Just about everyone is meeting or exceeding Amazon’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday offerings.
By Richard M. Sherwin, Amy Eller, Ted Mayo, Bob Plunkett, Jennifer Auspitz, and Susan Davis
We’re not going to say we told you so, but we told you so! Last holiday season we got many emails, calls, and chats claiming that people were going to wait for Amazon’s anticipated sale since Amazon allegedly never runs out of stock. We said that you were better off using your Target card to get 5% off the same TV, PC, cooking machine, clothes, and toys.
In fact this year too, for big ticket items, Costco is matching almost all of Amazon’s prices and adding an extra 2 year warranty. BJ’s new Master Card also gives you back 4% on many items and, for the holiday season, gives you another 5 cents (total 15 cents) off your gasoline bill where available when using the BJ’s credit card. And, if you have a lot of sizes of clothes, or weird present requests, Walmart carries enough fashion (yes fashion) and Kohls and many other retailers now have the designer brands your mother-in-law loves. Even next day shipping is now almost everywhere and nearly every brick and mortar store (even Best Buy) has better prices and more reasonable return policies than Amazon.
Our top picks so far:
4K TVS: BJ’s Samsung 43″ 4K Smart TV. It’s a hard-to-find size and not available at other shopping clubs, so this under $450 TV is remarkable. The Hisense 55″ and LG 65″ (2016 ½ models) lead the larger sizes and the Sony Bravia 70″ (very expensive) is worth it if you can afford it.
PCs: Apple’s new 21″ IMac and 15″ MacBook Pro can finally be had for a discount. Apple, if you are a teacher, business person, or know someone who is, will now bargain. We’ve seen some people get as much as a 15-20% or more discount on these computers if you call Apple directly.
You have to be very careful about buying a Mac at Best Buy and Amazon, as they often feature last year’s or even two year ago models. HP’s 15″ laptop with touch screen special model at Costco is the first time in years HP has outdone Dell, Lenovo, and Acer with this $525 family priced Christmas special.
Printers: Walmart’s under $125 selection of Canon Printers are a great buy for almost any family. Epson also has some budget conscious models at Target, some as low as $69.
Mobile Phones and Services: Insiders claim that Verizon is losing its battle with tier two and three providers like T-Mobile, Sprint, and Consumer Cellular. Verizon, which dropped the ball not only on price but on unlimited service, is bouncing back right before Christmas with some great sales of its own. AT&T has also dropped prices drastically when combined with DirecTV service, creating an outstanding mobile phone/TV service deal.
As far as hardware goes, so far everyone we know with an iPhone 7 has complained about repairs, non-improved features, so maybe it’s time to go “Other Android” with a Motorola (owned by Lenovo); LG (very underrated), and other off brands which are offering better guarantees. Included in the new recommended list are HTC, Huawei, and ZTE. The new, much anticipated Google model heavily pushed by Verizon (because they dropped Samsung), is just not worth the price unless you get it absolutely free which you sometimes can.
Tablets: Once again this is the hottest selling category. And in this arena we recommend you go with the better-known manufacturers. Our best bet is the 8″ Samsung Galaxy Model A (formerly $200), which is only $99 at BJ’s. It’s fast, has a great screen, holds as much as 120 GB on a micro SD card, and frankly is now easier than the 8″ iPad, which is almost three times the cost with less memory and features.
LG, Lenovo, Dell make almost competitively good tablets, but alas have not dropped their prices enough in our opinion. We didn’t love the Acer (which while priced right hasn’t been updated in almost two years). We still think the Amazon Fire (any edition) has too many built in ads and DOES NOT RUN all the great Apps on Android. And no matter how many times you see the Microsoft Surface on NFL games, outside of a free copy of Office, we haven’t found one person who likes it.
Voice Controlled Speaker: Amazon Echo was first, Triby, a little French-NYC company, was second, and now Google has entered the market with its version using Hi Google command like you do with your Android Phone or Tablet. Can Apple and Sony be next to ask for music, shopping, news, operating automated home controls and more?
So far the $179 Triby has the most possibilities because it has a screen to deliver written messages and because it can be hung on a refrigerator, but the $49 Amazon Echo Dot has met or exceeded expectations. Some alleged industry experts like Google’s voice search, but we think the extra Apps built into Amazon Echo are superior. We are hoping that Triby gets rid of its bugs (it uses Amazon’s Alexa voice) as we want the little guy to succeed here.
Sound Bar: As we reported a few weeks ago, Polk, LG, and Yamaha were the best in class in the under $500 category. Bose, Sony, and Samsung models (all former best sellers at a steep price) are now all available at shopping clubs, but you must make sure that you are buying this year’s model.
Pain Relief Devices: We’ve tried them all – from Omron, Quell, Aleve and store branded electronic stimulation devices and they all provide some temporary relief for arthritic knees, sore arms, neck, and legs. However, we’ve shown these devices to some top pain specialists in New England and New York and have been laughed at almost unanimously. All dubbed “TENS” (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) a short term fad and not to be thought of as a long term pain relief therapy. There are several variations of this pain therapy technology and while DFA was lucky enough to test almost every brand, we suggest you make sure whether you buy it at drug store or online, that your device is returnable if it doesn’t help.
Noise Cancelling Headphones: We’ve always liked the underdog in this still very popular category and this year is no different. Sony and Bose make acoustically clear over the ear headphones that connect via Bluetooth to your mobile phone, tablet, or component audio system. But Plantronics wins again with its new model, the $200 BackBeat Pro 2. This version of the award winning headphone has even longer battery life (20 hours), but its noise cancelling technology is equally adaptive whether you are listening to Bach, calling home, or watching the ball game. We found this version of the BackBeat Pro even more comfortable than its predecessor and, like its predecessor, it seems to carry bass very well without boosting the audio. It also doesn’t discriminate against low tones for those with more traditional audio listening tastes. Our favorite feature is that the device turns off when you take it off your head and automatically back on when you put it back on your head. Yes, we’ll still quibble with the controls which take a few minutes to learn, but all in all, it’s a great buy.