Our Favorite Sites for Researching Hardware Purchases
Due to our natural inclination to be a little geeky, it could reasonably be said that we spend more time reading about, thinking about, and talking about technology than the average lawyer. We become more animated when the conversation turns toward smart phones, software, and scanners. So sometimes we forget that other lawyers don’t share our strange fascination with gadgets. Most lawyers are too busy doing what it takes to earn a living. They might not know where to turn when they need to purchase technology.
If you need to replace an old scanner or want to supplement your desktop PC with a notebook, we are here to tell you that it actually makes sense to shop online. Most chain stores are geared toward home use, not professional offices. If you’re on your own, without the assistance of a technology professional, your safest option is to make your purchase based on educated research online—not driving around to stores chasing the weekly special. (And we all know how hard it is to get someone to help you in a big box retail store, much less someone knowledgeable or objective.) Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a technology consultant, you will still want to educate yourself about their suggestions and the prices they are offering.
So where do you begin? Consumer Reports [ www.consumerreports.org] usually comes to mind when one thinks about product research. Unfortunately, most of their content is available only to subscribers. Where can you research products for free?
Your bar association’s practice management advisor is one person to contact. Besides offering advice on how to research products for the law office, he or she may have product information, books, periodicals, or even suggestions for products based on personal research.
You can also take matters into your own hands and hit the Web. We think that it is helpful to break your search for new hardware into two parts: reviews and comparison shopping for the best price. Reviews by actual users and the editors of well-respected online and print journals can help you weigh all the pros and cons, plus alert you to issues you may not have considered. Here are a few of our favorite websites for technology shopping.
We give our top grades to CNet, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and PC World Online. These four sites have many similar features, and all are great for boning up on all kinds of tech products. CNet [ http://reviews.cnet.com/] and ZDNet [ http://review.zdnet.com/] (part of the CNet “family”) are two of our favorite sites for technology product reviews. Both sites are easy to use—you can search by category or by inputting the product name or model number. We also like the fact that you can find reviews for the latest products as well as older models.
Before we hit a local store for a product we’ve seen advertised, we hit CNet and Zdnet for expert reviews from their editors and from other users. We can read the detailed manufacturer’s specifications and compare features with other products side by side. Because both sites are now owned by the same corporation, they usually cross-reference each other’s reviews.
For example, on ZDNet, we searched for information about the Flip Mino (Kennaday’s favorite video camera). We got a slick page with reviews, specifications, photos, and comparison shopping information. We especially liked the “compare” feature, which led to a nice side-by-side comparison of the Flip to several similar competitor’s products. Very handy!
The two best-known technology magazines have helpful reviews and product information.
A recent visit to PC Magazine [ http://www.pcmag.com/] also resulted in our finding a user-friendly guide to smart phones, which referenced current models, simple explanations of the latest technology, and links to comprehensive reviews of each product. A nice feature of product reviews is the quick reference column, with pros and cons and the “bottom line.” In addition, you can watch hands-on videos of the products with further explanations from the editors. You can comparison shop at http://shop.pcmag.com/.
PC World [ http://www.pcworld.com/] also contains reviews of numerous products. PC World’s Shop & Compare area is online at http://www.pcworld.com/shopping/.
In fact, both of these popular magazines place most all of their content online.
Three other sites are worth mentioning here:
Tip: In a huge hurry? Use Google or Yahoo search engine to search for the product’s name and model plus the word “review.” You may find an article from a periodical or blog directly on point.
The next step is comparison shopping. Admit it, nothing beats finding a bargain or getting the best possible price (for some of us, it might be the highlight of the day). Our favorite site? Price Grabber [ http://www.pricegrabber.com/]. With categories from computers to baby clothes, a Product of the Day, quick links to popular searches—what’s not to like? Bottom line pricing is a great feature. Just plug in your zip code, and it will calculate your final price, including shipping and applicable state tax. Create a login name and account and save a list of products to be alerted to price changes. If you shop a lot, you might sign up for the weekly newsletter email, along with other promotions. What if you are already at the store, but you’re wondering if you’re looking at a good price? Use your smart phone to go to PriceGrabber’s mobile version ( www.atpg.com) to make sure. Cool feature: if you find what you want elsewhere, use your smartphone to automatically dial the merchant you choose, and buy over the phone! Or you can just wait and connect to the merchant online from home.
One we use more and more: Google Product Search [ http://www.google.com/products] (formerly known as Froogle). According to Google, it’s different from most other price comparison services in that it neither charges any fees for listings, nor accepts payment for products to show up first. Also, it makes no commission on sales. It includes product reviews from other sources, such as Epinions, PriceGrabber, and TigerDirect. Sellers upload their products using the Google content submission tool.
One of our colleagues is a big fan of www.buyerzone.com. While we’re not really big fans of this approach because you have to complete a questionnaire and give the company your email address just to get a price quote, we pass it along due to the positive feedback we have heard.
Others to try:
So what's our bottom line? Don't be intimidated by shopping online for technology. Most of the time, you can find the best prices and educate yourself while shopping for bargains.
Jim Calloway is the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. He served as chair of the ABA TECHSHOWT 2005. Calloway publishes the weblog, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips, at http://jimcalloway.typepad.com, and was coauthor of the book, Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour. He serves on the GP|Solo Division Technology Board. Courtney Kennaday is the director of the Practice Management Assistance Program of the South Carolina Bar. She advises bar members on practice management and law office technology.
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