Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tech Lab: Day after's a good time to grab gadget-related deals - The Boston Globe

It's 24 hours later. Santa has safely cleared US airspace, and the blizzard of ripped wrapping paper has been shoveled away. Mission accomplished.

But what's a technology buff to do on the day after Christmas?

There's football, of course. Who can resist the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl? But learning how to use your new tablet or smartphone might be a better use of time. Besides, the stores are open, and there are still some decent deals to be had. You might even consider whether to get a little extra warranty protection for your costly new gadgets.

There will be the usual spate of after-Christmas sales, including a few technology bargains. For example, the electronics retailer Best Buy is giving away iPhones - specifically, the iPhone 5c, the plastic-sheathed little brother of apple christmas cards Inc.'s flagship, the iPhone 5s. Sign a two-year service contract with any of the major phone carriers, and you get the 5c at no charge. The deal, which runs through Dec. 28, confirms those rumors that few people are buying the 5c. But it's basically Apple's excellent iPhone 5 in a cheaper case, and that makes this Best Buy offer a very good deal, indeed.

Meanwhile, Apple itself is handing out freebies to its loyal customers. For 12 days after Christmas, the company will give away one goodie - a song or a movie, an e-book or an app. Each free item is available for just 24 hours.

To get in on the fun, download Apple's 12 Days of Gifts app for free at the App Store.

Digital gifts almost never include all the little accessories you'll eventually need - extra batteries, cases for the new smartphone or tablet, flash memory cards for the camera, spare cables. Find them at the mall, if you must. But if you can afford to wait a few days for delivery, such simple items are best purchased online, where prices are lower. is a good place to look for cheap accessories. Never mind its reputation as an auction site; these days most eBay products are sold at fixed prices, and pretty good ones, too.

But there's another great place to shop for digital accessories. has created a service called Amazon Basics that specializes in this kind of thing. A standard Lightning cable for connecting an iPhone to a computer costs $19 at an Apple store, but the Amazon Basics version is $14. A six-foot HDMI cable for plugging game machines into your HDTV sells for $15 to $20 at a retail store; Amazon Basics sells them for $5.79.

You should also consider buying an extended warranty on your devices, to make sure you're covered in case of loss or damage. I generally frown on paying extra for such coverage. Electronic devices tend to be very durable, and if they don't break down during the first year, they will probably last a lot longer.

But my faith in this principle was shaken quite a bit this year when our four-year-old Samsung flat-panel TV suffered a major malfunction. It goes to show that even reliable machines like TVs can go south without warning. My wife insisted on paying about $180 for a five-year warranty on our new set, and I didn't have the heart to argue.

Besides, I've bought such warranties myself, for my smartphones. I've always made exceptions for portable devices because it's so easy to lose or break them. So my HTC One phone carries a three-year insurance policy issued by SquareTrade, the biggest and best of the online warranty sellers. I used to insure Apple iPods with them, and filed two claims on damaged devices. I got paid promptly and cheerfully. You can buy SquareTrade protection for all kinds of electronic devices, including items received as gifts.

If your digital gift isn't working quite right, get help. The best first move is to run a Google search to find others who had the same problem. This gets me the right answer about 90 percent of the time.

But if you must phone the manufacturer's customer service hot line, the best way is on a smartphone equipped with Zappix, a free app developed by a Burlington company. Zappix, available for iOS or Android devices, includes the correct phone numbers for dozens of retailers and consumer products companies.

Instead of wading through a tiresome menu of choices - press "1" for sales, "2" for repairs, and so on - Zappix is preprogrammed with the right choices for many customer service lines. Having a problem with that new iPad? Launch Zappix, look up Apple, and touch the iPad tech support menu item.

While Zappix makes it easy to track down tech support, it can't reduce the time spent on hold.

But at least you'll have something to do while waiting for the next bowl game.

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