Dear Lifehacker, A lot of new "cutting-edge" smartphones have been featured on your website lately. I'm currently shopping for a new phone, but a lot of these products are just hitting the market now. Does it make sense to jump on them right away? When does it make sense to buy versus holding off? Thanks, Sceptical Shopper
Dear Sceptical Shopper,
That's a good question -- sometimes it's perfectly fine to jump on the newest version of something cool. Other times it makes sense to wait at least until the reviews are in before spending your hard-earned money. Assuming you're not an early adopter in all things, let's take a look at how you can know when it's safe to drop some cash on an upgrade as soon as it comes out, and when you should really hold off for a second -- or maybe even a third -- opinion.
Never Try To Be First In Line
We mentioned this when we talked about life on the bleeding edge of software updates and betas -- in most cases, the bleeding edge just isn't as "bloody" as it used to be. Often new products are iterations on old, successful ones, and the risk is low. Even some of the most newsworthy product releases of the past year have largely been safe purchases -- assuming you're already in the market for them.
However, one thing remains true: Even if you're eager to buy that new gadget, never try to be the first in line for it. In fact, try not to line up for it at all. It may seem fun to get your shiny new phone, game console, or smart watch on day one, especially when it seems like a safe bet. Still, even 24 hours can make a huge difference in first impressions and hands-on reviews. Pre-order if you want, and go ahead and opt for launch-day delivery even, but make sure you're reading real-world impressions from other people before you open yours. Those impressions can tell you whether there's a dud lurking in that box on your doorstep -- or at least if there's anything you should look out for before you open it. In short, being one of the first is fine -- just don't try to be the very first.
Do You Trust The Company Making The Product?
Before any upgrade, ask yourself if the company that makes the product has a track record of solid upgrades. Similarly, ask yourself if the company supports its products well, especially new ones. For example, if you're buying the latest update in a long line, you can be pretty sure it's a solid buy. Even slightly contentious products, like the iPhone SE, can be viewed this way. After all, the iPhone SE is just the newest in a line of successful phones and Apple offers support for its customers in retail stores, by phone, and online. Samsung's next Galaxy smartphone should be in the same boat -- if you want one, there's no reason to shy away, unless Samsung's support leaves something to be desired.
There's a price delta here between headphones and smartphones obviously, and we'll get to that a little later. Also, all of those devices have their issues if you dig deep enough. There's probably a "scandal" for all of them that people would use to tell you to avoid them. Look past the sound and the fury and to the basics: Is this a product you really want? Is it well supported in case there's a defect or other issue? Does it come from a company with a good track record that you trust? Those are the big questions to answer, and if they're all yes, your investment is likely safe, even if the product is new.
Is There A Massive Enthusiast Culture Around The Product?
It helps to not be alone when you're on the bleeding edge. Consider whether or not there's a huge culture of fans and enthusiasts around the product or company that you're considering. If you find one, you'll have a place to turn if you have problems with your new device, and an opportunity to help other people struggling with theirs. Whether it's a pair of headphones, a new video card, or a new processor, if there's a massive community out there discussing it, you'll at least run into people who know how to fix the problems you run into, or will have ideas on how you can get them fixed. This is especially useful if you're buying something that doesn't offer "support" in the traditional sense, like computer components for example.
Of course, enthusiast culture can't get your money back if you feel like you bought a lemon, but they can help you turn your lemon into lemonade. Worst case, they can buy your lemon. Your lemon might be someone else's biggest desire. Keep that in mind when you're lining up for a new product -- and keep an eye on eBay prices for that product on launch day while you're at it. If that brand new video card or game console doesn't live up to your expectations or won't work with your setup, think of how much you can get for it while supplies are still constrained.
Are You Spending Money You Can't Afford To Lose?
Buying top of the line or cutting edge products is always a gamble, and the logic with gambling is that you should never bet money you can't afford to lose. If you're planning an upgrade and just can't afford it to go wrong, hold off. As we mentioned earlier, even 24 hours after a product launch can make a world of difference. With smartphones, there will be first-hand reviews and benchmarks within hours of launch, sometimes before. With video cards, hype can dominate logic and get people pumped up for a new release -- but even a few days makes the difference between PR and marketing and real-world benchmarks in real-world scenarios, performed by trusted reviewers. Sometimes it pays to wait.
Keep that price delta between "I'm OK if this isn't what I hoped it would be" and "I shouldn't have spent this much" in mind when you buy. With affordable upgrades, the dollar amount makes the whole affair less risky. With bigger budget upgrades like enthusiast video cards, smartphones or home electronics, you might want to step back a bit from day one purchases. Still, make that call based on your budget and how much you're comfortable spending.
There's nothing wrong with wanting those new, shiny upgrades as soon as they're available. Just don't put your money before your common sense and rational thinking. If everything lines up, you can have it all: A smart buying decision, a reliable product, well-spent money, and your shiny upgrade all at the same time. It just takes a little forethought, and being willing to be second or third in line for that upgrade instead of with the folks out front.
Good luck, and happy hunting!
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