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Product Reviews

Choosing the best brands in electronics

Most electronics are reliable, but a few stand out above others

According to consumer feedback on almost 162,000 TVs, most major brands were worry free during the first four years of use.

J Pat Carter/Associated Press

According to consumer feedback on almost 162,000 TVs, most major brands were worry free during the first four years of use.

Every year, Consumer Reports buys and tests hundreds of electronics products, so there’s a good chance you’ll find exactly what you want in its ratings. But what if you’re considering a model that hasn’t gone through its labs? Don’t worry — it can still help.

By analyzing a few years’ worth of its test and survey data, Consumer Reports compiled a report card on the performance and reliability of major brands of TVs, computers, and a few other products. That lets it give some guidance on models it hasn’t tested. Of course, brand advice isn’t as specific as ratings of a particular model, but it can minimize your chance of buying a clunker.

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LCD/LED and plasma TVs. Buyers have encouraging news on the reliability of their flat-panel TVs. According to their feedback on almost 162,000 TVs, most major brands have been reliable, with an overall repair rate of just 4 percent for LCD and plasma TVs during the first four years of use. Among brands getting high marks were LG and Sony. Westinghouse was the most repair-prone of the 16 brands of LCD TVs the survey covered.

Any problems that did crop up most often occurred early — 58 percent of reported repairs took place during the first year of ownership, a period usually covered by the standard manufacturer warranty. That reinforces Consumer Reports’ advice that extended warranties aren’t a good investment for most consumers. The most common problems reported were an inability to power on a TV and a loss of the picture.

Cameras. Shutterbugs, you can breathe easy — digital cameras have a solid track record for reliability, according to survey data on more than 91,000 camera purchases. Overall, only 4 percent were repaired or had a serious problem during the first few years of use. Sony and Panasonic were among the well-regarded brands for cameras.

Among point-and-shoot users who reported repairs, the power-up function was the problem 17 percent of the time; on SLRs and SLR-likes, the lens and autofocus were the trouble spots nearly 20 percent of the time.

Tablets and e-book readers. Most major brands of tablets have been fairly reliable, according to more than 42,600 readers who reported on more than 53,000 tablets. Apple’s iPad remains a favorite.

The median repair rate for the eight brands covered in the survey was 5 percent. (All tablets had a 7-inch or larger screen.) Most of the repairs reported took place during the first 12 months of ownership. Similarly, e-book readers weren’t especially troublesome.

Computers. It’s hard to generalize about computer brands for several reasons, including the fact that the configuration, or the components of a specific model, determines a computer’s speed and performance. Both of those factors are heavily weighted when Consumer Reports figures a model’s score.

Even so, one brand stands out as the top all-around choice: Apple. Year after year, its laptops and desktops have done very well in tests, which has led Consumer Reports to recommend those models almost invariably. Apple also excels in tech support. Its laptops have been among the more reliable brands, and its desktops have had lower repair rates than the Windows-based PCs covered in surveys.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.
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