Sunday, July 30, 2006

Buying Online

The laptop quest exposes weaknesses in online vendors and suggests real-world retailers will be with us forever.

Manufacturer websites on my shortlist all have good spec sheets, but don't answer important questions:
- How hot does it get on your lap?
- How annoying is the fan and how often does it cut in?
- How bright is the screen?
- How quickly does it boot up?
- Are keyboard and trackpoint ergonomics good?
- What's the battery life like a) now, with screen on full brightness and b) after a year?
- Does it stop you viewing multiregion DVDs?

You look to online user reviews to answer these type questions - but few new products have them. And when they do, they're either obviously written by their product manager (Fantastic!), or a competitor (Terrible!), or by people enraged by a probably rare quality defect.

That's in part because if the product works, you don't use precious time telling the world.

But if there's a problem with the product, and you're either public spirited or vengeful, you may post - so where are these negative posts?
My experience with CNet & Amazon is that's because negative posts can be suppressed or delayed, probably for legal reasons.

So online reviews are great for books, but I wouldn't trust them for anything else.

That's why people continue to buy big-ticket items from real retailers.