The high cost of NOT buying Apple

Apple wins

Call me a cheapskate, but I’ve always been a bit stingy when it comes to spending on technology. Maybe it’s all those years spent testing and reviewing hardware for myriad trade publications (and the parade of free "extended loaners" I received). Or maybe it’s my insider knowledge of tech trends that makes me hesitant to pay top dollar for something I know will be obsolete inside of a year. But regardless of the motivation, I’ve steadfastly resisted the "urge to splurge" on high-profile technology products.

Case in point: Apple. When the original iPhone came out, I dismissed it as a toy and stuck with my feature phone. And when the iPad debuted, I ignored the tablet sector entirely for nearly two years before investing in what I thought was a technically superior (and by that time, heavily discounted) Blackberry Playbook.

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Later, when it came time to equip a school project I was working on with tablet computers, I eschewed the by-then-ubiquitous iPad 2 in favor of a much cheaper (again, due to heavy discounting) assortment of Acer Iconia tablets running Android. And when I finally decided it was time to get myself (and later, my teenage children) smartphones, I again went with the el-cheapo options: A Samsung Galaxy Avant for me; Alcatel One Touch Fierce XL "phablets" for the kids.

In each instance, I saved big bucks vs. buying the equivalent Apple products. The Playbook cost me under $250, versus over $500 for an entry-level iPad 2. The Acer tablets were had for under $200 apiece off eBay. And both the Samsung Galaxy Avant and Alcatel One Touch phones cost less than $100 per device through the local Metro PCS shop.

But hidden in those discounted prices was literally thousands of dollars’ worth of frustration and buyer’s remorse. Take the Playbook, for example. When I first bought it, Research in Motion (RIM) was promising a free upgrade to its "amazing new BlackBerry 10" operating system. Any deficiencies with the current product (e.g. no email client, no Skype, few mainstream apps to speak of) would be rectified once "BB10" shipped the next year.

Of course, it was all hot air. As anyone familiar with the Playbook debacle will tell you, RIM (later rebranded as simply "BlackBerry") screwed over its entire Playbook customer base by dropping BB10 support for the device less than 18 months after the Playbook had debuted. In a nutshell, it left its customers stranded on a rapidly sinking island with no migration path and an obscure OS that nobody developed for. It was possibly the worst technology investment I’ve ever made.

I fared somewhat better with the Acer tablets. The Iconia A200s were well-built, durable and held-up well against the abuse inflicted upon them by a range of middle and high-school students. But like RIM and the Playbook, Acer soon stopped updating its product when it became clear it would never be commercially successful. This left me with a computer lab full of tablets running Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" on aging NVidia Tegra 2 processors.

It was a combination that rendered them incapable of running many newer Apps (e.g. Microsoft Office for Android). And while I did manage to upgrade a few of the Iconias with a "homebrew" version of Android 4.4.4 "KitKat", this change introduced its own set of problems (random bugs, instabilities) while still not resolving the compatibility issues. Eventually, we had to toss the lot of them and go in a different direction.

The Samsung Galaxy Avant proved to be somewhat of a mixed bag. At first it was great. Performance was adequate, and the LTE speeds (at least in the U.S.) were excellent. But before long, the "el cheapo tax" kicked-in. First, Samsung reneged on its promise to upgrade the device to Android 5.0 "Lollipop" (the Avant shipped with Android 4.4.2 "KitKat" in 2014). Then the company dropped support for the product altogether -- this, a scant six months after introducing it.

Once again, I looked to the "homebrew" community for options and was able to update the device to an Android Open Kang Project (AOKP) implementation of Android 4.4.4. But the combination of poor sales (and thus a small community), a convoluted hardware device driver tree (many non-standard components), and fickle "homebrew" developers (never put your hope in guys with screen names like "dfuse"), meant that was as far as I got. My Avant is now three OS generations behind the times and the list of unresolved bugs and newly discovered incompatibilities grows daily.

What about those Alcatel "phablets" I bought for the kiddies? They worked great in the U.S., but once we took them overseas to our home on Mauritius, we discovered the downside of buying a $59.00 smartphone from a discount wireless provider: Lack of frequency support. Since the local Orange and Emtel networks use less common 3G and LTE bands, both devices are stuck at 2G speeds (even my Avant is stuck on "HSPA+" here). Needless to say, I’m not the most popular person in my kids’ lives at the moment.

The moral of this story is that, by trying to avoid the "Apple Tax", I ended up "costing" myself more in terms of user frustration and abandoned products. At each stage in my mobile device odyssey I would have been better off if I’d simply bought Apple. An iPad 2 instead of the Playbook. More iPad 2s instead of the Iconia tablets. An iPhone 5s instead of the Galaxy Avant. And maybe some refurbished iPhones for the kids.

Sure, I saved some money up front. But I also ended up with lots of useless, depreciating junk. Much of what I bought is now all but worthless on the resale market. By contrast, when those iPad 2s became dated I could have easily unloaded them on eBay for a decent price. And even a used iPhone 5s is still desirable to many budget-conscious Apple buyers -- the upside of investing in an "aspirational" brand.

Fortunately, I’ve learned my lesson. The next time I buy phones for my kids, they’ll be iPhones. Ditto for the wife and any future tablet purchases (yeah, I got her a Playbook as well -- big mistake). And though I couldn’t bring myself to buy Apple when I went shopping for my aging Galaxy Avant’s replacement (I blame "fruit allergies"), I did increase my budget significantly. Instead of buying another one of Samsung’s budget-friendly, low-end models, I decided to splurge on a top-of-the-line Galaxy S7.

Because, at the end of the day, you really do "get what you pay for". And I figure by paying top dollar up front I’m avoiding the many hidden costs of buying on the cheap. After all, when you’re spending this kind of money on a high-end electronics device from an established, well-respected vendor, what’s the worst that could happen?

Image Credit: Michele Paccione / Shutterstock

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