Returning To Sender: A Cable Conundrum
I often spend Friday afternoons packing up old review hardware to send back to whatever PR agency originally shipped it my way. (In case you were wondering: No, I don't get to keep any of the stuff I write about.)
This routine comes with two challenges.
The first is erasing whatever data I'd loaded on the machine, just in case the people running the company's product-loan program forget to do so and so wind up sharing my address book, calendar or e-mail with the next reviewer. With computers, that's not too hard. (See this Help File item from December for the details.) With smartphones and other gadgets, it can take some tinkering and digging into manuals, as I wrote last summer.
The second is going through all the cables and chargers on my desk to figure out which ones belong to the device I'm shipping back. This can be a much bigger problem, because I am a total slob when it comes to my desk at work, and because most electronics vendors include generic, lookalike data and power cables.
As I type this, for example, I have to pack up a TomTom Global Positioning System navigator that I reviewed for National Geographic Traveler a few months ago. It's all ready to go, but I can't find the USB cable that came in the box--most likely because I mistakenly shipped it back with some other device a few weeks back. And looking for that cable has revealed that I have at least one unidentified power brick and one USB cable floating around my desk.Oops.
Beyond inconveniencing product reviewers, these anonymous accessories also advertise how much of a product was sourced from the lowest bidder available. When you open the box and a set of no-name parts spill out, it's easy to wonder how many other corners were cut in less visible places. It's also likely that the nameless power adapter in the box was not the most efficient model available at the time.
I'd like to think that more companies would be willing to spend a few more pennies per product to come up with more distinctive components (even if it simply means getting the USB cable in a different color, like Sony's distinctive purple, or stamping the company's name on the power brick). But looking at a lineup of boxed products in the store, how would you know that one hides the same old generic accessories and the other will reveal this extra touch of refinement?
I don't think this problem's getting better anytime soon...
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