A user's guide to slightly used gadgets

ConsumersTechnology IndustryEric GwinnServices and ShoppingeBay Inc.Toshiba CorporationCraigslist, Inc.

Q: Should you buy refurbished electronics?

A: With the holidays coming up and the economy crushing your wallet, it makes sense to consider less-expensive toys as gifts — for yourself as well as others. You won't be giving up much, either: Even year-old models can outperform the best gadgets from just three years ago.

Refurbished gear, in many cases, is perfectly good hardware that has been returned within 30 days of a sale. Buyer's remorse could be one reason. Another is lots of people don't read the manual, so they can't figure out how to get a feature working, which in their minds makes the item "broken."

In other instances, refurbished gear has had internal problems that have been fixed by the manufacturer or an authorized seller, so it's as good as new but at a good discount.

If you are thinking of going the refurbished route, here are some things to consider:

Buy directly from a manufacturer's website or from an authorized dealer or repair service. They have the specified parts to bring a piece of technology back up to spec, and in many cases you can save up to 20 percent off the cost of a new version of the item. That guy on Craigslist or that gal on eBay selling a used laptop might not have bothered to fix the logic board or worse, might not know that it's damaged.

Take note of these stats from Consumer Reports: Among laptops, 36 percent eventually need repair (Toshiba and Acer are dubbed reliable brands). Also: 32 percent of desktops eventually need repair (Consumer Reports names Apple a reliable brand) and 15 percent of LCD TVs eventually need repair (Consumer Reports says Panasonic, Sanyo and Sylvania are reliable brands.)

Before buying a popular item, check out user reviews on Amazon to see how many buyers had mechanical problems with the product. If a slew of people are complaining about how quickly the product died after purchase, buying it refurbished might still mean buying someone else's headache.

Have a question about your computer, cellphone, camera or any gadget? Let us know! E-mail Eric Gwinn at egwinn@tribune.com, and you could be featured in an upcoming Gadget Q&A column.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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ConsumersTechnology IndustryEric GwinnServices and ShoppingeBay Inc.Toshiba CorporationCraigslist, Inc.
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