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How Reviews Happen

I've been testing out new software and hardware for so long that the whole process can seem routine, but then I keep getting questions along the lines of "So you get to keep all that stuff you review?" So I thought I'd take a few pixels to explain this part of my job.

First: No, I don't get to keep all the stuff I review. More on that in a bit.

Second, most of the hardware I try arrives on a loaner basis. Sometimes the gadget in question arrives unsolicited, but most of the time I'll ask a company's public-relations representatives to arrange a loan.

There may be nagging and waiting involved. My reviews of the Palm Pre and the iPhone 3GS appeared after those of other writers because the relevant PR offices elected to ship "my" review units later than those assigned to my competitors.

It's possible that this is annoying, but if so you'll never read about it in my column -- normal customers don't talk to publicists, so their conduct is irrelevant.

You might think that because review hardware comes direct from PR shops that I only get the finest equipment. As if! The stuff sent to me has been no more reliable than what I've seen in stores. Sometimes it's in worse shape after being abused by multiple reviewers: A Hewlett-Packard monitor showed up incapable of powering on, while one Sony camera kept showing "lens cover closed" on the screen even when I had the lens cover open.

Software reviews are far easier to arrange, since in most cases I only need to have somebody e-mail me a registration code to unlock a trial downloaded from the company's regular site. Free, open-source applications are easier yet, since there's no money or registration involved.

When I'm testing a new gadget or application, I tend to focus on subjective qualities -- is it easy to use, can I discover its features without pressing too many buttons or clicking too many links? -- rather than numerical benchmark tests. (See, for example, this recap of how I test laptops.) I also stick with a product's online help or printed manual instead of turning to whatever reviewer's guide the PR department may have sent along.

Occasionally, review loans comes with a strict deadline. That's why I can't tell you how the Palm Pre feels after a few months of use; I had to ship it back a few weeks after the review. Other times, I can keep a device around longer and use it for further testing. For example, if Dell and HP's PR folks won't mind, I plan on borrowing the laptops they sent for last month's feature to test Microsoft's Windows 7 when it ships next month.

But all these computers and gadgets go back sooner or later. Allowing me to keep them would be indistinguishable from bribery. Besides, I don't have room: My house is on the small side, and I'd rather use the basement to store boxes, age wine and collect power tools I swear I'll use at some point.

Review software is a different case, as it costs the developer next to nothing to burn another disc of the program. I keep a minority of these titles around for reference purposes, but most of them -- along with all the books, CDs, DVDs and other items sent to other sections of The Post -- get sold off for charity during an annual, in-house event.

(Note: I'm taking a keyboard sabbatical this week, so I won't be able to chime in on the comments here until next Monday; it'll also take me [even] longer than usual to reply to e-mail.)

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 8, 2009; 1:29 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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Comments

I think there is no rush to review hardware. It may be more useful to the reader if you see earlier reviews, and then review from that perspective. I can nearly always pick out one or two factual errors in each of the first reviews. What else did they miss?

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | September 9, 2009 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Some years back, I was a fairly prolific reviewer of Non-fiction publications, along with software products, such as WordPerfect 4.2-6.0.

They always provided full packages for reviewers, which they did not expect to be returned -- indeed, they were marked 'review copy.' That was back in the day when WordPerfect was owned by WordPerfect Corp. [if memory serves me correctly?] It was also back in the days where DOS was king, and 800 customer support was FREE.

When it came to hardback NF publications, often Publicity would send multiple copies, which places like Second Story Books liked getting, at least for the multiples.

In another instance, I had actually purchased one of Chief Justice Rehnquist's books and then decided to review it. I found a couple of printing or copy errors and sent the Chief Justice a letter to that effect, [so they could be corrected should a subsequent edition come out]along with the review. Henceforth, the Chief Justice instructed his publicist to make sure that I got copies of all his future books for review, which I did. But that was probably an unusal situation.

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | September 11, 2009 4:31 AM | Report abuse

Dear Rob:

Yes, and meanwhile I have been contacting you for 8 months asking you to review the Astak EZ Reader and Pocket PRO.

The Pocket PRO is the lightest, easiest, fastest and most powerful 5 inch eBook Reader to ever be released. It has the Epson Controller with 400 MHz processor. It has: 8 level grey scale and Hyperlinks, the rechargeable battery is iser-replaceable, Adobe Digital Editions, displays 14 formats and 20 languages, has a search function, Text-To-Speech, SD card slot to 16GB, and it comes in 6 colors for $199.

Other reveiwers love it. Why not review it for your followers?

www.theEZreader.com

Posted by: EZReader1 | September 14, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

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