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Cheaper Protection for Expensive Gadgets

Dropping an iPad on the street or sending a smartphone for a dunk in the sink may no longer be as catastrophic for one’s finances, thanks to a growing roster of protection plans.

Accidental damage has long been the bane of gadget owners, because it typically isn’t included in store service plans and extended warranties, and repairs can run cost hundreds of dollars. Now, a growing number of “hospitals” for Apple devices promise prices as much as 50% lower than at the Apple Store for repairing accidental wounds such as broken screens and water damage, the Wall Street Journal reports. Newer protection plans are also covering accidents.

Compared with the $400 to $600 cost of replacing a smartphone mid-contract or the out-of-pocket cost for a new tablet, such plans provide cheap peace of mind, says Todd Day, a mobile industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan. “You’re essentially protecting your investment,” he says. That’s not to say they’re cheap. Apple recently began offering a two-year, $99 AppleCarePlus policy for the iPhone, covering two accidental damage repairs with a $49 deductible for each. Warranty provider SquareTrade.com charges $75 for a two-year plan with up to four claims with $50 deductibles. And new UK import ProtectYourBubble.com asks $7.99 per month or a one-time charge of $226 for three years of coverage, with a $120 deductible. Many carriers also offer monthly insurance covering accidents for roughly $8 to $10 per month, although experts say those often work out to be more expensive, with less comprehensive coverage. (Protection plans for bigger devices like tablets and laptop computers cost even more.)

Consumers who want to protect their devices do have the freedom to shop around, and many insurers will cover a gadget even a few months after purchased. But it’s important to read the terms as well as compare prices, says Andrew Eisner, the director of editorial content for Retrevo.com. Most plans still don’t cover accidents, which limits their value. “Companies have taken advantage of the fact that a lot of products don’t fail, and if they do fail, they fail during the warranty period,” he says.

Still, some consumers may still find it’s better to go uninsured, especially with cheap in-store repair options on the rise. “They’re starting to build these devices pretty rugged,” says Eisner, with some featuring water-resistant coatings and break-resistant glass. Careful consumers – or at least, those who are less accident-prone — may find more value investing $30 or so in a strong protective case, he says.

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