Why I Don’t Do “Phone Reviews”

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Last Friday Howard asked me if I wanted to review the BlackBerry Passport. I declined. Why? I guess I was worried about the trackpad—what I mean is, the capacitive qwerty keypad that effectively does double-duty as a trackpad.

I’ll elaborate on that…

Years ago, when my brother was over at my apartment doing something on my Macintosh computer, he complained to me about the mouse. Apparently the cursor tracked too slowly across the screen for him. Cut to a few days ago when my girlfriend was doing something on my Linux computer, and complained that the mouse was too sensitive—in other words, the cursor tracked too fast.

If users can have such wildly different experiences with something as bog-standard as a desktop computer mouse, how on earth is anyone supposed to write objectively about something so intensely personal as a smartphone?

Here’s another example, XDA recognized developer Adam Outler’s video wrap-up of his experience with an iPhone 6 and iOS8:

Android users be like…

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And iPhone users be like…

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Honestly though, what did this self-proclaimed “Android Enthusiast” expect from his first experience with an entirely foreign smartphone OS?

This isn’t to say that the traditional smartphone review has no value; isn’t one of the basic functions of the human brain to quantify in some way the chaos that surrounds it? What I enjoy about Howard’s reviews is the comparisons to other devices that the prospective buyer might also be considering. And I think that other big tech sites are starting to become aware of the “subjectivity trap” in phone reviews. I can’t find a specific link to it, but I distinctly remember that earlier in the summer Android Central did a piece where each of the staff writers weighed in on a phone (the HTC M8? Samsung SGS5?) instead of assigning one of them to a traditional review. I really enjoyed that.

I personally don’t like reading long reviews, or writing them. When it comes to devices I’m particularly excited about, like the Moto G or the OnePlus One, I prefer to stretch things out and write shorter posts about particular aspects of the device. Of course I can’t resist the urge to chime in with my two cents about whether it’s worth buying or not. But does that constitute a review? And if it’s not, is it still worth reading?

And to bring it back to BlackBerry, I think it was pretty clear that I was out of my element with a piece I wrote about BB10 last November. As an Android user I feel like I can write with some authority about devices running that OS; in the same way, I’m so invested in Android that I don’t think I could make a Passport my primary device, even if only temporarily.

I sure would like to try one out for a couple of days, though…


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