Is the product reliable?
Like household appliances, tech products have failure rates — the ratio of working to defective units. These rates can give you a sense of a brand’s reliability.
Consumer Reports, well known for publishing reliability ratings for household appliances, compiles similar reliability data for smartphones, laptops, tablets, TVs and printers by surveying subscribers who own the products.
People tend to have more problems with products that have moving parts, like printers with ink cartridges, than with electronics like TVs or tablets, said Jerry Beilinson, a technology editor at Consumer Reports. Brother printers fared well in the publication’s surveys. For phones, Apple and Samsung had strong reliability ratings.
Mr. Lai of the Fixers’ Collective recommends a grass-roots approach to assessing reliability. He reads web forums like Reddit to see what people are saying about a product. If a large number of customers report problems with the device, he said, he steers clear.
Should I spend more?
Another rule of thumb to consider is investing more in a product to make it last. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive phone or computer on the market. But it does mean investing in configurations that will make you happier in the long run, said Nick Guy, a senior staff writer for Wirecutter, a New York Times publication that tests products.
Let’s use an iPad as an example. If you wanted an iPad, you could pay $329 for the base model with 32 gigabytes of storage. But it’s probably a better idea to spend $429 on the model with 128 gigabytes of storage — that’s quadruple the capacity, which you can use to hold apps, games, photos and videos for years to come.
In tech parlance, this strategy is known as “futureproofing.”
If you’re turned off by the idea of spending more, there’s a way around that. You can look to buy the same higher-priced product refurbished — meaning it was returned by a customer and restored to its former glory — for a significant discount, Dr. Mars said.