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The 7 Biggest Technology Ripoffs of 2011

Being an early adopter has its perks — but getting a great deal is rarely one of them. If you’re the type who needs that shiny new toy the moment it gets announced at CES, you know that half of the gadgets you buy will cost you half as much a year later.

Occasionally, new tech emerges at prices that are even more outrageous than expected, causing even gadget-obsessed geeks to grumble. Here’s what’s making us uneasy about opening up our wallets so far this year:

3D Televisions

New York City resident Daniel Christ recently bought a new HD television. “I never seriously considered splurging for a 3D TV,” he says. Why? Cost. You don’t just have to splurge for the actual 3D TV set: there’s the 3D Blu Ray player, the glasses, the movies. It adds up quickly and for what? “There isn’t much 3D content out yet,” he says.

3D television sets range anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. That’s a lot of money to spend on picture that won’t look any different with most cable channels and DVDs. By the time 3D becomes the norm on the filming side (if it becomes the norm), 3D TVs should cost significantly less. 

Most of the 3D TVs coming out on the market today require the use of 3D glasses, which jacks up the price and adds another accessory to lose (only unlike your remote, 3D glasses tend to break when sat on). Models that don’t require glasses, like Toshiba’s latest, are small and no less expensive, because the technology is so new.

Wireless Charging Pads

Wireless charging pads for cell phones bill themselves as easy alternatives to plug-in battery juice. Plug your phone into a special wireless accessory and then place it onto a “mat” that’s plugged into the wall, and electricity charges through touch to your phone.

Matt Buchanan, gadget expert at Gizmodo, says wireless charging pads aren’t a ripoff per se, because they actually do work, but, he says, “they’re kinda pricey.” For example, the Touchstone charging dock, which wirelessly charges one kind of cell phone, the Palm Pre, costs around $50. The Powermat, cheapest of the multi-device mats, costs $70, and other chargers like the Durcacell myGrid cost around $100.

Also, these wireless charging mats can use a lot of electricity, driving up the net cost.

“They can be slower than straight cable tethering, since a lot of the energy just kinda poofs,” Buchanan says. “How much does the convenience of not tying your phone to a little piece of cable really matter to you?”

Perhaps the biggest bummer about wireless charging pads is the fact that they’re not completely wireless. You still have to plug something into your phone. “I’m sort of a purist and don’t like a case, of any kind, on my smartphone,” says Andrew Munchbach, the News Editor for Boy Genius Report.

At the rate technology moves, chances are good that more cost- and hassle-free wireless charging options will be available soon enough.

“If inductive charging gets incorporated into devices by the manufacturer (Palm’s Pre 2 and Pre 3 already have this), then count me in!” Munchbach says.

iPad Data Plans

Apple geeks will argue that iPad’s technology itself is worth every dollar, but the data plan upsell is expensive compared to other data. At $15 a month for 250 MB of data, or $25 for 2 GB, it’s $12.50 per gigabyte at best. Additionally, U.S. consumers pay more for their iPad data than those in other parts of the world. Our neighbors in the U.K. only pay $2.34 per gigabyte, and in Singapore a gigabyte of iPad data costs $0.51.

Munchbach thinks iPad data prices are fair enough, but in aggregate the price of Internet on multiple devices is a little out of hand. “It’s funny when you think about it,” Munchbach says. “You pay $50 per month for internet at home, $30 per month for internet on your phone, and, now, $30 for internet on your tablet. You pay for the same exact thing three different times. As more and more devices become connected, some company is going to have to step-up and address this current reality.”

“I still miss the unlimited data plans,” Buchanan adds, referring to AT&T’s previous offering of unlimited iPad data for $30 per month. “I suspect Apple was none-too-happy by AT&T’s switcheroo to limited tiers coming so soon after launch.”

Compare iPad data costs with the cost of a broadband connection and a wireless router (which you can share between multiple devices and access for free with your iPad) and the cost-savings choice is clear: go with wi-fi. However, if you need data on the go, premium-priced 3G may be your only option for the next little while.

iPhone repairs

Though perhaps it’s not as harsh of a deal in the U.S., iPhone users in Britain can pay two to three times as much for iPhone repairs done by Apple than the same repairs done by other companies. Apple charges as much as $225 (£139) for even minor repairs on a handset, which can be done by other companies for as low as $63 (£39). Any customer who is rejected for repairs by Apple will spend as much as $720 (£450) for a new handset. According to moneysavingexpert.com ’s Martin Lewis, Britain’s 2 million customer base is willing to pay for the Apple brand even when it comes to service and repairs.

HDMI Cables

As we pointed out last year with our HDMI cable infographic, if you paid $100 for your HDMI cable, you got burned. That gold-plated, “high performance” cable isn’t going to work any differently from one you could have bought for $10. No matter how much you spend, it will either work — or it won’t.

Mobile Broadband

Telecom companies pocketed $320 billion—roughly $3,000 per U.S. household—since 1991, thanks to home broadband. Over the years, our broadband has turned out to be overpriced and inferior; the broadband system in the U.S. is one of the slowest in the world.

“When I look at a country like Canada — which has ridiculously low data allowances and high prices — I feel extremely lucky,” Munchbach says. “When I look at a country like South Korea — with nearly ubiquitous access and blazing-fast speeds — I feel extremely jaded. The United States is, geographically, large, so providing these services isn’t easy (or cheap), but it’s something we have to do.”

Buchanan similarly bemoans the high prices. “Oh, so many mixed feelings,” he says. “$60 for 5GB of data, which is a standard rate for a Mi-Fi card, is a crazy amount of money. More than I pay for FiOS. But if you need it, you need it.”

However, he adds, speeds are increasing, which makes the price a better deal as time goes by. “Overall, rates are getting a little more standardized and less sneaky, too, which is good. The flipside is they’re just getting outright pricier in some ways.”

Electronic Buybacks

You may have seen BestBuy’s commercials for TV and other electronic buybacks. (Most recently, for trading in now “old” iPads — following the launch of iPad 2.) While buybacks are a good way to get rid of electronics you no longer need, retailers tend to pay no more than 50% of the value of the item, often accepting buybacks no later than six months after you purchased. Most electronic devices depreciate in value about 40% over one year, not six months. You may be better just outright selling your items on eBay.

“I think buy-back programs — Best Buy’s or otherwise — are geared more towards convenience rather than value,” Munchbach says. “They target consumers who don’t want to use Craigslist, eBay, or word-of-mouth to sell their old electronic wares. Companies running buy-back programs need to leave room for profit; their gain is your loss. I prefer to sell my aging electronics the old-fashioned way, on eBay (how’s that for a reality check).”

Roger Wu, founder of the geek club Stamford Tech Meetup, calls electronic buybacks, a “total scam.” He adds, “I’d rather donate to a less fortunate kid that wants to hack away at a 3 yr old mac book pro.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great deals to be had in tech world. Check out these 11 Gadgets That Will Cost Less This Year than they did in 2010
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Shane Snow is the Editor-in-chief and Cofounder of Contently.com, which contributed this post exclusively for Mint.com.