Consumer Reports Flips a Finger Again at Mac Users

May 12th, 2008

When I read an article the other day that Macs were finally getting a better break in the June 2008 issue of Consumer Reports, in an article entitled “Best & worst computers,” I felt optimistic. Up till now, although Macs routinely get good marks in their tests, the magazine’s editors do little or nothing to distinguish them from the generic PCs they review.

In fact, for all intents and purposes, you get the strong impression that a Mac is nothing more than a pretty PC with a higher price. Period.

So what was there about the June issue that seemed to inspire that optimism? Well, I read the article, and, frankly, I found nothing in it to foster the impression that Consumer Reports had actually changed its ways. For one thing, the few instructional paragraphs provided, such as what to do about removing programs, were decidedly Windows-oriented. Once again, the article and the various sidebars didn’t contain any information to help the magazine’s millions of readers decide whether to go Mac or PC.

Lots of product features were listed in the tables accompanying the ratings, but with little guidance about whether any of them have significant value or even the purpose they serve. The ubiquitous card readers, for example, which allow you to handle media cards from different hardware. How many Mac or PC users need them — really? Most of us have a single digital camera, which can be attached directly to your Mac’s USB port to download your photos. Where there are multiple devices at hand, you can always buy a card reader for a small sum, rather than pay to have it included with the computer as standard equipment.

The biggest missing category, though, is “Ease of Use.” You find that in the review on monitors, which, by the way, excludes Apple’s display line, but not with personal computers, where it really counts.

Years ago, one of the earliest TV spots about the iMac touted the simple setup process that involved three steps to get online. “There is no step four,” the announcer added. But Consumer Reports, owned by a non-profit corporation that touts its independence from influence by the companies whose products it reviews, doesn’t provide a single word about the setup process when you buy a new computer, nor the issues involved in migrating your stuff from an older computer, which can be a daunting process. Or used to be, since Apple’s Migration Assistant makes Mac to Mac upgrades a trivial process in most cases.

Worse, the magazine doesn’t do anything to explain to its readers how Mac OS X and Windows differ, their plusses and minuses — and such categories can be fairly applied to both. They fail to realize that personal computers are still not commodity products, such as toaster ovens, and they appear unable to address the real usability problems that persist on all platforms.

So, in the end, Consumer Reports fails abysmally in its PC review process.

Sure, Apple’s products got high marks. Their customer support ranks way ahead of all the competition, and those figures are based on reader surveys from tens of thousands of participants, not arbitrary editorial standards. There is, by the way, one potentially troubling area, which is note-book reliability, where Apple rates dead last with a rating of 23, compared to a high water mark of 20, achieved by Lenovo, which acquired IBM’s PC business a few years ago.

However, statistically speaking, such differences are relatively minor and may not impact you all that much. As the magazine itself states, “differences of less than three points are not meaningful.”

So where has Apple failed — if that is truly a failure? Well perhaps the well-publicized extended repair programs on certain Mac note-book models to replace such components as batteries and logic boards, which may experience premature failure. While current models seem to be quite robust, reliability scores follow an historical trend, and it may take a few years for improvements to register.

In saying that, I would grant that, within the limits of the survey, note-book reliability is quite close among all the major brands. The Dell is not any more likely to fail than an Apple, the top-rated Lenovo, or a Gateway. They are all, in fact, assembled by the very same Asian factories, using industry-standard components. So how would you expect them to be all that different?

In the desktop universe, Apple excels with a 12, compared to a range of 17 to 20, again statistically insignificant, for the rest of the bunch.

As to the magazine’s curious editorial posture, some years ago, one of their IT people told me that the editors who managed the PC test process were heavily biased towards Windows. While Apple’s products continue to be reviewed and garner superior ratings, the bias clearly persists, and that may explain why they still won’t provide any meaningful guidance as to which PC operating system is best for their mostly consumer audience.

When you consider that Consumer Reports has a combined circulation larger than all the Mac and PC magazines combined, that’s a tragedy. At the same time, I suppose you can find other product categories, such as autos, where their reviews may fail to distinguish the advantages of models that, while a little quirky in some respects, deliver a driving experience that is unique, enjoyable, but still safe.

Or maybe all of this is due to their ongoing editorial “dumbing down” process that removes important information that would better serve the interests of all their readers. Will that ever change? Frankly, I’m not at all optimistic. Next time Consumer Reports covers PCs, a few Mac commentators will again state they have changed their ways, but that’s just not the way it really is.

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20 Responses to “Consumer Reports Flips a Finger Again at Mac Users”

  1. Zoran Nesic says:

    The iMac TV spot is titled “3 steps” and the announcer says “There’s no step three”. Yes, I still have that QuickTime file, originally downloaded to iMac Bondi 10 years ago 🙂

  2. gerald jones says:

    In the three categories of things I buy (music stuff, computer stuff, & car stuff), I tend to squint my jaded eyeballs when it comes to Consumer Reports. They have the strangest bias in these areas and really no meaningful explanation. I’ve never really understood their ignorance of Macs dating back to the Mac Plus I believe except like you stated it must be that the testers have had an inherent bias being Windoze users. Because of these strange ratings over the years in areas I think I might be an informed consumer, I tend to look very carefully at all of their reports in areas that I’m like the average consumer, even toasters.

  3. darknite says:

    How can CR be ‘experts’ on everything? They can’t. I got my first wakeup call about their reviews in the very late 80s. They were reviewing SLR cameras. 3 of their 5 top picks had been out of production for several months to a year. They messed up or misrepresented some features.

    We no longer need CR for decent reviews. Pick a product, Google ‘ “product name” sucks’, and check all the negative reviews for things people don’t like. Google ‘ “product name” websites’, and find several sites ran by people who are actively involved in using like products, and they will let you know both the good an bad, with added experience and better level of expertise than CR.

  4. The iMac TV spot is titled “3 steps” and the announcer says “There’s no step three”. Yes, I still have that QuickTime file, originally downloaded to iMac Bondi 10 years ago 🙂

    Three steps. Four steps.

    No big deal 😀



  5. Scott Schuckert says:

    The issue with Consumer Reports is that they are almost never knowledgeable about the product they’re reviewing. I’m sure they view this as making them impartial, but in reality it causes them to make wrong assumptions, leading to faulty conclusions.

    Example – I used to work in the photo industry, and we lived in terror of CR’s camera evaluations. There was no way to predict what they’d like. Once, they picked the obscure, finicky Miranda Sensorex over the solid, industry standard Nikon FTn for RELIABILITY. They went solely on how many repairs EACH USER reported. This ignored the fact that the amateur Miranda user shot dozens of rolls per year, while a Nikon typically saw thousands.

    It’s fascinating to see this continues today. They compare, but they don’t know what parameters are worth comparing. It’s like down-rating a Dell because it won’t run OSX, or a Mac because it won’t run XP. Oh, wait…

  6. Dave says:

    All of the above comments are exactly why I canceled my subscription many years ago. I have no need to read CR with so much information available on the ‘net.

  7. Al says:

    Dave! By God, I think you’re right.

    CR has been ill informed for years while everything you read on The Net is true.

    Isn’t it?

  8. Dave says:


    I’m certainly not foolish enough to think everything on the internet is true. On the other hand, the PC reviews in CR shows that they don’t have dependable information.

  9. Dana Sutton says:

    The problem with PR is that they have always been fine as long as they stick to fairly simple things that yield easily quantified results (this razor blade is good for three more shaves than that one). When they get into more complex stuff, like cameras, computers, or autos, they quickly get out of their depth but keep that same pontificating tone. And when they get into things where subjective reactions are part of the evaluation progress, they’re often hopeless.

  10. istara says:

    “The ubiquitous card readers, for example, which allow you to handle media cards from different hardware. How many Mac or PC users need them — really?”

    What has solved my issues with these is using SanDisk’s hinged SD cards that plug directly into a USB slot. That means wherever I am, I can access anything on my camera. I know one can buy small, cheap card readers, but that’s still an extra thing to carry around (and forget/lose at that vital moment).

    You are right that an included card reader drive is not a critical option on a computer or laptop, but it can be an enormously convenient one. However with a hinged card, it’s not needed.

    I especially recommend these for people travelling who may want to send some photos from an internet cafe, etc.

  11. My Macs run eight to twelve hours a day compared to my PC for about an hour a day. Macs win hands-down in the reliability department.

  12. Greg says:

    I saw the article as part of my trial subscription, which I am now not going to continue. I am out of town right now, so I can’t check this, but I think the article says something like “Macs have fewer viruses.” Like, what, a few concept viruses vs. thousands? If they were comparing two cars where one had four repairs and the other had a thousand, would they say the first car had just “fewer repairs?”

    I would like to write CR. Does anyone have a authoritative reference that gives the total or yearly Windows and Mac viruses?

  13. Fact Checker says:

    Although CR espouses their “objectivity” based on the fact that they accept no advertising, CR is clearly a biased organization. It has a utilitarian posture. I recall a review of SLR cameras years ago and predictably, they gave top ratings to cameras which were lowest in price. Thus, this same bias is reflected in its review of Apple. Let’s be honest ourselves here: no matter how big a fan you are of Apple, its computers cost significantly more than PC, batteries are not user-replaceable due to the arrogant soldering in of batteries and O/S updates set you back $139 per annum. Think about this last one: Apple sells software and uses its consumer base to beta test it, albeit this is hardly unusual. Then, after Apple receives feedback either thru support or angry customers, it updates the O/S and charges the customer. The beauty of Apple is that one company controls the hardware and software which results in a coordinated effort. The ugliness of Apple is that it has no direct competition and abuses customers with arrogant policies like soldered-in batteries. I believe CR’s review probably reflects some of this ugliness.

  14. Well, no, Macs don’t cost more than PCs with comparable equipment. The reason they are perceived to be more expensive is that Apple doesn’t build bare bones models without the frills we’ve come to expect.

    As to the so-called ugly aspects: Apple still rates best in Consumer Reports when it comes to tech support, and they do not deliberately create defective software any more than any other company. But the marketplace often forces them to release products a little prematurely, that’s all.

    Consumer Reports: They will ding a product for perceived ergonomic shortcomings, such as the alleged “flimsy-looking” pop-out cupholders on the BMW 3 models, but won’t give a car maker, for example, a positive for “thrill to drive.”

    And. any BMW is fun to drive — but not fun to pay for. 😀


  15. Dan says:

    Maybe the reason that it didn’t talk about “ease of use” is that it’s not hard to use a PC. It’s not hard to use a pc at all. Your an idiot. I just bought a new laptop for my wife and O decided to check out how much pretty much the exact same computer would cost through Apple. It was $2000 more. I never have issues with attatching scanners, cameras, printers or anything else for that matter. I’m a graphic artist and was happy too see that the advatage of Adobe Photoshop on the Mac has disapeared as well.
    I got nothing against Macs, mac users, whatever. I get it it, it’s what you prefer. But to get all pissy because Consumer Reports won’t give Jobs a BJ is outing.

  16. Let me say that your price comparison is utter nonsense, so why should I believe anything else you say? 🙂


  17. eric says:

    Try syncing a smartphone to a Mac. The Mac is worthless. It can’t manage to work 10 year old technology. Pathetic.

  18. eric wrote:

    Try syncing a smartphone to a Mac. The Mac is worthless. It can’t manage to work 10 year old technology. Pathetic.

    So you aren’t aware that there are third-party products that allow you to sync many of these smartphones with Macs. Pathetic!


  19. Samuel says:

    What about Mac viruses u can use firewall such as Protemac Netmine. I have Leopard and use it for protects against viruses.It’s must be helpful to everyone.

    • @Samuel, There haven’t been any widespread virus outbreaks on Macs. Apple provides a built-in firewall (turned off by default unfortunately). You can turn it on, or use a third-party firewall app, such as the product from Open Door Networks.


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