Living in a digital world, part 4 — tech product reviews

two cameras face off

Image cc license from Flickr user: Tim Caynes (http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5047/5228886276_42ed9fe1b5_b.jpg)

One afternoon, a staff member came into the library with an unusual request.  For her upcoming holiday, instead of escaping to a beach or the mountains, she had decided to try something a little different.  She would be traveling to South Africa and donate her time to a project tagging penguins on a wildlife reserve.  She had already borrowed books on penguins and made an appointment to visit a local zoo and speak with those specializing in animal care.  Now, all she needed was a camera.

Her previous camera was not up to the trip and she was looking for something a little more advanced, with a different feature set.  She did not want to know what camera I would recommend for her, but rather where she should look to find information to help her make her decision. Where could she find reviews of various products, created by experts and everyday people, to enable her to make an informed choice?

Everyone has their favourite resources for product reviews. Some prefer word-of-mouth recommendations, from colleagues, friends or family members.  Others perform Google searches and then carefully and painstakingly sift through the results retrieved.  One acquaintance chooses to query staff members working at the local tech shop or retail computer store, while another friend uses crowd-sourcing techniques by asking the question in a forum like Twitter or searching for comments tagged with pertinent keywords.

The staff member had already looked at the offerings at a local shop and begun flipping through reviews on Amazon.com.  She believed she might make a better decision if she could balance these customer responses with more technical product reviews.  For technology, I ask those I know who work with computers and electronics, and I balance that with reviews from other sources.

With this in mind, we started with a few test-driven resources for consumer product reviews.  In the end, the staff member purchased her camera after looking at reviews on the resources below as well as others, all over the Internet, and finding the product which best suited her needs.  Her trip went well, many penguins were tagged, and amazing photos were taken with her new toy.  She was so proud to have chosen a tool which enabled her to memorialize her experiences, then come back and share them with others.

Below are some of the resources we consulted for consumer reviews. Many cover only electronics and technology, while others provide reviews on a wider range of products.

CNET

CNET provides reviews from CNET editors and customers, news articles on technology topics and trends, and discussion fora.  Product reviews enable price comparison across different vendors, feature comparison across different models, and detailed specs.  An example: Olympus PEN E-PL3, red with 14-42 mm lens.

ZDNet

ZDNet’s tagline is “technology news, analysis, comments and product reviews for IT professionals”.  Products covered range from computers and peripherals, to cameras and mobile phones.  Reviews can be searched by price range, manufacturer, type of product, and features.  Additionally, ZDNet reviews refer to CNET reviews, expanding the information available for decision-making and discussion.  An example: Olympus PEN E-PL3, red with 14-42 mm lens.

WIRED.com

In addition to the articles published in the pages of the publication’s print version, WIRED provides added content on the website, including discussion fora, links directly to products and topics discussed in articles, videos and how-to guides, and an expanded selection of reviews. An example: Olympus PEN E-P3.

Consumer Reports

Growing up, my family used Consumer Reports to compare and review different refrigerators, telephones, and appliances.  It seemed that any time we went to the local public library, someone was sitting and flipping through one of  the well-worn volumes of this periodical.  The online version of this publication provides additional electronic content to supplement that which is found in the printed pages. However, this resource requires users subscribe to access most reviews and other content.

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