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5 Things You Should Buy at the Apple Store

This article is part of a package on shopping at the Apple Store. Read the other article, on 4 things not to buy at the Apple Store.

Apple Store in New York City

Other than a Hollywood blockbuster or a Sarah Palin book signing, few events attract the kind of camp-out-overnight lines that form when a new Apple store is opening. Succeeding where competitors have failed (remember Gateway stores?), Apple has created sleek retail destinations that are just as well-designed as the company's iconic products. With more than 300 in 11 countries, the stores have become temples for the iFaithful, chic geek cafes where the genius bar serves advice instead of coffee and you can take seminars in how to get the most from your Mac.

Are they good places to shop, however? For certain items, particularly those made by Apple itself, the answer is yes; for others, you're better off looking elsewhere. Here are five products that are especially worth targeting at the House of Steve Jobs.

1. iPhones and iPads

If you’re activating a voice or data plan on a device such as an iPhone or a 3G-enabled iPad, Apple Stores will offer expert support that you won’t get at AT&T and other authorized resellers. This includes help with setting up email, basic tutorials on how to use your device, and general troubleshooting. Plus, Apple is very careful about pricing, so you won’t generally find a better deal elsewhere on these products, apart from occasional slight drops at places like Costco and Radio Shack.

2. AppleCare protection (but only for your iPhone)

Extended warranties are usually not worth the price on consumer electronics, but the AppleCare protection plan for the iPhone, which can be purchased anytime within your first year of ownership, is a better risk/reward proposition. For $69, you get a one-year extension to the iPhone’s included one-year warranty, covering any defects to the phone, charger, and headphones (sitting on your phone or dropping it in the sink don’t count). Considering that an iPhone’s battery — which you can’t replace yourself — costs $79 to repair and has been a source of frequent complaints, $69 is a relative bargain. One caveat: If you are an early adopter who always upgrades to the new version as soon as it is released, don’t bother with the protection plan.

3. Apple’s Own Accessories

Apple’s retail stores stock all current — and even some last-generation — accessories that electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Radio Shack don’t always keep in stock. And Apple’s prices on these are competitive. For example, Apple’s own wireless routers such as the AirPort Express and AirPort Extreme cost $10 less at the Apple Store than they do at Best Buy. And for a Mac owner requiring a certain hard-to-find Apple-made cable, it’s a better bet to check Apple than Radio Shack.

4. Desktop Pick: The 27-inch iMac

The 27-inch iMac isn’t cheap, starting at $1,699. However, you get a computer that can double as a high definition TV for a small apartment or dorm room, and in fact has an even better quality screen than an HDTV. Plus, the Intel Core i3 and i5 processors used in iMacs are as good as anything available in Windows PCs today. While iMacs still lack Blu-ray drives for high-definition movie playback, having the ability to stream videos and downloaded video content without buying any additional equipment should more than make up for the loss — and, of course, you can always play DVDs. In addition, for about $150, third-party peripherals like Belkin’s HDMI-to-Mini DisplayPort Converter allow you to connect a game console or other device to an iMac and use it like a TV.

5. Laptop Pick: The 15-inch MacBook Pro

While not as portable as the 13-inch model, Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro (starting price $1,799) and the even larger 17-inch Pro are Apple’s only laptops to feature the most up-to-date Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, which are important for fast multitasking and high-quality HD video playback. MacBooks also have some of the best battery life in laptops today (around 6 hours, according to tests at CNET). The new MacBook Airs are appealingly light, ultra-slim computers, but at a starting price of $999, you’re paying a lot for a more limited processor and smaller-capacity hard drive.

Scott Stein is a Senior Associate Editor at CNET Reviews, where he reviews laptops and computer peripherals and analyzes the computer industry at large.

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