The specs on gadgets released these days are extremely impressive. The iPhone 13 Pro is capable of shooting a full-length feature film. The Surface Book 3 can ship with 32GB of RAM and an NVIDIA graphics card, all while managing to be both a laptop and a tablet. Beats headphones with active noise-canceling can dull even the sound of a jetliner. And let’s not forget the new M1 chips, setting ridiculous new benchmarks for performance and battery life.
This stuff is, like, really cool. But for the vast majority of us, it’s overkill.
For nearly four years now, I’ve run my own blogging business. All my work is done alone on my devices. They are the number one thing I depend on to run my business. It is on my laptop that I do all my writing and publishing. It is with design software on that laptop that I design all my marketing materials. It is with my iPhone and laptop that I manage meetings and Zoom calls.
This workload is significantly greater than most people have for their laptops. When I worked at Best Buy as a PC salesman in my younger years, I learned what most people use laptops for: browsing Facebook, working on homework, and cruising the internet.
Yet, for nearly four years, I managed this large workload with a… 12" Macbook. You know, those tiny ones Apple used to sell. Mine had an m3 core, for christ’s sake — less powerful than most smartphones. But for three years straight, it supported my entire business without a single problem. It was only last year that its m3 core started to show signs of age (it took Affinity Photo more than 2 milliseconds to boot up, which was unacceptable for someone as impatient as me). I upgraded to the M1 Macbook air, which is so overpowered for my workload that it’s like driving a Bugatti Veyron during your rush hour work commute. And that’s the base model.
I used to be the kind of person who bought the very best Macbook Pro with the very best maxed-out specs. My laptops routinely cost $3,000. I thought I needed the performance to effectively run my business making autism apps. But I was fooling myself. I downgraded to the base model of the cheapest laptops Apple makes, and I’ve experienced literally no difference in the quality of my computing experience. Also, it put $2000 back in my pocket.
This little experiment inspired me to downgrade in other ways.
I sold my $250 Sony noise-canceling headphones and bought $30 noise-canceling headphones from an Amazon seller called iTeknic. They were basically the same. Sure, I missed having touch-based swiping gestures, but those aren’t crucial to the functioning of a pair of headphones. The button-based volume controls work just fine. There’s $220 back in my pocket.
I’m a huge fan of projector TV’s, so when it’s time for me to get a TV, I don’t look at LCDs, I look at projectors. Cinema-quality projectors can easily be $500 to $1000. The last projector I had was $600. It was, admittedly, completely awesome. Imagine having a TV screen the size of your entire wall. But I’d learned cheaper technology can easily be awesome too, so I went with the $120 Vankyo Leisure 410. And you know what? It was just as awesome. I feel like a fool for ever spending $600 on a projector (or an ordinary TV, for that matter). There’s $450 back in my pocket. (More if I’d purchased an ordinary TV).
When I lost my AirPods (man, those things are easy to lose), I didn’t replace them with AirPods. I replaced them with the Vankyo Alpha X200s, a set of earbuds I got for free for leaving a glowing review of the Vankyo Leisure 410 on Amazon. Their original price was around $50. Since they were free, I wasn’t expecting much, but they ended up being so great that my partner claimed them for himself. There’s $150 back in my pocket.
I even put my iPhone away for a while and switched to a $150 rugged smartphone called the Oukitel WP5. I loved that thing. I would still be using it if AT&T hadn’t announced they were shuttering their 3G service. Sigh. Back to the iPhone. If I’d been able to stick with the Oukitel WP5, it would have been nearly $600 back in my pocket.
In case you weren’t keeping track, that’s $3,500 saved over the course of two years.
The hippest, coolest gadgets are pretty hip and pretty cool. But for most people, most of the time, they are serious overkill. The downmarket version of the product will be 80% as awesome and 20% of the price. If you struggle to make ends meet but tend to have the latest, greatest tech, this is an obvious way to cut back.
Before you say it, of course there are edge cases. People doing feature film work, physics simulations, hardcore gaming, and other serious business will certainly need more powerful devices. But that is not most of us.
Gadgets are cool. I’ve always been one of those people who considers a visit to Best Buy, the Apple store, or the Microsoft store a great way to spend a Saturday. But we don’t need to own every cool piece of technology. Cool technology without a purpose becomes expensive clutter. We would all be better off limiting ourselves to buying only what we truly need, not what we can put on our mobile phone plan or store credit card.
Next time you’re in the market for a new laptop, phone, headphones, or another gadget, consider a cheaper option. Walk out of Best Buy and see what you can find on Amazon. Use that Amazon Prime membership I know you have to try out a $50 pair of headphones or a $300 smartphone instead. If you hate it, you can always return it. But I don’t think you will. I think you’ll love it, and then you’ll feel sickened by how much money you spent on expensive technology you never really needed in the first place.