As you may have guessed, my toys are mostly pretty techie.  So I hear you ask, David, how do you choose your gadgets?  Well, absolutely free and worth the price, here is my advice for how to select a great value in a great gadget.  And no extra charge for auditory hallucinations.

If the thing I want is a computer-ish, home theater-ish, outdoors-ish or camera-ish thing, I first visit The Wirecutter.  They have around a hundred continuously updated reviews of gadgets, nicely organized on the front page into about two dozen categories.  The site is supported by affiliate links to Amazon and other retailers, so that it doesn’t matter to them which brand you choose.  They also provide a low-volume mailing list so you can get alerted when reviews are updated.  These emails are often very important to me, because I am asked all the time for advice on tech items with information-security implications (e.g., home wireless routers).  Wirecutter’s updates help me stay on top of new products and new versions of those products.

Wirecutter’s companion site, The Sweet Home, is the place to go before you go to Home Depot or Bed, Bath and Beyond.  The same continuously updated reviews, and the same business model as The Wirecutter.  I find that kitchen gadgets and small appliances have such a high propensity to be disappointing, that I can’t imagine picking one anymore without reading some unbiased reviews.

Of course, there’s the digital incarnation of that old standard, Consumer Reports.  I think it’s worth the $30 a year, especially since we bought a new car last fall.  There are simply no rivals to Consumer Reports when it comes to cars.

Finally to software.  Gizmo’s Freeware is my usual first stop to check for free (as in freedom), free (as in beer), or freemium software products.  This is especially important when I am trying out a new-to-me kind of software.  I get a lot of help from their comparison articles in the process of firming up and refining what my requirements are for this new program.  One caveat I will give about this site is that download links frequently lead to CNet and similar places that add all manner of interesting “packaging” with the product you’re looking for.  You have to be very careful when downloading even legitimate freeware… this will be a topic of a future post.