Rich Warren: Narrowing list of sites for reviews

Finances and time restrict product reviews in this column. When I reviewed audio and video components between 1978-2007 for national magazines and a big-city newspaper, companies eagerly loaned gear for reviews. Various electronics would visit for a month while I subjectively reviewed them.

Sometimes public-relations people showed up on my doorstep to beg a product review from their latest and greatest client. Companies no longer eagerly loan equipment to reviewers, since they overpopulate the internet. Newspapers and magazines no longer dominate.

Buying review-worthy products goes beyond the financial wherewithal of most newspapers and certainly individual reviewers. Furthermore, a proper review of any product takes considerable time. Basically, it’s a full-time job.

Thus, I’d like to point you to some websites that manage to beg, borrow and preferably not steal products for review. After writing about electronics for almost 40 years I can usually discriminate competent, honest reviews from those paid for (or otherwise overly influenced) by the manufacturer. Consumer Reports (consumerreports.org) remains the granddaddy of them all.

While it still publishes a paper magazine, the £35 a year online subscription offers the best combination of information and benefits. Consumer Reports buys all the products it reviews and prohibits its reviews to be used in advertising. While CR testers don’t always get it right, they are ethical.

I’ve often disagreed with their conclusions, but acknowledge their scruples. The free online magazine Ars Technica (arstechnica.com), published by the respectable Conde Nast, posts well-written, detailed news articles that cover technology, science and the law as it applies to technology. A few times a week it offers deeply detailed reviews of new high-tech products such as smartphones, video game consoles, and software/apps.

The site appears high in integrity and low in hype. PC Magazine (pcmag.com), published by Ziff Davis, goes back to 1982, when I subscribed to it. In 2009, it converted to internet-only specializing in reviews ranging from TVs to smartphones, to gadgets, along with streaming services and software/apps.

In general the reviews, which are not overly technical, appear honest, although they are embedded with links to buy the products. The cornucopia website offers something for everyone. PC Magazine usually rates products against a lineup of similar or competitive models and awards its “Editors’ Choice” designation to what it considers the best in the category.

PC World (pcworld.com), published by IDG, PC Magazine’s former print competitor also went online only. It’s fairly similar in format and content to PC Magazine, although perhaps more aimed at non-technically inclined readers. It also appears fairly honest in its reviews.

Review.com covers appliances and electronics in brief reviews for readers with little technical background. Its reviews appear knowledgeable, but there’s little provenance concerning its reviewers or how the site obtains product. Once again, there are links embedded in the reviews to buy the products.

Wired.com covers the entire technology spectrum with reviews ranging from the latest micro-processors to pre-packaged meals ordered via the internet. It’s one of the more popular of the second wave of technical sites that took off with the internet. C/NET (cnet.com), currently owned by CBS Interactive, also covers everything tech.

It developed with the internet during the 1990s. If CNET hasn’t covered it, then it probably doesn’t exist. It’s an ideal place to find the latest tech news.

C/NET hosts many software downloads as well. However, it can be tricky since it often wants to install unwanted programs on your computer. All of these sites, except for Consumer Reports, depend upon advertising to prosper.

After all, none of them directly charge a fee for access, although a few sell subscriptions if you want certain privileges or access to additional articles and information. Some sell reviews or quotes to manufacturers. Most put cookies on your phone or computer to track you for advertising purposes.

Each publishes a privacy policy that while not exactly exciting literature, you should read.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics.

He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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