netbook pc, notebook pc, desktop pc, smartphone, tablet
There’s nothing wrong with charging a lot of money for your gadget. Some of the best things in life are the exact opposite of free; a truly superior product is definitely worth spending more. Unfortunately, sometimes tech companies think too much of their wares and too little of your intelligence. The result is a product whose price is out of whack with its real value in the marketplace.
Here are 15 truly outrageous offenders, the most overpriced gadgets of all-time.
Cutting-edge technology is expensive enough as it is; why overpay for the stuff that’s not a good value? Laptop Magazine’s Avram Piltch breaks down some of the worst all-time bargains in tech.
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Laptopmag.com brings you in-depth reviews of the hottest mobile products, the latest tech news, helpful how-to advice, and expert analysis of the latest tech trends.
Microsoft Surface RT ($619 w/ Touch Cover)
How would you like a brand new convertible with a one-of-a-kind retractable roof for the reasonable price of $22,000? There’s just one catch. You must pay an extra $10,000 for the convertible roof you saw highlighted in all the commercials.
At its $499 base price, Microsoft’s first tablet costs the same as the fourth-generation iPad, the well-established leader in the tablet market. The attractive Surface has a worse screen than the iPad, it lasts 5 hours less on a charge and, at launch time, had only a handful of decent apps for its nascent Windows RT operating system.
However, you may want the Surface because of its heavily-advertised Touch Cover keyboard, a must-have accessory that will set you back an extra $119, even though it costs Microsoft only $16 to manufacture. That’s $619 for a new, unproven tablet which trails the $499 market leader in most ways.
Voodoo Envy 133 ($2,099 – $3,299)
One of the most anticipated products of 2008, the .7-inch thin Envy 133 notebook was supposed to inspire its name in all of your friends. But at a starting price of over $2,099 that jumped up to $3,300 when fully configured, this 3.4-pound notebook was far too light on performance and specs to justify its heavy price.
The high-end Envy 133 configuration featured a modest 1.8-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, just 2GB of RAM and 64GB of internal Flash storage that copied files so slowly it was more of a Solid State Park than a Solid State Drive. Worse still, the notebook lasted just 2 hours and 32 minutes on a charge, making this ultraportable not very portable at all.
More: Top 10 Ultrabooks
Cisco umi ($599 Plus $24.99 a Month)
Psst. Come over here. I have a copy of this week’s Village Voice newspaper that I’d like to sell you for just $25. What? “It’s free,” you say? Well, my version has slightly sharper print so I’m sure you and millions of others will be more than willing to pay my premium.
Cisco applied this perverse logic to its 2010-era umi home telepresence system, which cost an eye-popping $599 for equipment plus $24.99 a month to provide a slightly better video chat service than competitors like Skype and Google offered for free. With the umi, which was short for You / Me, you could hook up a camera to the top of your TV and either talk to one of the five other umi users — or with your friends on Google Talk who were paying nothing at all.
Sony VAIO P Series ($899)
Back in 2009, netbooks were as hot as the Jonas Brothers, and everyone wanted to get in on the action. On the low end, non-computer companies like Sylvania (yes, the light bulb people) were making their own versions of netbook. On the high end, Sony tried to reinvent the genre with its 1.4-pound, 8-inch VAIO P.
At first glance, the VAIO P was an engineering marvel. The system was thin and narrow enough to fit into an overcoat pocket while providing premium features like a bright 1600 x 768 pixel display and 3G connectivity. However, with super-sluggish performance, mediocre battery life and a stiff keyboard, the notebook wasn’t good enough for extended use. At $899 and up, the value just wasn’t there when the best premium netbooks at the time cost $499.
More: Longest Lasting Laptops
Apple Lisa ($10,000)
In the early 1980s, few people had seen a computer with a graphical user interface. Xerox had been experimenting with GUIs since the 1970s and launched its Xerox Star 8010 in 1981, but it was Apple’s Lisa that finally brought windowed operating systems to the mainstream in early 1983.
Unfortunately, for the privilege of rolling a mouse around Lisa’s 12-inch, 720 x 360 black-and-white screen, you had to pay a cool $10,000 ($22,000 in 2011 dollars) and put up with a pair of unreliable “Twiggy” floppy drives that used their own proprietary 860K disks. At the same time, you could buy a brand new Apple IIe, the leading home computer, for just $1,395, a Compaq Portable PC for $3,590 or an original PC for far less.
Nokia Booklet 3G ($1,720 Over Two Years)
Subsidized netbooks with two-year 3G contracts were always a bad idea, but never more so than with the 2010 Nokia Booklet 3G. For $299 and a commitment to give AT&T $60 a month for two years ($1,720), unsuspecting shoppers got an attractive but incredibly incapable 10-inch netbook.
Perhaps Nokia and AT&T thought the Booklet’s Macbook-esque aluminum chassis would distract consumers long enough that they would make it through the return period without noticing the system’s glacial 4,200-rpm hard drive, painfully slow Atom Z530 processor or cramped keyboard.
DIVX ($499 Plus $4.50 per Disc)
How would you like to pay $500 just for the right to pay another $4.50 every time you want to rent a movie? That was the premise behind DIVX, a late 1990s movie rental system designed by someone who had watched too many episodes of “Mission Impossible” and loved the idea of self-destructing media.
After buying a $500 DIVX Player, you could then purchase any of about 400 movies on disc for about $4.50. A mere 48 hours after you watched the film, it would expire and you would have to throw away the disc or pay another $3.25 for another 48 hours. Circuit City, the leading seller of DIVX players and discs, touted the new technology as a convenience that would help you avoid late fees. However, the player was $100 more than a regular DVD player and the discs were more expensive than renting a film at the store.
More: Best Smart TVs
BlackBerry PlayBook ($499)
Research in Motion Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie must have been eating some psychotropic blackberries when they laid out the MSRP for the company’s first tablet in spring 2011. At $499 – the same price as the industry-leading iPad 2 – the BlackBerry PlayBook provided a significantly smaller screen and an operating system so half-baked that it didn’t even include native email support at launch.
Within a few months, the price of the PlayBook had dropped dramatically. Today, you can get one for just under $180, which is still too expensive. Much-better 7-inch Android devices like the Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire cost around the same price and have a far better selection of apps.
Motorola Laptop Dock ($499)
A dual-core smartphone is already more powerful than an older PC, so why not use it as one? That was Motorola’s thinking when the company launched the Laptop Dock, a keyboard / screen combo that turned the Atrix 4G handset into a notebook runnin, the browser-centric Webtop OS.
At $499 by itself, or $300 when bought together with the Atrix, the 11.6-inch Laptop Dock cost the same or more than a full-fledged Windows 7 netbook that could run all of your software. Considering that its cramped keyboard was worse than those on most netbooks, Motorola’s dock was one of the biggest rip-offs of 2011.
AT&T VideoPhone 2500 ($1,599)
Today, anyone can conduct an online video chat for free, using Skype, Google Talk, FaceTime or any of a dozen other solutions. But back in 1992, we didn’t have broadband Internet or HD webcams. So when AT&T released the VideoPhone 2500, a standard landline handset that could send and receive video, the world took notice . . . of its whopping $1,599 price.
Considering that it both sent and received video on a sluggish 19.2bps modem, the VideoPhone 2500’s 10 frame-per-second performance was pretty impressive for the time. However, to use the device, you needed your friends and family to buy it too, something few consumers were willing to do.
More: Best Bluetooth Speakers
Apple Macintosh G4 Cube ($1,799)
How much extra would you pay for sexy? If you were a Mac maven in 2000, Steve Jobs thought you would spend $1,799 for the PowerMac G4 Cube, a tiny cube-shaped version of Apple’s PowerMac G4 desktop. Unfortunately, at that price, the Cube was a square peg trying to fit into the round hole of Apple’s product line.
At the time, consumers could pay $1,000 less and get an iMac, which came with a monitor included. Creative professionals who had the money to spend preferred to buy a PowerMac G4 tower with better performance and the ability to upgrade.
Motorola Xoom ($1,079 Over Two Years)
When they released the first true Android slate in early 2011, Google and Motorola were a year late to the party and yet they wanted hundreds of dollars more than Apple’s belle of the ball.
At a time when the iPad 2 cost $499 with Wi-Fi, or $629 with contract-free 3G service, the Motorola Xoom launched at $599 and required you to sign a two-year contract with Verizon at a minimum of $20 per month ($1,079), or $799 sans contract. While the cheaper iPad 2 had access to thousands of apps, at launch, the Xoom had a measly 46 tablet-optimized apps.
IBM PCJr ($669 to $1,269)
A stripped-down chip off the old block, 1983’s IBM PCJr (PC Junior) would have been overpriced at any cost. At $1,269 with the absolutely necessary floppy drive ($669 without), the PC Jr. was quite a bit cheaper than full-fledged IBM PCs of the time, but about on a par with the Apple IIe and far more expensive than home-computing competitors like the $200 Commodore 64 and $150 TI-99/4A.
Unfortunately, with its horribly stiff chiclet keyboard, slow performance, and a slew of compatibility issues that kept it from running popular PC programs, the JR wasn’t worth the premium. That year, I arrived at computer camp earlier than the other kids, just so I could grab a seat in front of a real PC rather than this awful offspring.
OQO Model 01 ($1,899)
In launching the world’s first 14-ounce Windows PC, OQO’s 2004 Model 01 was a true trailblazer. However, even by early 21st century standards, the Lilliputian laptop’s 1-GHz Transmeta CPU, 20GB hard drive and 256MB of RAM provided sluggish performance. Meanwhile, the tiny keyboard just felt awkward.
Considering that you could get a fully functioning laptop for hundreds of dollars less, it was hard for most consumers and business users to imagine buying this severely neutered novelty for such a high price.
Newton MessagePad 2100 ($1,000)
By 1997, Apple had improved the software and solved a lot of the handwriting recognition problems on its Newton PDA. Perhaps because of these improvements, the company felt it could price its grayscale handheld at a whopping $1,000, more than some PCs cost.
At the same time, the PalmPilot Personal cost just $299. Yes, the Newton had a better processor, more storage and a larger screen, but none of these features justified spending $700 more, even during the Internet bubble.
It’s been just over a month since Google unveiled its gorgeous and affordable $249 Samsung Chromebook only to surprise us days later with an even cheaper system, the $199 Acer C7 Chromebook. At first glance, these two laptops are very similar, both in purpose (cloud-based computing on a budget) and in specs (11.6-inch display, dual-core CPU, 2GB of RAM), but there are significant differences under the hood. Samsung’s offering achieves its svelte form factor, 6.5-hour battery life and attractive price via a fully integrated and fanless ARM-based design while Acer takes a more conservative approach — cramming standard off-the-shelf components like a 2.5-inch hard drive, small-outline memory module, mini-PCIe WiFi card, and Intel Celeron processor into a traditional netbook-like chassis. Does being $50 cheaper make up for the C7’s lack of sex appeal and short 4-hour battery life? What other compromises in performance and build quality (if any) were made to achieve this lower cost? Most importantly, which budget Chromebook is right for you? Find out after the break.
Gallery: Acer C7 Chromebook review
PC shipments are stagnant. According to Gartner, worldwide PC shipments in Q2 were basically flat, declining -0.1 percent from last year. PC shipments have grown only 5 percent since the second quarter of 2010, when the iPad was introduced.
Reasons for the bad numbers:
- The global economy remains weak.
- The upgrade cycle for business PCs has lengthened.
- The iPad killed the netbook market, which had been driving growth for the past few years.
- Some Windows loyalists are probably waiting for Windows 8 and the new hardware form factors that will ship with it, such as Microsoft’s Surface, a touch screen tablet that doubles as a small laptop.
Microsoft and its PC partners have high hopes for Windows 8, which will start shipping on new PCs in October. But for now, the PC market sure doesn’t look good.
Sure, Microsoft may have given away its lead and legacy in mobile and probably jumped into too many hyper-competitive sectors, but they still have the widest reach in technology. And they’re still pretty damn successful.
In recent years, Microsoft may be a step or two behind, but they’re relevant in nearly every sector. And with Office 2010, a new Xbox 360, Kinect, and perhaps most importantly, Windows Phone 7, all receiving substantial upgrades this year, 2010 is shaping up to be absolutely huge for them. And that’s coming off a 2009 where Windows 7, Bing and the Zune HD were introduced. We’re just so used to Microsoft being around that we sort of take them for granted for all the good that they do.
So Microsoft revealed some numbers to serve as a reminder:
• 150 million Windows 7 licenses sold
• 7.1 million projected iPad sales in 2010
• 58 million projected netbook sales in 2010
• 355 million projected PC sales in 2010
• less than 10% of US netbooks ran Windows in 2008
• 96% of US netbooks ran Windows in 2009
• 16 million subscribers to the largest 25 US daily newspapers
• 14 million Netflix subscribers
• 23 million Xbox live subscribers
• 173 million Gmail users
• 284 million Yahoo Mail users
• 360 million Windows Live Hotmail users
• $5.7 billion Apple net income for fiscal year ending in Sept 2009
• $6.5 billion Google net income for fiscal year ending in Dec 2009
• $14.5 billion Microsoft net income for fiscal year ending in June 2009
Yes, they’re patting themselves on the back a bit but the numbers are just staggering. If you’ve forgotten, now you know: Microsoft will always be a very, very big deal. [Official Microsoft Blog via Bits]
My hypothesis is that after the Mac faithful have bought one, sales will plateau. The iPad, while super-cool, will fall in between the cracks in terms of satisfying a unique use-case. The iPhone and a full fledged computer (or even a netbook for $299) will book end what people need.
See below for an Engadget poll that shows 24% will buy, but about 76% likely to hold off for more data or for something else.
It gets worse — 3:45 pm EST
More data from Gizmodo — 3:51 pm EST – 23% purchased
Now that we’ve seen the iPad in the light of day, there’s a lot of chatter about what it can’t do. But Apple is now a massive threat to netbooks and ebook readers. Here’s why:
Generally speaking, the iPad’s goal is not to replace your netbook, assuming you own and love one. It’s not about replacing your Kindle either, assuming you cashed in for that as well. We have reviewed plenty of both, and know there’s plenty to like. If you derive pleasure out of using either, then Apple might have a hard time convincing you to switch to the iPad. But for the millions of people who aren’t on either bandwagon, yet have the money and interest in a “third” device between the phone and the computer, the iPad will have greater appeal.
250 Million iPods Earlier…
When the first iPod came out, its goal was not to grab the customers who Creative and Archos were fighting over, with their dueling 6GB “jukeboxes.” It was to grab everyone else. I remember listening to arguments about why Archos had a better device than Creative or even Apple. Lot of good that early-adopter love got them in the long run. The pocket media player market exploded, with Apple eating over half the pie consistently for almost a decade.
When the iPhone came out, BlackBerry users were like, “No flippin’ way.” And guess what, those people still buy BlackBerries. (And why shouldn’t they? Today’s BlackBerry is still great, and hardly distinguishable from the BB of 2007.) The point is, the iPhone wasn’t designed to win the hearts and minds of people who already knew their way around a smartphone. It came to convince people walking around with Samsung and LG flip phones that there was more to life. And it worked.
iPhones now account for more than half of AT&T’s phone sales. You can bet that WinMo, Palm and BB combined weren’t doing that kind of share pre-iPhone. Globally, the smartphone business grew from a niche thing for people in suits to being a 180-million unit per year business, says Gartner, eclipsing the entire notebook business—about 20% of which, I might add, are netbooks. The iPhone isn’t the sole driver of this growth, of course, but its popularity has opened many new doors for the category. Just ask anyone in the business of developing/marketing/selling Droids or Palm Pres.
You could say, “Those were Apple’s successes, what about their failures?” In the second age of Steve Jobs, there aren’t a whole lot. Apple TV is the standout—quite possibly because Apple discovered, after releasing the product, that there wasn’t a big enough market for it, or any of its competitors. Apple TV may be crowded out by connected Blu-ray players, home-theater PCs and HD video players, but Apple TV’s niche is, to this day, almost frustratingly unique.
So how do you know if a market exists? You ask the “other” Steve, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
It’s Business Time
There’s a famous Ballmerism, one he’s even said to me, that goes something like, “A business isn’t worth entering unless the sales potential is 50 million units or more.” 50 million. That’s why Ballmer is happy to go into the portable media player business and the game console business, but laughs about ebook readers. Microsoft may not sell 50 million Zunes, but it’s worth being a contender.
You can bet Apple thinks this way. You can easily argue that, despite its sheen of innovation, Apple is far more conservative than Microsoft. Apple TV is a bit of an anomaly, but with no major hardware refreshes and a few small-minded software updates, you can hardly accuse Apple of throwing good money after bad. Presumably Apple TV was a learning experience for Jobs & Co., one they’re not likely to repeat.
With that in mind, let’s look particularly at netbooks and ebook readers.
Like Notebooks, Only Littler
Netbooks are cooking, but it’s well known they’re cooking because notebooks are not. A netbook was originally conceived as something miraculously small and simple, running Linux with a warm fuzzy interface that dear old gran could use to bone up on pinochle before Friday’s showdown with the Rosenfelds. But instead of growing outward to this new audience (always with the grandmothers, it seems), it grew inward, cannibalizing real PC sales.
The Linux fell away, mostly because it was ill-conceived, and these simply became tiny, cheap, limited-function Windows PCs. They may have been a 40-million-unit business last year, according to DisplaySearch, but they only got cheaper, and the rest of the business was so depressed nobody was happy. (And just ask Ballmer how much he makes on those XP licenses, or even the “low-powered OS” that is Windows 7 Starter.)
Point is, nerds may love their netbooks, but the market that the netbook originally set out to reach is too far away, running farther away and screaming louder with every blog post about what chipset and graphics processor a netbook is rumored to have, or whether or not it is, indeed, a netbook at all. Clearly the audience is cheap geeks, and while that may be a good market to be in (just read Giz comments), it’s definitively not Steve Jobs’ market.
Easy on the Eyes
Now, about that Kindle. Best ebook reader out there. Every time we say that, we say it with a wink. We totally respect the Kindle (and I for one have hopes for Nook once it pulls itself out of the firmware mess it’s in), but we think e-ink is a limited medium.
Its functionality is ideal for a very specific task—simulating printed words on paper—and for that I have always sung its praise. The Kindle is ideal for delivering and serving up those kinds of books, and as a voracious reader of those kinds of books, I am grateful for its existence. But there are other kinds of books of which I am a consumer: Cookbooks, children’s books and comic books. (Notice, they all end in “book.”) The Kindle can’t do any of those categories well at all, because they are highly graphical. E-ink’s slow-refreshing, difficult-to-resize grayscale images are pretty much hideous. No big deal for the compleat Dickens, but too feeble to take on my dog-eared, saffron-stained Best-Ever Curry Cookbook.
So, e-ink’s known weaknesses aside, let’s talk again about Ballmer’s favorite number, 50 million. Guess how many Kindles are estimated to have been sold ever since the very first one launched? 2.5 million. Nobody knows for sure because Amazon won’t release the actual figures. Guess how many ebook readers are supposedly going to sell this year, according to Forrester? Roughly 6 million. In a year. Compare that to 21 million iPods sold last quarter, along with 9 million iPhones.
I am not suggesting that the iPod or iPhone is a worthwhile replacement for reading, but I am saying that, for better or worse, there are probably at least 2.5 million iPod or iPhone users who read books on those devices.
Are you starting to see the larger picture here? I am not trying to convince you to buy an Apple iPad, I am trying to explain to you why you probably will anyway. As the Kindle fights just to differentiate itself while drowning in a milk-white e-ink sea of God-awful knockoffs, you’ll see that color screen shining in the distance.
Sure the iPad may not be as easy on the eyes as a Kindle. But you will be able to read in bed without an additional light source. You will be able to read things online without banging your head against a wall to get to the right page. And, once the publishers get their acts together, you will be able to enjoy comics, cookbooks, and children’s books, with colorful images. Even before you set them into motion, dancing around the screen, they’ll look way better than they would on e-ink. (I haven’t even mentioned magazines, but once that biz figures out what to do with this thing, they will make it work, because they need color screens, preferably touchscreens.)
Tide Rollin’ In
So we have this new device, carefully planned by a company with a unique ability to reach new markets. And we have two types of products that have effectively failed to reach those markets. And you’re going to bet on the failures? The iPad has shortcomings, but they only betray Apple’s caution, just like what happened with iPhone No. 1. Now every 15-year-old kid asks for an iPhone, and the ones that don’t get them get iPod Touches.
We can sit here in our geeky little dorkosphere arguing about it all day, but as much as Apple clearly enjoys our participation, the people Jobs wants to sell this to don’t read our rants. They can’t even understand them. My step-mother refuses to touch computers, but nowadays checks email, reads newspapers and plays Solitaire on an iPod Touch, after basically picking it up by accident one day. That’s a future iPad user if I ever saw one.
Jobs doesn’t care about the netbook business, or the ebook business. He’s just aiming for the same people they were aiming at. The difference is, he’s going to reach them. And the fight will be with whoever enters into the tablet business with him. Paging Mr. Ballmer…
PS – If I’ve gotten to the end of this lengthy piece without telling you much about the iPad at all, it’s because other Giz staffers have already done such a handsome job of that already. If you missed out, here are the best four links to get you up to speed:
Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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