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I love having the newest tech toys, but I am a terrible impulse shopper. Why? Because every time I pick up an unplanned technology purchase, I can’t help but think of the times I have discovered something better while reading ill-advised post-purchase reviews. Gone are the days of basing a purchasing decision on a TV commercial or single print review. Thanks to the Internet, there is an unending flood of reviews. In 2011 alone, social media created more than 500 billion impressions relating to product reviews.

If you’ve been on the Internet, chances are you have created, read or commented on some kind of review. Although I don’t buy anything with a cord, a battery or a screen without considering more than a few qualified opinions, it’s most important that I assess each review with an awareness of my personal needs and how it relates to the bias of the reviewer to maximize my tech dollar.

Consider the following when researching your next gadget purchase:

Who reviews the reviewer?

Why is it that we consider the advice from a friend, qualified or not, as a trusted source rather than advertising? One factor is context. It’s likely that our friends, family or our co-workers share use cases and other values that make their opinions relevant. It may be easy to forget that we may have nothing in common with the way review authors use technology.

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Be sure to understand the values and predilections of those trusted to review our future purchases. When buying something online that you can’t hold, see, or use, we depend on the reviewer to be our Seeing Eye dog. Just as you wouldn’t trust a new canine companion on a busy street untested, don’t let the opinion of one user, professional or otherwise, be the deciding factor in a major tech purchase.

One way to better understand a reviewer is to compare the reviewer’s thoughts on products you also have strong opinions on. If you can’t find a review from someone shares your opinons, it’s best to take the facts from a group of reviews and create your own picture of what a product is like.

Rate the player, not the game

One element often overstressed in reviews is how significant an ecosystem is to purchasing a particular device. Although an ecosystem (software and accessories) is a large part of the usefulness of any device, if you are already entrenched too deeply with any one manufacturer, or limited by an employer or other circumstance, it’s difficult to imagine that any single device would cause you to make a monumental change.

On the flipside, it’s unfair to give a device a low score if its ecosystem is still being established. If you have faith in the company, then discount the ecosystem remarks and pay attention to the rest of the review. Maybe the growing pains of a young ecosystem are worth the features that you like in a new device. The only time focusing heavily on an ecosystem is important is when choosing between them. The decision to change ecosystems should be based the future of the ecosystem, not the current hardware.

I find it rare that someone making a major technology purchase wouldn’t benefit in some way from sticking with the ecosystem that he or she has already invested in. If you intend to stick with your current ecosystem, choose reviews from someone who shares your intentions and experience.

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Reviews are only as good to the extent that the use case of the reviewer lines up with yours. Look for reviewers who share your style of work and play. If features important to you aren’t important to the reviewer, they may give a low score to a device that would meet your needs and vice versa. If a laptop receives a poor review from someone because it is too heavy and has a short battery life, but you intend to use it as a desktop replacement and never move it, disregard that opinion and instead look for details from someone who is using it as you intend to.

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Also, remember that many reviewers are given the device to play with and haven’t purchased it on their own. Don’t forget the opportunity cost of the purchase price in your evaluation of what to buy. The extra $200 for an additional feature or two may be a bigger deal when it’s real money on the line. In summary, pay attention to the portions of a review that are relevant to the specific ways a product meets your needs and values instead of the overall score. 

To thine own self be true

The key to getting the most out of the opinions and experiences of others is understanding oneself. If you never remember to charge your phone, buy one with a bigger battery. If you really don’t use your e-reader that much, don’t get the most expensive model. If you crack every phone screen you get your hands on, don’t buy one made entirely of glass or at least plan to get a really good case and consider that part of the cost. The key to being happy with your technology purchases is buying for the real you, not the person you wish you were.

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If you are honest with yourself you will get more value out of your tech dollar. Fear of wasting my tech bucks is why I always hesitate when I see something new and shiny. Reading reviews with these facts in mind will let you shop less and buy with confidence.

~Tony Onofrio is an IT specialist at Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Silicon Valley and Detroit.