Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What makes a brand worth paying extra for? Or, what's under the hood and does it matter?

So you just bought the latest XYZ brand laptop, eh? And you've been an XYZ brand fan since way back, I hear. Well, that's cool. Hope you didn't pay too much extra for that "cool brand" buzz, though.

Presumably many of us realise that we have "Intel inside" most of our PCs (or AMD, or whatever), and a host of other known (like NVIDIA) or unknown brands that form an ecosystem of mainboard, graphics, hard drive, I/O and other componentry lurking inside our machines as well.

This more-or-less minor brand ecosystem includes what's inside smartphones, notebooks, laptops and almost all popular consumer-grade hardware, of course. Your brand-name hardware is not all made (or even designed, let alone invented) by one company, you know.

So much commonality does make you wonder exactly why XYZ brand is considered so "different" and worth the extra bucks, of course.

And yet there are differences.

Not just in marketing and support, which can be crucial, or in the out-of-box experience for that matter. Some hardware has a greater degree of bespoke design and innovation, and some brands get "first pick" of the best, highest-grade and newest stuff.

And you pay for that privilege. Or not.   

Some shortcuts are mission-critical and you probably don't want to take the risk. Lower-grade components may go "pop" just out of warranty, for example. So there are tiers - levels - of acceptable performance, assembly and component quality. Of course you aren't to know which tier you are buying at, although price is often - not always - a good indicator. 

For the unwary and uninitiated, many - perhaps most - PC manufacturers buy a great deal of proven hardware from somewhat 'hidden' suppliers, often extending to a re-branding exercise based on a "barebones" build.

And that's a good thing. It maximises production runs and reduces costs. What you are buying and possibly paying extra for may be the same as another brand "under the hood", true; or it may be a premium version with the very latest build or higher-spec components.

Or you may be getting a better standard of service and support. Or not.

Comparison shopping is essential, and asking questions is key. Dig deep before buying.

Just out of interest I wondered who actually made the 2016-spec "Kogan Atlas Pro" brand of laptops, for example, and with a bit of poking around I'm fairly certain (mostly based on a spooky resemblance in pictures) that they are Clevo barebones builds. And the spec is good. Technically perhaps a tad behind the absolutely cutting edge but performance-wise excellent and great value for money. Of course this can change in the blink of an eye, with the simple up or downgrade of component levels. And whilst I have never had a bad experience with Kogan electronic products (a smartphone and a TV, both rebrands as well), my anecdotal experience is just one amongst many.

Don't rely on one or even 2 opinions, after all. They (a re-branded like Kogan) may sell hundreds or even thousands. The happy customers rarely say so, but the unhappy ones can get out the loudhailer.

The Clevo website is interesting, for those who like to explore these things...  and for those with some technical nous who crave a little excitement as well as a bargain, check out RJ tech, who will supply you a barebones box (just add your own chips et al) or build it for you.

Tempting, I know. Or just let someone else worry about it and buy a popular retail brand instead.  

(Oh, and I should mention that Intel Inside is a trademark of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries.)