Avoid these five tech deals

Most people are pretty smart when it comes to buying computers and other tech gear.

They use the Internet to research products and compare prices. And when theyíre ready to buy, they take advantage of coupon codes and free shipping offers. But the tech retail jungle is filled with booby traps that can snare even savvy consumers.

Steer clear of these bad deals and save more of your hard-earned cash.

Extended warranties and phone insurance

Extended warranties for computers and electronics can add hundreds of dollars to the price of your purchase. And theyíre usually bad investments.

The basic manufacturer warranty on most gadgets typically covers a year of use, which is when repairs are most often needed. Extended warranties will bring that out to two or three years, but by then most gadgets are outdated and not worth repairing.

The exception would be an expensive computer that you carry around, such as a MacBook.

If nightmares of dropping your smartphone keep you up at night, you can buy yourself peace of mind by self-insuring. Put what you would have spent on protection into a savings account.

If something goes wrong, pay for the repair out of that fund. If nothing happens, take a vacation.

Check with your credit card company, too. Buying a gadget with certain cards can double the length of the manufacturerís warranty at no cost to you.

Expensive cables

When youíre shelling out big bucks for a high-end LED HDTV and a new Blu-ray player, spending an extra $100 or more on HDMI cables doesnít seem like a big deal. However, itís money you donít need to spend.

Unless youíre running digital cable through an entire house, there isnít any difference between the $10 or less 6-foot digital cable and the pricey gold-plated versions.

Back in the days of analog A/V, itís true that more-expensive cables did a better job of shielding the signal from interference. Digital cables, such as HDMI, carry a stream of 1s and 0s. It either works perfectly or not at all.

Some companies recommend you purchase their expensive branded adapters when you buy their products. You can get generic adapters online for less that work just as well.

RAM and hard drive upgrades from computer makers

Most computer manufacturers allow you to customize your computer a bit before ordering. You might add RAM or switch from a conventional hard drive to a solid-state drive.

While convenient, itís less expensive to buy the base model of the computer and perform your own upgrades. You can find RAM and SSDs for much less at an electronics store or online than computer manufacturers charge.

For example, if you order a Mac mini from the Apple Store and bump the RAM from 4GB to 8GB, Apple will tack on $100. The RAM itself only costs $60 elsewhere. HP and other PC makers have similar markups.

A PC maker will charge $300 or more to put a 256GB SSD in a desktop. A similar drive costs $220 or less elsewhere. Apple charges $400 to put a 256GB SSD in a non-Retina MacBook Pro.

Carrier-provided GPS

For an extra $5 to $10 per month, wireless carriers will turn your smartphone into a GPS navigation device. Isnít that great?

Thereís just one catch.

Every Android phone comes loaded with Google Maps. Itís the best navigation software you can get, with spoken turn-by-turn directions, millions of points of interest, live traffic information and more. Donít forget itís free.

iPhones are preloaded with Apple Maps Ė again, itís free Ė which may or may not be good depending on where you live. However, you can download Google Maps free from the App Store.

Want to try something else? Waze is another very popular free navigation app available for both mobile operating systems.

Tablet data plans

If youíre on the go quite a bit, a tablet with a cellular connection sounds like a good idea.

Before you drop more than $100 dollars for the privilege, however, thereís an alternative. Those with a 4G smartphone and a shared data plan from Verizon or AT&T can share Internet with other gadgets Ė even a laptop.

Enabling Internet sharing on your phone Ė also known as tethering Ė creates a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other gadgets to connect to. Itís great when you need a minute or two to send or receive a file securely on a laptop or tablet.

Thatís better than spending $10 to $20 every month for a tablet data plan or dedicated mobile hotspot.

Be careful, though. Tethering chews up cellular data very quickly and drains your phone battery even quicker.

Android users who arenít on a shared data plan can try third-party tethering apps such as FoxFi or Easy Tether.

Kim Komando hosts the nationís largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit: www.komando.com/listen. Email her at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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