Walt Mossberg: please stop writing mobile tech reviews

26 Comments

Walt_mossbergSorry. I hate to be harsh and I fully respect Mr. Mossberg for his overall breadth of technology knowledge, but I really haven’t seen an article worth reading from him on mobile tech yet. It’s not his writing skills, style or general computing knowledge; it’s fair to say those are all excellent. The problem is one of perspective and it applies to many "tech journalists" out there today. If you aren’t a mobile device user / expert, you’re essentially doomed to miss or just "not get" how a mobile device is to be used and in what circumstances. If you agree with that premise, then why are you writing about mobile devices? That would be me like writing about mainframe technology when I only have a cursory understanding of ’em. (And yes, they’re still used today!) I liken this to being handed a hammer when I need to cut some wood and then saying that "this saw" just doesn’t work.

What raised these thoughts was an article that Walt wrote on the Nokia 770. I’ll disclose that I’ve never held one in my hands; perhaps it’s short-sighted of me to be critical then. However, given my mobile tech lifestyle and experiences, I cringe when I see statements like these below from the article; follow along the virtual conversation if you will:

Walt: "One of the holy grails of the digital era has been the invention of a true pocket-size computer, a device smaller than the smallest laptop that could still perform most of the common functions of a PC. The closest contenders are the smart phones, like Palm’s Treo models."
Kevin: "The closest contenders are not smartphones; they are UMPCs. Up until this year, I would have agreed with the comment on smartphones, but not now."

Walt: "I have been testing the 770, and I found that it performs its main function, Web browsing, better than any other pocket device I’ve tried."
Kevin: "Earlier in the article you mention that smartphone screens are too small to effectively web surf. Have you ever tried alternative browser options like Minimo, Opera, Thunderhawk or Access by NetFront? They greatly improve the browsing experience on the small screen."

Walt: "Most of the surface is occupied by the very vivid, bright display, which boasts by far the highest resolution I have seen on a hand-held digital device — 800×480".
Kevin: "That might be the highest you’ve personally ever seen on a handheld, but I see it every day on my Samsung Q1. I’ve also seen 1024 x 600 on an even smaller screen from a little known company called Sony with their U- and UX-series of handheld computer. C’mon, both these are hand-helds, right?"

Walt: "And the screen on the Treo 700p, which has the best resolution of any smart phone display, is just 320×320."
Kevin: "Walt, we all know you love the Palm-flavored Treos; I read your 700w review where you trashed the Windows Mobile version and you’re entitled to your opinion. However, you just told the public that the Treo 700p has the best resolution of any smartphone display and I’m sure they will believe you; just because you’re you. You’re also wrong and you just misled a heck of bunch of folks. Take a look at some of the VGA smartphones that sport full 640 x 480 VGA screens and then get back to us on the Treo 700p. Granted, there aren’t many, but that doesn’t mean we should hide them from the public."

Walt: "But the email program was so slow as to be essentially useless. Even simple tasks like selecting and deleting emails take forever. There’s another reason the 770 isn’t a very good email device: Unlike the Treo, the 770 lacks a keyboard; so you have to tap out emails on an onscreen keyboard or use handwriting recognition, which wasn’t great."
Kevin: "Walt, you have to use the right tool for the task. If the 770 is such a great Internet browser (which I have no doubt), then why bother with the e-mail program? Gmail works wonders with e-mail over the Internet, as does Yahoo! and other web-based apps. Please don’t get me started with the handwriting; while I can’t say if the recognition on the 770 is good or not, have you ever used a Tablet PC and ink? You might have, but I can’t recall reading an article where you did."

Walt: "The user interface is confusing. The same icon is used for both the Web browser and for turning on the Wi-Fi connection. The email program is buried in the Contact menu and the picture viewer is buried in a Utilities menu. There are many more software oddities."
Kevin: "I keep waiting and waiting for you to tell folks that the 770 runs on a version of Linux, but you just didn’t get around to it. My guess is that’s one of the primary reasons for the confusing UI, but it’s a key point that should have been shared."

Again, I’m not trying to bash Walt here; I could have just as easily picked on many other tech journalists. The point is: this is a prime example of someone who doesn’t understand mobile devices and therefore can’t possibly put them in the proper light for their usage. Is the Nokia 770 the best mobile device since sliced bread? Of course not, and neither is the Samsung Q1 UPMC that I use all day, every day. Let’s just be sure that we provide the proper perspective on these computers is all I’m saying.

-kct

26 Comments

Carlos

WOOOOWW the discussion went very intense.

Now it’s time to keep going, learn from the past and keep up the great work Kevin. You are doing a terrific work here.

Carlos

Chrizkatore

iPod/sliced-bread analogy? I don’t recollect… I was just curious as to whether or not sliced bread was a mobile tech device, and was hoping for some good advice for a consumer looking to buy some, such as myself.

“Is the Nokia 770 the best mobile device since sliced bread? Of course not, and neither is the Samsung Q1 UPMC that I use all day, every day.”

Tablet PC User

Chrizkatore,

Your pretend ideas of comparing sliced-bread with the iPod are flawed in so many ways that it isn’t funny! If your “iPod / slice bread” analogy is such that they are both at an “evolutionary state of perfection”, why has Apple applied for pattens that has people salivating for the touch-screen video iPod? Why are people hoping and going without food for the “iPod bread-crumb news” coming from S. Jobs at the WWDC? Reason why, the iPod isn’t perfect. There are many ways that the portable media market can be taken to the “next-level” (e.g. HD Video @720p or higher)

The thing is that people believe that only S. Jobs can provide an alternative to make the iPod better. Anyone else who does the same thing would be seen as unimportant and not “cool”.

Snappy!

I have not really read much from him as yet. So I cannot comment on his articles.

One thing I do notice is that the standard “reviews” from columnists are usually not very useful, except for the occassional mugshots they offer.

I find real-user reviews more useful, especially when the user has used it in an intended scenario as I want to for a few weeks.

Chrizkatore

Wait, wait, wait. Stop the argument about blog ethics for a few minutes. I have a very important question to ask:
Sliced bread is a mobile tech device? Not only that, but the best mobile device? Where can I get the newest model of sliced bread, and what wireless options, if any, are available for it?

Doc Hawking

I don’t read WSJ often or for any tech reviews for that matter, but I think it’s incredibly poor taste and shows a lack of class to bash another reporter’s reviews and opinions, no matter how they differ from your own. You have your right to post your opinions and reviews, but so does Mossberg.

I won’t have to point out the many flaws in your original post, but if you have that much time on your hands to report on something like this, you could be using your time much more wisely doing a review, helping inform readers, rather than telling other people the flaws in their reviews.

Ross

Sometimes the written word doesn’t accuratly portray our true emphasis. Keep up the great work Kevin.

Kevin C. Tofel

I’ll say this up front: I didn’t get the intent of my post across because it was written POORLY. The intent was not to single out Walt, but it’s clear that it reads that way. What I was going for was the very similar in topic and style here: http://jkontherun.blogs.com/jkontherun/2006/06/simon_says_umpc.html

Clearly, I failed. For those that supported my expression of opinion, I do appreciate it. For those that are keeping me honest with constructive criticism: I appreciate that as well. There are plenty of good and valid points in this discussion and in the end, I’m glad there was lively discussion and passion.

If I could undo this post, I probably would so that it’s toned down. I’m not planning to do that however as this is a nice lesson learned for me.

One point to touch upon: there are some valid comments about the WSJ audience and our “niche” audience. They’re accurate comments. My thought is that the Tablet / UMPC / handheld space will continue to be a niche market if the public continues to get information from folks without heavy experience with these devices. My hope is to change that so that these markets are not considered “niche” in the near future. If my passion for that comes across too strong, well…it’s just something I’ll need to work on.

Lastly, this post and discussion has weighed heavy on my mind since the very first comment. If you have any doubts, you’ll hear it in my voice on the next MoTR show as we recorded it last night about two hours after this post. I definitely wasn’t myself and I think it’s evident in the show. I only mention this so that folks don’t think I took their comments lightly; I definitely took ’em to heart. Thank you!

Oliver Sturm

I should mention that I don’t give a damn about people cult, and so I don’t know who Kevin is, or Walt Mossberg, and I have no idea whether I’ve ever read anything from either of them before. But this post sucks – first of all because I don’t think this kind of bashing is called for, and secondly because Walt really seems to have done nothing at all wrong… he just wrote his review with less of a background than many of the real mobile freaks tend to do. If you ask me, this is a good thing, simply because I as a reader don’t have that elaborate background either. If Walt mentions that the device has one of the highest resolutions he’s ever seen, it’s very probable it’ll be the highest I’ve seen myself. And if he tells me that the device (and that’s what’s being reviewed, right?) doesn’t lend itself to great web browsing, then that’s an issue for me – I usually don’t want to buy any kind of a device and then go hunting around for all the right software to run on it. I just expect it to do its job out of the box, and Walt’s review (judging from the quotes above) seems to target precisely that kind of attitude.

In short: it would be bad if all computer reviews in this world were done by people fresh out of MIT. It would be bad if all hi-fi devices were only reviewed by people writing for Audio magazine (insert local brand name of hi-fi magazine with religious attitude). Most people can’t really relate to the perspective of these experts/zealots, and if a certain technology is supposed to move out of a niche market at some point, we desperately need more normal people to take a look at it and let us know their opinion.

Byron

Sorry to “pile on” but you just dont understand Mossbergs audience.
We are geeks here and this site caters to us.

Mossberg is rare as he is a tech guy who is anti-geek. His audience is business people who want practicality, not “look at this cool toy.”
Truth is Kev, UMPCs arent appealing to his core audience…..yet. Walt is absolutely correct.

His audience doesnt care that you can buy VGA smartphone in Norway, England, and Japan, or some bozo on Ebay for a grand.
Technically he is incorrect you are right, but if you go to a typical US store the Treo is likely the highest rez smartphone. Thats all that matters to his audience

You say “he doesn’t understand”
That my freind is the point.

As a final point, even ubber tiny gadget freak James wont buy a current UMPC.
And he has been screaming for that form Factor.
While James expressed similar disappointment with Mossbergs comments on UMPCs I find it funny that when push comes to shove, dude aint got one.
As much complaining as there was on the “no keyboard” comment Walt made guess what?
Slate warrior, James wont get a slate without an attachable keyboard.

Think about it Kevin, if something like that affects enthusiast geek Kendrick, choices, don’t you think your average WSJ reader will be even more inclined to more familiar import methods?

Notice Mossberg concludes his take on UMPCs with a line that implied hopefulness that maybe next time they’ll get it right.
Not so much a flawed concept period, just not ready for prime time is the take I get.
It aint all bad.

Taking into account his audience, his take on UMPCs The Nokia tablet and most mobile devices are on target in my view.

David Pogue another WS] guy, geek bloggers hate.
Do you think its a coincidence that the tech guys there tend to have the same take?
We aren’t their audience.
Understanding the needs of the WSJ audience its easy to “get” why they have the viewpoints they have.

Matt Smith

Mossberg isn’t the only one with an eye single to the glory of Steve Jobs. Leo Laporte has swallowed the Kool Aid as well. If it’s not apple, doesn’t sync with Apple, can’t be found in Jobs’ gadget bag, etc., it not good enough for Leo. That said, I love Leo’s show (but not as much at MOTR).

Oliver

Kevin, I have to admit I stopped reading your rant after your first “correction” of Walt’s piece (which I also haven’t read). Why? He talked, according to you, about a “true pocket-size computer”. Your response is that the UMPCs are just that. Well, I don’t know how big your pockets are, but except for the laptop pocket in my Scott eVest I don’t have any clothing that could hold your Samsung Q1. On the other hand, the Nokia 770 is significantly smaller (basically, PDA sized, like my Tapwave Zodiac) and fits into many pockets. Since you admit that you have never seen a Nokia 770, maybe indeed you should…

If you have followed Walt’s work, you know that he’s been using mobile devices for a long time (and writing about them), so I don’t know how to interpret your comparsion of him writing about mobile devices is like you writing about mainframes.

I’ve been visiting this site for a while now and generally enjoyed the posts. I hope this one is an exception and we can look forward to more interesting topics instead of bashing people for their opinions.

Mel Buckpitt

Whats all this respect and bad form nonsense!! This is a blog, its personal and its about opinions. This is not the Wall Street Journal. When I pick up the WSJ I expect to read reviews that are thoughtful and analytical and not, unless stated, opinions. Please dont mix the two genres; Blogs are not on-line newspapers. You will be complaining about bad grammar and spelling next.

As for Mossberg the reviews I have read suck.

A vote for Kevin is a vote for mobile tech sense.

Alslayer

My there is a lot of comments on Kevin. I agree with Kevin that Walt doesn’t do a good job normally on mobile devices but I don’t think it is this one. I am a big fan of the 770 (even made a blog) but it has many issues.

I agree with Walt on just about every issue with the 770. I would add that the software selection is very weak. He seemed to give the device a fair shakedown.

It seems that as bright as Walt is Kevin and most people who come to this site know quite a bit more about mobile devices.

Tablet PC User

Ross, get a life! If you are living in the USA you’ll know about freedom of speech so back off of KCT!

Matt Smith is the only one that got it right…Walt Mossberg IS AN APPLE FANBOY! Recently, uses his influence in the press to insult every non-apple device. If you don’t think that he is a sell-out, read any of his articles at http://ptech.wsj.com/archive.html

I don’t even listen to people who quote Mossberg since it is the same smelly crap that comes from most fanboys!

Aaron

“I keep waiting and waiting for you to tell folks that the 770 runs on a version of Linux, but you just didn’t get around to it. My guess is that’s one of the primary reasons for the confusing UI…”

Confusing UI is a designer’s fault, not an OS. Linux is no different from any OS out there. Get some better UI designers out there and confusion goes away.

Don’t fall into the “linux is confusing” trap. It’s a copout. Nokia should have hired the guys who designed their 3rd edition symbian phones UI. Prettier than the very beta-looking 770 Maemo UI.

Matt Smith

Slap an Apple logo on any of the mobile devices that Mossberg has given poor reviews to, have him look at them again, and I guarantee he gives the device a rave review.

Mike Cane

770 not pocket-sized?! What are you, a fekkin Munchkin?! I carry one around in my jacket pocket all the time (yeah, so things tend to droop on that side; I’m no fashion plate) — and I’m not built like Ahnald, either!

The 770 may be, as I call it, the Biggest Piece of Sh*t Known to Man, but I won’t slander it by saying it’s not pocket-sized!

You extremists!!!

(Tongue planted in cheek there, mind you!)

Ben Drawbaugh

Wow Kevin you can fit a Q1 in the palm of your hand and in your pocket?

You must have really big hands with big pockets to match!

;)

Ross

Love JK on the run but this post had the worst tone to it. If you didn’t want to bash on Walt then the title should not have singled him out (as well as all throughout the article).

Second, I don’t consider UMPC’s “pocket sized”, sorry but my conception of pocket sized is still smart phone-ish. His comment isn’t referencing a comparison to similar devices (ie. UMPC’s), he’s comparing the 770 to “pocket sized” functionality. He’s still off-base since I’d hardly consider the 770 “pocket sized” either, but I would’t jump all over him for the comment.

Bad form, this post could have been more constructive.

Kevin C. Tofel

Carlos, what you said is fair and if I came across too personal, that wasn’t the intent. I just get very concerned when main-stream media influences the public with misconceptions. I’ve also read many great tech articles by Walt; that’s why I qualified the statement you quoted as articles on “mobile tech”. Still, you’ve given me something to think about & consider; for that I thank you!

Carlos Lopez

I agree that he has some trouble with mobile devices. And definitely I think he is no giving the correct perspective in the article.

However, I think that he deserves a little respect, you mention in your article, that “I hate to be harsh and I fully respect …..” but you also mention “but I really haven’t seen an article worth reading from him on mobile tech yet.” Come on!!

Despite he irritated you, I believe that it’s not worthwhile that you add such a comment on him in your web site. It depicts you.

As a regular reader from your site and, also as an avid listener from your podcasts, I suggest, and it’s only a suggestion, try not to react as hormonal as it seems in this post. At the end we all, I mean your audience deserves some respect too.

Carlos

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