Reviewing Products

I have been reviewing some software (among other items) lately and they are starting to become rather popular, that is why I thought it important to take time and share with you how I review things. In other words, what it takes to get a positive review from me.

The most important thing is that I am not looking for things that I review to reinvent the wheel, I am just looking at how well they do what they are made for doing.

Usability

The first thing that I look at is how usable the item is, I want to know if I can figure it out without much work or if I find myself scratching my head. I want and like things that are straight forward, I shouldn’t be required to read a book or take a class in order to figure out how to use your product, it should be intuitive.

An example of a well known product that is not intuitive to use is Microsoft Excel, an excellent program that is only excellent once you know how to use it. Think about that for a second, if you had never seen a spreadsheet program before and were to open Excel, would you know what to do with it? Surely you wouldn’t know the functions and calculations that you can type in, let alone be able to find the buttons that help you. Excel is not very straight forward.

Staying Out of the Way

I next look at how well the product stays out of my way. If I am reviewing a bag or case, do I find myself constantly fiddling with the straps or nick nacks on it? If I am reviewing software do I find myself constantly in the preferences, or toolbars adjusting things? The best products are those that let you do your work and stay out of your way.

Look at TextEdit (Mac) or Notepad (Windows) these two are very good at staying out of the users way, they allow you to type stuff, and they don’t stop you by trying to guess what you want to do (looking at you Word, thanks for that great auto list that I never wanted).

Is it Logical

By that I mean does the way the product works make sense – which is different from whether or not it is straight forward. Perhaps a better way to explain this is by saying: when you do something, does the product react in the way that you expect.

For example if you hit return in Tweetie, does it send the tweet or return to a new paragraph – the fact that it returns a new paragraph is not logical at first, but it is highly useable. If Tweetie sent the tweet when you hit return, there would surely be a lot of mistakenly sent tweets, therefore it is rather logical for a Twitter app to do this, but it may not be what the user is expecting.

Looks and Feel

This is 50% of the grade if you will whenever I evaluate something – does it look and feel good. People don’t just buy Macs because they look good, they feel good too. ‘Feel’ is not just about the physical touch of the object (though that is part of it) it is also about all of the above criterion that I went through.

Feel is the single most important thing about any product. Imagine if your iPhone was very rough, like holding a split faced brick – yuck. If the iPhone felt like that no one would buy it. Imagine if all software looked like Windows 95 applications – yuck. Feel is so very important.

The Small Things

If you look through my reviews I rarely touch on every feature, I often leave out the big features. I left out talking about versioning with the Simplenote update, not because it isn’t important, but because it isn’t a reason to use the app. Rarely will you find me nitpicking on pricing, if it is a good product then the money aspect really doesn’t matter to me (not that I am rich, I have just decided that I want good products and I can and will save up to buy them).

Often times I will mention a very small thing on a product, the feel of a switch that I rarely would use, the placement of a button in a piece of software and that small thing will sway my opinion – and it should. For me the small things are what can make or break a product. I recently bought a new case for my iPad, a Hard Graft sleeve, a beautiful sleeve that I truly love. There is one thing about this sleeve that is so small, yet just makes me smile every time I see it, that one thing is the little red and white striped fabric stitched along the bottom of the leather pocket, great detail.

My Reviews

Next time you read a review that I write, know that the above is where I am coming from.

Originally posted for members on: August 26, 2010
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