How to shop smart for phones, laptops and TVs in 2023

How to shop smart for phones, laptops and TVs in 2023


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Inflation is painful. I want to give you a dose of happy news for your wallet: Consumer electronics are inflation-busting exceptions.

Prices for smartphones, computers, TVs and some other electronics have been getting cheaper while most other things Americans buy are getting more expensive, government statistics show.

This won’t necessarily mean that you’ll pay less than you did for your last iPhone or laptop, but you will definitely be getting more for your money.

Falling prices for TVs won’t make up for the climbing costs of necessities such as food and rent. But if you want or need new gadgets, know that those purchases will probably be a win for your budget. Take the victory.

I’ll explain why falling prices for gadgets are an element of the weird 2023 American economy and how you can maximize your savings if you’re buying new electronics.

Wait, stuff is getting cheaper?

Yes! Or it’s more accurate to say “yes, but … ”

The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show:

  • Smartphone prices dropped 24 percent in January from one year earlier.
  • TV prices were 13 percent lower than they were at the same point in 2022.
  • Prices in a category that includes computers fell 6 percent.

Confusingly, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re paying less. Even if the phone you purchased today for $800 was the same price last year, government economics nerds count the improved quality and features as a lower price.

Still, experts told me that prices are generally going down for some electronics — but in some cases we are choosing to pay more than we did in the past for smartphones, laptops and TVs.

Jitesh Ubrani, a research manager at the industry analysis firm IDC, said prices for computers were heavily discounted over the holidays and are likely to decline further in 2023.

But even with discounts, IDC data shows that Americans have generally been paying more. IDC expects the average price Americans pay for laptops to be about $1,136 this year, lower than it was in 2022 but much higher than the $821 average laptop sale price before the pandemic.

For smartphones, the firm expects the average sale price of a new smartphone to be $745 this year, up from the $547 average price in 2019. Prices have increased each year since then.

How can prices for electronics be falling but also you might be paying more? Data about our spending is complicated and there’s not a simple explanation.

One reason may be that Americans have been choosing to buy higher-end phones, laptops and TVs rather than affordable options.

That might be because you are willing to splurge on a fancier TV or a phone with all the bells and whistles. Manufacturers and retailers also prioritized higher-priced electronics and cars that generate higher profits. It’s been hard for people to find budget options.

But data from Adobe shows that Americans are choosing lower-end gadgets to save money. Vivek Pandya, lead insights analyst at the research firm, said that average prices for electronics bought online are declining.

You can get a bargain, but you might need to be creative

Yes, TVs, smartphones and computers have generally been getting cheaper and better for decades, but the pandemic scrambled that trend. For parts of the past three years, many consumer electronics were in short supply and high demand. Now everything is the opposite.

Start with the knowledge that compared with any time since 2020, you have the power to buy what you want at a price that you like. You might need to shop around or take a chance on an unfamiliar product or service.

I’ve told you before about handy price-tracking websites, including Keepa and CamelCamelCamel. You can see the prices that others have paid for a TV set or laptop, and receive an alert when the price drops. Do not pay full price for consumer electronics right now.

If you’re shopping for a new phone, the big phone companies are typically offering generous offers if you trade in your old device, but they’re not necessarily budging on the price of phone service, said Craig Moffett, a telecommunications specialist with the investment research firm SVB MoffettNathanson.

Moffett said that the cable TV companies Comcast and Charter have among the lowest monthly phone prices in the United States. (You probably know them as Xfinity and Spectrum.) Those two cable providers piggyback on Verizon’s cellular network, so the coverage is the same.

Buying phone service from the cable company isn’t available for everyone and it might not make sense for you. Read customer reviews for service in your area. But in general, it’s a good time to consider switching your phone company or phone plan. Consumer Reports’ buying guide to cellphone services includes smaller providers such as Mint Mobile and Google.

Christopher Conlon, an economics professor at New York University’s business school, said that if you have extra money in your budget, it might make sense to shift some of your spending away from products with soaring prices to those that are defying inflation.

Or as Conlon joked, “Don’t buy eggs. Buy TVs.” (Conlon was definitely kidding, but egg prices jumped 70 percent in January from a year earlier.)

A TV can’t replace food, rent or cars. But Conlon’s point is that falling prices and improving features for electronics might make you consider replacing your roster of gadgets. (Email me to let me know how inflation has affected your shopping for electronics.)

I have been unwilling to replace my decade-old MacBook that’s on its last legs. Researching this article made me reconsider. Now may be the best time to buy new electronics.

Our quiz can help you decide if it’s time to upgrade your smartphone.

If it’s time for a new computer, read this: Ask yourself these questions before you buy your next laptop.

If you have a Windows PC, you might be able to try the new buzzy Bing AI chatbot. Maybe.

Starting today, Microsoft is releasing a tinkered version of its Windows software. The biggest change is an option for PC users to chat with Microsoft’s experimental AI-powered Bing right from the search bar on your computer, my colleague Chris Velazco wrote.

To update Windows if you have a relatively new PC:

Click the Start button that looks like the Windows blue square at the bottom of your PC screen. Then click Settings → Windows Update OR Settings → Update & Security → Windows Update. (Or follow the link from this Microsoft help page.)

If there’s a software update ready for you, click to download a fresh version of Windows.

But if you have a Windows computer that’s managed by your employer, you might not have the power to update the software on your own. Sorry!

Also, you won’t be able to use the Bing chatbot feature unless Microsoft has approved you to test the new Bing. (Click here to request access to the new chatbot. There are millions of people waiting so you’ll have to be patient.)

In the meantime, Chris likes other features of the newest Windows, including the option to record video snippets of what’s happening on your computer screen. Read Chris’s reaction to the new Windows software.