Tips for a less-stressed black Friday

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By Laura Haight

We are supposed to be focusing on business in this column, but for most of us our thoughts today are on how we get this shopping done quickly, cheaply and without losing our sanity.

If there's a mobile device on your list, here are some suggestions for being a less-stressed Santa.

First, skip the store. Every place you can physically go is going to have an online way to purchase - and most likely the same or similar Christmas deals. There are only two things you can get in the store that you can’t get online - a giant headache and advice from a guy who is filling in at the computer department because another guy called out sick.

Grab a coffee, put on your slippers and fire up your laptop.

Looking for an iPad, Apple TV or a nice MacBook Air? You may not know that Apple has an online store for refurbished devices. These are fully Apple certified and eligible for Apple Care, a three-year coverage plan that covers everything from phone support to in person training to full replacement of a defective device. Refurbished devices can be 10-30% cheaper, which is a plus since Apple doesn’t know that they’re supposed to knock prices down at Christmas time.

These devices are most often a generation older - not the most recent iterations available - but sometimes the differences between new devices are marginal. If you don’t really need the new features, you may easily be able to save a nice bit of coin here.

There is a thriving marketplace for castaway digital devices as people want to sell the perfectly functional older devices so they can buy the new hot model that just came out. At the rate companies bring out new products, these devices may be less than a year old. That’s great for buyers who a day before the big release might have purchase that cool new tablet for $500 and can now find it - in a reseller store - for $350. Same device, all cleaned up and often warrantied.

Resellers like Nextworth owned by Target, Gazelle, or Sell My Mac have online stores and eBay sites where great deals can be found.

A device is only as good as the apps you can put on it and they are getting bigger and bigger. So one place not to look to save money is on the capacity. A 16GB version will be fine for a while, but the 32 is a better option especially when you try to sell it. For heavy gamers, photographers, artists and travelers, maybe even 64 MB.

Eying a tablet? Whatever flavor of device you want to buy, the most important thing to consider is how you're going to use it. That is going to play into two important and potentially costly decisions: Whether to buy a cellular data plan with it or just go wi-fi and how big a data plan to purchase.

Do you need a cellular plan? Whether your giftee is using going to use the device for work or play is less important than where they are going to do the working or playing. In your office and home, you most likely have wi-fi. No need for cellular there. I am on my third iPad and I haven’t had cellular since the first one. Even if I am at a client site, there is usually wi-fi available. On the rare occasion that I find myself at a loss for a signal, I use the personal hotspot that is included in a Verizon data plan for free (formerly this was a $20 per month option). My tablet connects through my phone’s cellular service.

How much data do I need? My guess is that most people buy way bigger data plans than they need. Yes, catching up with your shows on Hulu and Netflix does involve a lot of data - but how often do you do this when you aren’t home sitting on the sofa. The same with listening to music or emails or downloads. Here’s a totally unscientific benchmark to consider: I have a one MB data plan for my smartphone and tablet combined. I use both probably 75 percent for work. I watch videos every day while I walk on the treadmill. I get several hundred emails per week. I do not use even half of my data plan.

Data plans are the most controllable cost you have and contribute significantly to the total cost of ownership of any device. Sales people always try to scare you into larger plans. For most of us, less really is more.

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Laura Haight is the president of Portfolio (www.portfoliosc.com), which works with small businesses to incorporate emerging media and technology into its business communications, operations and training.