How do I research a tech product before I buy it?
I want to get a signal booster for the wireless network on my house. Any recommendations? I don't need anything too powerful or elaborate. My house isn't that big But our Blu-ray player is in our sunken living room and the signal is a little weak.
Turns out I get these sort of questions all the time, and while it may seem that with my crack team of researchers, I have an answer to everything, the fact is that there's plenty where I'm just in the dark, particularly if it's something I have zero experience with, and I've never even tested or reviewed a single wifi signal booster.
When a question that comes in leaves everyone drawing a blank, we do what you do: we use the Internet to research possibilities and see what is revealed. If it's a tech question, then Google is our friend and our searches typically involved ten or more words. Looking for the driver for your old RCA Lyra mp3 player? Search for "download drive windows rca lyra mp3 music player" will get you better results than "lyra driver" does.
If it's a product, however, then our go-to site is Amazon. Not to buy, necessarily, but to mine the astonishing, massive database of customer reviews. Sure, a small percentage of them are likely bogus, but overall, it's a great way to learn a lot about a product or set of products in a short time.
So let's demonstrate. You're looking for a "wifi signal booster", so let's do that search on Amazon...
Start typing in the product name, and Amazon's suggestion system starts to offer up search tips and synonyms:
Choosing by department is important so you can sort by different criteria, so I'll go ahead and click on "wifi signal booster in Electronics". The result:
As you can see on the right side, the default is this ambiguous Amazon factor called "Relevance", but notice also that there are a staggering 561 results. That's a lot of wifi signal boosters!
First step is to change the sorting criterion to "Avg. Customer Review":
Now Amazon will show you the top rated products first in the results. Unfortunately, there's no math going on here, where a product with 100 reviews and an average of 4.5 would rank higher than a product with 2 reviews and an average of 4.75, so it's good to keep an eye out for those that have a lot of reviews because more data = good.
The top matches are also wildly varied in price, with the #1 best, most well-rated product being the Ayrstone Ayrmesh Hub at $324.95:
Might be more than you were hoping to spend, so scroll down to the second row of results and a good possibility at a good price - under $50 - shows up:
The Uspeed WIFI Repeater, #4, looks interesting, and at $44.99 it's not the end of the world if it doesn't turn out to work for your need. Let's look just a bit closer at the text underneath the product picture:
Notice it shows that there are 20 reviews and it averages out at about 4.5 stars. Sounds good. As a shortcut, click on the "(20)" to see the reviews...
This information is particularly helpful, actually, because it shows the distribution of reviews. As you can see, the vast majority are five-star, though there are a couple of 1, 2 and 3 star reviews.
A bit lower down you'll see the two customer reviews rated as most helpful:
At this point, I'd read through both of the reviews, with an emphasis on what Amazon calls the "most helpful critical review". Anything that sounds like a show-stopper? Anything that means the product wouldn't work for me in the context I'll use? If not, then we've got a winner.
Your strategy might be different -- and we'd love to hear about it -- but this is a quick way to identify some of the very best, or at least best rated, products in a given area.
Still not sure? Go back to Google and search for the product name and the word "review".
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