On Crappy Reviews

Wednesday, 2007-11-21; 00:47:00

Sorry, Guy in the Hat, but I have to completely disagree with your assertion that Andy Ihnatko is "perhaps the greatest technology columnist of our time". Your pleasant color scheme and simplistic weblog design cannot fool me!

This is what I am talking about.

Seriously, I would be ashamed to put my name in the byline of a product review like that. No particular offense to Ihnatko, but I found this linked from the DFLL, and I don't know why anyone would link to a review so devoid of detail and polish. It's absolute trash. I'd like to deconstruct this article to point out how typical this is of mainstream technology publications.

Ihnatko starts out his mafterpiece with three paragraphs that rehash his 1st-generation Zune review. What's particularly appalling about these paragraphs is that they're completely irrelevant to the review at hand. The first paragraph hardly qualifies as a paragraph at all. The second paragraph consists of Ihnatko seemingly congratulating himself at such a well-done first generation Zune review that he quotes phrases that are complete hyperbole and give the reader no actual sense of what the first-generation Zune was actually like. His quotes don't give you an iota of detail as to why the first generation Zune sucked or why he used such "flowery" language to bill it as a failure. Nope, he quotes the two phrases that make him sound like an Apple fanatic. His third paragraph somehow attempts to justify the failure of the first generation Zune, but what it comes down to is complete hearsay and rumor.

His fourth paragraph is a good introduction to the overall characterization of the 2nd generation Zune if he had actually gotten into any detail. But no! Haha! You thought you were going to actually get into the meat of the article now. How ignorantly naive you are.

Ihnatko says that the Zune desktop software "looks and works more like an in-store sales kiosk than a desktop media library app". And then he goes on to say that it's both an "advantage and a drawback" since it's "less-cluttered than iTunes or Windows Media Player, but I often wished for a more traditional user interface". Can someone please tell me what an "in-store sales kiosk" even means? Do most people have experience with an in-store sales kiosk that it makes sense to even say that in such a review? Besides, why are you even comparing the two? What possible bearing do "in-store sales kiosks" have on the Zune desktop software? (Perhaps the fact that you might purchase music from both, but the primary aspect of the Zune software is to manage music you already have.) And can you define exactly what you mean by "traditional user interface"? Does the Zune desktop software use multi-touch technology? Or does it make you type in commands for the things you want to do? "[T]raditional user interface" means nothing without defining it.

What's annoying is that he goes on to say that it's both an advantage and a drawback, as if all his readers know exactly what an "in-store sales kiosk" is. And when he makes general statements like "common features [being] hard to find", or that "so many useful power features are missing", he only gives one example. So common features are hard to find, huh? No, that's not true. One common feature is hard to find: creating new playlists. A plural noun requires plural examples. So, so many useful power features are missing, huh? Bullshit. One useful power feature is missing: smart playlists. Again, give us some multiple fucking examples.

Ihnatko continues this throughout the whole entire article! He says that "each [Zune] is a vast improvement on the original in both looks and performance". His next sentence then goes off on another tangent about the navigation pad. Why doesn't he expand on his statement about looks and performance? Are they better-looking just because they don't come in brown anymore? Do they somehow play audio or video faster, or are you talking about battery life performance? ("Performance" doesn't even seem to mean anything in this context.)

Most of the paragraphs in his review are only one or two sentences long. What the hell? It's OK to have a couple paragraphs like this, but practically the whole, entire article consists of these throwaway paragraphs. Count 'em: there are 24 paragraphs in total. A full 12 paragraphs are one sentence long. Eight of the remaining paragraphs are two sentences long. And the last four? Three sentences. There's not a single paragraph in that whole, entire review that is longer than three sentences.

What's the point of entire paragraphs like, "You can now sync tunes to your device wirelessly, via Wi-Fi"? Who cares? No, seriously, this is a legitimate question. Syncing over Wi-Fi is at least one and a half orders of magnitude slower than syncing over USB 2 and FireWire, and what for? If you have a Dock, for example, for your iPod, is it really so great to not have to just plop it in the Dock? Seriously, why do people care about wireless syncing? Furthermore, could Ihnatko not have included any details about the wireless synching? That it only works via the 802.11b or g standards, not the faster n standard? Or that automatic wireless syncing requires your Zune to be — get this — connected to a power source? Via a wire? If you have to manually initiate a sync to actually wirelessly sync a Zune, what's the point?

Many of these throwaway one-sentence or two-sentence paragraphs are just re-hashing of the marketing-speak that Microsoft includes on its product page. And paragraphs (yes, this is a paragraph) like, "Onward to the players themselves" are so meaningless. Ever heard of subheadings? Or are you just trying to up your word count?

And then there's the one glaring inaccuracy: that Apple doesn't have "guest" mode in iTunes. NEWS FLASH: check the box to manage your audio and video manually, and you can put as much content on your iPod as you want from as many computers as you want! Yes, you can do this with your iPod, since the very first model. True, it's not perfect — that is, if you turn off syncing, you can't have one "master" computer which still does automatic synching — but it's very similar to what Ihnatko wants. But it's amazing that he doesn't even mention this: is he not aware of it (i.e.: is he a complete ignoramus when it comes to the iPod), or does he not see the striking resemblance between the two features (i.e.: is he a complete ignoramus when it comes to the iPod)?

It's ridiculous. This review offers precious little detail above and beyond what you could get from browsing Microsoft's website. This isn't specific to Ihnatko, either: it's true of almost all mainstream technology writers. The stuff they write for their newspapers is complete drivel, and there's no use in reading them. And then they wonder why people call them Apple "fanboys". (I've called out David Pogue for this before, too, and he actually personally e-mailed me about it.)

Can we get a moratorium on further useless technology articles? Please?

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