User reviews can offer valuable insight into a product's real value after the sale. But many review sites also contain write-ups by fanboys, axe-grinders, and even a few shills. How do you know which reviews to trust?
Lack of standardisation
On the other hand, Chamberlain notes, user reviews lack the standardisation required to make accurate comparisons, which is why they function better as a supplemental source.
After all, it's much easier to compare laptops if someone has measured the number of seconds it takes each one to apply the same graphics filters to an image, for example, or how long each one's battery lasts in indentical longevity tests.
"Standardised testing is key. Make sure that whatever type of electronic you're looking at, [the reviewer is] using a standardised test that every manufacturer's model is being put through, so results are consistent," Chamberlain says.
A good standardised review should clearly state how the product is being tested, and present the results in a way that lets you quickly compare them to the results of previously reviewed models.
Try the user forums
Then there are user forums, including PC Advisor's own forum, which tend to mix experts with newbies, objective real-world tests with subjective preferences, sober judgments with passionate opinions.
Chamberlain says: "You get a lot of feedback from people who may have purchased not only that model but several of its predecessors. You get feedback from professionals in the industry or from enthusiasts who buy every model that comes out".
Throw out the extremes
Jeff Keller reviews digital cameras semiprofessionally at Dcreviews.com.
When he goes through user reviews on a retail website, he uses a strategy that most people are probably familiar with (and that companies such as Reevoo use before they publish user reviews).
"I typically throw out the really positive and really negative reviews," he says.
"The really positive reviews often look like they were written by the manufacturer, while the really negative reviews can be due to bad luck or maybe that person has an axe to grind. If most people said that the air purifier is noisy, it probably is."
The best way to protect yourself from misleading assessments is to rely primarily on professional sources that have staked their reputations on providing unbiased reviews - yes, like PC Advisor.
It's also a good idea to look at forums and specialty sites (sites that focus on specific tech products such as cameras).
The wider you spread your net and the farther you move away from relying exclusively on user reviews, the more accurate the picture you develop of a product's worth will be.
NEXT PAGE: Avoid the shills