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Dear Executives:

Don’t lie. No one should have to tell you this. What is wrong with you?



P.S. Here is today’s column from David Pogue of the NY Times. It is so important that I’m reposting the whole thing.

Bogus Tech Measurements


Most people get cranky about politics, or the economy, or what passes for music these days.

But you know what gets me cranky?

Bogus measurements.

Day in and day out, the electronics industry manipulates us. They publish “speeds and feeds” in big bold type–measurements that turn out to mean almost nothing. It’s all just misdirection.

For example, I’ve written many times about the absurdity of megapixel counts for cameras. (An unpublished, underpublicized spec like sensor size is a far better predictor of photo quality.)

Until Intel hit a wall of physics that capped its processor speeds at about 3 gigahertz, I wrote often about the industry’s misleading use of a PC’s processor speed as a sort of letter grade for rating new PC’s.

And I’ve ranted about the way the laptop industry measures battery life: they use a silly benchmark, in which all the wireless features are turned off, and the screen is dimmed as low as 20 percent.

And don’t get me started about the ridiculous TV-specification benchmarks. Do you really think the average person could see the difference between 720p or 1080i? Or between a contrast ratio of 500,000:1 versus a million to 1?

But in every case, like every other reviewer on the planet, I’ve always taken one thing for granted: that even when manufacturers are overstating the importance of one spec or another, at least they were giving us accurate measurements.

I mean, how can a normal person measure the megahertz of a processor, or the contrast ratio of a TV set, or the lifespan of a lithium-ion battery? At some point, you have to assume that the companies are providing us with accurate specs.

But you can’t assume that. Not anymore.

A couple of months ago, I reviewed Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-book reader. I confess, I didn’t love it much. It’s slow and buggy, the battery lasts one-third as long as the Kindle’s, and the bookstore prices are generally higher than Amazon’s.

But this week, I discovered something that’s sort of shocking, when you think about it: Barnes & Noble has been claiming that the Nook weighs less than it really does.

OK, not by much. The company says the thing weighs 11.2 ounces. In fact, it weighs 12.1 ounces. (I discovered this when my daughter set it on a home postal scale. Later, I confirmed it with a fancier scale at the actual post office.)

That’s right: Barnes & Noble conveniently shaved 7.4 percent off of the Nook’s weight, and hoped nobody would notice.

Well, OK. What’s 7.4 percent? I mean, we’re talking about an understatement of one ounce here. Who cares?

First of all, you might care if you have to hold this hard plastic slab in your hands for hours, as you must when you actually read books on it. (USA Today’s Ed Baig almost uncovered the secret when he wrote in his review: “Nook weighs 11.2 ounces compared with 10.2 ounces for the Kindle. I felt the extra ounce.” No, Ed–you actually felt the extra TWO ounces.)

But more important, the deceit matters. The principle matters.

Barnes & Noble might have gotten away with fudging a statistic that nobody can easily measure at home, like battery life or contrast ratio or processor speed. But no, they had to fudge the weight, which anyone can check with a simple postal scale. What were they thinking?

Barnes & Noble claims that it’s all an innocent mistake. “Given the higher than anticipated demand for Nooks last year, Barnes & Noble made some minor variances in the manufacturing process to get units to customers more quickly,” says spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating. “Those minor changes resulted in a marginal weight difference from the pre-production specs, making Nook 12.1 ounces. We are in the process of updating all references to the weight.”

So that’s it?

No “oops,” no “we apologize for the error?” Nope; nothing but a cheesy attempt to spin this gaffe into a marketing message. The company blames the error on “the higher than anticipated demand.” Oh, OK. Well, in THAT case…

And by the way–isn’t it funny that Barnes & Noble knew about the error, but never bothered to correct it until today, when I caught them and let them know I’d be publicizing it?

The problem is, this deception has totally changed the game for people who write about consumer tech. There’s no doubt at all that we, the overworked members of the tech-reviewers’ union, have always accepted manufacturers’ benchmarks as accurate. In the Nook’s case, for example, every single major reviewer–Wall Street Journal, USA Today, PC World, CNET, Engadget–wound up parroting the company’s weight claim. Including me.

It’s just never occurred to anyone that these companies might lie about this stuff.

So what does this mean? Are we now supposed to quintuple our workload by re-testing every gadget we’re sent?

I mean, for all I know, some phone I reviewed might be 4.5 inches tall instead of 4.4. Maybe the laptop battery that’s supposedly good for 500 charges over its lifetime would actually conk out after 350. Maybe the guts of a plasma TV aren’t nearly as recyclable as the company claims. How the heck would anyone know? Some of these things require a lab to test; others require a time machine.

I’m *really* cranky at Barnes & Noble for pulling this scam, because now it will be much harder to believe any of these companies’ published specs.

My job, and yours, just got a lot more complicated.

(Read the original column here.)

Thank you, David.

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