The Failed Promise of ‘The Verge’

When Engadget was purchased by Aol. I was concerned 1 — then all the best writers at Engadget jumped ship (which may or may not be related to inner workings at Engadget — either way it doesn’t matter for these purposes) and started doing their own thing over at This is my Next. It was a noble effort and a ballsy move — it’s everything that so many of us nerds love to see — fight the man.

Then Topolsky and crew launched their next big thing: The Verge. It’s what they envisioned tech reporting to be when they left Engadget, but unfortunately for them it sucks.

The design — though I am not a fan — is a notch above just about every other large tech site on the web. The writers for the site are good and seem smart. 2

The ads are present and at times over-run the site, but I have yet to be offended or sufficiently annoyed by them.

The photography and videography puts to shame even larger sites like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The amount of posts is astonishing. The scoops, breaking news, features, interviews, product reviews are there.

What’s missing is compelling content.

There’s a lack of opinion and a lack of wow. I have yet to read something on The Verge that left me thinking:

  • Oh wow, great point.
  • I hadn’t thought of that.
  • Woah.
  • I must quote this.
  • That’s so far off base, but person X made a great argument.

There is just a lot of vanilla tech reporting going on — the kind that I expect to see on CNET. Which is a shame because by all accounts the writers for the site are smart — the type that should get it, but refuse to spell it out for readers.

In fact the most compelling and interesting writing in The Verge are the posts that its senior editors post in the “forum” in response to criticism. That shouldn’t be the case, yet they are the only posts I look forward to reading on the site.

Further proof: here are two of the latest reviews on the site that illustrate a general lack of opinion:

David Pierce’s Sphero Review

David Pierce’s Sphero review might be the epitome of what I am talking about. He makes statements about how it’s “simple” to recalibrate the device every time you go to use it — to only later half-criticize the fact that you must recalibrate the device every time.

You have to calibrate the Sphero every time you turn it on. It’s a simple process […]

Then later:

[…]but it means you spend a lot of time picking the ball up and shaking it back on and re-calibrating.

So it’s a simple process, just one that you spend a lot of time doing and the you have to do often. I would guess this is a much bigger annoyance that Pierce is making it out to be — but I will never know because he barely covered it in his review.

He gives the gadget a 5/10 rating — could you be any less opinionated than that?

Maybe so, because here are his closing two sentences:

However, it needs a much broader swath of uses before I can recommend spending $129.99 on it.

Sounds like he doesn’t recommend it.

Though honestly, can you really put a price on messing with your cat without even getting off the couch?

Wait so it is worth it?

So which is it: not worth it, or totally worth it? I’m confused.

Joshua Topolsky’s Verizon Galaxy Nexus Review

Joshua Topolsky’s Verizon Galaxy Nexus review — a follow-up review on the device to talk about a 4G LTE version — is right with the rest of the site.

The first mistake that Topolsky makes is with battery life. He states:

Even though the battery life takes a clear hit, I don’t think it’s necessarily a dealbreaker on this phone. Obviously it can’t hold a candle to non-4G devices, but a swappable battery (or extended options) and an option to switch off 4G can help ease the pain.

That’s just stupid, I’m sorry, but it really is a stupid statement. It’s like saying: “This car is really fast, but it only gets 2MPG when in fast mode. That’s not a problem at all, but best to just turn off fast mode.” Or break it down like this, Topolsky first states: Battery life suffers. One would think that would be a black mark, but Topolsky quickly states that it is not. Then he talks about how it isn’t nearly as good in the battery life department as other non-4G device. Then offers two ways (both at a detriment to usability of the device) that a user can take to avoid this battery ‘issue’.

Topolsky states that he is specifically reviewing the 4G LTE version of the phone and he glosses over the fact that you take a “clear hit” to battery life when using this feature — the very feature he is reviewing.

I can’t be the only one that sees the stupidity here.

He then goes on to tout the speed of the device over 4G — yeah the same 4G he just said you may want to turn off to mitigate battery drain.

I fully understand what he is saying: the 4G is fast, but it drains your battery fast. So best to turn it off if/when you don’t need it, but I can’t be the only one that thinks that makes for a device that is a bit more of a pain in the ass to use than this review would lead one to believe. Yet that is never stated when it should be stated explicitly.

Ok, let’s just get down to Topolsky’s verdict:

Ultimately, you have to make the decision of what you want out of a phone, and there are excellent choices on the market right now. Personally? Verizon just got themselves a new customer.

I take that and the 8.7/10 rating as a recommendation of this device — so I have to ask why not come flat out and say that you recommend people buy this device? Why make it a gray area of interpretation: “I like it, but who knows if you will.”

I hate that.

Further, what are the other “excellent choices” that I should consider instead of this phone? How is this phone better than those in your opinion? Topolsky answers the who, what, when, where — just not the how and why and those are the only two I can’t read on the manufactures website.

One last thing: there are three bullet points listed as “good” and three “bad” for this review, which is fine, but there is no weight given to them.

Is having a “Fantastic 720p display” really of equal weight to “Camera quality can be spotty”? I would guess that most people are going to be happier with a great camera than with a “fantastic” display — a display mind you that most say is not as nice as the iPhone 4/4S. 3 Is battery life (also list as “bad”) really the same weight as well? I can’t believe that most consumers would think these things are equal — so why are they listed as equal?

Lackluster

As I said above I was pretty excited about The Verge and what the crew behind it was trying to do. I think they created a great independent site that gets excellent access to companies they cover. I think that they created a great brand and image.

But I think the site’s content is pretty lackluster.

Push aside the press release re-writes that contain little to no commentary — this is par for the course (unfortunately) — and you are left with tech specs.

When the most interesting thing you write on your site — from a reader’s perspective that reads 300+ tech sites in his RSS reader — is a rebuttal to another site, well I think you have big problems.

MG Siegler summed up The Verge (and most tech sites for that matter) pretty well — whether he intended to or not I don’t know — when he said:

I don’t know about you, but when I read my favorite technology writers, I want an opinion. Is the iPhone 4S the best smartphone, or is it the Galaxy Nexus? I need to buy one, I can’t buy both. Topolsky never gives us that. Instead, he pussyfoots around it. One is great at some things, the other is great at others. Barf.

The problem is endemic of the industry as a whole. You can say all you want about my opinions — whether I am right or wrong — what you can’t say is that I don’t have one. I will take you disagreeing with me all day long over being a bland yes man.

This is a rather long winded way of saying exactly what MG Siegler said above: take a stance.

Bonus

For the record, here are some hard and fast recommendations.

  • Buy the iPhone 4S and nothing else.
  • Unless you are a nerd buy a 13” MacBook Air.
  • The only tablet to get is an iPad, but you probably don’t need one.
  • Apple makes the best displays and anything else you buy will look like crap in comparison.
  • Pepsi is better than Coke.
  • Glenlivet 18yr is the best Scotch.
  • Tom Bihn makes exceptional bags.
  • Don’t bother reading The Verge.

UPDATED (on Dec 20, 2011): I incorrectly stated that it was the Aol. buyout that spurred this, when in fact I believe it was the Huffington merger and her subsequent elevation to be in charge of Engadget that did so. I regret this error.. It appears I was still wrong, as Joseph Caiati on Twitter pointed out it was likely the AOL Way memo that did it. I really regret being wrong twice. Hey guess what? I am still wrong about the reason according to Nilay Patel:

I’ve asked him to share the real reason, no response yet. I, yet again, regret this error. At this point it really doesn’t matter why they left Engadget, or even if they did. Doesn’t change my main complaints about The Verge itself.

Secondly I stated that most think the iPhone 4/4S screen is better than the Galaxy Nexus. Here is the article I should have linked that too.

Additionally people have told me that The Glenlivet 21yr is much better, however I cannot speak to this as I have yet to try it.

  1. Updated at the bottom.
  2. More on this in a bit.
  3. See update about this at the bottom of the post.
Originally posted for members on: December 19, 2011
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