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Dealmaster: The Black Friday 2018 tech deals that might actually be worth buying

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Enlarge / A bundle with Sony's PS4 Slim and Marvel's Spider-Man for $200 looks like one of the better deals this Black Friday.Mark Walton

Black Friday is less than a week away, and were starting to get a good sense of what deals the tech world plans to offer up.

If youre at all familiar with how days like this go, it should come as no surprise that most of the “deals” advertised for Black Friday aren't really discounts at all. While its true that Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring more legitimately good tech deals than any other period of the year, they're also a time for retailers to pounce on the gift-needy public. Lots of less-than-stellar gadgets will be offered at prices that arent much lower than they are the rest of the year. (As always, price history sites like CamelCamelCamel are an invaluable resource if youre on the fence about a deal.)

So to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, weve spent the past couple of weeks emailing device makers about their upcoming offers and digging through ad scans the major retailers have pushed out ahead of Friday's sales event. Below is a quick rundown of gadget and gaming deals that may be worth your attention—and what to expect from the bigger tech brands and product categories later this week.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Lots of good deals are already live

Before we go any further, though, we'll note that several genuine deals that'll be available on Black Friday have gone live early. Most retailers will make fuller sets of deals available on Thanksgiving night—and Walmart says it plans to start the night before—but if you want to get a jump start on things, heres a handful of notable deals that are out there right now:

Amazon and Google will continue their war for the (smart) home

The Google Home Hub.
Enlarge / The Google Home Hub.Ron Amadeo

The ongoing rise of Alexa and the Google Assistant is largely due to Amazon and Google making their digital assistants available for cheap. Naturally, both companies plan to continue that strategy on Black Friday, discounting nearly the whole suite of Echo and Google Home devices.

For Amazon, those deals will include the latest-gen Echo Dot for $24, the latest Echo for $69, $40 off the Echo Spot and Echo Plus, and $50 off the new Echo Show. Google, meanwhile, says itll have the Google Home Mini for $24, the full-size Home for $79, the touchscreen-equipped Home Hub for $99, and $50 off the audio-focused Home Max.

Both OEMs are advertising discounts on other first-party devices, too. Aside from the deals on the Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire HD 10 listed above, Amazon says itll have the new Kindle Paperwhite for $80, the Fire HD 8 for $50, and various deals on Ring and Blink home cameras.

For Google, expect to see the newest Chromecast model for $25, the 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra for $49, the Chromecast Audio for $15, the Daydream View VR headset for $40, and anywhere from $20-70 off the whole family of Nest thermostats and home cameras. Outside the smart home, the company also plans to sell the Google Pixel 3 for $649, the Google Pixel 3 XL for $699, and the entry-level model of its Pixelbook Chromebook for $700.

Nearly all of these deals will go live by Thanksgiving night, save for the Nest deals, which Google says will be available at its online store the day before. Most of the above will also be available at third-party retailers like Walmart and Best Buy. Nothing here will make Echo and Home devices any less immune to privacy flaws and breakdowns in communication, but if youre already sold on the smart speaker idea, it'll be a good time to grab one.

Lots of gaming deals, but some big names missing

<em>God of War</em> is one of the many games that'll be discounted on Black Friday.
Enlarge / God of War is one of the many games that'll be discounted on Black Friday.

As has been the case in the past, Black Friday will bring a truckload of video game discounts across retailers. Sadly, the majority of ads weve seen focus on discounts on games for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. There'll still be some sales for PC games, but we cant give as many exact specifics.

There are too many sales to list in this article, but some highlights include God of War for $25 at Walmart, Forza Horizon 4 and Assassins Creed Odyssey for $30 at Best Buy, Soulcalibur VI for $35 at Walmart, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 for $40 at various retailers. Nier: Automata, Detroit Become Human, and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle will all be $20, while others like Horizon Zero Dawn, South Park: The Fractured But Whole (for Switch), and Doom will be available for less than that.

While we've listed a couple of these games in our early deals list above—just in case you have a membership at a particular store—note that not every game deal will be uniform across retailers. It's a good idea to cross-check prices before pulling the trigger; you may save an extra $5 or so.

Its also worth noting that we havent seen any deals advertised for some recently-released titles. No major retailer has mentioned a straight discount on Red Dead Redemption II, for one, nor have we seen any individual deals for the latest Pokemon or Spider-Man games. Generally speaking, if something just came out, it probably wont be on sale.

The PlayStation VR.
Enlarge / The PlayStation VR.

Gaming hardware deals, meanwhile, are easier to predict. The big ones are mentioned above and already live at a few stores. A $200 bundle that includes a PlayStation 4 Slim and Spider-Man is probably the highlight, though Microsoft will offer its entry-level console, the Xbox One S, for the same price. Both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers are down to $40, as is a 12-month pass for Sonys PlayStation Plus online service.

Microsoft looks to be the only one of the two that will discount its 4K-ready console, though: it'll drop the Xbox One X by $100 to $399 at most major retailers. We have not seen any advertisements for deals on Sonys PlayStation 4 Pro as of this writing.

Going down in resolution, the only Nintendo Switch deal weve seen is a bundle that includes Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the consoles usual $300 price. Thats pretty modest, all things considered—weve seen one-off sales on eBay and the like thatve brought the device lower in the past.

As for virtual reality, Sony is discounting its PlayStation VR headset by $100, bringing it to $199 for a bundle that doesnt include the companys Move motion controllers and $249 for a bundle that does. Oculus says its Go and Rift headsets will be $20 and $50 off, respectively, on Friday.

Not a ton of Apple deals, but a good iPad discount

The 2018 Apple iPad.
Enlarge / The 2018 Apple iPad.Samuel Axon

Generally speaking, Apple wont have any heavy discounts for the iPhones, Macs, Apple Watches, and iPad Pros it's launched over the past two months. The company hasnt signaled any discounts for Apple.com or its retail stores thus far; per usual, look to third-party retailers for anything significant. (Or try Apples refurbished store, which remains an underrated way to get like-new gadgets at a discount.)

B&H does have the latest MacBook Air for $100 off as of this writing, but since were still in the process of reviewing that notebook we dont want to give any formal recommendations just yet. The one standout deal weve seen for new iPhones comes from Walmart, which says itll throw in a $300 store gift card with the purchase of an iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone XR starting Thanksgiving night. That offer will only apply to in-store purchases, however, and will require you to activate the phone on Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T.

There are a few notable deals on not-brand-new Apple gadgets, though. The companys 9.7-inch iPad will be down to $250 at various shops, which is a nice $80 discount. The standard and LTE models of last years Apple Watch Series 3 will be down by $70, bringing the entry-level model to $200. B&H has $300 off a configuration of this years 15-inch MacBook Pro with an 8th-gen Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD, bringing it to $2,499. If youre all in on Apple Music, Best Buy plans to sell the HomePod speaker for $250, which is $100 less than usual. And Newegg says it'll take $19 off a pair of AirPods, though we've seen better discounts for those earbuds in the past.

Use caution with laptops, TVs, and carrier phone deals

Microsoft's Surface Pro 6.
Enlarge / Microsoft's Surface Pro 6.Microsoft

Many people see Black Friday as the best time to buy a big-ticket item like a laptop, TV, or smartphone, but its critical to not immediately jump at the most appealing price you see. Retailers will advertise a whole lot of these things, but most of whats on sale will be lesser models that OEMs are trying to offload while people are most eager to shop. This is especially the case with TVs and laptops. If you see a device priced below $300, theres a good chance its of poor quality. Do your research ahead of time and go into the day knowing exactly which model number you want.

For smartphones, retailers and carriers alike will have offers for big-name phones from Apple, Google, OnePlus, and Samsung—but beware of the fine print. Most of these discounts are contingent on you agreeing to a 24- or 36-month device payment plan, effectively tying you to one carrier for a couple of years and leaving you on the hook if you ever want to switch.

Even if you're okay with that, most carrier deals will only apply in the form of bill credits spread out over several months, not as an instant discount. Walmart and Target will have some decent gift card offers for new iPhones, Pixels, and Galaxy devices, but as noted above, theyre in-store only, so plan accordingly.

All that said, we have seen a few noteworthy offers. For TVs, Amazon has LGs 55-inch C8 OLED TV for $1,696, which is still a ton but counts as a $500 discount. Best Buy has taken $70 off TCLs 65-inch 6 Series Roku TV, while Amazon has taken $400 off Sonys 65-inch X850F—both are solid mid-tier 4K TVs. The same goes for Samsungs NU8000 sets, which are currently $50-300 off their usual going rates. On the budget end, B&H has Vizios new E-Series 4K TVs for $40-100 off.

Aside from the MacBook and Pixelbook deals noted above, Microsoft has a Surface Pro 6 configuration with an 8th-gen Core i5 chip, 128GB SSD, and Type Cover keyboard for $800, which is a $270 discount. It plans to take $300-400 off other Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 configs on November 22. That same day, HP will have a solid deal that takes a Core i5 model of its 13-inch Spectre x360 down to $850, while Microsoft will have a Core i5 model of Dells XPS 13 (9360) for $700. Both Lenovo and Dell will have deals on their sites, too, though most offers weve seen apply to older devices.

Straight smartphone discounts have been harder to find. Besides the Google Pixel deals mentioned above, Best Buy says it will sell an unlocked model of Samsungs Galaxy S9 for $520. Thats a $200 discount and a good price for a flagship phone that still has a headphone jack, but for most people in that range wed still recommend the OnePlus 6T. Beyond that, we havent seen many discounts for phones wed genuinely advise people to buy.

A random wrap-up of the rest

Therell be plenty more to peruse through, so to close things out, heres a smattering of advertised deals that arent live yet but should be worth bookmarking for Friday:

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