AppleCare: Should you bite?

If you are one of the millions who have bought or are planning to buy Apple's latest triumph, you may wonder if you should include an AppleCare extended warranty.

Extended warranties are about risk tolerance, something that is very personal. But is it a good value? Let's consider the facts:

Apple hardware comes with a one-year warranty. You also receive free phone technical support for up to 90 days after buying a product. At any time before the one-year warranty expires, you can buy an AppleCare Protection Plan -- with one exception. But I'll get back to that.

What exactly do you get with AppleCare? An extra two years of hardware service and phone support for Macs and computer displays. The gadget plans provide an extra year of coverage for your iPod or Apple TV.

But do note that you don't buy an AppleCare "plan" to cover all your "iTems." It will include the computer display and router if they're bought at the same time as a computer. Otherwise, you purchase AppleCare separately for each product you buy. Prices vary based on the product. As an example, AppleCare for an iMac is $169.

Apple products have a reputation for quality, but any mass production will spit out a lemon once in awhile. Of course, you'll probably know before the one-year warranty expires whether you have a bad machine.

On the plus side, AppleCare warranties are transferrable, which could help you sell your used computer or gadget, if you choose to upgrade before the warranty expires.

To start, I wouldn't buy AppleCare to protect a Mac mini or a Mac Pro. I'd also stick with the one-year warranty on the generally reliable Apple TV, iPad and iPod. Pay $39 to protect a $49 iPod shuffle? That's pretty crazy.

The iMac is a tougher call. That's because it's a display and computer wrapped up in one. If something goes haywire with the monitor, you lose the whole computer.

You can tell by the way Apple prices its warranties for laptops, however, that something bad is more likely to happen to them. Laptops are bumped, jostled and dropped. Screens can crack, conventional hard drives can lock up and batteries will eventually fail.

AppleCare for the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro costs $249. For the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro, it's $349.

For someone who just shelled out $2,500 for a 17-inch MacBook Pro, and needs it for business or even school, adding three full years of protection for $349 isn't a bad value. The extended phone support alone could be worth it in a crisis.

While you're mulling over whether to buy AppleCare for a laptop, however, keep in mind that it doesn't protect against theft or loss. It also doesn't cover damage caused by accidental drops and spills. Apple will replace a defective laptop battery, but a battery that wears down through use isn't covered.

Looking at it that way, AppleCare for your laptop isn't such a good deal.

Here's a quick tip: Check with your credit card company. A few issuers automatically add a year to manufacturer warranties if you use the issuer's card to buy the product. You might just decide to buy with the right card instead of adding AppleCare.

Overall, the most confusion seems to center around AppleCare+, the iPhone- and iPad-only plan. So let's look at it in a little more depth.

AppleCare+ costs $99, which isn't cheap. It's important to note that this is the exception I mentioned earlier: Unlike other plans, you must decide to buy it within 30 days of purchasing the gadget.

The plan provides hardware service and technical support for two years from the date of purchase. Theft and loss aren't covered. AppleCare+ covers up to two accidents.

Let's say you drop your iPhone from the balcony of your fourth-floor condo onto the sidewalk below. With AppleCare+, Apple will fix the phone, or replace it, for a $49 service fee.

Without AppleCare+, you'd need to buy a new phone. If you're still under your two-year contract, you're not going to receive the subsidized $200 price. Instead, you'll pay the phone's contract-free price, which for an iPhone 4S is $649!

Apple does occasionally perform out-of-warranty service. Even without AppleCare+, you might be able to buy a refurbished replacement iPhone 4S from Apple for $199 ($149 for older iPhones). But I wouldn't count on that given current demand.

My recommendation? If you think these numbers add up to a bad investment, buy a rugged iPhone or iPad case and take your chances.

If your gadget is your life, however, and you're an accident-prone person, AppleCare+ at $99 will be a sleep aid. If you'll rest that much better with it, then it's probably a good deal for you.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Get the podcast or find the station nearest you at Subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters at Copyright 1995-2012, WestStar TalkRadio Network. All rights reserved.