Consumer Reports gets it right (at last)!

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.