The Value of the Long Range Gadget Review

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The way the gadget review system works nowadays, tech experts get their hands on a device as soon as possible and churn out a review in time for its release, giving consumers a pretty narrow view of the latest thing if they actually need it. Sure, we trust these tech experts with their quick turnarounds because they play with these things all day long. They can get a feel for the object and do some quick comparisons that the average consumer (who only owns so many phones, computers, and tablets) cannot. But, as useful that is for someone looking to buy the newest thing, these experiences don't mimic actual user habits. That's where the long range review comes in, courtesy of Animal New York's Joel Johnson. After five years of owning an iPhone, Johnson gives his hands-on review. Yes, we know, the post is a cheeky take on reviews. But from a practical perspective, spending longer than one week with a product enables a critic come up with more useful consumer information, which is also what makes a site like The Wirecutter, which has ill-timed in depth product reviews, so useful for the average shopper.

Though product reviews often talk all about the latest specs, during every day use, those things don't much matter to a normal person. For example, a phone might have a nice screen, but if it's too expensive or doesn't get service, that won't matter. So, we decided to break this down by metrics that matter: Value, utility and functionality. As you'll see, for these, our long term reviewer gives a more useful perspective.

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An iPhone is an expensive toy. But, using the good old cost-per-use metric, Johnson reasons that even at $800 its actually a good buy:

Although buying a new smartphone each year can be costly–anywhere from $500 to $800, depending on how much storage I choose–I find that I’m using my iPhone nearly every day, sometimes for many hours at a time! Although it’s difficult to quantify the iPhone’s worth exactly, I think that paying less than a cup of coffee a day to have this device in my pocket is a pretty good deal.

It's hard to predict how much use something will get in real life, when using it for just one week before spitting out a review. "That’s a lot of money," wrote The New York Times' David Pogue in 2007 when the first ever iPhone came out. He also noted all the things that came with it, but he couldn't make a value call in the same way Johnson can five years later. Or, just last week when Apple announced the latest MacBook Pros, the techies pointed out the high price. But none could say if it was worth it longterm, based on usage and productivity enhancement like someone who has used it for more than a few days.


Again, we get real-time use from Johnson in ways we wouldn't see from someone who just tested the phone hastily:

When I first bought my iPhone the signal wasn’t always very reliable. After five years, the data speeds–how fast the information flies through the air from the internet to my phone–is quite a bit better, although sometimes I still can’t get a clear signal in crowds, big buildings, or in the deep wilderness. And sometimes my iPhone drops phone calls right in the middle of a conversation! That can be annoying. Fortunately, I haven’t been making nearly as many phone calls as I did five years ago due to the large number of ways I can use the internet to talk to my friends and family, both using voice chat and text messages.

Our short-game reviewers can look at how service has performed before, but it's hard to get this many specific situations from a one week look. Here we get actual data.


This relates back to that value thing. Does this gadget do something? Johnson says 'yes':

If you like to visit web pages, check on the weather, get the latest sports scores, listen to music, download podcasts, watch movies, play video games, use a GPS unit to navigate city streets, manage all your passwords, take photographs, share memories with friends, keep a calendar, take notes, read books or magazines, share your “tweets” on Twitter with your “tweeps”, get recommendations on restaurants, let your friends know where you are in a city, keep a todo list, make animated GIFs ... you might consider buying an iPhone.

Conclusion: The quick turnaround review has its benefits, of course. Living in this hyper-speed, need-it-right now culture, the quick review provides a nice glance at a new toy. But, for more established gadgetry -- like an iPhone or a Macbook -- looking at how these things last longterm might persuade an interested buyer one way or another. Take all of those dumbphone holdouts, for example. The techies oggling at the latest specs won't pique their curiosity. Yet, a longterm look at how a gadget has changed ones life might.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.