Posted on February 3, 2016 by Ben Taylor
Perhaps it’s happened to you. You’re about to buy a new phone, tablet, laptop or home appliance. You already read up on the specs and features. You checked with a friend, just to be safe.
And then you saw the expert reviews.
The professional geeks couldn’t stand the product, citing low battery life, poor workmanship or bad sound quality. They broke down the product’s flaws in a series of performance charts and disappointed bullet points, with a final recommendation to not “waste your money.” So much for your buddy’s recommendation. After all, the experts know best.
Every once in awhile, however, the experts don’t know best — at least when it comes to how customers will react to the product.
SpecOut scoured its database of gadgets, gizmos and consumer appliances to find specific products where experts and users disagreed. For a product to be considered for the list, it had to have at least three expert reviews and 50 SpecOut user reviews. After normalizing all the scores on a 100-point scale, the team found 16 instances where the expert and user consensus varied significantly — 11 products with stellar user reviews next to lukewarm expert scores, and five examples of the reverse.
Note that experts and users tend to agree the vast majority of the time, so these examples should be considered outliers, not common occurrences. Let’s break down the 16 products, with informed speculation as to how experts and users came to disagree.
Case #1: Users Loved It, Experts Didn’t
All About the Price
If there’s one thing that wins over users, it’s a low price. Both the Amazon Fire Tablet (just $50) and the Motorola Moto G (a modest, mid-range smartphone) featured price tags well below their more popular competitors, and each garnered consistently high reviews from users.
Not so for the experts. While the professionals acknowledged each product’s affordability, they dinged both for uninspiring performance and inferior spec sheets. Next to the tablets and smartphones from Apple and Samsung, the two products were clearly inferior.
But most users didn’t care. Said one user: “Technically, it’s not a powerhouse but for the price it’s the nicest little tablet you can get your hands on.”
All About the Brand?
Experts consistently critique Beats by Dre for two issues: the headphones tend to be too bass-heavy and too expensive. “Overpriced,” PC Mag said in its PowerBeats 2 review. “Audio balance is completely shifted to the bass realm.”
Most users don’t seem to mind — or even notice. User reviews for Beats products tend to be short and simple, with frequent references to the brand name and overall sound, but little commentary on treble, bass or sound clarity.
It’s possible that experts are looking too hard for issues to critique, but it could be the users simply like the brand, regardless of the overall sound quality. The brand’s world-famous marketing prowess likely factors in here.
For Experts, More Can Be Less
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 (2013)
- Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Wi-Fi (2013)
- Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Windows 10” (2015)
- Motorola DROID MAXX (2013)
Experts penalized each of the above products for including mediocre bonus features or peripherals. “Weak magnets make the connection between tablet and keyboard dock a tenuous one,” CNET wrote of the Yoga Tablet 2’s add-on keyboard. “Some features like Smart Stay and Watch On’s search don’t work as well as intended,” the site said about the Galaxy Tab 3’s additional features. The “unnecessary capacitive buttons waste space,” Wired said regarding the Motorola DROID MAXX’s extra, distinctive buttons.
While users occasionally voiced similar qualms — an otherwise enthusiastic Yoga Tablet 2 user called the keyboard “flimsy” and “not very comfortable” — most were more than happy with the core functionality in each product. The Yoga Tablet 2, as a tablet, worked great, according to users. Most praised the Galaxy Tab 3’s performance and the DROID MAXX’s battery life. Many users gave the above products five stars despite their small critiques. Conversely, the experts cited these problems as justifications for their lower scores.
Just Get the Job Done
- Roku 1 (2013)
- GE GTWN4250DWS Washing Machine (2012)
- Whirlpool WTW4800BQ Washing Machine (2013)
Users consistently praised all three products for doing their jobs. “If you are fed up with cable and want to view Netflix, Youtube, etc … I highly recommend this,” said one user of the Roku 1. “A dependable washing machine,” said another user about the Whirlpool appliance.
Meanwhile, experts were far more likely to focus on each product’s weaknesses. JD Power docked both washing machines in several categories, including “performance” and “styling and appearance.” Meanwhile, CNET concluded that “there aren’t many reasons to choose [the Roku 1] over the new Streaming Stick or step-up Roku boxes.”
While the experts were careful to defend each criticism, most users didn’t appear to know what they were missing. Instead, they were simply happy the products played shows or washed clothes, respectively.
Case #2: Experts Loved It, Users Didn’t
For Users, Reliability Over Top-Tier Performance
- Samsung WA422PRHDWR Washing Machine (2012)
- Samsung WA45H70000AW Washing Machine (2014)
- Sharp Aquos 4K LC-55UB30U TV (2015)
In contrast to the GE and Whirlpool washers above, user and expert opinion was flipped for two Samsung washers. The experts praised the above appliances for their performance, but many users felt the washers didn’t use enough water. “Washer only fills to cover about half the clothes,” said one user. “How can you wash clothes when the machine doesn’t put in enough water to even get wet!” said another.
Meanwhile, experts offered guarded praised for Sharp’s Aquos 4K TV. The TV series “may be lacking in design, but they more than make up for it in performance and affordability,” PC Mag said. But many users encountered more fundamental issues. “After two years […] the picture flickers,” one user said. It had “faulty software,” another said.
And then there was the remote. “The remote was small and cheap feeling,” one user said. “Comes with a flimsy remote,” a second said. “Remote is poor and I can’t adjust settings,” yet another said of the device.
Innovation Doesn’t Make Up For Quality
For a small number of product categories, experts seem more willing to forgive flaws and reward innovation — a marked contrast from their tendency to penalize for poor bonus features in established product categories.
For the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 (wireless headphones) and the Misfit Wearables Shine (a fitness tracker with an emphasis on style), experts acknowledged shortcomings. Mostly, however, they praised unique features and breakthrough design.
“For less than $100, you can’t expect a Bluetooth headset with powerful bass,” PC Mag wrote in its BackBeat Go 2 review. “However, you can get a pair of comfortable in-ear earphones with very good mid- and high-end sound quality.”
On Misfit’s fitness tracker, CNET concluded, “you’re trading in extra versatility for minimalist style […] one of the most stylish and futuristic-looking wireless fitness trackers out there.”
By contrast, users didn’t care about the technical challenge of wireless sound quality or fashionable fitness tracking. They just wanted a good product. “They are uncomfortable and don’t stay in your ear,” one dissatisfied reviewer said of the BackBeat Go 2 headphones.
A second user on the Misfit Wearables Shine: “Horrible device and even worse technical support. The device never synced.”
It’s worth repeating that experts and users tend to agree much more often than they disagree — good news for people reading professional reviews before they buy. But every once in awhile, a low price, hot brand, extra feature or reliable operation can make all the difference between the two groups.