tango til they’re sore

a deer wanders around the market on miyajima islandShopping.  We hates it, precious.  Yes we do.

There is just no good way to do it anymore.  I once applauded the explosion of online shopping opportunities because this meant that the most abhorrent things about the retail experience were eliminated.  I don’t have to leave the house, there are no crowds, I can shop whenever I want (camera lenses at 3am?  you betcha!), I can often find really good deals online, the selection is immense, and quite often there are no taxes or shipping charges.  These can  only be good things, right?

Maybe not so much.

Hand in hand with the expansion of choices has been a ginormous proliferation of opinions about these choices.  Because, you know, it’s no fun if you can’t “speak you’re branes” about it.   I used to find the customer reviews on Amazon and other online shopping places quite useful but for the last few years poring through the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of individual opinions to find the few useful ones can take hours.  Days sometimes.   Eventually all the conversations come down to:  “You suck!”  “No, YOU suck!”  And all because someone chose one brand of something over another.

To me, consumer reviews serve two important functions.  First, they add a counterpoint to manufacturer boilerplate.   Obviously, whoever is selling the gadget thinks it slices the best bread and the advertisements often describe the most mundane crap with inordinately glowing hyperbole.  (Honestly, take a look at rice cookers someday. )  People who have actually bought the item can say “hey, yeah, it really is good quality and works as advertised!” or “it’s a cheap piece of junk that broke the first time I used it and made the baby Jesus cry.”  They get bonus points if they can note exactly why they gave the review they did, why it met or failed to meet their expectations.  Second, consumers very often care about different things than sellers think they do and they sometimes do impressive amounts of research into obscure, yet important details.  They learn the technical details behind the conversion of your favorite TV show to Blu-ray so you can have some idea before you shell out a hundred bucks for the boxed set whether you will traipse  happily down memory lane or weep with disappointment.   In the process of buying one waffle maker they compare all waffle makers and helpfully list all the pertinent details in their reviews in efficient bulleted lists.  They  peruse the fine print of TOCs and EULAs and alert us to issues with DRM or privacy.  They recount their sad and frustrated tales of customer service hell so you can know in advance how bad it might be if your shiny new toy comes with a teensy weensy flaw.   So the very best of reviewers both give a realistic evaluation of the product and/or go above and beyond the product’s official description to put more information in the buyer’s hands.

For all the millions of choices out there, when you are in the market for any one particular type of item what usually happens is that after you do the research, your choice narrows down to two.  You want a digital point-and-shoot?  Well after all the research you do, you will come down to … Canon and Nikon.  You want a portable music player?  You’ll end up with either iPod or…whatever it is that competes with the iPod.  Smart Phone?  iPhone or Droid.  Computer:  Apple or nearly any flavor of PC.  Hi Def TV?  Sony or Samsung.  You will find once you have narrowed down your choices that at the heart, they are both the same choice.  They do the same thing.  They have the same features.  They have the same drawbacks.  They cost the same.   Oh, sure, there are some differences but they tend to be quite minor since market forces encourage competitors to make sure their product does  exactly the same thing as the other guy’s product.  This, this is where the customer reviews fail, because this is where they become ridiculous.  Even though there are many brands out there, two rise to the top, two battle for supremacy, two are pretty equally matched, two are basically indistinguishable from each other but for  inconsequential cosmetic details, and two have absolutely rabid fan bases that scorn rational discourse on merits in favor of florid rhetoric impugning each others’ parentage.

Case in point:  I recently decided I need an e-reader.  I love the look and feel of real books but I’d like to both limit my paper use and have something more portable and less space-hogging when I travel.  E-readers have been out for a few years, they are comfortably in their reliable phase (both functionally and price-wise), and they’ve been adopted by enough people that they aren’t going away.   It might be time to get one.  The two big players in this field are Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  (I’m not considering an iPad because it is not an e-reader, it is a tablet with an e-reader included.  I’ve already declined to add an iPad to my life for a variety of reasons.)   There are other readers out there which people occasionally seem devoted to but they seem like also-rans in the great scheme of things.  So…Kindle and Nook it is.

I did what any smart shopper does these days.  I went to their respective web sites and read up on the products.   Although very informative they weren’t as helpful as I might have liked.   Oh sure, they have extensive product descriptions and features (millions of books!! Free 3G!!! Wireless!!  Free stuff!!) and all sorts of technical information including TOS and the like, but there was nothing that screamed to me “THIS IS THE ONE!”  I started reading the customer reviews and well…apparently Kindle people are Kindle people and Nook people are Nook people and never the twain shall meet (unless it is in their scorn for the iPad).

Let’s face it.  There are so few differences between the Kindle and the Nook that the choice between them comes down to a couple of things.  Do you want color?  If you do, then the Nook is for you.  Otherwise both have e-ink versions and they are almost exactly the same price.   Is portability of primary importance?  If it is, then the Kindle might be the better choice since it is substantially lighter than the Nook.    Do you hate touchpads?  Then it’s a Kindle.   Prefer them to keyboards?  Go with the Nook.   Kindle has a longer battery life but the Nook will store more books.    Unfortunately none of these things are a deal breaker for me for either reader.  And thus I found myself knee deep in the customer reviews…

“Kindle fans are like tween fangirls foaming at the mouth, which makes me distrust the device…”

I will be rethinking my purchases from Barnes & Nobel of any kind in the future as the customer service agent was a smart-aleck

Please Kindle fan boys stop with the twisting..I mean seriously Kindlebotts’ we are half way through 2010 and you are navigating via a joystick? Really?

You are SO wrong.Kindle will always be the best and always.”

“It might be important to note that B & N not only has severe financial problems but is also embroiled in the Alex lawsuit, the “Poison Pill” lawsuit, and potential legal issues with alleged patent infringement. I would be a little concerned about purchasing a device from a company facing life-threatening issues like these.

“Amazon sucks.

And so on.  It gets even worse if someone mentions the iPad.

Of course it is possible to find detailed and insightful reviews for both products but the problem is that there are so damn many.  Reviews tend to be sorted with the most recent first so if you are purchasing a product that is very popular or that has been on the market for awhile the conversation has likely already reached the point of mud-slinging.  If you go back to the beginning you will probably run into outdated reviews for products that have evolved substantially.  Reading through hundreds of reviews to find the rare gems that give you the information you want is not an option unless you have unlimited time and patience.

I just don’t get why people take this stuff so seriously.  To be honest, after all the research I did I came to the not-terribly-surprising conclusion that the two of them are essentially the same device, especially as far as reading experience goes.  This is pretty much the bottom line for an eReader.  Everything else is window-dressing.  Yet some of my fellow consumers write as if deciding on one versus the other somehow gives insight into your character or basic intelligence level.  People, please.    The next time you feel like entering a product review, do this:  read the ones that are already there.  If you have nothing additional to add, then just check the “Like” button or whatever the site has for indicating approval.  If you have a point to make that hasn’t already been made, then by all means write up a review.   But if your point is that people that pick A over B are lusers or that B is teh suq, then get over it and go do something more productive.   Because honestly?  You only make whatever product you support look bad.  If people that buy ShinyThing ™  are all apparent douches, why ever would I want one?

(I ended up with a color Nook.  After all the hair-pulling frustration of online product research, I finally just went down to Best Buy and looked at the Kindle and over to Barnes and Noble and looked at the Nook.  And once I had the color Nook in hand and saw what it does with magazines…I was sold.  So far so good!)


~ by gun street girl on January 28, 2011.

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