The Family Feud Approach to Product Selection

Not Only The Products Vary

There’s one very good thing and one very bad thing about the Internet. The good news is you can get tons of information about anything. The bad news is you can get tons of information about anything.

Information on the Internet is unfiltered. In some ways that’s good, one problem with filtered news is you don’t always know what filter is being used. On the other hand, filters tend to filter out dodos.

I’ve just spent several hours trying to be my own filter about a certain line of products; in this case, scanners. And it is maddening.

You read reviews on the subject (in this case, reviews from “official media”; folks like us don’t usually review scanners. Reviews are fine for telling you WHAT it is, not so fine at telling you HOW it is. Determining quality is subjective, and you soon find out just how subjective it is.

One says, “this is GREAT at doing X.” The next one says, “this is TERRIBLE at doing X.” This is not exactly enlightening.

You really wonder at times, “Did these people get the same thing?”

The problem you have is that you have two unknown variables. As I’ve discussed before, individual samples of a product can vary quite a bit in quality.

But at least products have some quality control function. What about the reviewers?

If one guy says a scanner has great color, and another says it’s lousy, whom do you believe? Do the products vary that much item by item (that wouldn’t be a good sign), or do the reviewers? Does one guy have better eyes than another? Is one guy just more picky than another? Or did one guy’s magazine just buy ads and the other one didn’t?

As far as you’re concerned, it really doesn’t matter why there’s such differences; no matter why, you’re still clueless.

A number of the magazine sites apparently have realized their comments aren’t the last word about a product, so they’ve included user review sections. Again, you will go mad trying to reconcile people’s judgements about the quality of the item, for pretty much the same reasons you did with the reviewers.

What’s a poor person to do?

To eliminate most of the migraines, I suggest you take the Family Feud approach. Go to places like Cnet and Zdnet, and initially just look at the overall scores from users the products in your category get. Eliminate everything that gets a significantly lower scores than the best.

Once you’ve done that, then look at the comments for the products that are left. Don’t pay attention to any single comment, but look for repeated comments about certain aspects of the product. If there are a lot more positive than negative comments about an aspect of a product, it’s probably good, if the opposite, it’s probably bad. Determine whether or not that aspect is important to you.

You will find that this will make you consider things you never would have on your own. People don’t think much about drivers, for instance; but if you use Windows 2000, and there’s no driver for it, you got a problem.

Look at the product specs, and think a little ahead (unless you aren’t going to be hanging on to it for too long). Think about where in the product cycle the product is. If you plan on hanging on to it for three years, will it be likely the company will make drivers for that product for Windows 2003? If you see a good price on a discontinued item, how good is it compared to the new kid on the block? Is the new kid on the block better? Is the money you save worth it?

In my case, I have an old scanner. Driver support is getting funky. I don’t scan very much, so I don’t have to replace it right away.

A couple days ago, I went running over to a CompUSA to try to have an “advance sale” on an Epson Perfection 610U. They didn’t have any, but they did have a Perfection 636U for $99, so I bought that to be on the safe side.

I’ve read the reviews, I’ve read the comments, and I also took a look at the new Epson models and what they have to offer.

Here are the conclusions I came up with.

Both the 610U and 636U were much more highly rated than their competition.

The 610U is pretty good and well-regarded, especially for the $50 sale price, but the core scanning software is a little too inflexible to my liking, and a few of the product specs aren’t as good as the 636U. The photoimaging/OCR software is bad, but you’d have to expect that, and I wouldn’t use that, anyway.

The 636U has lousy bundled software, too, but the core scanning software is more flexible, and some parts of it are built a bit better (MTBF for the 636U is 30,000 scans vs. 10,000 for the 610U). To me, that’s worth the extra money, but both it and the 610U are discontinued models. On the other hand, the 636U has been a very popular model, so Epson will probably write drivers for it for a while.

Looking towards the new Epson models, I don’t see any appreciable difference between the 636U and the 640U. However, there are a few differences between the 636U and the 1240U.

The 1240U does 1200X2400 scans, while the 636U does 600X2400. Superfluous when it comes to Web scans, of course, but one of these days, I’m going to digitize a ton of old family photos, and if I’m going to retouch some of them, I’d like every pixel of resolution I can get. The 1240U handles 42-bit color, which the 636U does 36-bit (really 24-bit). The 1240U has handy little copy and scan buttons.

The 1240U costs $165 compared to the $99 I laid out, but I’m sure there will be some first-time buyer incentive or rebate or just price drop within the next couple months that will bring it down to the $130 range in the next couple months. Those little features will probably be worth an extra $30-40 to me.

It was a tough and close call, but the 636U goes back today. However, a different person with even a bit different needs, or even me if I had a little more urgency, would have made a different call.

That’s important to realize. One size doesn’t fit all. There can be wrong choices, but there usually isn’t a single right choice under most circumstances. Remember that when you’re ready to flame somebody who made a different choice than you. 🙂

Email Ed

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