Manjoo: What Not To Buy on Black Friday

What to eat, drink, buy, and think during that special time of year
Nov. 21 2012 8:30 AM

What Not To Buy on Black Friday

For starters, put down that Nano.

The new iPod Nano is displayed during an Apple.
Are there any Apple products you should actually stay away from?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Black Friday is for suckers, I’ve always said. This quasi-religious American holiday is, at bottom, a terrible trick—retailers lure you in for super-cheap stuff that you want in the hopes that you’ll also be sucked into buying a lot of things you’d never otherwise buy. (Hey, is that a $700 meat grinder?)

Farhad Manjoo Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of True Enough.

For several years, I’ve cautioned readers to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving doing something much more productive with their time—like, say, writing emails to your favorite four-star general. Still, I always like to help out folks who simply can’t resist the siren call of a good bargain.

Here, then, is my annual list of Black Friday bargains to avoid and to indulge. Read it while you’re waiting in line—it’ll take your mind off the terrible shame you feel for succumbing to the madness.

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Do not buy an e-book reader without an illuminated screen, especially one that isn’t made by Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

In my 2009 Black Friday guide, I advised against buying any e-readers, which then sold for at least $250 and were still part of a maturing market for e-books. Amazon’s Kindle was at the top of the heap, then, but it wasn’t yet clear which e-book format would win out in the long run. Three years later, all that’s sorted out. If you’re in the market for a device that just does e-books (as opposed to an iPad-like tablet), there are only two brands to choose from: Get the Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook.

The cheapest Kindle sells for $69, and you can pick up the entry-level Nook this week for $49 (it usually sells for $99). But I’d advise against getting either one of these cheapies. That’s because we’ve recently seen a revolutionary feature in more advanced e-readers: Illuminated screens that allow you to read your device in the dark. You can see the light in the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight or the Kindle Paperwhite, which both sell for $119. (You’re not likely to find any Black Friday discounts on these.)

Why am I telling you to pay $70 more for a small lamp inside your reader? Because I think illumination makes e-readers perfect. For years, my main beef with these devices was that I couldn’t read them in the dark. I’ve heard the same complaint from readers. Sure, you can always use a book light, but I’ve noticed they create a distracting glare around the e-reader’s display—defeating the main feature of these devices’ E-Ink screens, the fact that they’re easy on the eyes. The illuminated Nook and Kindle provide a beautiful, glare-free, even light that appears to emanate from within the page. The light is just bright enough to allow you to read, without being so bright as to cause eyestrain (as LCD screens do).

If you can’t shell out $119, you can always wait—illuminated e-readers are sure to be cheaper next year. But if you buy a cheap, unlit e-reader to save a buck, you’re sure to find yourself in the dark.

Do not buy an iPhone/iPod dock.

This year, Apple created a new dock connector for its phones, tablets, and music players. The connecter is the little plug that you use to hook up your device to other things. In 2003, Apple created a big, wide connector for the iPod, and it became ubiquitous, sparking a boom in iPod-enabled accessories like clock radios. The new connector is smaller and like the original connector, it’s proprietary—you won’t find it on non-Apple phones and tablets, and accessory makers have to pay Apple a licensing fee to make stuff that works with iOS devices.