Reviews: How do you define a product class?
So i have been reading tech reviews for a long time. I'm not in any way saying I could do it better (you can never make some people happy), though I'd welcome any offer! However, there is one ongoing, constant mistake that I feel that many different sources make. It goes back, years ago, when I was working at Best Buy. I would see a customer come in with a copy of Consumer Reports, open to the computer section. I hated it. Why?
Because comparing certain systems (and it does not have to be computers) against one another does not make a lot of sense. Besides comparing things like ergonomics and speakers (which are pretty subjective), they would always compare, directly, the cheapest and most expensive systems. It's nonsensical. Yes, clearly that $800 system is faster, with a better screen, components, ports and build quality than the $350 black friday bargain. However, they are completely different systems. The consumers that buy these systems are using them for different purposes, and expect completely different things from them.
Consider this: In a recent Consumer Reports issue on cars, the Toyota Corolla (of which I am a proud owner) was compared to other cars of simialr size like the Lexus IS... ON THE SAME CHART. Why? This artificially suppresses the rank of the Corolla because, surprise, despite being on the same platform from the same company, the Lexus is a nicer, better car. However, given that the target audience is completely different, the VALUE of each car to teh target consumer is completely different.
I feel like The Verge is beginning to fall into this trap with some of the ultrabook reviews. For example, in the recent Toshiba review, Joanna Stern writes"
" when you consider that spending $399 more for the entry-level MacBook Air buys you a better display, some more battery life, a faster Core i5 processor, and a much better looking and feeling laptop, the choice isn’t all that obvious."
When I read this, I had to go back and reread it to make sure I had gotten it right. What about spending $400 more dollars, nearly 50% more, makes the decision less clear? Is getting what you pay for a surprise? She could have said the same about the Lenovo, especially considering that the "look and feel" is so subjective, and the battery life increase is only 20 minutes.
So my issue is this: While i realize the Air is the de facto standard in the ultrabook category (I love mine), it is not the only option, and the goal of a particular competitor is not necessarily to REPLACE it. The ultrabook market has room in it for some granularity, some variation in target customer and price point. So much so (especially given the significant disparity in price point) that I don't think the Air and the Toshiba Z835 compete. As a result, I think Joanna overstates the confusion or indecisiveness a consumer might experience when looking at the Z835 on a shelf next to the Air.
Different products, different consumers.
So my final point, and the reason I would put this here, as opposed to in the comments to the article itself, is that I wanted to, for what little it might be worth, caution The Verge not to fall into the same trap as Consumer Reports. When reviewing units, it's important to also keep in mind the target consumer. Just because the systems might look alike, does not mean they are similarly targeted. While remembering to look at each aspect of a product, and making sure to compare it to other similar units on the market, don't forget VALUE over price.