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Smart Buys: Five Gadgets I Bought in the Last Five Years That Were Totally Worth It

I know the title of this post sounds a little self-congratulatory. But I promise you; it’s the opposite. I’m the worst when it comes to impulse buys. If it’s some kind of electronic gadget, it’s under $50 and I just got a gift card in my inbox from Amazon Associates, there’s a really good chance I’ll buy it for no good reason. Many of those impulse buys end up covered in dust after the first few weeks or even worse, don’t even come out of the box (I’m looking at you, Resistance band exercise kit). But now and then, I make a purchase that was actually worth it. Here are five times that I got lucky buying stuff before my brain kicked in:

Foscam FI8910W Wireless N IP Camera

foscam-wireless-ip-cam

I bought this in Nov. 2012 for $69.00 from Groupon. Actually, I think it was my wife’s idea. She had read a blog post about turning one of these into a video baby monitor, and that’s what we did. We ended up using it a ton. In fact, when we had another kid, we bought another one of these for $64.99 off Newegg. The first kid is too big to need a baby monitor anymore, so we moved his camera into a playroom in the basement. The cameras run 24/7 and are accessible on my local area network only (you can use these over the internet, but I choose not to for security purposes). You can view them from a laptop or an iPhone, and you can pan, turn on night vision, and even hear audio.

If I had to do it all again, I’d buy another web camera just like this one. They have newer models now; this Foscam FI9821PB is comparable in price and features, plus it has a 2-way audio.

Refurbished Asus U56E Laptop

u56e

It’s the age old question: to refurb or not to refurb? On the one hand, you can get deep discounts on refurbished computers. But on the contrary, who knows what that thing has been through? Was it returned because it was the wrong color? Or did someone drop it into a deep fryer and RMA it? Plus, you usually get a much more limited warranty—90 days or less instead of a full year.

Refurbished, in case you didn’t know, means that the item was previously owned, but it was returned for whatever reason. Refurbishment implies that they did some work to repair it and tested it out to some degree, but it’s not always clear what that means for each product and each company. Sometimes, refurbishing means dusting it off and repackaging it. Other times, it means giving it an overall and rigorously recertifying it to make sure it’s good as new.

When I bought my laptop, I paid $500 on TigerDirect in May 2012. It was an ASUS U56E, and it normally retailed for $700. I was saving $200 and risking it crapping out after the 90-day warranty.

I’m happy to report that it hasn’t. I still use this computer, and I haven’t put a single cent into upgrading it (except for software and Windows). Some of the letters on the keys have rubbed off, but nothing some keyboard stickers can’t fix. The ASUS U56E remains my primary computer, and it runs as well as it does the day I bought it. This is my second I’ve purchased. The first was an ASUS EEEPC netbook, and my latest is my ASUS Chromebook Flip.

I’d definitely buy another ASUS laptop. And I’d probably buy another refurbished laptop if I can get another deal that good.

iPhone Case with a Kickstand

spigen-kickstand-iphone-case

I started buying iPhone cases with kickstands over five years ago, and I’ve never gone back. The first phone I had with a stand was an HTC Surround Windows Phone 7 that had one built-in. Now, every single time I upgrade my phone, I get myself a kickstand. It seems gimmicky and silly, but it comes in handy more often than you’d think. Plus, it doesn’t add any bulk, so why not?

I originally used the kickstand for propping up my phone so I could watch Netflix while I ate my lunch. Then, I started using it in conjunction with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard to crank out some text at Starbucks. Then, I started using it for the Magic Timer app while my kids brushed their teeth. Recently, the stand broke off my case, and I am so, so sad.

The case that I have for my iPhone 6S is a Spigen Slim Armor iPhone 6s Case with Kickstand. I considered getting a new one, but the case cost $30, and it actually provides pretty amazing protection from drops and other klutzy maneuvers. Sure, the kickstand broke off in about a year, but that might not happen to you if you’re not a dunce like me. I’m chalking my downfall up to user error. They make the same case for the iPhone 7, too.

Comcast Cable Modem

arris-surfboard-cable-modem

Or should I say a non-Comcast cable modem? Comcast was charging me something like $5 a month to rent their cable modem. So, three years ago, I bought a Zyxel Cable Modem for $50 (now it’s only $40). After plugging it in, logging in the XFINITY website on the phone and setting the modem up, the modem immediately began paying for itself. (You can activate your own cable modem over the phone, too). My only regret: I waited two years before getting my own modem, thereby throwing away $120 on rent. You can do this with other internet service providers, too. Just make sure you check on their website that the modem you are buying is supported.

After two years, my Zyxel did crap out. I don’t know if it was a power outage or what, but fortunately, I was still covered under warranty. They replaced it free of charge. Later, I upgraded to an ARRIS SURFboard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem (pictured above0.

Bluetooth Headphones

soundbot-bluetooth-headphones

If you’re like me, you don’t work out. You don’t jog or go to the gym. So, you’ve probably thought that you didn’t need a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones. Your iPhone comes with earbuds after all.

But let me tell you: you do. Or at least I did.

Any chore that gets done in my house or my yard gets done because I can listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I’m doing it. And while the included Apple earbuds that come with my phone were fine, they were constantly cramping my style: getting caught on drawer handles, accidentally getting shoved into a bag of leaves, popping out of my ears if I turn my head at a funny angle. This was frustrating to no end, especially when I’m deep into the second half hour of a Radiolab episode and my hands are covered in raw chicken juice or topsoil and my earbuds just popped out.

I had tried a few pairs before I settled on my favorite: this AmazonBasics on-ear Bluetooth headphone set. It’s unavailable at the time of this article, but you can find many like them. Check out this pair for $17.99: SoundBot SB240 Kermes Red Bluetooth Headphone Wireless Headset. I tried some in-ear Bluetooth headphones and earbuds, but my ear canals are apparently too oddly-shaped to accept them, and they kept on falling out.

Overall, Bluetooth headphones are something I thought I didn’t need, but it turns out I can’t live without them. Whether I’m walking the dog, washing the dishes, or working in the yard, I need these on my ears.

Conclusion

That list was a little boring, I know. But that’s the thing. Many of the gadgets that you end up buying and using every day are more mundane than the flashy fad gizmos that end up collecting dust. If my house were to burn down, these are the gadgets I’d buy again first.

Which electronics purchases do you have zero regrets buying? Let me know in the comments because I’m lazy and would prefer you tell me what I don’t need so I can buy it without searching for it! Teamwork! 

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4 Responses to Smart Buys: Five Gadgets I Bought in the Last Five Years That Were Totally Worth It

  1. Len kowalik November 11, 2016 at 8:51 am #

    Thanks for your article.
    A recent purchase that has turned out to be excellent is an Android TV box. At the same time I purchased a mini keyboard with backlight, which was fortunate because some navigation is not possible with the remote that comes with the box. For example Spotify appears to work only with the keyboard. So far I have used the box for music streaming more than anything else, with an optical cable connected to my stereo, so that the TV can be turned off. Also some Android functionality doesn’t work with the box I have. An example of that is that pull down lists do not persist. I suspect that is because of the tailoring of Android to the hardware but I don’t know if there are any fixes for that kind of problem. One app that I loaded immediately is Instagram but it doesn’t work at all, which is a shame because pictures would look so great on the HD TV. Again I suspect hardware software compatibility issues.
    Another device that I am very happy with, and that I am composing this on, is a BLU Vivo XL, an excellent phone at a fraction of the cost of the major brands.

    • Jack Busch November 12, 2016 at 7:05 am #

      Interesting! Which Android box did you buy? Was it this one: ANDROID TV BOX -FULLY LOADED KODI / XBMC?

      I’ve considered doing something similar with a Raspberry Pi, but found it a little cumbersome (and not really that much cheaper than buying something ready-to-go out of the box).

  2. Len Kowalik November 12, 2016 at 7:55 am #

    OTT TV box.
    https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B01M12AU56/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    There are so many available, so I was looking for Android 5 or 6 (don’t know if that matters), processors, and memory, compared to price.

    Seneo backlit keyboard
    https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B01CCBBYRM/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    The only complaints that I have are:
    1) there appear to be some compatibility issues between Android, or apps, or both, and the keyboard. For example, drop-down lists do not persist. Maybe this is a problem with a fix, or a way of avoiding? Another “list” that disappears is the icons for background apps displayed with Alt/Tab
    2) the keyboard is great for low light, but the keys are pretty much useless when not lit. There was another backlit keyboard that may be better, but not obviously so from the images, and they otherwise seem identical.
    However, it would be very difficult to navigate some apps, eg. Spotify, with the included remote.

    Hope this helps

  3. Barbara November 13, 2016 at 8:44 am #

    Your info on the modem is perfect timing. Several months ago I cancelled tv service with Cox and got a Roku box and liked it so much that I bought the Roku stick for another tv. Next, I got an Obihai with PhonePower and cancelled my phone service with Cox. I was feeling pretty good now just having my internet and saving a bundle, but now they are charging me to rent the modem for $6.99 a month! I’m not tech savvy and your newsletter helps me enormously. Now I will be buying an Arris modem and then all I should get a bill for is the internet service. I have learned over the years not to say I can afford the monthly bill, but what is the cost for the year. Makes a big difference in the way you spend or save. Thanks so much for your help.

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