Tech Store Product Search and Test Q&A

Here are the products we had on our shopping list and the questions we asked (along with the answers we were hoping to receive) for each of the six categories covered in our "Where the Tech Deals Are" feature package. For the opening article in that package, see "Best Places to Buy Tech."

Laptops

Products Shopped For

We asked each store about the availability of four laptops: the Asus Eee PC 1005HA, the Dell Inspiron Mini 1012, the HP Pavilion dv6 (model 2190us), and the Toshiba Satellite U505-S2005.

Questions Asked

Q: I plan on watching a lot of videos online. What will I need for my laptop to make this happen?

A: You need an nVidia or ATI graphics card or one of the newest Intel processors, and you need to download the latest version of Flash.

Q: How does an LED backlit screen differ from a regular LCD-type laptop screen?

A: The LED screen saves power and may have better color and contrast, but you don't need to insist on one unless you especially like the way it looks.

HDTVs

Products Shopped For

We asked sales reps at each store about the availability of four HDTVs: the LG 55LE5400, the Mitsubishi LT-40151Q, the Samsung LN40C530, and the Sony Bravia KDL-40EX400.

Questions Asked

Q: I keep hearing a lot about 120Hz refresh rates. Is this important?
A: Yes. In general, 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rates improve a set's handling of fast motion and panning shots (for example, in action movies or sports broadcasts).

Q: Does the price of an HDMI cable matter? Will a more expensive cable be a better cable?

A: Not necessarily. Instead, consider the cable's length (shorter cables will reduce signal degradation) and gauge. (For more read "Fact or Fiction? 8 HDTV Myths Demystified.")

Digital Cameras

Products Shopped For/Questions Asked

We asked each store about the availability of four cameras. Here are the camera models and the test questions we asked the retailers' sales associates for each one (along with the correct answers we were looking for).

1. Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS

Q: Is this in Canon's new line of point-and-shoots?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you change the shutter speed and aperture manually on this camera?

A: No.

2. Nikon Coolpix S570

Q: Does this camera have a wide-angle lens?

A: Yes.

3. Nikon D90

Q: Is this the only DSLR that shoots video?

A: No. This was the first model that could, but other DSLRs now shoot video, too.

4. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

Q: Can you change the shutter speed and aperture manually on this camera?

A: No.

Desktop PCs

Products Shopped For

We asked each store about the availability of four desktop PCs: the 27-inch Apple iMac with an Intel Core i5 processor, the Dell Inspiron Zino HD, the HP Touchsmart 300 All in One PC, and the HP Pavilion HPE-170t.

Question Asked

Q: Which version of Windows 7 is right for me?

A: Windows 7 Home Premium offers media sharing and user account protection suitable for PC buyers who don't need the business-oriented security and encryption features of the high-end Windows OSs.

Hard Drives

Products Shopped For

We asked each store about the availability of four hard drives: The Intel X-25 M SSD (160GB), the Iomega eGo Portable Hard Drive (500GB), the Seagate BlackArmor NAS110 (1TB), and the Western Digital My Passport Elite (640GB).

Question Asked

Q: Will this hard drive work properly with a Mac?

A: Maybe. It will if it's formatted for the Mace HFS+ file system or if it's formatted as FAT32, which works with both Macs and PCs. Most often, a drive comes formatted for Windows' NTFS file system and is PC-compatible only. You can reformat any drive, but the process isn't dead simple.

Printers

Products Shopped For

We asked each store about the availability of four color inkjet multifunction printers: The Canon Pixma MP560, the Canon Pixma MX7600, the HP Photosmart Plus, and the Lexmark Interact S605.

Questions Asked

Q: How can I determine this printer's print cost per page?

A: Find the printer's ink or toner cartridge prices, and go online to look up its page yields. Divide price by page yield to calculate the relevant cost per page.

Q: Which of these printers has the lowest cost per page?

A:Again, price the cartridges and check the page yields on the packaging or online; alternatively, if you buy a printer equipped with high-yield cartridges (in this case either the Photosmart Plus or the Lexmark Interact S605), you should at least have a lower cost per page than if you ran the same printer with standard-yield cartridges.

Q: Which printer would be best for photos?

A: First you have to decide whether you want a printer with media-card slots or a PictBridge port. It's important to be aware, too, that photo paper gives the best results; and if you plan to print a lot of photos, you might want to consider buying a dedicated unit--either a snapshot printer or a high-end photo inkjet.

Another Online Exclusive

For highlights and lowlights of the phone calls we made to retail stores while researching this story, see "The Best and Worst of Our More Than 200 Research Calls."

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