Worst. Review. Ever. (Zune vs. iPod division)

Dear Chicago Sun-Times:

If you assign a guy to write a review of Microsoft’s new competitor to Apple’s iPod, don’t you think it’s relevant to note somewhere that he is the author of a brand-new book called iPod Fully Loaded: If You’ve Got It, You Can iPod It?

The disclosure of such a conflict of interest would seem to be especially helpful to your readers when said reviewer titles his piece “Avoid the loony Zune” and peppers it with some of the most over-the-top prose in a technological review since, well, ever? Like this: “The Zune is a square wheel, a product that’s so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity.” The hit job review culminates in this bit of sturm und drang: “The Zune will be dead and gone within six months. Good riddance.”

Hmmm. I guess you could have expected something along these lines. Over at MacNotables, way back in August (long before this review was commissioned, I would guess), Andy did a podcast that was introduced as follows:

The superiority of the iPod as the portable data device of choice is on Andy Ihnatko’s mind as he talks about his upcoming book, “iPod Fully Loaded: If You’ve Got It, You Can iPod It,” from Wiley. [emphasis added]

Seriously, assigning longtime Mac and iPod zealot Andy Ihnatko to review the Zune is bad enough. But not informing your readers about his background is a thousand times worse. The Sun-Times’s bio for Ihnatko says only: “Andy Ihnatko writes on technical and computer issues for the Sun-Times.”

Technically, I suppose, that’s true. But it’s horribly misleading.

So, dear Sun-Times editor, I eagerly await your letter asking me to review Mac OS X Leopard when it’s released next spring. As the author of 25 books on Microsoft Windows, I obviously meet your new review standards.

If that’s not acceptable, you could ask Steve Ballmer if he wants to tackle it. I’m sure the results would be about as fair as this review.

(P.S.: Don’t bother asking Om Malik. He’s way too busy.)

Looking forward to hearing from you.

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15 thoughts on “Worst. Review. Ever. (Zune vs. iPod division)

  1. What? No link to the Sun-Times review? I’ve read it, but some of your readers may not have.

    “Seriously, assigning longtime Mac and iPod zealot Andy Ihnatko to review the Zune is bad enough. But not informing your readers about his background is a thousand times worse.”

    I’m with you on the second point — Ihnatko’s background should have been fully declared so his readers can take the review with the require tubs of salt. Full disclosure was required here.

    But as to your first point: assigning a zealot to review a competitor’s product — is that bad only because he trashed the Zune? Would it have been as bad if he had liked it, or had both good and bad to write about it? I suspect you wouldn’t be so quick to criticize the assignment if Ihnatko hadn’t been so scathing.

    Frankly, I don’t have any problem with that kind of assignment; seeing what the zealots, both pro and con, have to say at least establishes the boundaries within which the more reasonable opinions should fall. Even as it was, I found his review amusing; at least his writing is more colorful than some of the other iPod fanboys who have “reviewed” the Zune. (But then again, I knew his background from a long association with Macs and Mac stuff.)

  2. “So, dear Sun-Times editor, I eagerly await your letter asking me to review Mac OS X Leopard when it’s released next spring. As the author of 25 books on Microsoft Windows, I obviously meet your new review standards.”


  3. Perhaps they were looking for someone who might have a ‘different’ perspecitve on things? πŸ˜›

  4. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a different perspective on things. In fact, giving a Zune to an iPod fanatic and asking him to look objectively at it could be interesting. But only if it’s sold that way. I object to the fundamental dishonesty of a “technology columnist” who has a clear agenda that isn’t being communicated to the readers of the column.

  5. I’ve just read the review, and disagree that it’s the “Worst Review Ever.” Yes, the Sun Times should have disclosed Mr. Ihnatko’s book, etc., and yes, some of the language was over the top, but the problem is that the review itself pointed out major flaws in the Zune that have been noted by others. It’s not like he was looking for little things which are wrong or turning them into mountians.

    And Microsoft should actually think about what’s it’s doing a bit more. I personally think it is very arrogant to create and promote a format (Plays for Sure) and then turn right around and tell users (suckers?) who bought into the format that they hvae to go out and buy their stuff all over again.

  6. John, I’ve been doing a series called the “Worst. Review. Ever.” Follow the link from Om Malik’s name to get the background on it. No, I don’t think Andy’s article is bad in that regard. It’s actually pretty amusing. I just think the outright trashing of a product from a person with a clear bias is over the top. And it’s way worse when the reader has no hint of any bias.

  7. Jim, your comment got stuck in the spam filtering queue. Sorry.

    I added a link to the review. It was in the original draft but I accidentally deleted it while doing some editing.

    And yes, the fact that this is a complete and total hit job, with some of the most scathing and over-the-top language ever, is THE problem. If the author’s bias were disclosed, it would be fine. But the fact that he doesn’t even mention his long relationship with the iPod is bullshit, especially when he writes stuff like this:

    “The iPod owns 85 percent of the market because it deserves to. Apple consistently makes decisions that benefit the company, the users and the media publishers — and they continue to innovatively expand the device’s capabilities without sacrificing its simplicity. ”


    As for the quality of this “review,” there is nothing in here that suggests he even used a Zune, except for the bit at the beginning where the software crashed. Every point after that is a rehash of stuff I already read in a dozen other reviews, and the column is riddled with factual errors. (And no, I don’t have time to deconstruct it now.)

    Seriously, though, this is just laughable. Had they even put the title of Andy’s book in the bio, I might not feel the way I do. In fact, if it had been introduced as “We sent iPod and Mac fanatic Andy Ihnatko a Zune and asked what he thought about it. We didn’t expect the device to come back to us broken into a thousand tiny pieces.”

    But to pitch this as a straight review by the newspaper’s “technology columnist”? Come on…

  8. Yes, I know about the series. And the first one you brought up (the ZNet comparison of IE7 and FF2) was still the worst in my book.

    This review had some issues (full disclosure for one), but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of uselessness as that ZNet review did.

  9. When I read this, I thought, “Andy Ihnatko is still around?” I remember him from 10 years ago–dark times for Mac zealots. Back then, if I remember correctly, he was working hard to keep spirits up–and this was when Apple’s next-generation operating system was nothing but obvious vaporware.

    It really isn’t fair to compare Ed Bott to Ihnatko–but then again, the Mac fanatics are, um, a lot more fanatical than journalists covering Windows.

    What would have been interesting to point out to readers would be something like, “Andy Ihnatko is the author of iPod: Fully Loaded…, and will lose all credibility with his target audience if he doesn’t trash the Zune.” Make it clear to the reader that Ihnatko effectively has to trash Microsoft’s product–and, in fact, the better the Zune is the more he has to trash it. That’s what it means to be a zealot, or an “evangeList,” or whatever they’re calling it these days.

  10. When I contributed to a group review of the current lineup of web browsers for a print publication, I used Ed’s “worst-review-ever” criticism as a guideline for what not to do. I hope I was at least reasonably fair.

    Andy’s article definitely smacked of someone going in with an agenda. “After about a year of operation, it’s almost as if a Windows machine develops some sort of antibodies that prevent it from recognizing new hardware.” Not here, and not on any reasonably well-maintained machine I’ve seen.

  11. Ed, you’ve seriously got me cracking up here. that’s one of the funniest blog posts i’ve read from ya, and i can’t agree more!

    Keep up the good work buddy!

    Mike Garcen
    MCE – MVP

  12. I am getting really tired of all the ZUNE bashing I with you on this one. Also I unsubscribed from om malik blog the very day that you posted the article.

  13. Well, for whatever it’s worth, Andy’s points are valid, but I agree it’s biased. Having seen a Zune in action, I have to admit the user interface kicks Apple ass. Hard. Too bad Andy never mentions it, because frankly, I think that’s the strongest point Zune has going for it.

    But this is MS…you know their gen2 product is going to be awesome. I’m sure they’ve got their talent cracking away at what seems like obvious problems to us. Even Apple took a few generations to get their product right (isn’t the Ipod on Gen10 right now?).

    I say keep the faith. MS has the capability to take on the iPod. They just need to do it.

  14. I agree that Andy’s book should have been prominently mentioned -by the editors and by Ihnatko himself. But I disagree that this was a “hatchet job” -In fact, it agrees with virtually every review of the Zune I have read. Seems like the folks around here want to shoot the messenger, rather than deal with the content of the message.

    When people write their response(s) to reviews, they really should try to deal in facts and refer to specific statements. If you say a review is “riddled with errors” then be prepared, right then and there, to point them out. If you want credibility, state that the iPod is in its 6th generation, while the Nano and Shuffle are in their 2nd -not their 10th. OS X as “vaporware”?? And how many times has Vista been promised and delayed? Not that Vista will do any good for Zune users…

    In other words -don’t make sweeping generalizations. : )

    I can hear the cries of “Apple Fanboy!!” already… Whatever. When I read comments about Zune reviews, the Zuneboys come across as bitter teenagers who need both a life and a spell-checker. “Zune rocks! Apple sucks!” How can anyone take them seriously??

    The Zune clearly has a lot of potential. It just as clearly has a lot of problems. Many people have had great difficulty getting their Zune to work. It’s not unreasonable for customers to stick with their iPods or other MP3 players while Microsoft deals with the teething troubles. I don’t care to read about how great the Zune is going to be in v2 -I want to know what the Zune is like right now, because right now is when I’m making the decision whether or not to buy one.

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