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Reviewing Products Without Reviewing Them

Most of the time, when I receive a product for review, I’ll also receive a set of so-called reviewer’s notes from the manufacturer or publisher. They are designed to emphasize the salient points, and make a strong pitch for a positive review. If you follow the writeup in the order the company specifies, however, you’ll be basically validating their marketing plans.

I will read those notes when they’re available for background information, but not always at first. Instead, I’ll put myself in the place of what I believe to be a typical user, and try to discover a product or app’s worth on my own. I don’t want to be unduly influenced by a company’s PR department. I want to come to my own conclusions.

Now when a published review seems to echo a company’s talking points, that’s doing a disservice to the reader. A review shouldn’t be a promotional piece, although far too many seem to end up that way.

Just as bad is the pretend or preliminary review that presages an actual review but nonetheless reaches a final conclusion about what’s being tested. What this shows is that the writer has a built in bias that the actual experience isn’t likely to change regardless of the results of the actual product test.

There is also the product description puff piece that pretends to be a review because it lists or compares product specs. Some articles have elements of the foregoing.

One recent and blatant example comes from a major financial publications by a writer who evidently has a presence on several prestigious outlets. But it all goes downhill from there.

The title implies that the author is reviewing three tablets, the Apple iPad Pro, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S. And leave it to Samsung to devise the most confusing product name of the three. But I wish that was the worst of the article, because the headline is deceptive. You see, it’s not actually a comparison review of three products, but a profile with a few opinions along with a promise that a review is on the way.

Are you with me so far?

So let’s begin with the end. To the author, “The Surface Pro 4 still reigns supreme for me.”

Is that the end? Well, the author is a fan of Windows 10 and the versatility of a traditional PC note-book rather than a device that’s based on a mobile OS — specifically the iPad Pro. In that case, maybe he should have focused the story on Mac note-books compared to Windows note-books, which is a more apt comparison. You see, even the Samsung runs Windows 10. There’s no Android tablet in the mix, and thus it’s an Apple/Oranges comparison.

What is doubly troubling is that the Surface Pro 4, the one that “reigns supreme,” has a pretty serious problem as a portable computer, since its battery life is evidently not much more than a third that of the iPad Pro. The author states that the Microsoft tablet/PC/whatever “lasted no longer than 3.5 hours after a full charge.” He tries to make excuses, that it’s drawing too much power in sleep mode, while a battery life test would involve running apps, not measuring how long the battery holds on while the unit is asleep. We are assured that “Microsoft is reportedly working on a fix.”

But for now, we have to take that on faith, just as we take on faith the impressions of raw performance that are evidently based on specs not actual benchmarks. I’d think a few Geekbench runs would have confirmed these perceptions. While we’re at it, nowhere in the article are the prices mentioned. If it was, you’d see that a fully outfitted Surface Pro 4 is actually quite a bit more expensive than the iPad Pro.

Something else not mentioned is the fact that, while you can buy the Apple and Microsoft tablets, the Galaxy TabPro S has just been launched, and hence you cannot actually buy one. Well, perhaps they sent a preproduction unit to the author who did this comparison. According to Samsung’s press release, it will actually go on sale in February.

But with what products does it compete anyway? Well, since it runs Windows 10, that would be Microsoft, not Apple. Indeed, the iPad Pro is the outlier here, and it’s not at all certain how it fits in a comparison with Windows-based 2-in-1 tablet note-books. Well, except for the fact that putting Apple in the mix is sure hit bait.

Thus I won’t bother to consider the lame comparisons of the Apple Pencil and the Microsoft stylus. It’s not worth the time and the frustration. Clearly the author believes that the Microsoft implement is better, pointing to an erase capability. But he fails to realize that simple app settings, such as in Notes for iOS, can change the Apple Pencil’s drawing capability to the ability to erase. That would require actually using it, and when you have an article based on assumptions and hopes and agendas, you can’t expect that a dose of reality would have any place.

Alas, this is what passes for tech reporting these days.