Most gadget reviews suck

Matt Buchanan on everything that's wrong with gadget reviews, as exemplified by David Pogue's oleaginous impartiality. [Buzzfeed FWD]


  1. My pet peeve about every non-Apple portable audio player review I’ve ever read is the almost total absence of discussions about things like whether it plays files gaplessly or has a line-level out or bit-perfect S/PDIF option, or similar audio-related features.

    I mean, if you’re not buying an Apple iPod, you’re quite  likely doing it because you want specific technical features that Apple omits or vice versa, and no UI or  design considerations will sway the purchase.  Or you’re an impulse buyer who sees a lower price and isn’t reading the review anyway. Or you just hate Apple/iTunes etc.

    There are genuine, important differentiations that can make products niche favourites and a reviewer should seek them out.

    Regardless, you should buy a Sansa Clip and Rockbox the little bastard. :)

    1. You can get most of those details through spec sheets though, so a review kinda sits atop that. Gapless playback is a per-track or all in option in iTunes/iPod Touch; line-level out and bit-perfect (what is an imperfect bit? 1/2?) S/PDIF option probably needs to be known, but the review isn’t the way to get there.

      Sure, Pogue tends to write from an Apple slant, but at the same time the iPod Touch is the market leader — so it’s appropriate to compare against. Would you compare a new PC running Mint against one running Windows? Of course you would.

      Reviews are pretty much opinions with some factual backing. Just as everyone has an opinion, reviews are opinions filtered through some tighty whiteys so the worst of the shit gets caught.

      1. Actually, a lot of these things are not covered in spec sheets. They might be an option hidden in the manual using non-standard nomenclature or it takes some Google-fu to find forum discussions to find them out.

        Gapless playback can take place regardless of flags. Foobar2000 does it by default, my RBed Sansa Clip and Squeezebox do it flawlessly by default with FLAC or MP3. My phone can do it if I use a third party player app. If you ask me, gaps between tracks is a design flaw in 2012, not a feature.

        “Bit-perfect” implies that the decoded stream has had no filters, resampling or level adjustment applied.  Fidelity to the source file.

        And I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I do think that mentioning perks that would appeal to the right type of buyer, and knowing who that is, is part of a reviewer’s job, not just mass-market comparisons.

        1. But they should be in the spec sheets, no? I didn’t check in this case, but is it realistic for a reviewer to get into these levels of detail especially if the spec sheets don’t? 

          Gapless playback annoys the heck out of me, except in cases where there was no gap intended (for example, The Times “Pure” is meant to be one 78 minute lovefest, if it gets “gapped” it grinds) — but I don’t want my Leo Sayer bumping bits with my Megadeath. 

          Overall, I think we agree more than disagree. And if we add in the NYT readership, I think S/PDIF and such will just fly way too far overhead. Reviews for a general aud will always be lacking.

          1.  Many spec sheets d not actually go into that much detail. Some manuals don’t go into that much detail these days. And often the stuff on the spec sheet, particularly for low cost competitors, is marketing checkboxes rather than a working feature.

            A reviewer saying ‘here is this feature. i found it, tested it and this is how well it works’ is an incredibly valuable resource.

    2. I have a Creative Zen Vision M 60 GB, still works from 2005, and I agree with everything you said completely. I want specific tech features in a new mp3 player, gapless playback, lossless formats, in flash based, and HIGH SOUND QUALITY, that I can use in Linux.

      Apple stuff has impeccable design in my eye, and while that is very commendable, that’s it. They sound like shite, and never publish basic specs TO THIS DAY of their devices SNRs. I want something that actually plays my high encoded music back with the quality I can HEAR. And yes, I can hear the difference between 128 and 320, and even further in FLAC or OGG. It ain’t a record player or CD, but hell.

      I’m tired of the now huge size of my Zen, and the ridiculous charging time (9 hours or more? come on!!) the thing has, for only a couple hours of battery life. I wanted something with high SNR, and all the other stuff my Zen has, in smaller size, and flash based so no skipping, with long battery life, and short charge time. I’ve been looking for years now.

      That Sansa clip- looked it up. It’s expandable! It’s small! it has everything I want but video playback- I can live without that, and it’s not 380$ like my Zen was. MP3 players should be damn cheap by now with every feature in the book, but Apple people seem to rule the market.

      Thanks for the suggestion, it really helped! 48$ for nearly everything I wanted- haven’t listened to music in ages away from my computer for looking forever. Thank you! Any idea how long it takes to charge?

      For those wondering- I speak Japanese, and never saw anything even in several Yodobashi Cameras in Osaka or Sappporo that did what I wanted over years in Japan. There really are people like me that adamant on finding good tech!

      1.  The Sansa Clip+ (I don’t own the ClipZip) is all you need, but don’t forget to install Rockbox. It’s just a file you drop into the root of the device. Better battery life, format support and gapless playback.

        Charging time… I think 45min from empty, but you can charge while you listen so I seldom let it run more than an hour or two away from a port.

  2. His review isn’t as much a review as it is a criticism of the review style…(if you can even call it a style.)

  3. That’s funny, when I think of terrible gadget reviews, I usually think of Matt Buchanan’s first.

  4. oleaginous |ˌōlēˈajənəs|


    1 rich in, covered with, or producing oil; oily or greasy.

    2 exaggeratedly and distastefully complimentary; obsequious: candidates made the usual oleaginous speeches in the debate.

  5. Did anyone really need an article to tell them Pogue is the world’s most crap tech reviewer? Who are you gonna get your tech reviews from, a guy who reviews for cashed-up Luddites or someone who reviews for tech-savvy consumers?

    1. Pogue Mahone offers up to the NYT readers what they want to read. He’s much more savvy than his sub-eds allow. And hung like a donkey too!

  6. My advice: stop with the unboxings. Nobody wants to click through five pages of photos of the reviewer opening a damn box. Anybody who thinks that is a good idea is probably a crappy reviewer.

    Also, please distinguish eye candy design (Apple) from usability design (not Apple).

    1. Because god forbid things that have had a lot of thought put in to their usability also have a lot of thought put into their aesthetics. No, everyone knows that each object has a fixed amount of design work that can be applied. For every hour of work put into the look and feel an equivalent amount of time can no longer be spent on the function.

      Must be why my MacBook has the best power cord and trackpad that I have ever used. It’s because they made it as ugly as possible in order to focus on the useability. Mystery solved!

      1.  It doesn’t take a mighty brain to thing “audio player — I can play audio books.” And yet you can’t with an iPod because they don’t reliably bookmark the files and it is impossible to set a manual bookmark. I know. I tried. Before I trashed my iPod.

        I used Macs at work for 6 years and grew from not caring one way or the other to despising them. A lot of thought? How much thought went into the zero button mouse? I figured out how to click it by getting so angry I punched it. And the hockey puck mouse brought me to the verge of carpal tunnel. That’s stunning design.

        Don Norman, who used to work for Apple, argued that a fundamental principle of usability is that the device should accommodate itself to the way the user works. The user should not have to change to accommodate the device.  But in Mac world there’s one right way to do everything and if you don’t want to work that way you must change. Either that or there’s no way at all, if Apple decided that’s something you shouldn’t have wanted to do.

        1. Right on. One thing I could never figure out is why there is exactly one ‘right’ font size for every given situation on the iPhone, including inside the browser. Really bad if you have to read Japanese or Chinese where you have a choice between constant squinting in portrait mode or a few huge-ass words in landscape mode, nothing in between.

          I have to say I’m much happier with my Android phone which has a bigger screen _and_ different font sizes for damn near every application.

          (Plus the iPhone’s screen is blue as hell which makes the whites appear brighter but really strains the eye. My Android phone has a much ‘warmer’ color temperature that’s much better for reading.)

  7. Try as I might, I really can’t work out what’s wrong with Pogue’s review, at least not based on Buchanan’s article.

    All of the quotes that Buchanan highlights in bold: does Buchanan disagree with them? Is there something wrong with Pogue saying, for example, “this machine runs Android (the outdated version 2.3)”? Is it not true? Is it not pertinent information?

    I thought the review was very good for someone trying to decide between an iPhone Touch and a Galaxy-whatever. It has pros and cons. Does Buchanan believe that a review should only have pros?

    I’m not arguing about whether Pogue is a good reviewer: I simply really don’t understand a single one of Buchanan’s objections.

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