Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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Posts about Electronics

Update: VoIP from Ooma a winner but not with USI Wireless

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: January 19, 2011 - 10:23 AM

Eight months ago I dropped my landline from Qwest ($45 a month) and replaced it with Ooma VoIP that I purchased from Costco. (Costco currently has the Ooma for $199, Best Buy for $249.) 

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My reception was spotty at first and too many callers said that my voice was cutting out (I could hear them just fine.). I determined that the problem was my Internet service provider, USI Wireless. USI is a great deal if you live in Minneapolis and don't need too much speed. Even when I upgraded to 6 Mbps, I still had complaints from callers who couldn't hear me. So I switched to Comcast's ISP service at 16 Mbps and my problems went away. Comcast charges me $30 a month, a 12 month special, and $52 a month after that. That's about twice what I paid for USI, but the faster speed is worth it to me.  

If you're considering Ooma, I suggest that you buy it only if you have a relatively fast Internet connection. If you're not technically proficent, you might need some help installing it. Also, anyone who signed up after April 2010 now pays about $3.50 per month in connectivity charges.

I purchased mine at Costco because of its liberal return policy but have been completely satisfied. Most of the 50 reviews at have been highly positive.  

I know there are many Magicjack fans, another VoIp system, but I have read mixed reviews. It requires the user's computer to be on to receive phone calls. The Ooma system does not.

New TV for the holidays? Here's the best deal for cables etc.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 26, 2010 - 3:42 PM

I've said before that the best deal I've found on HDMI cables and other electronic accessories is in Eden Prairie--a online retailer called My Cable Mart

Its prices on HDMI cables are lower than any source I've found and certainly lower than electronics stores. On Black Friday, you can get extra discounts using coupon code BLACKFRIDAY. Get an additional 12 percent off overs over $50. Or you get free shipping on orders over $100 except for bulky items, but remember that you can always choose to pick up your order free at the warehouse. However, don't go to the warehouse to place your order. All orders must be done by phone or online. There is no 'store" to browse for merchandise, although if you have questions, the phone staff is very helpful.

Call 952-486-8736 or go to 7887 Fuller Rd., Suite 105, Eden Prairie. The discount code is good through Monday, Nov. 29.


Best deals on Black Friday? Try these.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 24, 2010 - 4:17 PM

A lot of sites compile the best Black Friday deals, including,  and

Here's a little something related to the best BF deals that I got from Consumer Reports:

"Staff picks: The ten best Black Friday electronics deals

We've been obsessively poring over early Black Friday ads for several weeks now. While we've found many deals to share with you, our electronics team thought these particular bargains might just make it worthwhile to wake up far too early and brave the consumer crowds on the day after Thanksgiving.

Laptops: In a doorbuster deal, Best Buy is selling a Sony laptop with a Blu-ray drive for $500. It includes a Blu-ray video, a subscription to a security software package, and a laptop bag. To take advantage of this early-bird deal, you need to pick up a ticket at Best Buy (they'll be doled out starting at 3 a.m. Friday morning), and quantities are limited to 10 per store.

Desktops: Best Buy will also have the HP Pavilion p6624y with a quad-core AMD processor, 8GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive. It comes with a 23-inch monitor and a wireless printer. The Black Friday price will be $600; it's currently on the Best Buy site for $700, without the monitor and printer.

E-book readers: The best deal will demand an early morning. Early-birds at Best Buy can save about $50 on the Nook Wi-Fi, which is selling at $99.99 rather than its usual price of $150.

32-inch LCD TVs: There are a number of deals on 32-inch LCDs. So far, the cheapest we’ve seen is the Emerson 720p set at Walmart (model LC320EM1) priced at $198.

50-inch or larger TVs: Walmart will be also breaking the $500 barrier for a 50-inch plasma with a $498 price on a Sanyo 720p set (DP50740); its regular retail price is $650.

SLR cameras: Best Buy is offering a package that bundles our highly Rated Canon EOS Rebel T2i with two lenses (18-55mm and 55-250mm zooms) and accessories (an 8GB SDHC memory card and camera bag), for just under $1000. The bundled lenses are a plus: With an SLR generally, the more lenses you have, the better.

Point-and-shoot cameras: If you're shopping for a child or teen, Staples is selling the rugged Olympus Stylus Tough-3000 for $150 (originally $210). Since it's waterproof and shockproof, it should be able to withstand some common mishaps.

Camcorders: Among pocket models, Best Buy has a Flip Video UltraHD "package", which includes a few accessories along with the cam, such as an extra battery pack and bag, for $120 (originally around $200, without any accessories). And Best Buy has an HD model on sale: Sony Handycam HDR-C150 for $400 (originally $500).

Printers: For an all-in-one printer that can scan, copy and fax, the HP OfficeJet 6500 Wireless is reasonably fast, quite economical and one of just a handful of inkjets that printed excellent-quality text when we tested it. Staples has it on sale for $79.98 (regular price: $199.98).

Digital photo frames: Sears has our Recommended Pandigital PAN7000DW 6.9-inch frame on sale for $39.99, regularly $59.99. The frame has a gigabyte of memory, and an optional Wi-Fi adapter lets you get photos from your computer and specific photo-sharing sites."

Ewoldt's final tip: If getting up early isn't your thing, try to score the same deal on the retailer's website. Start trying after midnight on Friday morning. Wal-Mart, for example, said that it offers its deals online too and you can save shipping costs by chossing the "ship to store" option. Remember that Wal-Mart will also price-match all competitor's Black Friday ads. While that might seem generous, don't expect it to work on very many if any TVs. Retailers often change one or two digits in model numbers so they can claim that the consumer is talking about two different models.

Already looking forward to Black Monday. Happy Thanksgiving!

More about choosing cable or satellite

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 24, 2010 - 10:17 AM

Today's column on choosing between cable or satellite TV  lists several "gotchas" to consider.

Many online readers have made additional suggestions, including those who suggest dropping cable and satellite all together. It's a cheaper option--without monthly fees in some cases. Internet TV is in its early stages, but go to the networks’ web sites or or iTunes to watch previous episodes or subscribe to content at for about $10 a month.

You can also regress 40 years and go back to rabbit ear antennas. You’ll be able to get as many as 33 channels, including a few in HD, all free. The antenna can be purchased at Radio Shack, Target or Best Buy. Installation is fairly straight forward, but TV repair shops that do house calls, including East Lake TV (612-722-8085) will set up the antenna and program the channels for $40 in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Here's another tip I've discovered. Call Comcast around the first of the month and ask about specials on premium channels. HBO or Showtime, for example, are normally about $18 a month, but I frequently get them for $10 a month for six months. At the end of the promo period (noted on my calendar) I cancel and wait until the next promo. Sometimes the premium channels are available free for three months.

A reader mentioned a similar tip for satellite. Wait until the two-year contract is up and then negotiate hard between Dish and DirecTV. if you don't want to switch, make sure you tell your current provider what the competition is offering  to get the sweetest deal.

One point of clarification: If you are a Comcast Basic 1 subscriber paying about $12 a month for channels 2-23, you do not need a DTA set-top box. Only subscribers with a Basic 2 cable package or above can get an additional seven channels free with the set top box. Basic 1 customers will pay an additional $2.50 per month plus tax for TPT Minnesota, TPT Weather, KARE 11 Weather Now and a few others. They also get the 50 or so digital music channels.  

 Let me know of any deals you’ve negotiated for a potential follow-up on my blog.



Great deals at Ultimate Electronics

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: October 19, 2010 - 2:42 PM

Recently,  a friend and I have price shopped a couple of somewhat high-end electronics products, a Sony BDP S570 Blu-ray player and a Mitsubishi 40-inch LED TV (model # LT-40164) . He and I always check prices online first (, for example) and then try to find a deal almost as good in local stores.  

What amazed us is that Ultimate Electronics had great prices on both items. On Monday, we found the Sony Blu-ray player as low as $180 shipped from an unrecognized site. Amazon has it for $201 and Best Buy has it on sale for $210 (reg. $250). But Ultimate's price on Monday was only $189. The Edina store ran out, but other stores in the metro had several left as of Monday night. (Ultimate shows the player on its site but does not offer online ordering.)

On the TV, an employee of Ultimate told us when we looked at the $1,599 sale price that he could do better if my friend purchased that night. He and I ignored that challenge for a few minutes while we asked about the TV and watched the picture and listened to its 16-speaker internal sound system. When he was convinced  it was the TV he wanted, he said, what's the lower price you were telling me about?

The salesman lowered the price to $1,325, which I thought was a serious offer. I jumped in on my friend's behalf and  asked the salesman if he would be willing to lower the price another $70. After speaking to a manager, he agreed to the price. Later, someone in the biz  told me that such price is only about $1 over its wholesale cost. 

Anyone scoring great deals at Ultimate Electronics lately? Remember to look beyond the sale price for the best deal, no matter where you're shopping, including Best Buy. Keep in mind that my two price comparisons hardly show a trend, but it's worth a heads up.


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