Nobody would ever confuse tech journalism with great art, but they do share one characteristic — both need to be honest.
Unfortunately, mainstream tech journalism fails that test far too often.
Case in point: An article I found on a major tech news site recently listed tablets its readers should avoid. It promised a hard-hitting take on the year’s hottest gadgets. I imagined all the first-generation tablets — from vendors like Motorola, Acer, Toshiba and Lenovo — would surely make the list.
They didn’t. The article delivered potshots, alright, but the potshots made no sense. It completely ignored tablets from any vendor whose products a reader might actually find on store shelves. Instead, it directed all of its fire at obscure tablets from minor vendors. That sounded alarms.
The few tablets I know you should avoid — the Acer A100, with a battery that’ll barely outlast one longish movie from Netflix, or the fat-and-heavy Toshiba Thrive – weren’t even on the list. They were, however, prominent advertisers on the tech site we’re talking about.
Photo credit – Engadget
Routine exclusion of major vendors — usually advertisers — in mainstream tech review coverage is the acceptable norm these days. No one protests this. But it blatantly ignores the fundamental precepts of journalistic ethics.
So it might come as no surprise that the review summaries in this story were filled with contradictions. One example: Several tablets received actual points for running Android 2.2, while others didn’t. In fact, the author blamed some tablets for running Android 2.2 and put them on the list of tablets to avoid.
That’s what happens when a media site doesn’t bother to establish evaluation criteria before letting loose its reviewers.
So let’s take a look at some of the condemned tablets.
Setting aside the tablets clearly destined for the close-out bin, only three other tablets were highlighted in the article I’m talking about: the Viewsonic gTablet, and two tablet models in the Archos G9 line.
Photo Credit – Engadget
Including the Viewsonic gTablet is bizarre. It was released 15 months ago. Wouldn’t the Amazon Kindle Fire have been a timely choice?
Well as it happens, the same publication recently reviewed — and recommended — the Kindle Fire for its virtues as a tablet. Yet a close inspection shows the Kindle Fire suffers from many of the same shortcomings – no Android Market, no Google Apps, no Bluetooth, no HDMI — that this article cites more than a dozen times as reasons to condemn the other tablets.
So how did the Amazon Fire escape the terrible judgment that befell the $89 Coby Kyros?
The Viewsonic gTablet’s selection was doubly odd, because most of its users love the thing. True, the gTablet debuted with system software so lousy that several major retailers pulled it off the shelves almost immediately.
The gTablet likely would have died right there if the Android hacking community hadn’t discovered that it had both great hardware specs and a wide-open platform for development.
They have since produced an endless progression of custom kernels and ROMS for the gTablet, including the latest version of Cyanogen 7.x for the Android Honeycomb, and even Android 4.X Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) builds.
Their efforts keep the gTablet selling briskly — it’s got a growing following that even a moderately knowledgeable reviewer couldn’t miss. But look around, and you see that this and other tech sites are damning that gTablet based on its flawed, original software.
That’s lazy reviewing.
Photo Credit — VentureBeat
As for the two Archos G9 tablets that these and other mainstream tech reviewers keep bashing, these two shipped with Android Honeycomb 3.2 and will upgrade to Android 4.X ISC in early February, Archos says.
The tablets offer everything a real tablet should have — full Android Market access, Google apps, HDMI-out, full and mini-sized USB ports, microSD memory expansion, a decent screen, good performance, and upcoming Android 4.X support.
In performance testing using SmartBench 2011, the newly-released turbo models, starting at about $299, trounce all the standard 1Ghz Tegra tablets by 20% or more.
Both models suffer from pretty annoying case-design issues, but even so, their relative trimness and feature sets put a lot of other tablets – ones widely lauded by the tech press — to shame. The Archos G9 80 weighs less than an ounce more than a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and is within a few millimeters of its size in all dimensions.
Yet you continually see the Archos models blacklisted due to petty complaints about a lousy camera and awkward button placement.
And this from so-called serious tech journalists.
Maybe the Archos models would have been received better if they had no camera at all — and an on/off switch smaller than the hole in a Cheerio — just like the Kindle Fire.
In the interest of full disclosure: I recently bought an Archos G9 80. Sure, the G9’s camera does stink, but I have a good camera. I was looking for a tablet. The misplaced volume rocker is more annoying, but I’ll get used to that, and save $250 over a name-brand tablet without those issues.
The bottom line here is clear: A review on just about any tech site may look and sound authoritative, but if it’s based on lazy, corrupted journalism, its conclusions are worthless. Take what you read with a grain of salt, and do enough independent research to double-check the reviewer’s facts.
And notice if they mention their review criteria; it helps them stay consistent.