Columnist David Pogue of The New York Times makes a point. Sometimes we seem to miss the image forest for the megapixel/ISO/AF/etc. trees.http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/spec-obsession-disorder-the-incurable-techie-malady/?ref=personaltechemail&nl=technology&emc=edit_ct_20120405
Here's the text in case you can't access the NYT site:
April 5, 2012
Spec Obsession Disorder: The Incurable Techie Malady
In my Times column Thursday, I reviewed the Nokia Lumia 900 phone. Plenty of people (including Nokia) consider it Nokia’s last best effort to make some headway in the American smartphone market. Microsoft also has a lot riding on this phone, which runs its Windows Phone 7 software. Like Nokia, it’s currently flopping.
After I review a big-deal product like this, I sometimes go online to see what other critics have written, to see if it struck them the same way. In the case of the Lumia, a number of reviewers mentioned something I didn’t: the Lumia’s processor.
One of the phone’s most notable features is its price: $100 with contract, rather than the $200 phones of this type go for. And one way Nokia got there was to use a 1.4 GHz Scorpion single-core processor, instead of, for example, the dual-core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm APQ8060 found in some of its Android rivals.
I smacked my forehead. This kind of thinking drives me batty. Who on earth cares what processor is inside — as long as the phone feels fast? And this one feels fast. Very, very fast.
As far as I’m concerned, for the customer, it shouldn’t matter if the phone has a Snapdragon, a dual core or a hamster wheel. All that matters is how fast the phone winds up.
Among the tech cognoscenti, this is a typical symptom of Spec Obsession Disorder (SOD). You see it all the time.
Back in the day, PC makers used to market their computers by promoting the megahertz rating of the chip inside. Remember that? “Powered by a 2.4-gigaherz Pentium 4,” as though that’s all you needed to know about the computer’s power. The clock speed of a chip was only one tiny factor of many that determined the PC’s speed—and not even the most important factor. The amount of memory, the hard drive speed and size, the bus speed—all of these things determined a PC’s power.
The joke was on Intel, though. Eventually, the company couldn’t make its clock speeds any faster — so it stopped featuring that statistic. It developed other ways to make its processors faster, ways that couldn’t be handily represented by a single number. So nowadays, nobody says, “I’m upgrading to a 3-gigahertz PC.”
Similarly, for years, we were taught to believe that what determined a camera’s quality was its megapixel count — which, I’m happy to report, has been duly debunked. Nowadays, the megapixel count isn’t featured nearly as much, and the smart camera makers (Canon is one) have actually reversed themselves. They’re making cameras with fewer, but better, pixels.
But Spec Obsession Disorder lives on. We still make a fuss about 720p versus 1080p hi-def video, for example. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not entirely sure that most people could tell the difference at normal viewing distance.
O.K., maybe, if they had two side-by-side TV sets, both playing Blu-ray discs. But most people don’t have that. They see a brilliantly crisp picture, and they’re fine with it. (Besides, the source also matters. Standard-def TV doesn’t have enough resolution to fill even a 720p picture, let alone a 1080p one.)
And don’t get me started about contrast ratios. Do you really think the average person could see the difference between a contrast ratio of 500,000:1 and a million to 1?
Spec obsessions also crack me up because, frankly, you’re judging something based on the report of what’s inside. When you bought a PC, did you extract its processor to measure its 3 gigahertz yourself? Do you count the pixels on your hi-def TV or your camera?
No, of course not; you’re just taking the manufacturer’s word for it. And as we all know, that can get you into trouble.
I’ll keep reporting the most important specs in my reviews, because techies care about such things. But to me, the questions should not be, “How much memory is in this tablet? How many nits of brightness does that phone’s screen put out? What graphics processor is in that laptop? How much milliamp-hours does that phone’s battery pack?”
Instead, the questions should be, “How fast is it? How good does it look? Can you read it in sunlight? Does the battery last? How long does the battery last?”
And even those are secondary questions. The bigger ones are, “Is it a good value? Is the design excellent? Should you buy it?”
And on the Lumia 900, the answers to those questions are “yes,” “yes,” and “maybe.”