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

September 22nd, 2015

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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 TheWireCutter.com 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.

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

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  3. Starbucks rolls out mobile ordering to all US locations

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