It’s challenging to find credible reviews for gadgets like TVs, laptops, printers, headsets, office chairs, etc. It’s hard to know what a site’s agenda is, or exactly how they’ve tested and compared. Are they paid by manufacturers to promote their gadgets? Do the reviewers have the expertise to compare the products thoughtfully?
Consumer Reports Online reviews all sorts of consumer products, taking pains to remove the influence of manufacturers (for example, they anonymously buy cars with their own money for full reviews, though they do sometimes accept loaner cars for previews and test drives). They have their own biases, but at least they try to disclose them. And they have perhaps the largest collection of member-provided reliability data collected over many decades. This data has its own limitations (which we’ll cover in another post) but it’s an extensive dataset gathered over a long period to facilitate comparisons. Very helpful.
The Wirecutter and The Sweethome offer credible, thoughtful reviews of select products and services. The Wirecutter focuses on productivity and entertainment gadgets ranging from smartphones to laptops to work desks to electric cars. Their sister site, The Sweethome, is dedicated to home goods like vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, and mattresses. We’ve used their reviews to inform major purchases, and they’ve been very helpful. The best part is their transparency; they use a standard review format explaining why you should listen to the writer, who else reviews that category, how they narrowed the field to the products or services they actually test, and then exactly how they tested them (including how many people they used and how many hours they spent in the process.) They’re also not shy about revisiting their recommendations based on issues discovered later by their staff or readers.
So how do they make money? Referrals. When you click through their link to buy a product they recommend, they get a little commission from the seller. It’s the usual affiliate arrangement you see with Amazon and others, and they are very up-front about it.
This could be concerning if the editorial staff were to start entering shady deals to recommend substandard products in exchange for larger commissions from the sellers, but the staff today is thoughtful and conscientious, and appears to genuinely choose the best option and then point you to purchase options through their linking / commission arrangement. This doesn’t mean you can’t find a better price elsewhere, but they appear to always point to reputable sellers, which removes a little more uncertainty from the purchase process. You can read about how they work here.
Given the value of their advice (and the effort they appear to put into their reviews) we wish they had a “tip jar,” to make sure they’re around for a long time.