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Reading Between the Lines
By Don Keith N4KC
Copyright 2018 by Don Keith
When I am contemplating an amateur radio purchase, I find the reviews offered by others here on eHam or other similar sites to be quite helpful. After a piece of gear has accumulated several dozen comments, I find there is enough input to make a good judgment about not only the quality of the item but whether its feature set is really what I am looking for. After many years of perusing the reviews, though, I think I have picked up the ability to read between the lines of some of them, and to glean even more information from them.
As a service to my fellow hams, here is a quick guide to what posters are really saying in those reviews.
No need to thank me. I'm happy to help.
What the reviewer says: “This thing is a POS!”
What the reviewer means: “This wonderful bit of electronic engineering is a POS - a `perfectly operating system!' I'd buy a dozen but I don't have room to store them.”
What the reviewer says: “0/5”
What the reviewer means: “I know the thing has a 4.9/5 average, and I'm the only one—out of 527 reviews—to give it less than a 4. But I pulled mine out of the box, tossed the box and manual in the dumpster, hooked it up, tried to load it up to a lawn chair, and the output transistors went pppsssszzzzlll. What a pile of junk! How can they get away with selling stuff like this?”
What the reviewer says: “I know this antenna is only a 50-ohm resistor in a tub of epoxy, but it is the greatest radiator ever invented. My first contact was with a VK on 40 meters in broad daylight from St. Louis. Forget the laws of physics. This technology may well win the Nobel Prize. A hundred years of antenna engineering and never, until now, has someone discovered such a stunning breakthrough like this. The thing is a miracle!”
What the reviewer means: “My brother-in-law and I make these things in our basement. Every other positive review you see is from somebody we gave a free one in exchange for the `5.' Please buy one. I suddenly have lots and lots of legal bills and the Federal Trade Commission is spamming my in-box.”
What the reviewer says: “Too complicated, too many knobs, the menu structure reminds me of that calculus class I dropped in college. What good is it if I can't figure out how to even turn it on?”
What the reviewer means: “I want DC-to-daylight, roofing filters, noise blanking, all modes, backlighting with a choice of a hundred colors, and instant mode and bandswitching, CW speed, mic gain, sideband selection, satellite choices, split and reverse split, three receivers, voice processing, and more…all with two knobs and no menus.”
Alternative version of what the reviewer means: “I've been inactive since Nixon was president. I'm still looking for some tubes in this thing. And knobs for the plate and load. A menu on a radio? Next thing you'll tell me is that people are getting radios that plug into their computers. I think I need to go lie down for a while.”
What the reviewer says: “Their customer service is the worst. Dunno how they stay in business.”
What the reviewer means: “Okay, so I questioned the person's ancestry and sobriety, and used some language more appropriate for a dockworker. And that was just while talking to the receptionist. But their junk blew a fuse and all I did was go key-down for an hour with no antenna hooked up. And fudged just a bit when I told them when I bought it. Fudged by six years. But the least they could have done is send me a new one.”
What the reviewer says: “Man, this is one fantastic radio! I had no idea something this great was on the market. I'd buy six more if I had the desk space.”
What the reviewer means: “Look, I could have bought a slightly used Toyota for what this box full of parts cost me. It makes power on two bands, drifts like a hobo, smells like sardines when it gets hot…which it does quite quickly…and produces transmit audio that sounds like a cement mixer full of gravel. But if you think I'm going to spend that much on something and not pretend to love it, you're out of your mind!”
What the reviewer says: “reel gud flox bt som time seemz to gof wen glocking the qtr. hey, ifn want craigy swartz, this is the wun yu waant.”
What the reviewer means: Well, truth is that I haven't quite figured those kinds of posts out yet. I know our education system is superb and that no one could graduate high school without being able to string together a coherent sentence. I figure this must be some other language with which I am not familiar.
What the reviewer says: “WOW! THIS IS ONE SWEET, SWEET PIECE OF GEAR!!!!!!”
What the reviewer means: “I do like this piece of equipment. I just can't figure out how to get the caps lock on my keyboard turned off since all the RF in the shack turned it on back in `98.”
So that is my little attempt at interpreting the web reviews for ham gear. I do hope it has been helpful and that you will all continue to give the rest of us the benefit of your comments. They do mostly serve a useful purpose, and thanks to the sites that allow for this first-hand commentary.
Don Keith N4KC has been a ham radio operator for more than fifty years. After a long career in broadcasting and advertising, he now writes full time and has published more than thirty books, fiction and non-fiction, on a wide range of subjects including amateur radio. See www.donkeith.com or www.n4kc.com for more info.