Hi, I’m Vlad Savov and I write for a tech news publication on the internet called The Verge. We cover a whole bunch of other stuff, but I’m here to talk to you about my role as a product reviewer. It’s an enviable job and not one that I take lightly. The world’s biggest technology brands send me their latest gear, which I solemnly undertake to analyze and nitpick to death in my role as a professional consumer. My passion for writing these reviews stems from the same place as your passion for reading them: we all have an innate curiosity about what the future holds and the tools we’ll be using once we get there.
As exciting and fun as my work often is, however, it can also prove dispiriting and exasperating when I’m accused of being biased. Of course I’m biased, that’s the whole point. We all have preferences and partialities that accrue over our lifetimes and become embedded in our judgment of anything new. To prefer cyan over hot pink is a bias. Do you like the feel of soft-touch plastic better than aluminum, rounded corners better than chamfered edges, or stock Android over its skinned cousins? All of those are forms of prejudice, but it gets worse still. Your hands can be a source of bias, too! The only way to judge the size and comfort of the latest phone is by reference to your own dimensions; thus, someone like Shaquille O’Neal might describe a 5.5-inch phone as small while I deride it as being too large.
The point is that subjectivity is an inherent — and I would argue necessary — part of making these reviews meaningful. Giving each new device a decontextualized blank slate to be reviewed against and only asserting the bare facts of its existence is neither engaging nor particularly useful. You want me to complain about the chronically bloopy Samsung TouchWiz interface while celebrating the size perfection of last year’s Moto X. Those are my preferences, my biased opinions, and it’s only by applying them to the pristine new phone or tablet that I can be of any use to readers. To be perfectly impartial would negate the value of having a human conduct the review at all. Just feed the new thing into a 3D scanner and run a few algorithms over the resulting data to determine a numerical score. Job done.
Now, I realize that the primary bias fearmongering relates to favoring one brand over another. In my time covering mobile devices, I’ve had the privilege of being accused of bias toward every major smartphone maker. One day I’ll be an iVlad singing Apple’s praises too loudly, and the next day I’ll be the shill conducting Samsung’s paid advertising by commending its latest laptops or phones. A critique of the slow development of Windows Phone or the immaturity of Android Wear is oftentimes read as some implicit promotion of the nearest alternative. That’s rarely true, as I tend to actually be dissatisfied with most things — the filters varying my opinion are horizontal ones relating to thresholds of quality rather than vertical ones built around the logo on any device.
I’ll admit to having lingering fond memories of a childhood spent toting a Walkman and coming home to a PlayStation, but that’s never gotten in the way of me criticizing Sony’s Xperia phones where appropriate. But here’s the thing that I truly want to ask: what if I do actually attempt to mislead and misdirect you? What if the scare stories are true and I’m the Big Bad Wolf of disingenuous phone reviews? The absolute worst case scenario for you is that you buy the wrong brand of lifestyle accessory. On the other hand, if I convince good readers to buy bad phones, my opinion would rapidly become irrelevant, and I would become irrelevant with it. So yes, misleading you would be catastrophic, but the apocalypse would be mine, not yours.
I’m the pilot of your vicarious trip to the near future. Trust me to know the consequences of my actions.