“When can we expect to see the review of ___ (name of the device)? It has been a few weeks since it was released!”
“Can we see a comparison between ___ and ___ (names of devices)? We want to know which one to go for? You must have had them for a while!”
“You put a picture of ___ (name of the device) on your Insta account a week ago! When will we get to read about it?”
That’s a question that many a tech writer has had to encounter from their readers. And these questions become even more frequent when brands are in literally release spree mode – launching one device after another. Which is the case right now. Blame it on releases that piled up because of the lockdown caused by the pandemic or just brands trying to make the most of an open market, what cannot be denied is that the past few weeks have seen the sort of launch activity that one normally associates with the festival season in India. And often, not even then. Even a brand like OnePlus, which releases a relatively smaller number of devices has released six in the past couple of months (two phones, three televisions, one wireless headphone) and is set to release another phone and set of phones in the next ten days!
And of course, that, in turn, has led to an increase in the sort of queries at the beginning of the article. For when it comes to tech, the more the supply of new devices, the more the demand for their reviews and comparisons.
And I should add: the more the launches, the more the delays in their reviews appearing on sites and publications.
Reviews can take time
Some people might consider that a sign of inefficiency. After all, we ARE tech reviewers, and we are supposed to review gadgets and help consumers make up their minds. If there are more gadgets, surely we should figure out ways of being able to do so faster. Because consumers need information more than ever now.
If only it were that simple.
The fact is that: tech reviews generally take time. I will not lay down a benchmark for them, as different devices take different amounts of time, but suffice to say that even if you are testing as basic as a pair of Bluetooth headphones costing Rs 2,000, you will still have to tick off a number of factors: audio quality, battery (how long it lasts, how fast it charges), controls (are they easy, do you get used to them), software support, call handling (and on different devices too), build and construction (does the paint start peeling after a while), comfort levels (do they settle in or feel odd even afterward) and a whole lot besides. And then you have to write about it all, which, believe me, is not very easy!
Of course, senior reviewers can do reviews much faster, simply because they have so much more context. They know what to compare with, they have seen and heard more, and this saves them a lot of time. For instance, someone like a Nandagopal Rajan at the Indian Express can listen to a pair of headphones and simply work out which pair they are similar to, or maybe a Vishal Mathur at Network 18 can rattle off the names of four phones a newly launched phone would have to compete with. But younger writers inevitably have to research the same and this adds time to their reviews.
One of my editors used to say: “If a young writer submits a long story very quickly, reject it immediately.” I would not go to THAT extreme, but the fact is that the younger a team is (and most teams have more young people than veterans), the more time it takes to churn out copy that is not news-oriented. Of course, there are some writers who are incredibly gifted and can review multiple devices in a day, but most of us – young as well as slightly older – are more mortal and take more time.
So, even something as basic as a low-end Bluetooth headphone can take anything from five days to a week. Of course, as I said, this time is not fixed – a very basic upgrade to an existing device could be done in a day or two (and we have some people of rare gift and ability who can review devices in hours). But by and large, if a device or gadget is completely new and not a marginal upgrade, you are going to take some time reviewing it.
Frequent launches = Frequent review delays
What complicates matters is that even as one is writing a review of a device, another one is released. Of course, if there are a large number of reviewers, the new device is simply passed on to a different reviewer. But in general, reviewer numbers in most publications and websites are limited, so what happens is that the person who is already doing a review, is given another device to review. And another. And another. Slowly a traffic jam sort of builds up.
And there is another complication. Sometimes, a device in which a very large number of people are interested (well, unfortunately, not all devices get the same level of public interest) is released just as a reviewer is working on another device. The reviewer is then often asked to set the device aside and review the more high-profile one first. This “drop what you are reviewing and review this instead” phenomenon also occurs when a brand gives a device for review for a very limited period of time. And well, quite often by the time the reviewer has a chance to get back to the device they were originally reviewing, well, another device has been launched. Sometimes, even editorial decisions are taken on the grounds of “we can do the older device later, can we try and get the newer device in as there is the hype around it right now?”
Cue all the questions at the beginning of this story.
No, I am not making excuses for reviews being delayed. I am just narrating the reason why sometimes some reviews seem to take a lot of time getting published, some happen more quickly, and some devices even seem to disappear right out of sight.
So should brands not launch devices? Duh!
What is the solution? Well, in a perfect world for tech writers, all brands would play nice and not release products when others are being reviewed. But then, brands release products for consumers and not reviewers. And they often have their own release cycles. All of which leaves us with thoroughly messed up review schedules. As well as all those reader queries about when a review or a comparison would be coming up.
Of course, there is another solution: to rush through reviews and comparisons. To not be as thorough as one usually is, and skip some factors. This unfortunately is a very damaging path to take, as it could lead to the reader either not getting enough information, or worse, being misinformed. Yes, there are occasions when one does work a little faster than usual (and as I mentioned earlier, some of us are so gifted as to be able to review a high-end notebook or phone or camera in a day or two), but to do so while deliberately ignoring or overlooking information comes close to betraying the trust of the reader.
The principle in the best publications and sites is similar to that of a very famous tech company – better ship a good product late, than ship a bad one on time. Sometimes the brands are patient too and allow us to keep units until we have finished our reviews and on some other times, they are unable to do so, in which case, a device gets missed. I would like to think the fault is neither the brand’s nor the reviewer’s, but just of circumstances in general.
These are hectic times…so patience counts more
In an ideal world, reviews would be available for every product a consumer needs information on. And that is the ideal we will be working towards. Always. And even when we achieve it, we will try to keep it going. But there are times when circumstances simply make it very difficult for us to stick to schedules. Times when one has to choose between doing a lot slightly later or covering a little fast. We would like to think that we make the former choice more often than not.
Finally, here’s my answer to all those readers kind enough to be concerned about the time reviews are taking on our site (and perhaps those on other sites too – I think most of us have the same problems):
“These are hectic times. And we are not even talking of the pandemic here. But of the array of tech launches lined up. An array that is disrupting schedules. An array that is preventing us from being as fast as we would like to be. We will try to do our best. It might take time, but we will try to make sure that nothing gets left out. As far as possible. It might take time, but it will be done.
So if possible, be a little patient, and be assured we are doing our best. You see, all good things take time. Including good tech reviews. And we would like to write them.