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Shop, But Don't Drop
Photo/William Brinson, Prop styling/Peter Tran

What’s the best way to shop for technology? Use technology, of course. With a smartphone loaded with the right app, you can quickly figure out which product is best for your needs and find the lowest available price, whether you’re sitting at home or standing in the aisle at your local Best Buy. And you don’t even have to type in the name of the product—just point your smartphone camera at the barcode and let the app do the work.

In my quest to make shopping a targeted, laser-like operation rather than some lollygagging recreational activity, Google Shopper (free) is my tool of choice. (It’ll work with any purchase, but it seems custom-made for tech buys, when having in-depth information is key to your decision and the size of the cash outlays and possible price variances make having the best information indispensable.) If you can locate a product’s barcode, you can scan it with admirable accuracy. If not, speak the name of the product into the phone and let built-in voice recognition figure it out. When neither of these high-tech solutions works, you can always type in the product name. (But really, where’s the fun in that?)

In response to your search request, you get separate listings for online vendors and local retailers, with prices sorted from low to high. For retail results, you’re also told whether the product is in stock and the distance to the store. Tap on a store listing and up pops a window that lets you call with a single click, get directions, view the store on a map or go to the company website. You can even ask for point-by-point navigation to the store from your current location, which the app figures out automatically, assuming your GPS is turned on. And if a discounted price merits driving the distance it takes to make the purchase, you can calculate that expense with aCon’s Fuel Cost Estimator ($0.99).

If you’re not sure whether the item in question is the right one for you, you’ll find detailed specs, ratings and reviews in the search results.

A few other features of the app may appeal to the easily distracted, including special online and in-store offers. But the prime directive of Google Shopper is helping you part with as little cash as possible with maximum efficiency, and the app delivers on that promise.

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