Tech toys the top choice for SSIA splurge

2 Aug 2006

Top-end consumer electronics and technology gadgets seldom come cheap but the SSIA savings now being released are putting these must-have items within many people’s reach.

Anecdotally, many electronics retailers are experiencing a boom in sales compared with last year as the SSIA effect kicks in. Figures from the website would seem to support this; high-tech entertainment systems were the No 1 choice cited by men for a post-SSIA splurge. The site has 10,000 members, all of whom are asked to state their spending preferences when they register.

“There’s definitely going to be a lift on the home computer side,” says Stephen Murphy, managing director of the site. “The bulk of the spending from SSIAs is going to be on flat-screen televisions first, home cinema systems second and home music systems third. The reason guys in particular want to do this is they’ve been seeing these systems in the window of Dixons for the past two years but have never had the disposable income to buy them. Now they can. This is a once-in-a-lifetime spend.”

Josephine Conaghan, managing director of technology retailer 3G, identifies several must-have items for technology lovers with spare cash. For example, an outlay of approximately €400 will get you the latest Nokia N Series E61 device, which combines a mobile phone with 3G technology as well as internet and email access. It’s available SIM-free so that it will work on any phone network. “Anyone with a few euro would find this hard to pass as a ‘wow’ product,” she says.

Also from Nokia is the N73 handset, which comes with a 3.2MP digital camera, giving it a resolution as good as many single-purpose photo devices.

The SSIAs aren’t the only reason for the fortunate timing of these products’ arrival; Conaghan points out that the ban on mobile phone use while driving makes Bluetooth car kits an attractive proposition and now an affordable one too.

Although the 3G stores give away Bluetooth headsets with most of the phones they sell, people who spend a lot of time in the car for work would do well to invest in a proper car kit. The Bluetooth feature means that there’s less messing with wires and no need to drill holes in the dashboard. Also, even if people change their mobiles they don’t have to worry about changing the docking station for the handset because it works by wireless technology.

As for music, Conaghan says the 30GB Apple iPod is proving massively popular, with similar MP3 players from rival Creative also selling well. Diverting approximately €500-€700 out of a newly released SSIA fund would cover the purchase of a digital music player and either a home speaker set or car kit.

Games consoles are another option; Conaghan says that Microsoft’s Xbox is “probably the best gaming device on the market”. It costs from €359 with a free game, rising to €459 for the pro version.

3G has also begun selling the high-definition boxes for decoding Sky’s high-definition television (HDTV) service. This was only launched in Ireland in May and still has the cachet of being an exclusive technology, making it ideal for those consumers with extra money on their hands.

On the computing side, the newly arrived Apple Macbook Pro is turning heads, with a stylish black or white design that looks as good in a sitting room as it does on a desk. Prices rise according to screen size and processor power, with the cheapest option starting at €1,119. “It comes with all the software – when you open the box you don’t have to buy anything else,” says Conaghan, who points out that many of the products can work together as a home entertainment system.

“You could have your Xbox attached to a HDTV; you could also upload photos from your phone or camera to the television and you could put music from iTunes through its speakers,” she says. “All these products are interconnectable. You really could create an amazing entertainment hub in your house with the devices that are here today. These products were doing well even before the SSIAs but some of the high-end products will really sell now.”

Murphy points out that people aren’t planning to blow their entire savings on these kinds of boutique items. “The majority of the market is in the €2,000-€5,000 bracket,” he estimates.

Many people who have been saving the full €250 a month since day one will earmark the 25pc Government top-up for personal spending, with the bulk of the money being sensibly re-invested in equity, property or pensions. “This is a ‘treat yourself’ purchase after five years of savings,” Murphy concludes.

By Gordon Smith