Check under Web hood before you buy


Read the reviews before you buy that new computer, printer, digital camera, MP3 music player, home theatre system, or any other electronic technology.

Manufacturers Web sites, newspaper advertisements, and test drives in a store can provide valuable information to make decisions on what brand and model to buy. But there are so many different brands and models which differ in design, features, and performance that you ve got to do detective work to get the best buy.

Buyer beware was the 20th Century sound bite. Buyer be informed should be today s watchword.

The Internet makes it easy to discover a product s real personality and perhaps its hidden flaws.

Thousands of Internet sites offer product reviews, and they vary in accuracy and objectivity. Many computer magazines, for instance, carry information on the whole range of digital technology.

Keyboard top 100 computer magazines into Google or your own favorite search engine for a list.

Click the links and check the format and content to see if the reviews dish up the information that fits your own personal needs. I check several sites before buying, including,,, and

You can search for a review on a specific product, or browse through all the reviews in a product category like printers, phones, or MP3 players. For a quick fill, look for lists like The 10 Best.

Don t limit yourself just to the formal review from the company that owns the Web site. Some of the most useful information often appears in reviews posted by people who have bought a product.

The main review may be based only a few weeks of product use and testing. Readers who have owned a product for months may have different perspectives, including insights into customer support and technical support.

Beware when a lot of reader reviews complain that the product malfunctioned and had to be replaced several times, or report bad experiences with the company s technical support people.

Also be aware that only a handful of consumers may have had those negative experiences. They are the most likely to post a review sometimes to get even while satisfied customers may be the big but silent majority.

After you buy a product, contribute to the collective knowledge base: Go back to these sites and post your own review so others can benefit from your experiences. Just mentioning your intent can cause an amazing attitude readjustment in customer support people, who are being unhelpful.

You may have to check reviews at several sites to piece together all the key information because some sites can leave out the most important details.

For a printer, for instance, you may have to search to find the cost of printing each page, the cost of replacement print cartridges, and how many copies each cartridges prints. For laser printers add the cost of replacing the printer drum and how long it lasts.