Third-Party Products, A Cheap Solid Tech Alternative or a Monetary Black-Hole?

Budget pieces of Tech
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on March 14, 2013
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This is a collaboration post between James Read and Aaron Richardson.

James Read: As a cash-strapped student and a lover of tech I often find myself in an awkward situation of wanting or needing new bits and pieces of technology however I just can’t scrape together the funds to make purchasing products possible, luckily the internet is full of cheap alternatives but are these cheap “knock-offs” a viable alternative to higher priced products or a short term fix that doesn’t work out in the long term?

I’ve had a number of products, ranging from mouse and keyboard set-ups to rechargeable packs for Xbox controllers and all in all things are good, however there have been a number of times I find myself wondering why I even tried a particular product.

As a general rule approaching cheap unbranded or third-party products should be done with a hint of logic. By this I simply mean if something seems far too cheap to viably work, then it probably won’t work unfortunately.

Third-Party Wireless Mouse

An example I can use here is a wireless mouse I purchased from Amazon, which can be a great resource for the cheaper products due to its large expanse of varied sellers, and for the low price of £7 I was not expecting anything perfect but I at least thought I would get an adequate mouse that would work with a few bumps along the way.

This is not what I received unfortunately, I ended up with a mouse that permanently cut out and lost connection with my computer mid-use. Obviously this meant that it was not useable from almost day one, a refund was permitted but due to the effort of sending it back through Amazon I decided against it, it wasn’t worth the effort for £7.

As a result of this I learnt to be a bit more realistic with prices, I mean really what did I expect from a wireless mouse that is cheaper than most wired mouses? I learnt something similar with console tech as well, as I purchased a twin pack of rechargeable battery packs for Xbox controllers for around £8.

When they first arrived I thought I had received an absolute steal, the battery packs worked like a charm and despite an unconventional charging method (rather than the standard charging through a wire plugged into the controller itself there was a small port on the battery pack itself which charged the battery) it seemed as though I had bought a good bit of kit for cheap.

As I kind of expected this didn’t last and soon charging became uncertain, sometimes the packs charged, sometimes they didn’t,  and after about two months of use both packs stopped charging. I realised it was the absolutely shoddy wire that was the issue and sidestepped the issue by using a spare I had as it was a common male end, however one pack had served its last use and now I use the other sparingly.

This raises an issue that can be quite common with low cost bits of tech, they don’t have the extended warranty that many official products have and for good reason as many don’t have the longevity that official products generally possess.

Third-Party Xbox Controller Pack

Another third-party pay and play Xbox battery pack I own is a slightly more solid one than my others and maybe this is due to the makers. It is one of Game’s GAMEware products, of which they do a wide range that offer the exact kind of thing this article is about, cheaper alternatives to official pieces of tech.

The battery pack was only around a fiver, which is £10 cheaper than the official pack and at the moment I’ve had no problems with it. There’s something to be learnt here as well, while official products may remain the most trustworthy certain brands can stand out as having repeat appeal, so Game was a name I knew and somewhere that had stores everywhere if I did need to return anything so I had a bit more faith in this product than the previous packs from Amazon.

Another success story comes from my wireless keyboard, which was a steal at just £20, it’s lightweight and is clearly trying to mimic an Apple wireless keyboard (despite the variety of colours available) but in fact I feel this performs better than Apple’s take on the wireless keyboard.

I had an official Apple wireless keyboard that served me well for around two years, however in that time I was constantly changing batteries and having to learn to live with fewer keys as they slowly stopped working one by one, at one point if I wanted to type the number 3 I had to Google ‘Three’ and copy and paste the figure itself.

Eventually this became too much effort so I looked for a replacement, I was keen to get a rechargeable variety this time around, to save costs on batteries, and once again I searched through Amazon. I found a keyboard that matched my criteria for £20 and while I was wary from my previous purchases decided to try it due to the good reviews it had received.

That was a couple of years ago now and the keyboard still works fine, the battery holds a long charge and all keys still work. This leads to my final point on third party products, always aim for products with reviews, many on Amazon have none and if that is the case there’s probably a reason for that, always try and find products that have a large number of reviews.

So really unofficial products can be a bit hit and miss but there are ways to make sure you don’t waste your money and if you can find things that work for an extended period the amount of money that can be saved, especially on products that can be ridiculously expensive such as wireless keyboards, then third-party products are definitely something that should be embraced rather than dismissed out of hand for being “knock-offs”, saying that I still approach ultra low cost bits of tech from China with an air of caution.

Aaron Richardson: I know that feeling all too well and while we’re on the subject of battery packs; I’ve been through so many ‘official’ play-and-charge battery packs it’s unreal, I’d much rather spend a couple of quid on some knock off battery packs rather than (what used to be) the asking price of around £15.

Personally I could live off of ‘knock off’ or ‘unofficial/unbranded’ gadgets. I recently purchased an Apple style bluetooth keyboard similar to the one James was talking about to use with my Kindle and it works an absolute charm, I’ve had no problems with it and it hardly uses any battery power (I’m still on the same batteries I put in before Christmas and I use it almost daily).

Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming AdapterMy favourite knock off bit of gear is my “Xbox 360 wireless gaming receiver”. I have an endless supply of Wireless Xbox controllers but I’ve been getting into PC gaming a lot recently, I’m comfortable with the keyboard/mouse set up, but I’d much rather use an Xbox controller as it’s something I’m used to. Unfortunately you can’t use the Play-and-Charge cable to transfer data from the controller to the PC, so I had to look for an alternative which was either a Wired controller (£20+) or a wireless gaming reciever. The official product used to be around £20 and at the time I wasn’t really much of a PC gamer so I didn’t think it was worth paying that much for something I’d hardly use. Now however the official product is ridiculously hard to find so I resorted to eBay.

At first I was a little dubious because I didn’t know what would end up coming and whether it’d be good quality. I knew I was buying an unofficial product, but would it work? After debating for a few days I took the £5 plunge and bought it – hey, it’s only £5. It arrived with a disc with the drivers loaded upon it, but unfortunately the drivers were out dated & my PC didn’t recognise the device. A little let down I wondered if there was a way around it, so I tried to install the ‘official’ drivers from Microsoft and then assign the device those drivers, after a few spins of the hourglass I heard the tell tale bing that you hear when a USB cable is plugged in and then it prompted me that the device was installed and ready to use – even now it still works and I’ve had it and used it for a fair few months. Occasionally if you unplug it from the PC and plug it back in (whenever I’m cleaning out dust) it’ll forget the device, but it only takes a couple of minutes to re-assign the driver.

Overall I think you need to have an open mind like James said above. If it seems too good to be true it probably is, but at a couple of quid it might be worth giving it a go. Reviews also help, but if you’re looking at eBay buyers who sell these types of products sell hundreds of different items on a daily basis and it’s impossible to find a review of the product you’re buying.

Have you purchased any ‘knock off/unnofficial/unbranded’ products? If so do they still work and would you buy other unbranded peripherals? Leave a comment below!