First Click: Don't let reviewers tell you what to buy

September 22nd, 2015


Yesterday Ben Thompson, consultant and founder of Stratechery, went on a Twitter tirade over perceived paternalism in tech reviews. He was tired of being told what to buy. Thompson wants reviews to focus on what a product does and how good it is at doing it. “Where is the Top Gear for tech?” he asked.

The discussion roped in such notable tech dignitaries as New York Times technology columnist Farhad Manjoo, WSJ technology columnist Christopher Mims, and Wired’s senior staff writer David Pierce (and former head of The Verge reviews program) before abating in a flurry of ambiguous faves and retweets.

I agree with Thompson, to a point.

It’s true that tech reviewers aren’t "normals" so trying to speak for them is risky. It can come across as insincere, or worse, condescending. Oh sure, they were normals once, but professional tech reviewers have seen and tested every variation of consumer technology on the market. They’re the child stars of technology and you wouldn’t take parenting advice from Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears without getting a second opinion.

The hosts of Top Gear weren’t normals, either. What made their test drive reviews so successful was their infectious enthusiasm for what they did. Sure, the segments were laced with jargon and harshly critical at times, but it was always fun hearing what these three experts thought, even when their views were contradictory. The formula was so successful that its "dads and lads" shows attracted a viewership that was 40 percent female, according to the BBC.

But many people still want a shortcut to buying advice. I love technology and will devour every word of gadget reviews. But please, somebody who’s an expert, tell me which dishwasher to purchase. That’s why Consumer Reports was so successful in its day, and is such a destination today. It’s also the reason we do formal reviews and separate This Is My Next buying guides here at The Verge.

So, read the Microsoft Office and iPhone 6S reviews with vigor this week. Or jump past all those words to the buying advice at the end. Just remember that the decision to buy is yours and could be as simple as wanting a little rose gold in your pocket — don’t let a reviewer tell you differently.

Five stories to start your day

  1. Microsoft Office 2016 review

    Today’s release of Office 2016 marks almost three years since the last major version of Microsoft’s productivity apps. More than 1.2 billion people use Office, for everything from simple word processing and personal finances, to powerful number crunching at large enterprises. It’s as ubiquitous as Windows itself, and before today’s new update it was already packed full with features. So, do you really need the latest version?

  2. Ahmed Mohamed hangs out with Sergey Brin at Google Science Fair

    Wrongly-arrested schoolboy Ahmed Mohamed has continued his victory lap of nerd glory with a visit to the annual Google Science Fair. Mohamed was invited to the event last week by Google, and according to a report from USA Today, received a warm welcome, touring the booths and taking pictures with finalists. "We learned about you in school!" one student from California told Mohamed, who even got a chance to hang out with Google's co-founder Sergey Brin.

  3. Starbucks rolls out mobile ordering to all US locations

    For the last several months, Starbucks has been gradually rolling out the ability for customers to order drinks or food with the company's smartphone app — and skip waiting in line during the morning rush. And now mobile ordering is ready for a nationwide audience; today, Starbucks is rolling out the feature to each of its company-owned US locations. Using the Starbucks app for iOS or Android, you can now order a Pumpkin Spice Latte or anything else on the coffee maker's menu, choose your preferred additives, and pay from right within the app.

  4. Apple’s never gonna give up trolling its developers

    Yep, it's a Rickroll, and one as quiet and restrained as if Jony Ive had come up to you at party and whispered Britishly in your ear: "Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, that's a consequence of simplicity. Simplicity means I'm never gonna give you up, never going to let you down."

  5. Xiaomi's new $200 Mi 4c has everything you need in a smartphone

    Earlier this year, Xiaomi introduced the Mi 4i for India, and today it's launching the Mi 4c for China. Both new Android phones eschew the metal design of the Mi 4 for a unibody polycarbonate shell and an even cheaper price. The entry-level Mi 4c, powered by a Snapdragon 808 processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, costs just ¥1,299 (or $204). For that price, the Xiaomi Mi 4c delivers pretty much everything you need from a smartphone and nothing you don't. It has a 5-inch, 1080p display, a 13-megapixel camera with fast phase detection autofocus, a 3080mAh battery, and even a USB-C port.

Invisible hand of the day

Loading comments...