11 Much-Hyped Tech Features That Aren't Worth the Money
By Evan Dashevsky, PC Magazine, 10 August 2016.
By Evan Dashevsky, PC Magazine, 10 August 2016.
Tech companies go to great lengths to foster the illusion that they are not actually tech companies. Rather, they'd have you believe they're a merry band of digital craftspeople bonded by the single-minded pursuit of delivering to you - their beloved customer - a magical gadget that will improve your life in every way.
To be sure, tech companies do invest a lot of time and resources creating their products. But let us never lose sight that tech companies are not in this for the love. They are not your family. They are not your friends. They are amoral, for-profit entities whose whole raison d'etre is to part you from your money.
Each time these companies introduce a new product, they hope it will compel you to head down to Best Buy and fork over hundreds - if not thousands - of your hard-earned dollars. Whether that device actually ends up improving your life in some meaningful way afterwards is not their concern.
Tech companies are under pressure to constantly deliver newer, better products. But sometimes, their R&D teams just aren't able to deliver bonafide magical new features. But that sure won't stop them from attempting to convince you otherwise (and will probably try to make you pay more for it in the process)!
There are dozens of examples of needless flourishes that are very specific to particular brands, but we've isolated 11 that we see again and again across the board. Don't fall for it, people.
Newer, bigger, better is all well and good. Just don't make us pay extra for it.
1. Fancy Phone Designs
Sorry, Jony Ive. All those sleepless hours spent perfecting the iPhone's sinewy rounded corners and Apple-worthy hues were for naught, you design nerd! According a 2013 report from consumer data firm NPD, 75 percent of phone users - wisely - use phone covers, effectively nullifying all those minute design obsessions.
A smartphone is a not-insignificant financial investment; you'd be foolish not to protect it from the bumps, scratches, and occasional oops that will most-definitely befall it. Apple certainly isn't the only company that uses external phone design as a selling point. Remember when the original HTC One made the jump to its much-hyped all-metal exterior? But once a case comes into play, your phone's exterior will be seen about as much as its interior. Do you want to pay a premium for that?
2. 'Exclusive' Video Game Titles
When you buy an "EXCLUSIVE" video game for your console, there are probably some additional caveats out there you should be aware of. Microsoft and Sony are so caught up in their own console war that they often choose to forget non-console platforms. For example, the box art for Street Fighter V includes the designation "PS4 CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME," but neglects to mention that the game is also available for PC via Steam. So, while SFV is indeed not available on the Xbox, it can be played on Windows and Linux PCs.
Often, console titles listed as "exclusives" neglect to include the PC versions. It's not "lying" as much as it's massaging the truth by ignoring some key details.
3. Large Megapixel Cameras
One of the most direct ways to discern the quality of a digital camera is to compare megapixel counts, right? As it turns out, not so much.
Let's start by defining "megapixels." The prefix mega = one million, so megapixels equals the number of millions of pixels a camera sensor can capture for a particular image (i.e. a 10-megapixel image contains 10 million pixels, an 18-megapixel image contains 18 million, etc.) But there's more to great photos than just numbers.
While megapixel counts on phones can contribute to better images, they only matter up to a point. When you look at an image on your tiny phone display or print it out, millions of extra pixels cease making a difference. So, insane megaxpixel counts end up being of little use to the average consumer. "Camera megapixel count above eight is often a red herring," according to our lead mobile analyst, Sascha Segan. "Especially on phones, optics and image processing matter so much more. The debate between 12-, 13-, and 16- megapixel cameras actually means little or nothing to real-life use."
4. Smartphone Display Pixel Density
I predict that if any readers feel compelled to leave comments disagreeing with any points in this story, this will probably be the slide that prompts them to do so: Pixel densities on smartphones are WAY overrated - after a certain point. I know there are people out there who swear that ever-increasing pixel counts on displays truly make a difference (some in this very office). I respectfully disagree.
I think that tiny smartphone displays reached peak "good enough" a few years ago when Apple introduced the 300ppi Retina display. And since then, there has been an escalating spec war in which each new salvo has failed to impress me in any meaningful way.
I'm currently rocking a Galaxy S5 with a 432ppi display. And it's great! I've seen its direct descendent, the Galaxy S6's far beefier 577ppi display and managed to not be blown away. I certainly don't mind having extra pixels, but I can't help but imagine what kind of explosive phone performance I'd have if my next-gen processor wasn't spending its resources with all those additional (and frankly unnecessary) pixels.
And it appears that Samsung may have come around to my side of things - the Galaxy S7's screen specs don't pack in any more pixels beyond the S6. This is a wise move on Samsung's part IMHO. That means that the S7's upgraded processor can deliver even better performance by not having to deal with even more pixels.
5. Automaker In-Dash Systems
By all accounts, Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay are capable on-the-road ecosystems, now that they're finally available. Some major automakers have accepted the fact that Google and Apple can probably handle UX better than they can, and have started incorporating these systems into their cars. But not all of them.
In particular, Toyota and Ford are attempting to avoid Big Tech's intrusion on their turf. These systems from Detroit may one day end up being as good as those from Silicon Valley, but I have my doubts. So, to all the automakers out there, Apple and Google know how to do software and interface - please stop wasting your time attempting to do your own thing (or, at least, don't expect us to pay extra for it).
6. Millimeters of Thinness
Remember those Apple TV ads that showed how the iPad Air was thinner than a No. 2 pencil? The reveal promo for the iPad Air 2, which debuted the following year, showed a pencil being sliced length-wise with a laser to showcase how this new generation was even thinner (0.29 inches versus 0.24 inches to be exact.) I actually have an Air 2 and am very happy with it. Personally, I was never burdened by that extra .05 inches of thickness.
Many mobile manufacturers are quick to brag about how they are able to shave off millimeters of size. And when it comes to mobile, smaller and lighter tends to be better - certainly compared to the clunky mobile devices of old. But we hit "good enough" territory many years ago. I don't need my devices to be any thinner - I'd much prefer manufacturers make better use of the space they have to make the thing run even better for longer.
7. Not Everything Needs to Be Connected
The jury is still out on whether the public is ready to trust a smart house hooked into the Internet of Things. But that hasn't stopped a small army of upstart manufacturers from attempting to get their ticket on the connected train.
To be sure, there are some very cool "connected" products out there (even if they are still figuring out that whole security thing), but not everything needs to be hooked into The Matrix. There is not yet a compelling reason for the smart toilet to exist. We may one day want the ability to control our toilet seat's temperature remotely through an app, but that time is not now.
It's okay for some things to remain analog.
8. Special Editions
Do yourself a favor and DON'T download that extended "Unrated" version of that comedy you like. You may think it will contain some real raunchy stuff that kept things a little too real for the MPAA ratings board. It doesn't. It just has some additional scenes that were left out of the final cut (oftentimes, with good reason), and the studio didn't get the new edit officially re-rated. (Probably so they could push the new "Unrated" cut to fools like YOU.) Don't fall for it.
Also, DON'T pay extra to stream or download that Re-mastered album from your favorite band. It will sound exactly the same as the version you're used to (in fact, there's a real possibility it will sound worse).
Basically any "special editions" you see out there are (often) cynical attempts to get you to purchase or rent an album or movie a second time.
9. Gaming Mice's Glowing Logos
Generally speaking, quality design is something worth paying a premium for. But just like the aforementioned overhyped phone designs wasted underneath a case, the aesthetics of your mouse doesn't matter because it's being smothered by your palm.
Now, we're sure to differentiate between aesthetic and ergonomic design. Ergonomic design - the way it feels in your hand - is absolutely something you should consider paying extra for. But a cool aesthetic design really isn't. (Remember those uncomfortable iMac hockey puck mice - they were Jobs @ Apple 2.0-era design marvels, but were awful to use.)
Today, many top gaming mice manufacturers insist on including light-up logos directly on the palm rest. Ooh shiny! Often, these LEDs are customizable and can interact with the gameplay, which is kinda cool. This functionality may have some utility with the lighting mechanisms on the mouse's side or belly, but is completely wasted underneath your big fat opaque hand.
It's difficult to say if these luminescent trappings actually adds much to the price tag, but a more minimalist aesthetic would almost certainly minimize the price as well.
10. How Much RAM Do You Really Need?
Mobile fans were blown away when it was announced that the OnePlus 3 would come with an astounding 6GB of RAM. Holy moly that's a lot of RAM! Most marquee phones, such as Samsung's Galaxy S7 max out at 4GB of RAM and run fantastically! So, the OnePlus 3 must be absolutely explosive, right!?! Slow down, spec-face. As it turns out, the OnePlus 3's spec-tacular RAM was only on paper - the company limits the amount of available RAM to save on battery power.
Still, even if you had access to all that extra RAM, there's not a lot you could do with it. In theory, it would help with multi-tasking. But how much simultaneous heavy lifting are you really doing on your phone? Do you really need to be streaming a TV show on Hulu, listening to an album on Spotify, and playing Pokemon Go all at the same time?
In theory, this sort of beyond-bleeding edge spec future-proofs your device for things like Google Tango, but by the time these beefy future features become a thing, it'll be a time to buy a new phone.
11. 8K TVs (Jumping in Early)
I've made my case against the escalating pixel wars earlier in this piece. So, I feel obligated to jump in the next chapter a bit early. While the price on 4K TVs are coming down, the next format is already being prepared: 8K. 8K is a resolution standard that has twice as many pixels as 4K and four times as many as HD. That's a lot of pixels!
There are some ludicrously expensive 8K displays already for sale. And even if you had the money to purchase a functioning 8K TV, it'd be a waste - there's no content for it (there's still a limited supply of 4K content right now).
To be sure, we'll start seeing consumer-grade 8K TVs and content within the next 10 years. But I'll take a stand now. I've seen 4K TVs, and they're alright. It hasn't made me contemplate breaking my HDTV just so I'll have an excuse to buy one.
[Source: PC Magazine.]