How to pay less for tech

Plus: Google's big week, iMessage in Windows (again), and cheaper Macs Mini

  Jared Newman  |  May 16, 2023  | Read online

I run a pretty lean operation here at Advisorator, so while I often have to acquire more tech gear for “research purposes,” I’m reluctant to pay anything close to full price for it.

Waiting around for deals is one way to defray the costs, but when that’s not an option, I turn to the used, refurbished, and open-box markets. If you know where to look—and what to look for—you can essentially will your own price cuts into existence and still get good-as-new gadgets.

Below, I’ll discuss a handful of my go-to sources for cheap gadgets, along with a few things to be aware of before you go shopping.

Best Buy's open-box deals

For an easy way to save money on practically any tech product, click the "Open-Box" link on any Best Buy product page. This takes you to a "Buying Options" section with discounts on previously-returned items. The "Open-Box Excellent" option promises like-new condition all original accessories.

The best thing about Best Buy's open-box deals is that they factor in current sale prices. If a brand-new iPad is $100 off, for instance, you'll get an even bigger discount by opting for an open-box model. (I recently saved $194 on an iPad Mini using this method, and while the box it came in was a bit worn, the tablet itself was pristine.)

The Best Buy route pairs well with big-ticket items that are often on sale, such as laptops, monitors, TVs, tablets, and Apple Watches. If the quality of an open-box model isn't to your liking, you have 15 days to return it for free, either in store or by mail.

Amazon's used section

Amazon's product pages also have a section for buying used gear in various conditions, but unlike Best Buy, they seldom reflect whatever deals Amazon might be offering on brand-new products.

Even so, I've found the used options to be worthwhile when I need some sort of accessory—like a USB hub or ethernet splitter—and can't wait around for a sale. Amazon's 30-day return policy helps, as does the ability to drop off returns at UPS or Kohl's stores.

Just look for the "Save with Used" option on any product page. For third-party sellers, make sure they have a high number of positive ratings, and note that some options may not include Prime shipping.

Swappa for cheap used gear

Swappa is an online marketplace just for buying used gadgets. Sellers list their devices for however much they want to charge, and buyers can browse to each product page for a list of buying options, with filters for things like condition, color, and storage.

I've previously mentioned Swappa as a way to get unlocked phones for less, but don't sleep on its laptop page, where you'll find big discounts on MacBooks, Windows PCs, and Chromebooks. The site's smartwatch and tablet sections are worth a look as well.

The big caveat with Swappa is that most merchants won't accept free returns unless the item isn't as described, and even then, the back-and-forth can be a pain. If you're willing to shoulder that risk, the savings can be significant.

One last tip: While Swappa doesn't have a formal counter-offer feature, you can always try to haggle using the "Contact Seller" option. You'll need to move fast if they lower the price, though, as anyone who sees the listing will be able to jump on it.

Good old eBay

eBay can still be a great way to get gadgets for less, but finding the best buying options can take some work. eBay's default search algorithms don't always show you the best deals, and its auction listings seldom end up cheaper than buying items outright.

So my approach is this: Search for a product using as many descriptors as possible, select "Buy It Now" on the results page to hide any auction listings, then sort the results by "Price + Shipping: lowest first." I then scroll past any irrelevant results or select additional filtering options to find exactly what I'm after.

My best recent haul from this approach? A gently-worn Samsung Galaxy Watch4 for $60, versus $200 at Best Buy. I also grabbed a couple of Anker MagSafe power banks for less than $25 apiece, about $15 off the street price.

Just beware of listings that say things like "PLEASE READ" or "LOOK," these usually have significant defects, and avoid any listings that say "parts only."

More options

  • RefurbMe is a helpful site for searching across sources of refurbished gear, including Backmarket, Gazelle, and Apple.
  • Backmarket itself is worth a call-out, as all its products include a one-year warranty, though its prices tend to be higher as a result.
  • You can try your luck on Mercari, another used gear marketplace, but I've seen some shady behavior there. If the seller has no ratings, or the price seems too good to be true, stay away.

Words of warning

Of course, buying used, refurbished, or open-box gear carries a bit more risk than buying new. Some things to be aware of before you do:

  • Warranty coverage: Used products generally don't include the standard one-year manufacturer's warranty you get when buying new, though many sites allow you to purchase additional warranty coverage.
  • Battery health: Device batteries wear down over time, so used gear may not last as long on a charge compared to a brand-new product. Inquire about battery health before buying, or check for yourself after receiving the item. (See instructions for iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android.)
  • Unscrupulous sellers: While most of my eBay and Swappa transactions have been pleasant, I've run into a couple scenarios where the product was in worse shape than advertised. Sellers will typically work with you to avoid a negative rating, but this can still be a hassle.
  • Grossness: For reasons best left unspecified, you should probably avoid buying used earbuds unless they've been professionally cleaned first.

Got questions about buying used gear, or a favorite source that I missed? Send me an email to tell me all about it.

Google's big week

Google held its annual I/O conference last week, where it made some major announcements on Pixel hardware and generative AI. The news and its repercussions seemed to occupy the tech news cycle for the entire week.

Let's start with the fun gadget stuff:

  • Pixel 7a: Google's latest lower-priced phone has a better camera system, a brighter screen with a smoother 90 Hz refresh rates, and (finally) wireless charging. Reviews seem positive. At $500, it sits between last year's Pixel 6a (now $350) and the $600 Pixel 7, and you can order it now.
  • Pixel Tablet: An 11-inch Android tablet that comes with a magnetic speaker dock. When attached, the tablet becomes a smart display for viewing photos, controlling smart home devices, and showing visual responses to "Hey Google" voice commands. It's shipping in late June for $499, including the dock.
  • Pixel Fold: A foldable phone with a 5.8-inch outer screen, unfurling to reveal a 7.8-inch display on the inside. It looks nicer than Samsung's Galaxy Fold4—the outer screen is wider, and it's much slimmer when folded up—and will probably have a better camera system, though it has its own trade-offs. It's shipping in late June for $1,799, but we're still waiting to hear about deals from wireless carriers.

The more impactful news had to do with generative AI. Google was caught off-guard last year by the rise of tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion, which can generate human-like text and artwork from simple text prompts. That tech is now winding its way into all kinds of products—from Microsoft's Bing search to Grammarly's writing assistant—and Google used I/O to show how it will bring similar features to its own apps and services.

Some examples:

  • Google plans to bring AI-generated answers to search results when appropriate, pushing web links further down the page.
  • Google's Workspace apps will get a slew of AI features, such as AI-written responses in Gmail and image generation in Google Slides.
  • Generative AI will power a "Magic Editor" feature in Google Photos that can reposition subjects in the frame.
  • A "Magic Compose" feature coming to Android will help tweak the tone of your text messages before sending them.

The AI news is kind of boring on some level, as ChatGPT's underlying tech is already powering similar features elsewhere. Still, no other company stands to bring generative AI to the masses like Google, and I suspect the Gmail integration alone will lead to a lot more machine-generated writing—for better or worse.

Just don't expect any big changes anytime soon. Most of these features are still in the experimental phase, and you'll have to join a waitlist for a chance to try them.

More I/O tidbits: Google's Home app gets an overhaul, Android gets AirTag-like item trackers, Search gets a "Perspectives" feature to surface more human discussions, Google's smartwatch platform gets some improvements, and Pixel phones get a ringtone that sounds like Kenny G. TechCrunch has a nice roundup.

Tip of the moment

iMessages in Windows (again): Back in January, I wrote about an app from Intel that lets you handle text messages and phone calls on Windows PCs, even while using an iPhone. Now, Microsoft has added iPhone support to its own Phone Link app.

What's the difference? Intel's app is designed for only a limited number of PCs that use the company's Evo processors, though in practice I've found that it works with practically any Windows 11 machine (including my $300 AMD-powered Mini PC). It also has a file transfer tool and photo viewer.

Microsoft's Phone Link has no device restrictions—even on paper—and it's a bit easier to set up. Just open the app on your PC, scan the QR code with your phone, then follow the setup steps. Thanks to an iOS feature called App Clips, you can complete the setup without even having to visit the App Store.

Both apps have similar restrictions: They can't handle group messages or images, and there's no message history beyond your current Bluetooth connection. But as a simple way to handle one-on-one messages with the speed of a full-sized keyboard—either on iOS or Android—both get the job done.

Now try this

A page for productivity: is a free and simple website that combines a task manager, focus timer, and ambient sounds. You can set up multiple pages with different addresses (for instance, and, but everything's stored locally in your browser. That means anyone who uses the same addresses will get their own, separate pages instead. Clever! (Via the Tech Productivity newsletter)

Around the web

Spend wisely

Over at Amazon, Apple's latest Mac Mini desktop has hit an all-time low price of $500. That's $99 off the model with 256 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM, though you can also grab the 512 GB version for $690, a $190 discount. If it's more power you're after, B&H has the Mac Mini with a speedier M2 Pro processor and 16 GB of RAM for $1099.

Other notable deals:

Thanks for your support!

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Until next week,

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