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Should I buy memory cards from Amazon or the high street?

Should you buy memory cards from Amazon?
Should you buy memory cards from Amazon? It isn't a black and white decision...

Head to the “Micro SD card store” on Amazon.co.uk and it’s fair to say you have plenty of choice. When I visited, there were a staggering 134,511 different options. What’s legitimate? What’s not? How do you make sure you don’t buy a flaky card?

You can see why many people, including Craig who wrote in with this question, are left wondering whether it’s simpler to buy from a high-street retailer.

The decision boils down to three things: what happens if things go wrong? How fast is the card likely to be? And what’s the price?

What happens if things go wrong?

A few years ago it seemed obvious that buying from a shop gave you greater protection than buying online – but Amazon and most other online retailers make it so easy to return products that the momentum has arguably swung the other way.

If you buy from a shop and something goes wrong, your main recourse is to physically go back to that shop to return it. That’s surely a bigger pain than putting something in the post or waiting for a courier to collect.

I asked Samsung for its views. “Unfortunately it can often be hard to discern how products on Amazon have been sourced. Many are ‘grey market’ imports meaning that even though the product is legitimate, the warranty terms would not be valid in the UK.

“The best way to stay safe on Amazon is to ensure you are purchasing the card from Samsung and not a third-party vendor. Alternatively, the majority of high street retailers are sure to have gone through our UK distribution channels – meaning all product is legitimately sourced and warranty terms valid.”

How fast is the card likely to be?

Buying an SD card is confusing: there are all sorts of ratings thrown at you, and it’s not always clear what they mean. Even if you know to look out for Class 10 (shown as a 10 enclosed in a big “C”), can you be sure that a brandless vendor hasn’t just stamped it onto their products?

Much of the advice I gave in spotting fake reviews on Amazon applies here. Look out for brands that have no websites, and check that the reviews are legitimate.

Here I think it makes sense to choose a brand you can trust. “SanDisk offers a range of cards to suit all needs and budgets and we are clear about pricing and performance,” said SanDisk’s spokesperson when we asked them to comment on this article.

“With memory cards you get what you pay for, so you should always go with the best that you can afford to ensure you get the best out of your host device.”

That’s true, but that doesn’t mean spending more than you need. Unless you really are shooting in RAW on your high-end DSLR, you don’t need a top-end “Pro” card.

What’s the price?

A selection of the SD cards on sale at Office Outlet
A selection of the SD cards on sale at Office Outlet

Retail stores are more expensive – but the difference isn’t necessarily as big as you might think. A 16GB SanDisk Extreme SDHC card cost £11.19 at my local Office Outlet (formerly Staples), compared to £10.49 on Amazon.

Then again, Office Outlet was charging £44.99 for a 32GB Samsung microSDHC Pro Plus card – this is a U3 card, which is as fast as you get. I found what appears to be an identical card, but with different packaging, for £24.44 on Amazon.

My rule of thumb? If it’s under £20 then there probably won’t be much difference, but if you’re paying more than that then you can probably make decent savings online.

To submit your own question to The Big Tech Question, head to our reader questions page.

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About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis.

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