Shopping online – tips and advice

When shopping online, there are loads of things to look out for, and loads of ways to get a better deal. In this article I hope to share some of the experience I have got from shopping online, and some of my tech knowledge in order to help you get a better deal – what you want, at a reasonable price.

The first thing to say is that what you are shopping for, is crucial to how to go about buying it.

Virtual Goods

If you are buying an online or ‘virtual’ good/service, then the key thing to check is that you are buying from a reputable firm. Checking the firm is reputable and reliable is key for all online shopping, but especially so if you are buying something virtual – e.g. a website, anti-virus software, access to a game, music etc.

There are a few ways you can go about checking if online firms are reputable. The first is to see if the firm exists in reality, do they have shops in the real world, or are they totally online? Firms with physical property are less likely to be fraudulent, as they are easy to find and locate. Totally online firms can be just as reputable, look at the likes of Play.com and Amazon.

Play.com's LogoThe second way to get an idea of whether a firm is reputable or not is to check their stats. Does the site have a good Alexa rank – top 500,000? If not, people may not be visiting the site for a reason: it has just been set up, and after a few quick cons will be gone. You can check the history of the site using the Way Back Machine for more info on its past.

The third way is a much less reliable way, but can be useful to back up your decision. Try looking at the websites PageRank. If they have say a PageRank 3+ homepage, they are more likely to be legitimate than a site with all PageRank 0’s. People link to shop websites when they buy things and then review them, so shops should acquire PageRank. If they have no PageRank, they may still be legitimate, but check, as that may mean they have not been trading for long, therefore have just set up to scam, and will be shut down soon.

Finally are they a big name. Say you are buying anti-virus direct from the supplier. Most people have heard of the likes of Kaspersky, Sophos and Norton, but if the company is called something like ‘SpywareBeGoneSolutions’ then they are a lot less likely to sell you a good product, if any product at all.

Kaspersky's LogoFinally, when checking that the firm you are going to buy from is going to give you the product(s) you want, watch the news, or research them on news sites! Is the firm about to go bust or being run by administrators? If so, buying from them may lead to you loosing your money!

Services

If you are buying a service, such as a holiday, insurance or a meal at a restaurant, then there are loads of really useful sites that can help you, by giving you an incite into what others thought of that service.

Say for example you are buying a holiday, you can use websites like TripAdvisor.com to see if the place you are looking at staying at has positive reviews. If not, you can maybe choose somewhere else. Be careful though, as sometimes these sites can be misleading, as Jonny recently wrote about.

There are other websites too like MoneySavingExpert.com and Yelp, which can offer similar services for other things like insurance, banking, restaurants, shopping etc. MoneySavingExpert.com is especially worth a look, as aside from reviews, they can give really good advice, to help you save money when buying all sorts of things.

Products

The key to ensuring you get value for money and what you want when buying products online is to make sure you read what other people think about it. Reviews are really useful, and can help you determine which product is right for you.

Don’t be afraid to venture out of the companies website itself, and look for more reviews elsewhere online. Some firms will only publish the positive reviews they receive on their own site, in order to try to persuade more people to buy that product, from them.

A really important bit of advice is not to discount the high street, it can still be a very good place to buy things. Often things are cheaper online, however you can usually see and sometimes try products when in a shop, whereas online, all you have is pictures and possibly video.

Once you know the product is for you, make sure that you shop around. Find the best deal using price comparison sites like MoneySupermarket.com and PriceRunner.co.uk.

Once you have your product and the shop, don’t forget to go to coupon sites to see if you can get an even better deal. Sites like MyVoucherCodes usually have some great discount offers, you just need to look.

To conclude

In summary, when shopping online, make sure that you are buying from someone reputable. Make sure the product or service is what you want. Check out other peoples reviews. Look for the best deal, and then finally don’t forget to check if there are any vouchers that could further slash the cost.

Hopefully these tips have been useful, good luck shopping online!

Which tablet works best for you?

With the holidays fast approaching, tech companies are readying new products to woo people looking for the latest hot item in the tech industry. Games consoles, flat screens, and smartphones have had their time in the sun as popular holiday purchases, but this year belongs to the tablet.

Apple dominated the tablet market last holiday season with the introduction of their revolutionary iPad, a wild success with consumers. Since then competitors have tried to emulate the magic of the iPad in an effort to cash in on the new tablet market, but to little avail: HP’s tablet failed to impress consumers, while Motorola’s Xoom tablet has struggled to establish a solid consumer base since its release in January.

But Apple now has two serious contenders to face in the tablet arena: Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are both wildly successful companies in their own right, are looking to transform the popularity of their digital reading devices into sleek, user-friendly tablets. Now that there are at least three viable tablets to choose from, it’s time to determine which would be the best buy for the holiday season.

Price

We can separate the tablets from each other right from the beginning by looking at their price ranges. The Apple iPad 2 starts at $499, while the Kindle Fire Starts at $199 and the Nook Tablet is priced at $249. Now the disparate prices may be enough to determine a consumer’s purchase; the $300 price gap between the Kindle Fire and iPad 2, for instance, will likely drive many consumers to choose the cheaper tablet.

An iPad 2

An iPad 2 showing off how ‘amazingly thin’ it is

But of course these tablets are priced according to their features. The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are much closer in price, and analysts expect that consumers will transfer their digital reader loyalties to the tablets — Kindle users will go to the Kindle Fire and Nook users will likely follow suit with the Nook Tablet. Both tablets will be optimal for digital reading, web browsing, and multimedia functions.

Part of Nook’s more expensive price tag can be attributed to the better hardware: the Nook Tablet has 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, compared to the 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage on the Kindle Fire.

While the iPad 2 stands as the most expensive tablet on the market, it also boasts more attractive components than either other tablet. With a larger screen (9.7 inch), built-in 3G, and access to hundreds of thousands of apps from the Apple store, the iPad 2 certainly offers a host of features that would make any tablet competitor blush. Is it expensive? Yes. Do you get what you pay for? Yes.

Stand-Out Features

There are certainly stand-out features to consider with every tablet. The Kindle Fire may not have the hardware on par with the other two tablets, it will have optimized internet usage through Amazon’s cloud service based browser, Silk. In theory Silk will allow the user to perform multiple functions online at once without overburdening the tablet because part of the computing power will be done via Amazon’s cloud system. The Kindle Fire also has the Amazon name in its favor, one of the most trusted names in online retail.

The Nook Tablet has the distinct advantage of being sold at brick and mortar Barnes & Noble stores. A consumer can walk into a store and purchase a Nook Tablet on a whim, something that the Kindle Fire simply can’t compare to.

Barnes & Noble have also hinted at creating spaces similar to Apple’s genius bar, built solely for the maintaining and assistance for all things Nook related. If there’s any credence to that rumor, it could help jettison the Nook Tablet to the top of the market.

As for the iPad 2, its standout feature is simple: it’s an Apple product. The brand loyalty alone has driven millions to purchase the tablet, regardless of the high price tag. But it remains to be seen if Apple will continue to charm potential tablet users in the face of these newly minted tablets from its competitors.

How to choose the right laptop for you

After my recent post on how to be a smart online buyer, I thought why just help people get a good priced product, as a good price doesn’t always mean good value.

As a laptop is something most people probably buy online, and as it is also something that often costs a lot of money, I thought why not help people choose which is best for them. Maybe in the future I will do the same for mobile phones, digital cameras and who knows what else!

What is it going to be used for?

The main thing you have to work out is what is the laptop going to be used for? Do you need something that can cope with 3D HD gaming, or are we just looking at text editing, emails and the web?

The more you want to be able to do with your laptop, the greater ability it will need to have, meaning that it is more likely to need a higher spec, and therefore probably a more costly speck.

I only really use the internet

If most of the stuff you do is online, then you probably don’t need a very high spec laptop – just a good internet connection. If you laptop is mainly used for blogging using an online system like WordPress, Blogger or TypePad, playing your favourite online games, typing emails using an online webmail service, and socialising using Facebook and Twitter (I should point out other social media sites are available ;-)) then you might want to look into Chromebooks – or low spec laptops.

The Google Chrome LogoGoogle says that Chromebooks are ‘nothing but the web.’ They run a 100% cloud based operating system, meaning that all your data, settings etc. are stored online, safe and secure in the cloud. This means they only take secconds (literally 8 or 9) to boot up, meaning you are off and working/playing in an instant.

Here is how Google describes Chromebooks:

“Chromebooks are built and optimised for the web, where you already spend most of your computing time. So, you get a faster, simpler and more secure experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers.”

Chromebooks are very fast as they need no virus protection, have no background processes slowing them down, neither does it need updates, since all of that happens in the cloud, basically everything runs from the browser.

If you don’t want a Chromebook, you probably only need a really low spec laptop, so that could be very cheap. Regarding operating system, if you like pretty styles, then go for Windows7, as that it stable and also ‘looks good’ avoid Vista, especially on low spec laptops, as it can really slow them down – XP and 2000 are also good.

It’s going to be a family laptop

If you are looking for a typical family laptop, where some of the kids will want to play flash games, but they will also need to do their homework, and the adults want to be able to check their emails and social profiles for updates, then you are probably going to be looking for a pretty standard PC.

To make sure it is quick and doesn’t slow down you would probably benefit from a dual-core processor. Dual-core means that the computer possess more than one CPU. Extra CPU’s means that you can process data faster, therefore your laptop will run quicker.

In order for your extra CPU’s to be effective, it would be a good idea to have at least 1 gigabyte (gb) of RAM, and preferably 2.

Windows7 would be perfect for family usage, as would XP. 2000 may look and feel a little dated, and Vista is likely to cause you a lot of grief!

I edit photos and run games and watch online media

If you like to have a lot open, and often are found editing photos, playing CPU intensive games, and watching HD videos, then you probably need a pretty powerful processor, along with a decent sized hard disk, a good amount of RAM, and a dedicated graphics card. Screen display resolution is also likely to be important, as if you like HD, but have only a standard screen, you can’t display HD.

Intel make a type of processor called i3 and another called i5. These are very well designed processors and run very well. If you see i3 or i5 on a PC, it is probably going to be a good one. Photo editing and gaming can be very hard disk space hungry tasks, so I would recommend getting at least a 250gb (preferably a 360gb) hard disk. With a laptop, short of getting an external hard drive, there is no easy way of expanding the amount of space you have.

This type of user would benefit best from 4gb of RAM, and a dedicated graphics card – this basically means that the graphics card is a separate component within the PC, which has it’s only memory and processing unit.

I do all of the above and more, and I do it all at the same time!

If you can never seem to find a laptop that is powerful enough for you there are a few options available to you – sadly, they area all rather expensive ones!

The first would be to get a powerful MacBook. MacBooks are notorious for their high specs, stable operating systems and therefore lack of time spent loading.

The second would to be to buy a quad-core i7 spec laptop. Most MacBooks run off core i5 and i7 processors anyway, however Windows also performs very well when being run on a core i7 machine.

The intel Core i7 proccessor badgeA dedicated graphics card is a must for this type of user, and 4-8 gig of RAM is recommended. Depending on how long you want to keep your laptop will determine how big your hard disk will need to be. My advice would be that if you are likely to want to keep the same laptop for any more that 4 or 5 years, get a terabyte hard disk.

Another option would be to have a custom built laptop. These can sometimes work out cheaper, but you need to be cautious, as if you, or whoever is building the laptop aren’t 100% sure of what’s what, then you could face compatibility issues.

Certain processors work better with certain types of RAM, certain operating systems require certain types of graphics cards, and certain hard disks are needed in order to be compatible with the rest of the machine. Basically certain part of the laptop will naturally work well together, however if you custom build your laptop, you might have 8gb of RAM, but the problem is, your processor finds it hard to deal with that type of RAM.

Other things to consider

When choosing a laptop, it is also important to consider things like who it’s made by. Different firms have different reputations for the quality of their laptops, but also consider the quality of their customer service. If their automated calling systems drive you mad, then it may be wise not to buy one of their laptops.

Furthermore, consider your other devices like cameras and phones when buying a new laptop. Some devices may not be compatible with your operating system, or you may need to get some new camera cables if your current devices can’t plug in to your new laptop.

Connectivity is another important factor: does your laptop have inbuilt Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or infrared? If you are forever connecting to mobile Wi-Fi, or your phone to download pictures, then it would be useful to have such functions inbuilt.

An inbuilt webcam and microphone can be very handy if you are often using programmes like Skype to talk to friends on the internet.

Also don’t forget the battery. If you barely use your laptop when you are away from a plug, then the battery is probably not of much importance to you, however if your laptop battery is important to you, you may want to avoid second hand laptops. Laptop batteries from second hand machines can often be less powerful and last less time than a normal battery would.

The right laptop for you

Getting the right laptop for you can be crucial in making sure that you get value for money, as a laptop with spare capacity is a waste of money, as is a laptop that cannot perform to the standard you need.

If you need any more help in choosing the right laptop for you, drop a comment below 🙂