The Minimum Degree of Acceptance

Ok, so I’m out with that foot before the mouth thing again. Something about reading about why those who review devices start out a review by validating why it gets such a rating tends to do that kind of thing to me. So, let’s make a line of sorts. If I’m going to be so harsh on mobile media, what then could be considered some minimum specifications, features, etc. that a mobile should have before it could even be considered nearly viable for most people?

First: The battery has to last 24hrs under normal working conditions
Seriously. If you have a mobile device and have to do some gymnastics in order to make it work a full working day (10hrs = 8hrs of work and 2hrs of commute), then its not even going to enter any other categories of assessment. There’s no excuse in this day and age that mobiles with advanced screens, processors with multi-step/multi-core architectures, and semi-advanced approaches to radio design shouldn’t last that long. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that a smartphone that cannot skillfully learn and adjust to the power usages of the owner within 1-2 weeks isn’t a smartphone at all, but guilty of false advertising and misplaced development priorities.

Its simple. Can you use it all day, then go to sleep, and wake up and still be able to get email and/or make a 5min call? If not. Then the battery performance isn’t sufficient and no other features matter.

So yes, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (all of its iterations), aren’t good enough to review for me (for others, well).

Second: The screen has to be clearly readable by multiple age groups
Too many of those who review mobile devices have eye appendages (contacts, glasses, Lasik) or haven’t realized that artifacts of age have diminished what was probably once ideal visual acuity. This seems to become subjective, but like the Mosquito ringtone, its simple – does someone with not-yet-finished maturing eyes see it clear, does a suite of people representing the device’s target audience, and can any persons with visual impairments describe what works/doesn’t work. Yes, more work for the reviewer, but the next time we have a debate about the color of pixels, let’s actually get a swath of perspectives before we crown something pixel-eye perfect.

A mobile’s screen that cannot be read outdoors isn’t positive in any respect. Have some backone, use it in the sun. And if you happen to be one of those reviewers who doesn’t get sun… defer comments about the outside brilliance until you get in the sun. Seriously, saying nothing is better than making florescent-hued comments here.

There’s no reason that an opinon of a device’s screen should be so spread out unless its true we all see differently.

Third: Can you use the device without adding any of your preferred applications
A reviewer should be able to give the assessment of the device with their content (contacts, calendar, etc.) but (first) without needing extra applications. Customization is important, but default experiences count as well. If the reviewer cannot, then they really should admit to this bias when they get to those areas of the review, and have some disclaimer about what they didn’t like about the default that made it necessary to judge the device against this appended impression.

Fourth: Little imperfections mean greater, later implications
Anytime a review has a sentence with a phrasing like, "there’s still some lag in scrolling but…" then the device isn’t finsihed. The reviewer would do their audience right by stopping the review there and coming back to it when the software is finished. Shipping half-finsihed core components (landscape view in some apps, error messages in connected apps, lags, noticable memory leaks, etc.) shouldn’t be tolerated by reviewers. Its not tolerated by end-consumers, and they actively send devices back when these items come up. Do your audiences and the manufacturer a favor, just stop the review and send it back. Allowing half-finished, medocre quality software or experiences speaks to the lack of quality control not just of the companies, carriers, but also the reviewing team to not be upfront towards those issues.

So, if the halo device for Google’s latest iteration of its Android operating system lags, it it really finished and worth an opinion?

Fifth: Are the marketed features actually enhancements to the whole of mobile, or a specific price/market point, or a renaming of something that was already solved/innovated in a previous model
If your reviewer cannot or does not point to the history of how a feature was implemented, cances are they don’t know enough about mobile to be an authority on that device they are reviewing. Go to another website where their breadth of knowledge and use of mobile is seen over platforms and time, not simply the noise they generate. If they can speak to the foundation of a feature, can they contextualize the implemtation in the new device and why it makes sense now where it might not have before?

For example, some Samsung Android/Bada devices utilize a mobile web sever with which to host their Kies phone management software. The mobile web server and a similar phone management system though first appeared on Nokia devices, and mature phone management applications have been available for feature phones for over a decade. With that history, why is Samsung special for what they do? Or, is it not special but an admission of something else?

Look, I know from expereince that reviewing mobile devices is hard. Timelines are the reason why so many reviews sound the same. But, there’s also little accountability when it comes to reviews. If you want a quality review, these kinds of things will stick out. Where its simply a restating of the press release’s feature sheet, you need to simply go somewhere else. Where you can see clearly that they didn’t use the device (look for stories on how that feature was applied to solve a normal-world issue), just move on.

There could be more items here: camera quality, audio/speaker quality, language support, actual relevance of GPS/LBS features to intended audience, sustainability with/without developers. Every mobile sounds very similar when we don’t see these points as necessary, and judge them accordingly. When we skip or glaze over these items, we basically shout about the shiny, and end up polluting marketing channels with much noise.

I don’t mean to take money out of the hands of many sites that have some sense of integrity, but I do mean to raise the bar. Its easy to just give a vote of confidence to a product because its shiny. Its harder to be honest about its flaws, while acclaiming what did get done well.

I know for a fact that this is why I don’t get devices to review. You don’t get asked for impressions when you have a standard that project managers don’t want to even be held to.