-loaded with its own switch. It gives far greater tactile feedback, and a satisfying click with each keypress.
Computer hardware has long since reached the level where even a system with base specs is good enough for anything a typical user would need it for: the Internet, Facebook, Netflix, even a little photo editing or casual gaming.
So unless you have specific needs, why would you spend extra on a new laptop? For a lot of reasons.
A more expensive laptop will have a better design, lighter weight, thinner body, and will generally be more enjoyable to use. It will likely be made of metal rather than plastic, so will be much more durable. It’ll have a battery that can get you through a working day instead of dropping dead within three hours. And it will have better components, such as a better keyboard, a higher quality screen, and a fast SSD instead of a slow HDD.
A $350 laptop might do the job, but if you can afford to push your budget a little higher, you’ll find a laptop that can do the job better, and will last longer.
7. Smartphone Storage
Smartphones are expensive, and if you’re set on a particular model, buying the model with the least amount of storage is usually the only way to get it cheaper.
But if that reduced capacity is only 16 GB and there’s no memory card slot for future expansion, then it’s a bad idea. A 16 GB iPhone 6S actually has only around 12 GB of free space, and a 16 GB Nexus 5X only has around 10 GB of free space.
Take a few photos, shoot a few videos, and install a few games, and you’ll be facing the prospect of spending the next two years of your phone’s life deleting stuff just to keep it usable.
Your Best Buys?
So now it’s over to you. What are the tech products where you think it’s worth paying extra for quality? Or do you disagree with any of our picks?
Have you found any absolute bargains that we need to know about? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
Image Credits: Headphones via Jonathan Grado, Batteries via Mike Mozart, USB-C via Maurizio Pesce, Lens via Evan Blaser, Keyboard via makototakeuchi, Laptop via Jan-Willem Reusink, iPhone via Karlis Dambrans