Sunday, August 23, 2009

I hate being confused

Damn, I hate shopping for electronics. There are approximate 473 choices to make on the spot, and I always have the sneaking suspicion that 470 of them will perform virtually identically when I use them. Add to that the need configure new equipment with new service plans, and it's enough to make my head explode.

For example ... I hate my computer. It's a desktop, and it's as slow as molasses in January. It can literally take 10 or 15 minutes to get from pushing the "on" button to the point where my internet browser is open and functioning. Do you have any idea how annoying that is? I've left a permanent forehead-shaped dent in my desk, if that's any indication of my level of patience with this paperweight of a computer.

Okay, so it's time to replace the computer. Right now I've got a crap computer and a 10-year-old printer and a DSL connection through AT&T that I'm not even sure how much I'm paying for it because it's lumped in with my phone service charges. I'd like to replace this whole shebang with a laptop with mobile internet access. And I'd like to keep the old crappy one around and be able to connect it to the internet occasionally, just as a backup for when the 4-year-old ruins the laptop and I have to send it in for service. Can you say, extended warranty that covers everything except acts of God?

There are about 100 different models of laptops at Best Buy, all with different combinations of processors, memory, screen size, and battery life. I can pay anywhere from $200 to $2000 for a laptop, and any of them would probably work better than what I have. Whatever I get is going to require a $100 wi-fi thingus to convince my current modem to be all wireless and shit, and getting the whole mess set up so that it works with both computers will probably involve a visit from the Geek Squad. Basic Wi-Fi is included in my current DSL package, but that pretty much only works at McDonalds and Starbucks, so if I want to work at the library, that's $20 a month more to get the premiere wi-fi access on my account.

So, for an average computer ($600) and a wi-fi thingus ($100) and premiere wi-fi access ($20/mo plus I'm probably paying $30 a month for the internet itself) plus Geek Squad setup for the home network ($150 ish, I think he said), we're talking about $2050 to buy the sucker and operate it for 2 years.

On the other hand, I could go with mobile broadband access instead of wi-fi. That's about $60 a month and includes the little USB broadband hardware dingus for free (I think it's built into the computer). That lets you connect anywhere you can get a cell phone signal, and it can't be hijacked by freeloaders (ahem, MATT) the way that a wi-fi signal can. It can also just be unplugged from the laptop and plugged into the desktop when I want to use the internet on the old computer (or there's a $100 device I can buy if I want to have the broadband on both computers all the time, but I wouldn't get that right away). As far as I know, I don't need any help to get the broadband set up, although without the home network, I would be stuck plugging in my old printer with a cord when I wanted to print something (or buying a new printer with wireless printing capability).

There's a deal right now on some laptops and notebook computers where they're cheaper if you sign up for mobile broadband when you buy them. So an HP with an average amount of memory but half as much hard drive space and a 14" screen (instead of the 16" screen on the one I talked about before) is only $500. That, plus $60/month for broadband, means that it would be about $2040 to buy and operate for two years.

Yeah, so price? Not so much a deciding factor here. Even if I go with the same exact computer and just compare the wi-fi vs. mobile broadband, there's only $100 difference over two years.

But wait! There's more!

Wi-fi is cheaper per month, and depending on the level of DSL I've got (who knows which one I'm paying for? Not me, at least not until I call India on Monday) it may be faster than mobile broadband. But ... it's limited to a certain range from whatever modem is powering it, so once you get far enough away from McDonalds, you lose the signal. Mobile broadband is a little more expensive per month, but it's continuous coverage - anywhere Verizon goes, so does the internet connection. And from what I can tell, the mobile broadband is more secure than wi-fi, which requires increased vigilance about SSLs and encryption and firewalls and all that. That's important, since I just spent waaaaay too much time setting up all of our bills so they can be paid online. I'd rather not share all those usernames and passwords with the world, thank you very much.

But wait! There's more!

Currently we have our phone, internet, cell phone, and television all through AT&T. I hate my cell phone model, and it would be the same price or cheaper if I had an equivalent plan on Verizon. So that's another dozen pieces of electronics I need to decide between (flip? slide? QWERTY? grrrrrrr). We hardly ever use our landline, and we've been talking about getting rid of it for months now. That would probably save us $40 a month or so (again, it's lumped with the internet on the bill, so I'll have to call to get the actual figures).

But ... if we get our DSL through AT&T without a landline, the price for the DSL goes up. Express DSL when you have a landline is $25 a month; the same speed of DSL with no landline is $35/month. So if we cancel our landline, we save $40ish and spend $10 more for DSL. And that means that DSL with premiere wi-fi is about $55 a month (plus the wireless router and whatever it costs to set the whole mess up) and mobile broadband is $60 a month with no extra costs.



Well, that was refreshing, wasn't it? I need to write down these in-depth benefit analyses more frequently, because I think I've convinced myself that mobile broadband is the way to go. Anyone who has it and hates it, speak now or forever hold your peace :)

1 comment:

mlf said...

We are in total agreement at the stupid confusion that appears to be deliberately calculated to maximally frustrate the consumer. Half of the differences between the computers seem to be the difference between the color of the plastic.

Let us know how this works, how you decide, and how much hair is left and the end of the process.