Kavik I understand your point and also agree.
Except for the budget and looking forward to changing handles I had pretty much a similar experience trying to figure out what wad my better or best options and finally making a decision.
Yes I also read countless reviews, debates on many forums, watched way to many demo type vids on youtube, questioned members on specifics for every model on my short list and all their recommendations, and was still not 100% comfortable from not being able to touch and handle the knife in person before purchasing.
It's just a normal progression into things, and once you very to use any of the brands, steels, and types and then take the time to actually very a good result from freehand sharpening it will all come together and make complete sense, and you will Never be the same lol.
Plus I was even more value driven than you seem to be, and had a lot tighter budget so it wad even more fun.
Personally I was surprised I didn't mind the quirky and way long Wa handles, but now prefer them especially on lighter knives because of the better balance and lighter weight.
Remember sharp trumps everything, and the steels ability to get there and how long it stays there will become (for many) most important, and fancy finishes and engraving etc etc will become more of a second or third decoding factor later on.
Oh and after you get a handle on"which knives" to buy at need to talk sharpening, cleaning, storage and maybe more.
Also I keep thinking about how I stressed over my first purchase and what i had to do to get into a comfortable position to make it happen, and how note much add there are several knives I would like to check out or own that are considered superior etc I am still very happy with some of the entry level knives I got years back, and how well they perform etc.
As an example I can't find a reason to give up my original Tojiro DP petty as it's still a great performer and owes me nothing. Sure I know there are better ones out there and some I really like and would enjoy comparing different steels etc but I'm having trouble convincing myself I need another one that's a little different or longer.
I was even considering getting a longer Konosuke to match my gyuto, but by the time I decided it was a worthwhile idea the price increase was so high I decided to put the money towards something different like a better sujihiki or maybe try a yanagiba etc.
It just never ends lol