Are brand name electronics better? Or is saving the extra money just fine? We set out to find out more after we saw a segment on The Today Show earlier this week. In that segment, the guest expert shared that the Olevia LCD TV had exactly the same specifications as the better-known brands, but was much cheaper. Unfortunately, the segment isn't available on-line, but we've got a few other resources to share.
But where you put your money depends on your needs, wants, and desires. We've got a number of tips to share with you about what you can trust and what you should be wary of.
Although the stat is relatively out of date (Dec. 2004), we're guessing the ZDNet research still holds true: 70% of on-line searching is by generic product, not name brand. Name brand comes in after people start to find what they want. Most retailers want to cater to both the high and low end of the spending spectrum, as well as the middle, so they offer a lot of options. In fact, in the past, people wouldn't own up to purchasing generic items, but now days, it's an entire field to itself: the Private Label.
Best Buy is one relatively recent entrant into the "store brand" market with their Insignia and RocketFish brands. This is one way stores try to gain a larger share of the market. Often, their products are made by the same manufacturers that are used by well-known brands. Sony has recently announced that it will launch a "Bravia M" line for mass-market retailers, such as Target and Wal-mart, which will try to build on the high-end nature of the original Sony Bravia products. But buyers beware: the TVs won't have all of the features of the highly-rated Bravia products.
There are a few specific generic-vs.-brand name recommendations out there. Consumer Reports says that brand-name inks are a better value in the end because they ofter more ink if you're printing a lot of photos or want really good quality. However, you can stretch your dollar by refilling or recycling them at franchised stores. Don't bother, though, with the home re-fill kit, as they're far more hassle and mess than they're worth. If you're just printing text, go with the cheaper options.
As for laptop batteries, the brands get blurry because manufactures can supply batteries to multiple end-brands. For you, that means that spending more doesn't guarantee quality, so there's no need to spend the extra for brand-reassurance.
iPods are an extreme example of a brand taking over an entire market. Do you need an iPod? Well, you do if you want the brand, and a very specific design. But like any consumer electronics choice, brand is just one piece of the total picture. (Pictured on the right is the iRiver Clix, which is an iPod alternative that's got more features than a comparable iPod Nano.)
So how do you choose? Luckily for us, there's the ability to ask other AT readers, and tools like CNET's TV buying guide and customer reviews that abound here and on other sites like Amazon can guide you where you need to go. You can also get a subscription to Consumer Reports (on-line or not), for as little as $6, and they'll tell you about performance and reliability, as well as provide buying guides. After that, it comes down to matter of weighing your options compared with your needs and desires, like price, looks, how you want to buy the item, and technical specifications.