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Black Friday tech deals: Tips for what to buy and what to avoid

·Technology Editor
·7-min read
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The holidays are coming, and that means you’re probably hoping to score deals on the hottest gadgets — either for gifts for your loved ones, or let’s face it, yourself.

But contrary to what some retailers and manufacturers may want you to think, you should avoid buying certain tech items on Black Friday. What’s more, waiting until Black Friday this year might actually be a disadvantage when it comes to shopping for the hottest items.

Want to make sure you’re not tossing your hard-earned cash in the trash, or missing out on the best sales? I’ve got you covered.

Stop waiting and start shopping

Most people wait to buy their holiday gifts until around Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Retailers have some of their top sales of the year, and it’s often hard to resist snagging something you’ve been eyeing for months at a seriously low price.

But as you’ve probably heard ad nauseam since last year, we’re living in unprecedented times. The pandemic shut down large swaths of the global supply chain, just as consumers started clamoring for new gadgets, creating a chip shortage expected to last well into 2022 at best.

“The biggest issue this year is that there's no guarantee that if you want something in particular that it will be available,” explained NerdWallet personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer. “So you don't want to wait this year. You want to start shopping early.”

Don’t have time to shop until you’re still digesting your Thanksgiving dinner on Black Friday? We’ve got you covered with some shopping tips.

Those TVs deals aren’t always worth it, especially this year

Nothing says Black Friday more than hordes of shoppers scrambling to get their mitts on deeply discounted TVs. But I’ve always been of the mind that TVs aren’t actually worth grabbing during the holiday shopping season. And I’m not alone.

“TVs are one to watch out for on Black Friday,” said Kristin McGrath, editor of The Real Deal by RetailMeNot.

“Black Friday TV deals are obviously famous, and they're a huge tradition. But a lot of retailers put their lowest prices on these cheap models.”

Advertisements of the upcoming Black Friday sales are seen on TV screens at a Walmart store in Westminster, Colorado, U.S. November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Advertisements of the upcoming Black Friday sales are seen on TV screens at a Walmart store in Westminster, Colorado, U.S. November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

In other words, the TVs you see on sale aren’t the best on the market. You’re not going to see incredibly deep discounts on sets that have the latest and greatest features like high refresh rates or OLED screens. Instead, you’ll see either last year’s models or models that have been pushed out specifically for Black Friday sales.

Besides, holding off a few months to buy a new TV could pay off handsomely.

“If you're trying to get a nice TV that's going to last you a while and you don't want to replace it in another couple years, I would say shopping right before the Super Bowl is a better time,” McGrath said.

Part of the reason for that is that manufacturers debut their latest models during the annual CES electronics convention in Las Vegas. Retailers, anticipating those units, use the Super Bowl to push last year’s sets out the door, meaning great discounts for shoppers.

Super cheap computers are a waste

I used to work at a big box electronics retailer. Let’s say its name rhymes with Test...Guy. Anyway, people always ran in on Sundays to snag the cheapest laptop on sale. But those systems would invariably be underpowered and need to be replaced in short order. Over the long term, it would be more expensive to keep buying low-powered computers than holding off and buying a more powerful system.

Black Friday is like that scenario on steroids. The incredibly inexpensive laptops that you see on sale are likely the ones that are going to be outdated quickly, if they aren’t already.

Black Friday shoppers check out Apple laptops on sale on Black Friday, November 25, 2011, at the Fair Lakes Best Buy store in Fairfax, Virginia. Immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November, many Americans are off to the shopping malls for the pre-Christmas shopping melee known as Black Friday, when retailers slash prices on clothing, toys and consumer electronics.  So important is Black Friday to retailers -- potentially more than $20 billion in sales, according to the market analysis firm SpendingPulse -- that many big-name outlets are opening earlier than ever. During the original Thanksgiving in 1621 pilgrim settlers from England sat down with native Americans for a three-day feast in modern-day Massachusetts to thank God for bountiful harvests in the New World. AFP PHOTO Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Black Friday shoppers check out Apple laptops on sale on Black Friday, at the Fair Lakes Best Buy store in Fairfax, Virginia. AFP PHOTO Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

That doesn’t mean you won’t find good laptops and desktops on sale, though. There are sure to be solid systems that you can get at a discount, but they’re not going to go for the super low prices you see as part of doorbuster deals. Like TVs, if you’re looking to save on laptops and desktops, your smartest move is to make sure that you check out the specs.

I suggest anything running an Intel (INTC) Core i5 processor and at least 8GB of RAM is a good benchmark for a system that will last you some time. It’s not going to be the Ferrari of PCs — more like a Toyota Camry. Relatively inexpensive, not too flashy, and efficient.

Game consoles are going to be hard to get

If you’ve got a gamer in your life who wants a PlayStation 5, an Xbox Series X or Series S, or a Nintendo Switch OLED, you better put their expectations in check.

Both the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles have been hard to come by ever since they launched last year, and the chip crisis and supply chain woes haven’t made things any better. I actually tried getting a PS5 for a friend while writing this article when I saw a notification about available consoles on Twitter. And by the time I got to the site, they were sold out.

HONG KONG, CHINA - 2021/01/21: Japanese video gaming system brand created and owned by Sony Computer Entertainment, PlayStation 5, is seen at its official store in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Japanese video gaming system brand created and owned by Sony Computer Entertainment, PlayStation 5, is seen at its official store in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

You can find consoles on secondary marketplaces like eBay (EBAY) and through third-party sellers on Amazon and Walmart.com, but you’ll have to pay hundreds over their actual retail prices. If you’re not one to give up so easily, though, McGrath says retailers like Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT) will have the consoles online on Black Friday. But keep in mind, you’ll be fighting everyone else on the internet trying to get a limited number of systems. So don’t bet on it.

Get headphones

Headphones actually make for a solid buy during Black Friday and Cyber Monday — heck, throughout the holiday shopping season. There’s no real guessing game when it comes to the specs of some of the most well-known headphones. No figuring out if they have a particular processor or not. It’s essentially about whether you get earbuds or over-the-ear headphones, and if they include active-noise cancelling technology.

HONG KONG, CHINA - 2020/02/13: Digital wireless headphones, Airpods, seen at the American multinational technology company Apple store in Hong Kong. (Photo by Chukrut Budrul/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Apple's Airpods. (Photo by Chukrut Budrul/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I know a few people looking for Apple's (AAPL) AirPods, Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Pixel Buds, and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds this shopping season, and I’d advise them to jump on any deals they see. Apple recently released its third-generation AirPods with improved audio capabilities, and Beats launched its Beats Fit Pro; both are excellent earbuds and worth checking out.

If you can get them, go for them.

Discounts on services cards

Looking for a quick, easy tech gift that won’t sell out for the holidays? Yes, it exists, and it’s gift cards. Specifically, gift cards for services like Netflix (NFLX), Sony (SONY) PlayStation Plus, and Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox Game Pass. There are a slew of other available options for different video and music streaming, and game services, and you don’t have to worry about them going out of stock.

The discounts on Xbox Game Pass are my personal favorite. The service is already a ridiculous deal at $14.99 per month for more than 100 games that you can play as you want and with included cloud gaming. But during the holiday shopping season you can get cards worth three months of service at steep discounts. It depends on the retailer you choose, but some will sell them for as little as $1.

I’d say that’s a solid deal.

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