Is a subscription service that lets you try the new iPad before you buy the way to go?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| March 16, 2012

Keeping up with the latest gadgets is not an easy thing to do. New devices tend to launch so quickly, it's hard to even keep tabs on everything, much less manage to get extensive hands-on time with every new device (unless you're Aaron "Hairon" Baker, of course). Then there is the money factor. New gadgets are rarely ever cheap. The cheapest electronic device I have bought in the last two years was the Kindle Fire, and it was a far cry from my favorite device, even at a respectable $199. If we talk strictly tablets and smartphones, you're looking at an average price tag of $500 to $600 a pop, sans contract.

The only way to legitimately own all of the different smartphones and tablets you want without paying a fortune or going neck-deep in wireless bills (maxing out your number of additional lines, paying ETFs, etc.), is to buy, sell and trade. I used to do this religiously. I would only keep a phone for a couple weeks at most before trading it or selling it so I could buy another phone. It definitely works, there's no question about that. Even then, however, you can still lose a lot of money over time – a lot more than you might expect, especially with how quickly a phone's no-contract value depreciates. If you buy a phone for $500 off contract and turn around and sell it two months later, the most you might be able to get out of it (depending on the availability and demand of that particular device) may be $300. If you know what you're doing and have some bartering skills, maybe a little more. Say, then, you turn around and buy a device for $400. At this point, you've already lost $300. Since you're moving around money and devices, it really doesn't seem like you're losing a lot. But once you do the math and do this multiple times throughout an entire year, you might find yourself a couple grand in the hole.

I speak from experience; hence why I made some New Year's tech resolutions and have, for the most part, stuck to my guns.

Still, I have the urge try out every new device. Trying them on the shelf in a store just doesn't do it for me. I want extensive hands-on with a device, time to get to know it, inside and out. Time enough to decide whether I want it for myself before laying for a few Benjamins for something that might lose most of its value in two month's time.

I've done my fair share of buying and returning, too. So much so that several retail and wireless stores know me by name and hate selling anything to me because they know I like to use (exploit might be a more accurate term) return policies to their fullest. But return periods keep getting shorter and restocking fees tend to add up over time as well. Say, for instance, a restocking fee on a tablet is 15 percent of retail value. If you pay $500 plus tax for the device, you will pay $75 just to return it. Some places don't charge restocking fees, and I try to avoid those that do. But I always feel a tad guilty when I buy a device knowing that there's a 90 percent chance I will return it.

This is where a new subscription service – proclaimed to be the first of its kind – comes into play. The service is called YBUY and it launched earlier this year; January, to be exact.

So what does the subscription entail, exactly? First, cost. Customers will pay $24.95 per month. What those 25 big ones will get you is access to a wide array of electronic goodies that the customer can try, one at a time, for up to 30 days each. Shipping is free both ways and the devices show up at the first of the month to help avert any confusion. After the trial period is up, the customer can either keep the item and have the trial fee applied towards the price of the item or return the item, free of charge. On most products, YBUY says they " send a mid-month offer to the customer to buy the product at a significant discount, sometimes up to 25 percent off the retail price."

Yesterday, YBUY announced that they would be adding the new iPad to their service. The new iPads will be in limited supply (of course) and will ship out to customers before April 1st.

So what's the catch?

Well, currently, the service is members-only, and to become a member, you have to request a membership. I did this morning and I have a cool 22,042 people in front of me. The good news is, I can invite 12 other people to sign up to jump ahead of a couple (thousand) people. Also, not all units are new. Returned items are refurbished and sanitized before being sent out again. So, if you don't make it in the first round of new iPad trials, you're likely to receive a refurbished unit.

Honestly, YBUY's service, and especially this new iPad trial offer, sounds like a pretty good idea for those who like to try before they buy and feel a little hands-on in a brick and mortar shop doesn't cut it. I see two problems with the service, though. One, I don't see very much room for margin. For only $25 per month, YBUY is shipping a device two ways. At most, they're making a couple bucks after shipping, sometimes maybe even taking a hit. If the customer decides to buy, they obviously pull any markup as a profit, minus the one-way shipping. But say the customer returns it. They then have to pay to refurbish (unless their refurbishing is done in-house) and to sanitize. Immediately, the value of the product has dropped at least 10 to 20 percent. Save for the couple dollars that might have made on the subscription fees, they're already in the hole.

One the other hand, let's assume everyone is choosing to keep their trial items and YBUY is turning a profit. Even then, there aren't a lot of gadgets offered through YBUY that will appeal to everyone. After looking through their entire product line (which only consists of 33 items total), there were only two or three items that I would even bother trying. On the upside, you can skip a month without being charge the $24,95 at any time.

Despite a few negatives, if nothing else, YBUY could be a good way to get your hands on a new iPad without paying full price. And at the end of the day, you would only be paying a total of $24.95 versus a minimum of a $50 restocking fee at the Apple store if you returned it. Then again, this is all hypothetically speaking. You have to get a membership first. After that, you have to pray and hope there are some iPads available for trial.

... The wait could be a while.

Tell me, folks. Is YBUY something you would be interested in? Or would you prefer trying a friend's (barring you can prying their fingers from the thing) or try one in-store? What about for other devices, like the Nike FuelBand or even high-end Bose headphones?