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This chapter is from the book

Performing the Review

So, how do we evaluate? We can’t speak for all bloggers, but we’ll give you an idea of the process we personally use for reviews. We start with app reviews. A discussion of hardware reviews follows in the next section. If you’re coming to this book with a different kind of product, make sure to read both sections because they contain hints as to how reviews take place on real-world blogs.

Our evaluation begins by looking at the description of the app on the App Store. Has the developer provided a concise description of what the app does? Does the pitch include screenshots or a video that shows off details of the user interface in action? All these items make a good—or bad—first impression on us.

We install the app. Do we run into any difficulties installing the app? Apps should load quickly, launch perfectly the first time, and provide a fast and simple setup. We note when the app crashes the first time launched, or if we can’t get the app configured in a few minutes.

Next, we use the app in the manner in which it is intended. If it’s a game, we’ll see if it grabs our attention and holds it for more than just a few minutes. Steve was sent an “Angry Birds” clone to review that looked pretty darned good at first glance. After a few minutes of play, he found that the app would occasionally skip levels for no known reason, and he quickly reached a level that he could not win. Frustration set in, and he soon stopped using the app. It didn’t get a glowing review.

We look at when the app was last updated. If it’s been several months to over a year since an update was issued, we question whether the developer is devoted and committed to utilizing user feedback to make improvements or provide stability in an ever-changing operating system ecosystem. Would you enjoy eating stale bread?

When the app is complex and/or expensive (over $4.99 U.S.), we check if it offers a free or “lite” version. Many users want to take apps for test drives before making long-term commitments.

We look to see how the app fits within a developer’s related offerings, not just as a standalone item. Are all the good bits of the app hidden behind in-app upgrade pay walls? Is the app covered in advertisements or cross promotion? Those are usually hints that developers are looking at users as cash cows, not valued customers.

Then, there’s data entry. How well does the app safeguard your data? Entering data demands a huge investment of time; an app needs to be reliable and offer data backups, exports, and imports, perhaps via iCloud or Dropbox. Does it do that?

Basically, we look at the app holistically, as if we were the target users testing it out in the most common conditions we can manage. We run it through its paces and try to use it in as near real-life conditions as possible.

What About Accessories and Other Hardware?

We approach hardware reviews with the same steps as we do software, but we try out each product out using as many real-world conditions as possible. We bring the item into the field and use it as the developer recommended. We feel it, manipulate it, and try to give it a full workout in the ways we think it might encounter during normal use. If you say that an iPad case is completely waterproof, we’re going to test that claim, even if it means that we’re risking ruining our expensive hardware for a review.

We’re looking to see if the hardware is well made. We check to see if it’s easy to break. Most importantly, we try to decide if the item does what it promises in the marketing text. Does it fulfill the basic utility promised by the vendor?

Many items that sound like great ideas on the website when you’re clicking Purchase don’t work as well in real use. We pay attention to battery life, connectors, durability, and convenience. If a battery booster weighs 5 pounds, you’re not likely to carry it around in your pocket with your phone.

The endpoint of hardware reviews is to provide an evaluation of whether the product is solid and offers good value.

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