The global recession has hit consumer electronics makers such as Sony (SNE) - Get Sony Corp. Report and Nintendo (NTDOY) - Get Nintendo Co., Ltd. Report hard. Want proof? The S&P 500 Consumer Electronics Index has dropped 77% since the beginning of 2008.
That means laptop computers, cell phones, digital music players and cameras are piling up in warehouses. And retailers are slashing prices to move products off their shelves.
While that's bad news for these companies, it's good for savvy consumers, who can choose from a wide range of high-quality products without breaking the bank. Here are the best buys in key categories:
Laptop computers: Your $1,500 laptop is too bulky to travel with, but the new breed of ultra-small netbooks don't pack enough power. What should you do?
Consider the Pavilion dv2 from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) - Get HP Inc. Report . The 12.1-inch computer, which starts at $699, blurs the line between netbook and laptop. It's the first computer to use the Athlon Neo processor by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) - Get Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Report , which gadget Web site CNET calls "super efficient." It's also powerful enough to run a full version of Microsoft's (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report Windows Vista. Most netbooks run lighter operating systems such as Windows XP or Linux.
And if you like to end your day with a little 3-D gaming, the Pavilion dv2 can easily handle games like "Unreal Tournament" thanks to its high-end graphic components. That's something your average netbook can't do.
Portable music players: Apple's (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report iPod and Microsoft's Zune are packed with features such as video playback, voice recording, customizable playlists and wireless synchronization. However, you can save a bundle of money if you're willing to give up a few of those options.
Take SanDisk's (SNDK) $35 Sansa Clip. It offers great sound quality and beats the iPod Shuffle in several categories, according to reviewers at CNET. The Sansa Clip's 1 gigabyte of storage space might seem small compared with the 120 gigabytes of the iPod Classic, but the player still packs seven hours of music into a well-designed package. It also offers voice recording and FM radio reception.
The Sansa Clip weighs less than an ounce and can be clipped to your clothes, so it's ideal for working out.
Digital cameras: If you're an amateur shutterbug, consider Canon's (CAJ) - Get Canon Inc. Report Power Shot A590. At $129, the camera won't leave you broke, and includes extras like 8-megapixel resolution and optical zoom that can magnify by four times. Its face-recognition feature automatically focuses on portrait subjects. The Power Shot A590 also lets you switch lenses, a rare feature for cameras that cheap.
Cell phones: You could pay $500 for a phone that offers Web access, voice-recognition technology and video recording. But the enV(2) by LG Electronics offers many of the same features for less. The phone starts at $129.99 with a two-year service agreement with Verizon Communications (VZ) - Get Verizon Communications Inc. Report .
The enV(2) has all the latest perks, including a 2-megapixel camera, Web browser, Bluetooth capability, voice recognition and music player. Text-obsessed users will find a full keyboard and screen when they flip open the phone. The 4.3-ounce phone is 0.65 inches thick, so it's easy to slip into your jacket pocket.
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