Technology's Best vs. the Best Bargains

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We picked the gold standard — and the best less-expensive alternative — so no matter how much you want to spend, you can't go wrong with our best and bargain picks. Discover high-value alternatives to pricy tools from Apple. Plus, you'll be forced to ponder just how much ESPN and the Food Channel are really worth to you.

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The Best: DirectTV The satellite service offers 265 channels at an average of $84 a month.

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The Best Bargain: NetFlix (and rabbit ears) For $8.99 a month, NetFlix will stream all the movies you can watch to your TV (you'll need an Internet-ready set, TiVo or a game console). Plus, you get all the DVD rentals you desire (limit: one at a time).

The Trade-off: Being limited to broadcast TV (which looks good in digital) means you give up ESPN and the Food Channel.

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Laptops

The Best: MacBook It's stylish, lightweight and powerful. At $1,000, however, it's awfully pricey

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The Best Bargain: Hewlett-Packard Pavilion (dm3-1130us) It has a 13.3-inch color display — same as the MacBook — but it's a half-pound lighter and has more memory and storage.

The Trade-off: The MacBook boasts a more vibrant screen and slightly longer battery life. You may not be as cool with the HP Pavilion, but saving $400 could help you feel smarter.

Smartphones

The Best: Apple iPhone A throng of competitors have imitated but never quite matched the iPhone's elegance and ease of use. ($200 with two-year AT&T contract)

The Best Value: HTC Droid Eris The feature-packed touch-screen talker has a crisp, colorful display, a 5-megapixel camera, a GPS receiver, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0. ($80 online price after $100 discount and with two-year Verizon Wireless contract).

The Trade-off: Running Google's Android software, the Eris doesn't quite match the iPhone's features, fit and finish. But it comes pretty close.

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