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If you're leaving for US studies, don't purchase big-ticket electronic items just yet. Whether you're shopping for a cell phone, DVD player, laptop or digital camera, you'll save time, money and hassles if you buy in America.
Price and availability
Consumer electronics cost less and are released earlier in the US. Blame India's strict import laws for the additional charges and late arrivals attached to foreign goods.
Expect to pay roughly 12% extra for imported electronic goods in India. Also, you'll wait about six months longer than consumers in the US for the newest items. Take Microsoft's iPhone, which released to international fanfare this summer. Indian techies will have to wait until 2008 before they can snatch one, that too at an inflated price.
A digital camera introduced in the United States at $200 (about Rs 8,300) in January will come to India in August and cost approximately Rs 10,000.
In some fields, these discrepancies may not seem overwhelming -- but the world of technology is completely different. By the time you purchase your laptop in India, compared to its US peers, it's virtually obsolete. When you take this into account, the 12% surcharge seems more like 30%.
Warranty and servicing
Stores in America offer tremendous return, warranty and service policies. When you make your purchase, be sure to inquire on all three of these points. Keep your original receipt and the packaging that contained your item.
If your purchase is for some reason defective or not satisfactory, most US stores will allow a return for full cash. At the very least, they'll exchange your goods or give you store credit, allowing you to find something more suitable.
US campuses are hardly the safest place for electronics -- they are teeming with young adults who act wildly and oftentimes are inebriated.
Make sure you opt for the best warranty packages when making expensive purchases such as mobile phones, digital cameras and laptops. A warranty that costs 5% of your purchase price pales in comparison to buying the same thing twice!
Finally, ensure your purchase has an attached service agreement. Service for electronic goods in the US is responsive and thorough.
For instance, if you have a problem with your laptop, most computer companies will send a representative directly to your dormitory or apartment for no cost.
At the worst, you'll have to mail the item to a nearby centre. Contrast this with shipping an item overseas to India or Singapore and it's easy to see why it's much easier to service US purchases in America as opposed to foreign ones.
Another reason to buy consumer electronics in the United States is compatibility.
In America, it's almost impossible to purchase a prepaid mobile service package without buying a handset.
Unlike most other countries, you can't just buy a SIM card from a carrier and pop it into your current phone. Verizon Wireless, arguably the most popular mobile company in America, does not even employ SIM card technology.
Nothing is more frustrating that buying a swanky new phone from Singapore or Hong Kong, only to discover that no carrier will give you service without purchasing one of their phones!
Another major compatibility issue arises with DVD players. American DVDs often do not play on Asian DVD players and vice-versa. Even if you find the latest DVD player for a great price in Dubai, you'll only be able to watch movies you bring from home -- bummer.
Also, although a minor point, American products require different voltage and have different plug-ins compared to their Indian counterparts. While voltage converters and plug-in adapters are readily available, it's one less headache to worry about if you buy in the States.
What to remember and where to buy
In the 1990's, American campuses underwent a technological revolution. Today, digital technology has infused university culture so much that, at many schools, there is one computer for every two or three students.
It's not necessary to have your own laptop, but it certainly helps. With wireless technology and the emergence of Bluetooth, having a portable machine able to access the internet has never been so important.
If you decide to go in for a computer, buy a laptop. The desktop computer is fast becoming obsolete, and laptops become more powerful and intelligent every day.
Also, the desktop will keep you chained to your room, which can be a big hassle when you have a demanding assignment. One minute, you may need to sift through some archives in the library; the next you may have a meeting with fellow classmates across campus. It's a boon to have a light-weight laptop in an easy-to-carry bag.
Furthermore, when you return to India, you won't have to worry about storing your computer -- just bring it with you. Remember, though, that American computers need an adapter to be plugged into Indian sockets.
Buy your laptop, DVD player and digital camera from a reputable electronics store such as Circuit City or Best Buy. If you're internet-savvy, scour sites offering discounts and package deals; there are great bargains floating around the web.
One emerging laptop maker, Asus, is renowned for quality, durability and service. They build custom laptops, deliver them to your door and have a great three-year warranty. If you're simply interested in quality and not concerned about price, don't forget the Sony VAIO.
When you buy your mobile, stick with Verizon wireless. Find an outlet in your area and sign up for a post-paid package. It's relatively simple once you can prove residency. Your university's international student advisor will have more details.
One last tip, don't be roped in by international pre-paid plans or other gimmicky deals. They often have hidden roaming fees and additional surcharges. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
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