Consumer Reports gets it right (at last)!

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View
Consumer Reports finally gets it right!

Consumer Reports may not be the most influential voice in determining which computers are most preferred by the buying public. But it matters. Each year, for the past who knows how many years, the magazine has dutifully provided its assessment of the best and worst in computers. And almost from the get-go, its overall assessment of the Mac has been negative.

At best, the magazine viewed buying a Mac as an oddball decision, only advised for those willing to swim against the tide and venture beyond Microsoft's ubiquitous Windows universe. At worst, it downgraded and dismissed the Mac as being too expensive, too underpowered, and generally just too weird to be taken seriously. It never seemed to understand that the Mac OS was substantially different from (and, in the view of many, significantly superior to) Windows. It couldn't see beyond the superficial similarities of the Mac and Windows desktop interfaces. And since Windows PCs ran much more software than a Mac (even if most of the software was crap), why get a Mac? This was the essence of the magazine's logic.

I would regularly feel my blood pressure rise as I read these reports. "They just don't get it," I would wail. "They're not taking into consideration how much extra stuff comes built-in to a Mac. They're picking a low-end Mac to compare against a high-end Windows machine." And on and on. I despaired of ever seeing Consumer Reports giving the Mac a fair shake.

Yet, over the past couple of years, the seemingly impossible has happened. Consumer Reports' attitude has turned around. It's been awkward and a bit slow, much like an ocean liner attempting a tight turn in a harbor. But it has happened.

Some may argue that the attitude shift is more due to improvements in the Mac than to a change in Consumer Reports' perception. Or they may point to the ever-growing importance of the Internet, which has in turn minimized any software advantage of the PC. Plus, the Mac can now run Windows. Others might suggest that the shift simply reflects the increased status and popularity of the Mac, in this post-iPod world.

Perhaps. Or perhaps, after all these years, Consumer Reports at last gets it. Whatever. The completion of the pro-Mac attitude shift is readily apparent in the magazine's current (June 2008) issue. Here are the ratings highlights:


    The 15" MacBook Pro was the highest rated 15" workhorse laptop.

    The 17" MacBook Pro was the highest rated 17" workhorse laptop.

    The MacBook Air models were the second and third highest rated slim-and-light laptops (only slightly trailing the Sony VAIO). Even the MacBook made the list here.

    Moving on to desktop Macs, the 20" iMac was the top-rated all-in-one budget computer. Actually, it was in a category by itself here; there was no second place.

    The 24" iMac placed a strong third in the all-in-one workhorse computer category.


In the magazine's separate Quick Picks listings (which consider value and tech support, in addition to test results and features):


    The 15" MacBook Pro was included in the "Best for features and performance" list.

    The 17" MacBook Pro was cited as a "Best desktop replacement."

    The MacBook Air was a Quick Pick in the "Best lightweight laptops" category.

    The 20" iMac was (no surprise) the lone Quick Pick for "Best inexpensive all-in-one."

    The 24" iMac was cited as "Best for features and performance."


In a separate assessment of companies' technical support, Apple was far and away the winner. It received the highest ratings by a wide margin, both for laptops and desktop computers. Apple outpaced the second-best rated company by 17 points for laptops and 25 points for desktops!

The only place where Macs didn't score was in the component desktop computer category. The Mac Pro is Apple's entry here, but it didn't even show up in the magazine's listings. The high price of the Mac Pro was probably a factor in the magazine's decision. With one exception, the rated computers in this category were $1300 or less, often much less. However, the one exception was the "high end" Dell XPS 420, listed for $2975. This is certainly in the same price bracket as a Mac Pro, which leaves me a bit uncertain as to why a Mac Pro was not included.

Apple's Cinema Displays were similarly not included in the article on monitors. Once again, I suspect price was the primary reason. The most expensive rated monitor was $500; the least-expensive Cinema Display (20") is $600.

Still, why quibble? Taken as a whole, Consumer Reports gives the Mac line-up a super solid endorsement. If you want a laptop, you want a Mac. If you want an all-in-one desktop computer, you want a Mac. If you're concerned about technical support, you want a Mac. That's just what I've been saying all these years. Now Consumer Reports is saying it too.

Comments

Len

Ted,

For many consumers who do their own research on a potential purchase, Consumer Reports’ opinions have been irrelevant for decades.

I’m not personally going to start listening to them because they “like Macs” all of a sudden. They still don’t get it and they never will.
——-

Dean

Irrelevant for Decades? That makes your whole statement irrelevant, Len. Get a clue.
Apple’s shift in perception at C.U. is evolutionary rather than “ship-jumping” or “getting it”.
They started separating Macs from PC’s in reviews YEARS ago because they knew it was “Apples & Oranges” (sorry); and Apple’s customer service was noted back then as well.
Years past, they told the truth: Macs were expensive. 100:1 ratio of software available to PC vs Mac. Real world speed. They weren’t shills for an operating system - they were reviewing the boxes. Now, things have changed as noted - Internet, price reductions, Intel, etc.  It’s just different now.

scott

Dean, consumer reports is irrelevant in a lot of categories. Their rationale is just bizarre at best many, many times. This isn’t about PC vs Mac reviews, it’s about any/all of their reviews. They just do not think at all along the lines of most people’s needs, IMO.  At any rate, “get a clue” is a bit harsh considering you have your opinion, and Len and I have a different one. And that’s what they are - opinions.

Jerry

Dean, he clearly meant CU’s opinion in general. So get a clue, or at least a pair of reading glasses.

(Not that I endorse his opinion.)

Frank

Will you two stop fighting? We’ve got some broads to chase.

Planeten Paultje

Sounds like Ted might be living in Holland! His description of the old situation applies verbatim to the Dutch Consumer Club. Only they are not yet changing position, they just have gone quiet. But they’ll get there wink

frogmella

Wish they’d tell the Consumer Association in UK (publishers of Which?). Their opinions have also been irrelevant for decades, but sadly their crappy publications are read by a significant number of ill-informed blue-rinsers - who as a result will never become Internet- or iLife-savvy due to being steered blindly towards Windoze.

TJ

Of course, not mentioned in this article is the fact that Apple laptops recorded the highest number of repairs among the eight computer brands compared in Consumer Reports’ survey of over 75,000 laptop owners. (To be fair, Apple’s desktops scored the least number of repairs.) It’s good to know Apple has great customer service. It appears from the CR data that if you own an Apple laptop, you’re more likely to need a repair. I guess that’s why Consumer Reports also recommends buying AppleCare - which is interesting considering the fact that Consumer Reports almost universally recommends against extended warranties of all varieties.

Pecos Bill

I stopped subscribing to CR when they started publishing their clueless stance back in the 80s. I get the impression that their other tests fail scientific rigor (Len’s point). I would think that stems from people self reporting what they want.

Apple’s quality has declined since they offshored manufacturing, but the prices are better for it and Apple still gets a comfy margin with which to build really cool stuff (and keep their “Lexus” mindshare).

Sam

You know, I think CR is just mirroring the mainstream population as a whole.  The things they look at are likely what their own survey instruments have told them that the mainstream population looks for in each product category.  Apple has generally had a bit of the maverick in them and encouraged that in its users and in its advertising.  Face it, the U.S. as a whole is not very much a maverick society.  We come from maverick stock but we have grown past that like any maturing society.

What these new findings are telling us is that Apple has pushed itself into the mainstream.  The iPod has done that, the iPhone has done that, and the move to Intel has done that.  If anything the other computer manufacturers have chased for the low price ring for so long that they have lost the price/feature war.  Apple owns that now.  The fact that Visita has gotten so much bad press has helped that process.  So Maybe CR has not changed, but Apple has changed a little bit.  Probably a little bit of both which is not a bad thing.

gslusher
[quote comment=“968”]Of course, not mentioned in this article is the fact that Apple laptops recorded the highest number of repairs among the eight computer brands compared in Consumer Reports’ survey of over 75,000 laptop owners. (To be fair, Apple’s desktops scored the least number of repairs.) It’s good to know Apple has great customer service. It appears from the CR data that if you own an Apple laptop, you’re more likely to need a repair. I guess that’s why Consumer Reports also recommends buying AppleCare - which is interesting considering the fact that Consumer Reports almost universally recommends against extended warranties of all varieties.

One reason for that may be that people tend to keep Mac laptops a lot longer than most people keep Windows laptops. They get the laptops fixed rather than dump them. I know several people who are running Tiger on Pismo PowerBooks—those were new in 2000 and use a G3 processor. A 2003 PowerBook G4 can run Leopard, as can any PowerBook since then and most iBook G4s, a well. How many five-year-old Windows laptops can run the full version of Vista? (Probably none.)

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