Tech Savvy for July 03, 2008

Inexpensive and Durable

By Aaron Harper

    Sometimes we buy items at discount only to find out the hard way that we sacrificed quality and durability, usually not a good trade.  Folks who follow this column know I′m frugal. When I spend money, I expect a lot from the goods and services I purchase.  I′m also a bit rough on things, not through carelessness, but because I lead a very active lifestyle.  This week′s Tech Savvy is about finding equipment that′s both inexpensive and durable.

    Looking on eBay for a tough, cheap laptop to toss in the truck for field use, I found the Panasonic Toughbook CF-27.  Nothing prepared me for the way this thing′s built.  You could literally drive nails with it!  With only a 500MHz Pentium III processor and 384MB of RAM, it′s a little slow, but meets my needs. Because they are hitting the used market after years of service in law enforcement vehicles, these laptops and their parts are inexpensive and plentiful.  The unit cost me about $120 with shipping.

    Another pleasant surprise from eBay was the docking station used in Highway Patrol vehicles to mount the Toughbook, the Kodiak Dock.  These were actually built better than the laptops and allow you to mount or remove the laptop without disconnecting all the cables.  It also allows you to charge and run the laptop without killing your car′s battery.  The docking station cost me about $40 each (I bought 4), including shipping.  The good news is that the UPS driver will make a full recovery from his hernia.

    After years of inactivity, I recently got my FCC Amateur Radio license again.  While I love the major brand radios with all their bells and whistles, I couldn′t justify spending $200-$600. on something that will be used and abused in the field.  After another internet search, I found the Chinese company Feidaxin.  Yep, Chinese.  I would love to “buy American,” but even Kenwood and Motorola are made in Malaysia these days.  Reviews of the Feidaxin FD-160 had nothing but praise, so I went ahead and purchased a package deal.  The package came with the radio, charger, headset, programming cable, and the special tools to take the radio apart, should repairs be necessary. With shipping, it all ran about $75. 

    Besides excellent sound and range, it′s also very durable.  I am amazed at what this little unit has lived through.  It has been dropped 34 feet on asphalt and survived with a couple of nicks and a kinked antenna.  I fumbled again and killed the display, but it still operates fine.  I have contacted the company, praised them for an outstanding design, and asked for parts to fix my radio.  They′ve earned my respect.

    That′s about it for this week′s Tech Savvy.  The thing I have learned from all this is that a little research on the Internet about specific products you intend to buy is never wasted time.  A wise purchase of a durable inexpensive item, even used, will save you money now and for years to come.