Thursday 19 April 2018

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


Apple MacBook Pro
Apple MacBook Pro
DJI Spark
Canon 200D
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q I'm going on holidays to the US and am tempted to buy an iPad and one or two other gadgets while I'm there as they seem to be a bit cheaper. Are there any downsides to this?

A Yes. The biggest one is aftersales support: if something goes wrong with your device, lots of ­manufacturers ­insist that you first bring it back to the ­retailer before they will look at it in more detail. This very situation happened to me last month.

On holidays in the US, a drone I was flying (the DJI Spark) became faulty and started to overheat, preventing it from working properly. When I rang DJI's aftersales support to seek assistance, I was told that the only recourse was to bring it back to the retailer for it to be replaced or refunded.

As it happens, that drone is around €175 cheaper when bought in the US ($499 there compared to €599 here). But I would have faced huge difficulties - and probably significant delivery fees - if I had to return it to a physical US store from Ireland.

The same rule applies to cameras and camera lenses, which are sometimes significantly cheaper to buy in the US than in Ireland. The manufacturers almost always insist that you deal with the retailer from where you purchased the item.

In fairness, some manufacturers do offer global cover. Apple generally has good aftersales support, regardless of where you bought the item in question. So if you buy an iPad or MacBook Pro (inset) in the US, Apple should take it back in Ireland and repair it or replace it (although my understanding is that they won't offer a refund, as that remains an issue with the retailer).

Some manufacturers offer extended warranty services that explicitly take in global repairs and returns. Applecare is a good example of this.

But as a rule of thumb, the bigger the company is, the more global its aftersales support will be.

There are some other minor issues with buying electrical equipment in the US for use in Ireland. An obvious one is plugs and power leads. Sometimes, a power adaptor will have the local country's plug configuration welded on to the cord. So if you do spot a bargain, it's best to make sure that it doesn't come with a very particular power lead that can't be replicated by a three-pronged UK plug. (This isn't a problem for phone or tablet chargers, where the lead is usually separate from the plug.)

Sometimes, people are tempted to buy gadgets abroad that they've read about but which aren't officially available yet in Ireland. Amazon's voice-controlled Echo speaker is one such product. In such cases, some of the product's functionality (such as Amazon Prime) will be significantly curtailed because of a lack of local support for the overall service.

Despite these drawbacks, it can sometimes be hard to turn savings down. A 13-inch iPad Pro, for example, costs €919 in Ireland but only €728 in the US (including sales tax there). That's a saving of almost €200, or over 20pc. Similarly, Microsoft's excellent new Surface laptop costs €1,169 here but just €915 (including sales tax) in the US, a saving of €250. For premium new cameras such as Canon's 6D Mark ii, the savings are closer to €400 (€2,199 here compared to €1,820 with sales tax in the US).

The bottom line is that while tech gadgets may be cheaper in the US, it could be a case of buyer beware. If something goes wrong, you may be left high and dry.

RECOMMENDATION: Only buy products with clearly stated global warranties

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Two to Try

DJI Spark  (€599 or €799 for remote  control pack)

DJI Spark

I've been flying DJI's smallest drone for six weeks now across Ireland and the US and am generally pleased with the results. The footage (1080p 'full HD' rather than 4K 'ultra HD') is generally crystal clear. Its drawbacks are that it's a lot slower than bigger drones and has a small battery life (around 12 minutes). It has also had serious early firmware problems, although these are thought to be fixed now. Its incredible portability is its selling point.

Canon 200D (€599)

Canon 200D

Canon recently introduced a new learner and blogger-friendly DSLR model, the 200D. It's a step up from previous entry models as it has a flip-out touchscreen, a 24-megapixel sensor and a much faster autofocusing system. It's also considerably smaller than the 80D or 6D Mark ii models. Canon throws in the decent 18-55mm Mark iii lens for another €100.

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