SO WHADDAYA THINK?

NOTE: Since we first penned the article on Retrevo (below), a web site dedicated to product reviews, we found they did not include some major sources. This has led us to the confirmed opinion that it is still best to use Google to search on any topic, including finding reviews for products.

Retrevo.com is a site with tons of reviews on high-tech consumer products.Retrevo.com There’s interesting stuff here.

Product reviews are probably the main reason that readers look at what a tech columnist has to say, especially in this heavy buying season. (The other reason is that we’re so good-looking.) The problem with looking at a lot of reviews is trying to filter the results. The Retrevo site filters them for you.

A bot goes out and finds all the reviews from PC Magazine, Amazon, CNET, Epinions and other sites, consumer and expert, and funnels them into a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” product picture. From there, you can drill down and get more details.

You can confine the searches. Do you want to look at only the low end of the range? Digital cameras start at $14 and snap one- or two-megapixel photos. Or would you rather find out what’s available on the high end?

On the Web site the main screen shows pictures of 14 categories of gadgets. Click on one and you’re off and running. On the next screen, select your preferences. Then you get a film strip along the bottom showing photos of the products in that category. Off to the left you get a chart showing the trade-off between features and price.

Clicking on links to the reviews is a good education in how to buy a product. Digital cameras, for example, are often advertised, and sold, on the basis of how many megapixels are in each picture. But higher megapixel counts do not always produce better pictures, and you often get better pictures from cameras with lower counts. Other factors, such as the lens, quality of the sensor chips and the internal software, count heavily but are not easy to quantify or advertise.

Printers are another example. Fast printers get good reviews. In the real world, however, the difference between a printer that turns out 15 pages a minute and one that turns out 12 pages per minute is insignificant. How much time is saved? And what were you going to do with it? Companies that make laser printers have for many years designed them so the hot drum that solidifies the powdered ink is set to heat up quickly, even though this shortens its life. This is done so that reviewers get fast printing — more pages per minute — when they first turn it on, resulting in higher marks in the review. (What, you think those printer companies are stupid? They know how to game the system.)

That’s where the user reviews come in. The old Packard Motor Car Co. used to rely heavily on this approach in its advertising slogan: “Ask the man who owns one.”

Amazon.com has a lot of user reviews, but they may not mention all the products you want to look at. The advantage of the Retrevo.com site is the sheer breadth of the reviews. It has pulled together reviews on 455 digital cameras, for example. Who could possibly review that many cameras? Not one person, certainly.

Products are listed by type and price. It often turns out that a lower-priced product is the same one that was high priced last year, and so the steady erosion of time has worked in your favor. In any event, it’s a quick way to let your fingers do the walking for holiday presents.

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