/ Shopping, Technology

Why you shouldn’t rush to buy branded tech accessories

The price difference between branded tech accessories and third-party options can be dramatic. But does the extra cost bring any performance benefits, or do we assume branded products will be safer?

On my desk in the office, I’ve got a phone charger and an iPod cable plugged into my PC. Neither of them are ‘official’ branded accessories. In fact, they don’t even have a brand name on them.

And at home I’ve eschewed the official remote control recommended by my TV manufacturer, using a cheap third-party replacement instead. So far, none of these accessories have burst into flames. And even better, they do the job they were made to without a hint of fuss.

This raises the question – do we really need to buy branded tech accessories at a premium?

An HDMI cable by any other name…

Last year, we looked into the performance of HDMI cables. Anyone who’s ever had to purchase an HDMI cable will know that prices can range from a couple of pounds to £100 and beyond.

But surely that doesn’t reflect the performance range? After all, HDMI cables carry a digital signal – a collection of ones and zeros – how much degradation could there be?

As it turned out, the answer is ‘none’. We tested the cables in our lab and our experts concluded that there was no difference in performance between them all. For example, we tested a Tesco Value cable (£9.97) against a Belkin model (£99.99) and the performance was identical. So it seems that an HDMI cable is an HDMI cable, no matter what the brand.

Style over substance

So why do we still buy branded accessories? Well, there’s no denying that some of them simply look better. Apple’s accessories are fairly untouchable when it comes to design and, admittedly, my third-party iPod cable is an ugly piece of kit.

However, to keep things in perspective, it only cost £1 and it’s just a cable. I don’t lose any sleep over it.

Maybe some of us worry that using a third-party accessory might somehow damage our precious gadgetry, heeding the warnings against unbranded accessories in our instruction manuals.

There are certainly savings to be made when it comes to going third party. As well as HDMI cables, we’ve also looked into ink cartridges before, which can be a fraction of the cost of the official products. So if you’re happy to forego named brands, you can save some serious cash.

Do you tend to lean towards first or third-party tech accessories? Or have you ever regretted scrimping on a third-party piece of kit?

Comments
Member

I disagree about the HDMI cable (I’ve definitely found differences – albeit not Belkin), but some branded accessories are just priced so over the top that you are forced in to looking at alternatives although I’ve found that there are some exceptions. I’ve found that a lot of third party ink cartridges are nowhere near as good as the manufacturers items (many wasted hours going through cleaning cycles and reams of paper – only to have poor print outs) and some cheap adaptors I’ve had (for my smartphone) failed after a short period and have actually seemed to have damaged the battery life (possibly due to a poor connector).

It all falls back on looking at the reviews for products (whether branded or not), shopping around and sometimes asking the fundamental question of whether you need the accessory at all.

Member

Unless you have a faulty HDMI, be assured that they are IDENTICAL.

Member
Mike K says:
29 June 2012

Here’s another tip : expensive speaker cable? Double strand bog standard electrical cable is as effective as speaker cable costing up to 20 times as much.
: > )

Member

My take is that when it comes to Hi-Fi cable of any hew it’s a question of critical listening with the system that you have (many variations of components from different manufacturers) – never do anything blind.

Member

I find that ring mains cable is more than satisfactory. Just select the core diameter to match amplifier power and distance to the speakers.

Member

There are rumours that the next iPhone (expected to be launched between August and October) will contain technology to prevent third party accessories from being used. One such rumour is explained at

Member

I’ve bought a couple of great unbranded cables recently. The first was an HDMI cable which I ordered online for 92p. Despite a few bad reviews the cable worked fine and the signal is great. The second was a slightly more expensive 5m VGA cable – again unbranded and it works fine. The cost of going branded for each at least doubled the price for the VGA and was at least 10 times as much for the HDMI cable.

In terms of ink cartridges – try a few and see what works. After a little while I found a great third party provider and using them has saved me in the region of £100 in the past few years. So far no problems at all and excellent print outs each and every time!

Member

You can get good quality cables for not much money (although does 92p include postage?), but buyer beware – always make sure they have good quality connectors (had one scart cable that almost fell to bits when plugged in and jammed – not good), a decent quality cable (difficult to check if molded connectors are used) and check the reviews. Branded cables are always dubious when they come from manufacturers who don’t specialise in cables only – the likely hood they just by them from a 3rd party, re-badge them with their branding and slap on a massive premium.

Overall performance does vary (even in the digital domain), but getting good quality at reasonable money isn’t a problem on-line the only issue is really in the high street, retail parks and the big chains where prices can go through the roof with little real choice or honest advice.

Ink cartridges are a different kettle of fish, I’ve had some 3rd party ones that have started out fine but the next batch caused problems with quality/performance. On the whole I don’t tend to print out so much these days and so I feel that I don’t want to gamble with my printer on the occasions I do and so will only go for the manufacturers own cartridges.

Member

I tried compatible inks in my Lexmark printer but returned to the official branded ones because I was fed up of having to complain and get them replaced because the printer didn’t always recognise them. They were also prone to leakage. Also had an expensive A3 printer ruined a few years ago because of a compatible HP ink cartridge that leaked it’s contents into the machine. I know people who refil their own cartridges with success but I won’t be ordering anymore remanufactured compatibles in the near future.

Member
Nick Martin says:
29 June 2012

I used third party ‘compatible’ inkson my Canon MP600 printer and the results for photos were eventualy poor with muddy and poorly rendered colours. Having read the Which review article on inkjet inks and bought a Kodak ESP3250 I just use the Kodak inks and the results have been consistent and much better.

Member
Strathearn says:
6 July 2012

I agree with the comments about unbranded digital cables such as HDMI and have had no problems, though probably best to go for gold plated contacts (which can be found even on cheap unbranded cables).
Analogue cables are a different matter – An unbranded 5metre VGA cable caused visible ghosting, whereas a branded cable (which was thicker and presumably better screened) was fine. Cheap SCART cables often have very poor screening, which may cause problems with longer lengths.