The Problem With "Unbiased" Gadget Reviews

    The New York Times review of the Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2 is everything wrong with gadget reviews.

    Perhaps no review has ever painted a better picture of the problem with "unbiased" reviews of technology than David Pogue's review of the Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2, the iPod touch of Android. There've been a lot of reviews in a lot of publications that don't help anybody buy anything — the very thing they're supposed to do! — but this review is amazing in how wildly successful it is as saying absolutely nothing useful about the product at hand.

    Pogue, ostensibly to please a vocal, angry contingency of fanboys, bends over backwards so hard to say nice things about the Galaxy Player 4.2 that he practically begins to eat himself, so that every good thing he says about it is immediately negated in the same thought. The screen is fantastic, except for when you open your eyes.

    The headline of the review is "Samsung Takes On iPod Touch, With Flair." I know Pogue did not write the headline, but he effectively begins his review by stating, "In other words, a dark-horse alternative like Samsung’s needs a pretty convincing pitch. As it turns out, the pitch is fairly convincing." (He says a lot of words before this, but the review really starts here.)

    Here are some of the things things he says about it.

    The Design

    The Player 4.2 is beautiful. Its plastic shell, with comfortably rounded edges, can’t hold a candle to the mirror-finish metal back of the Touch, but of course it doesn’t hold fingerprints, either.

    The Player is not as light or as thin (0.35 inches thick instead of 0.28), but the slight thickening makes possible a removable back panel. Inside are two things the Touch doesn’t offer: a removable battery and a memory-card slot. You’ll probably need to buy a memory card, in fact, since the Player comes with only about four gigabytes of free memory for your files.

    Hardware Features

    The Player offers a number of undeniable hardware features that trump the Touch. For example, it has stereo speakers instead of mono, cleverly positioned at opposite ends. True, you won’t detect much separation of right and left channels unless, you know, you balance the thing on your nose.

    If you pair the Player with a non-smartphone over Bluetooth, you can make and receive actual phone calls right on the Player, even when you’re not in Wi-Fi.... There are footnotes, however. First, will your descendants want to carry around two gadgets? If they do, why not just use the actual phone for phone calls? And you can’t make calls by dialing digits on the Player in this arrangement; you can only tap names already programmed into your address book app.

    The rest of the news isn’t quite as good. The screen is much better than the one on the 3.6-inch Galaxy Player ($150)...Even so, the screen quality doesn’t come within miles of the Touch’s Retina display, either in clarity or color.

    Samsung has figured out how to play a much wider array of video formats than the Touch can, but it stutters on hi-def videos — even the demo movie that comes on it.

    The two-megapixel camera is pretty awful. It does have a nice sweep-panorama mode, but the photos are still washed-out and soft.


    Because this machine runs Android (the outdated version 2.3), it can run most of the 400,000 apps on the Android app store.

    Embracing it requires abandoning the well-organized, well-stocked, well-integrated Apple universe, and settling for a mishmash of services and software that performs roughly the same functions.

    Who Should Buy It?

    In the end, the Player should hold special appeal for a significant customer niche: rebels. The technologically sophisticated. People who would enjoy the freedom of removable cards and batteries. Parents who might like that peculiar business about making phone calls through a cheaper phone. People who own recent Samsung televisions (the Player doubles as a remote control). Anyone with a dominant anti-Apple gene.

    Otherwise, it’s not entirely clear who would benefit by this slightly thicker, slightly heavier, slightly less refined iPod Touch. Until that question is answered, it’s hard to imagine Samsung’s latest becoming a significant Player in the Galaxy.

    To appear fair, he attempts to sketch a mysterious cohort of people who would maybe possibly perhaps like to buy this product that he clearly doesn't like very much, all while eliding the simple fact that this crowd includes no one who relies on David Pogue for advice about which technology to buy. At the very best, this review did not help a single person make a better decision about technology. At worst, he is actively confusing the exact kind of reader he's supposed to help, effectively tearing money out of their wallet and burning it with a poorly designed torch that produced fire after five attempts to light it, but was well-reviewed because it comes in an assortment of colors and has a removeable battery. If I didn't already know Pogue was a really nice guy, I'd think this review — which didn't even need to happen for a niche product like this — was borderline malicious.

    A review should be honest to people, not "fair." Or put another way: You probably don't ever want to buy a something with a decimal point in the name.