Organize Your Tech GadgetsElizabeth Wasserman
Each year brings so many new must-have gadgets that it's hard to keep them all straight. There are global positioning satellite (GPS) phones to help keep track of your kids as they roam the neighborhood. There's the Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner, for the housekeeper who has everything. Digital cameras have dropped in price so much that they are sort of like toothbrushes -- every member of the family now has their own. Ditto with MP3 players. And what kid wouldn't want a v-Migo, a pocket-sized electronic pet that plugs into your TV?
Though women now account for 55% of the $125 billion spent on consumer electronics each year, says the Consumer Electronics Association, this trend does present new organizational challenges -- there are too many product registration cards, warranties, manuals and charger/power cords to wrangle. "I got to the point where I couldn't figure out which cord went to the camcorder and which went to the digital camera," says Laurie Fearing, marketing director at Cambridge Soundworks, an electronics manufacturer and retailer. "So I've labeled them all."
When it comes to cracking open your new gadgets, follow these steps to stay organized and get the most out of your personal tech accessories:
Step #1: Be careful how you open packaging Even though you're excited about that new iPod, resist the impulse to rip open the box. The bar code and any security tags are often essential if you want to return the item because it doesn't work, it fails to meet your expectations, or you have simply changed your mind. But be forewarned, says Yahoo technology columnist Dory Devlin, who blogs about tech for women and families#IF($EnableExternalLinks) (tech.y#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTahoo.c#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTom/blog/devlin)#ENDIF. "You have got to read the return policy very carefully because they vary," she says. "A lot of electronics retailers charge a 15% restocking fee if the package is opened."
Step #2: Read (or at least skim) the manual Many digital cameras, media players, and cell phones are made to be ready-to-use right out of the box. Still, it never hurts to read the instructions -- even though some manuals are as long as Gone with the Wind. Fortunately, a number of electronics makers now produce "quick guides" so you can quickly learn the ins-and-outs of your new gadget. Reviewing the instructions can also help you keep up with the ‘tweens and teens under your roof. "Our kids pick up things and just start going," Devlin says. "They are so intuitive and know what to do, but you do need to read through the manual. There might be one step you miss which might make it difficult to operate a product." If you opt for the abridged version, file the manual where you can find it. But don't worry too much if it ends up in the trash -- a growing number of manufacturers now put their manuals online, too.
Step #3: Register your product Although it's an extra step, registering a high-priced device can make getting service or support easier down the line. You can usually register online, so it takes only minutes. Devlin says that registering new software is especially important so you can be notified about updates or patches. Customer service also may ask for your registration number to troubleshoot any glitches you experience. Fearing says for hardware, it's good to register in case of a recall. When Sony ordered the recall of laptop batteries in several different brands of computers in 2006, for example, the recall was very high profile, so customers knew to return their old batteries lest they over-heat or catch fire. More often, recalls are low-key and the only way a manufacturer knows who bought their products. That is, if the product was registered.
Step #4: Label your cords -- then charge up These days, families have so many different gadgets that furniture makers have started providing for places to charge devices and store power cords, Devlin says. New consoles, desks, and cabinets are being designed with the multi-tasker in mind. Still, there is a simpler way to manage cables and cords: label them. You can use a bit of masking tape to distinguish the digital camera cord from your PDA recharger, attach a hangtag to each power source, or buy an inexpensive label maker to help you organize. You can also print labels via your computer -- mailing address labels work well. Devlin says most power supplies vary enough that they can't be plugged into other devices. Still, people have been known to overpower and fry a device by accidentally connecting it to the wrong charger.
Now it's time to charge your new gadget. Check any security settings or back up requirements, and then just start tinkering. "In the end, that's how we learn," says Devlin, who admits -- like most of us -- that her three children are often more comfortable with new gadgets than she is, "by just doing it and playing around."
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