How I buy gadgets

I’m a cautious gadget freak. I love buying gadgets, but think a lot before buying them. Invariably, I use spreadsheets to help me decide. I try to buy only those gadgets that are right for me at the cheapest possible price, and I look at two things: features based on usage and breakeven.

Usage-driven buying

I pick the features I want based on my usage. For example, when I bought my first mobile, I listed the my most likely uses for the phone:

  • I’m in the car (e.g. 2 hr drive to airport), and want to catch up
  • Emergency calls (means, carry the phone always)

So I need high battery life (at least 2 hours). I need low weight, if I’m going to carry it around. I don’t need colour display or MMS for my usage pattern. Then I ran through all available mobile phone options, filtered them against my criteria, and picked the cheapest (Nokia 3310).

Another example was my digital camera. The reason I wanted one was:

  • I can take a lot more photographs and print only those I want
  • For low light shots, take multiple snaps, so at least one will be OK
  • I can just take one snap and print it, and not have to complete a roll

So my camera should be light (to carry around and take lots of snaps), have a high ISO rating and flash (to work well in low light), and needn’t have much memory (I transfer it to my laptop pretty quickly).

Having identified such features, I compared models (Internet / visit shops) in 2002.

Product Price Size Flash Mpx Zoom Mem Comment
Kodak DC3400 16500 Y 2 2x No — 2x zoom not enough
Canon S10 20000 Small Y 2 2x No — 2x zoom not enough
Sony DSC P50 20000 Y 2 3X 4MB No — too little memory
Nikon 775 19000 Small Y 2 3x 8MB OK
Fuji FinePix 2600 15000 OK Y 2 3x 16MB OK
Olympus D-230 15000 Small Y 2 None 16MB No — No zoom
Nikon 885 27500 OK Y 3 3x 16MB Too little manual control
Canon G1 40000 Y 3 3X Too expensive
Sony DSC S85 40000 Y 4 3x 16MB Slow shutter
Canon G2 45000 Y 4 3X 16MB Too expensive.
Olympus C4040 45000 Y 4 3x Too expensive

I finally picked the Fuji FinePix 2600.


I had a normal camera. Would a digital camera be economically worth it? For a normal camera, the roll costs Rs 2.5 (Rs 90 / 36 shots), developing costs Rs 2.8 (Rs 100 / 36 shots), and each print costs Rs 5. Total cost per photo: Rs 10.3. I don’t need prints, I see pictures on the computer. The digital camera cost me Rs 20,000 including customs duty. So I break even when I take about 2,000 pictures. That sounded feasible, so I switched to digital in 2002. (I’ve taken about 2,800 snaps since.)

For similar reasons, I also decided I didn’t need a colour printer. Given my expected usage, it would have cost me Rs 34 for a single 4″ x 6″ colour photo printout. I could get the same at a shop for Rs 8.

Recently, I bought a DVD writer. DVDs cost about the same as CDs in bulk. (I bought a 100 DVD pack for 14 pounds, and 100 CDs for about the same.) A DVD stores 6 times as much as a CD. So for every DVD I burn, I save the cost of 5 CDs, about 70 pence. A DVD writer cost 50 pounds. So after burning about 70 DVDs, I’d break even. Once I’m through with my pack of 100 DVDs, I’m guaranteed breakeven. (I’ve burned about 25 DVDs till date.)


I don’t stop there. After buying, I track my usage. Where I’ve done a breakeven, I try to track quantitatively. Otherwise, I track my usage pattern (high / medium / low). So far, my best return-on-investment has been on my webcam and mic, followed by my digital camera, CD writer, video camera and DVD writer. The worst have been my TV tuner card (I didn’t really record many movies), and my second mobile phone (turned out I didn’t really use GPRS).

I once started doing this sort of analysis for my clothes, but stopped… maybe I was carrying this a bit too far…

  1. Dhar says:

    You probably know it already, but using a camera at high ISO rating will give you grainy pics. Instead try using low shutter speeds, low aperture with a good tripod.

  2. Dhar says:

    > I once started doing this sort of analysis for my clothes, but stopped.

  3. Dhar says:

    Thank God for that! Using a spreadsheet for analysing what clothes to purchases! You are an uber-geek.

  4. Arun says:

    Holy cow!

  5. S Anand says:

    Yeah, I stick to low ISO with a pocket tripod these days. I do wish there were a camera that would work at night without a tripod!

  6. Ashwin says:

    Olympus or Sony cybershot 7.2 MP(DSC P200) which is better? can any one suggest which is an all rounder in performance?

  7. Dhar says:

    For camera’s that work at night, try those with Optical Image Stabilizers. I believe Lumix is one of the inexpensive cameras that features OIS.

  8. Philip Wilkinson says:

    wow – that’s impressive. I think you qualify for being a Crowdstorm Elite member if you’re interested!

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