Why is The Wirecutter bad?
January 31, 2022 4:47 PM   Subscribe

In this thread about the NYT purchasing Wordle, many folks mentioned how terrible Wirecutter is now. What are the specific reasons and where do you go for a similar service other than Consumer Reports?
posted by gwint to Computers & Internet (40 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like Wirecutter stopped (or reduced) doing long-term use testing of their products at some point, after which the recommendations just focused on features rather than including things like build quality, reliability, customer support, etc. When I look up Wirecutter's recommended products on Amazon now, more often than not I see lots of comments about how it died after a few weeks or months, terrible customer service, etc.

Unfortunately I haven't found an alternative.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2022 [38 favorites]

Personally I've gotten a couple recommendations from them where their recommended item fell apart soon after purchase. I think part of the problem is they don't test things over long periods of time.

I know Rank & Style recommends clothes, accessories and personal grooming products but I think they just go by pre-existing reviews.
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm not even sure that Consumer Reports is that much better. I actually bought a subscription because I needed to make a major appliance purchase and wanted something other than the typical "Best item as reviewed by top bot reviews on Amazaon" listicle articles and found CR not all that helpful.
posted by brookeb at 5:12 PM on January 31, 2022 [9 favorites]

I loved Wirecutter before it was bought by NYT, and there’s been an appreciable decrease in quality since not longer after they were bought. Echoing Greg_Ace that they were very focused on long-term testing previously, which is especially important when you’re dealing with cheaper products in certain categories.

I use The Strategist for certain things now, but they don’t have the breadth of products that Wirecutter does. For more speciality things (e.g. when I bought a record player a few months ago) I usually just Google “best [item] 2022” and often find a speciality website, good Reddit thread, or something else that’s helpful.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:17 PM on January 31, 2022 [13 favorites]

I followed The Wirecutter (hereafter Old Wirecutter) for a long time, and have gradually been getting more and more dismayed with the new New York Times run Wirecutter (hereafter New Wirecutter).

1) Old Wirecutter's budget picks were often actually really cheap, like IKEA DVALA sheets and duvet covers for around $20-$30. It felt like a website for lots of kinds of people, including broke and working-class people.

New Wirecutter seldom offers budget picks anymore at all, and their picks frequently seem absurdly expensive, like this piece about throw blankets with prices as of today from $81 to $345. Eighty-one dollars for a lightweight throw blanket made of "cotton gauze." In 2022.

2) Old Wirecutter was readable without a subscription, New Wirecutter is so aggressive about pushing NYT subscriptions that despite being an email newsletter subscriber I only open New Wirecutter links in incognito browser windows.

3) Old Wirecutter frequently wrote articles about "Why We Don't Recommend an X" for categories like gimmicky skincare products and air fryers, and used to be diligent about their "Who Should Get This" sections explicitly discussing who should NOT get a product because they'd be happier with something else. Old Wirecutter seemed to research carefully, and be at least as concerned with poeple having good experiences as with fueling consumerism. New Wirecutter still does these things, sometimes, but it feels like they do them less often. Also they now have air fryer picks and a comically research-light pick for a shimmery body oil.

4) Old Wirecutter sometimes swapped picks when products failed too fast, New Wirecutter seems to swap picks primarily when something trendier and/or with more features shows up.

Sometimes I use Wirecutter as a starting point, but mostly I search around or look at Target when I have to buy things, which I am trying to do as little as possible.
posted by All Might Be Well at 5:21 PM on January 31, 2022 [55 favorites]

Way Back When, the Wirecutter would frequently tell you "what's the best X, price be damned," as well as "what's the best inexpensive X." The best description I have found of the modern Wirecutter is that their reviews pretty much all boil down to "buy the second cheapest X," even when there are better options available if you're willing to spend more.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:39 PM on January 31, 2022 [7 favorites]

The last two things I bought based on wirecutter recs were mistakes. A pair of wireless headphones that hurt to wear, especially with glasses and a humidifier so mediocre there is an article about it.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:09 PM on January 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

As far as alternatives, RTINGS.com has good product reviews for the limited types of products they cover.
posted by ropeladder at 6:17 PM on January 31, 2022 [12 favorites]

IMHO, they changed from actually testing products to simply comparing bullet points of features, cross-checking Amazon ratings, and calling that a review.

My alternatives are all hyper-specialized on specific product niches, and sadly come/go with some frequency. For TVs etc., I like rtings.com.
posted by aramaic at 6:18 PM on January 31, 2022 [10 favorites]

Something I've personally noticed that hasn't been mentioned here is that their metrics for "what a good product in this category should have" have become so disconnected from my actual needs that their recommendation is bound to be useless. The last example I remember before I swore off the site was looking for monitor recommendations, and the criteria included USB ports, which narrowed the field down to basically Dell. A useful criteria if you're looking to cull a bunch of recommendations to make deadline, not so much if you want to buy a really good monitor and are willing to just get a USB hub.
posted by Merus at 6:49 PM on January 31, 2022 [13 favorites]

My perspective is that in their drive to constantly produce content they now have a very bad signal to noise ratio, whereas in the old days they only made in-depth, long term reviews. Many of their articles have become like The Strategist - which are framed as "here are a few nice things" or "here are our favorites" but clearly not "the best" and have no review component. These crowd out the few good articles, since the picks don't actually change that much and rarely get updated.

They are also reviewing many more things which which are extremely dependent on the reviewer - things like running shoes, office chairs, dress shirts, and bed sheets - that a substantial amount of people will correctly have disagreement.

Also everything they've said about masks during the pandemic is wrong.
posted by meowzilla at 7:03 PM on January 31, 2022 [15 favorites]

NYT Wirecutter gets paid if you buy from their links, and that tends to produce crappy recommendations. I miss the old Consumerist, which ended up getting bought and closed down by Consumer Reports. I have a digital subscription to NYTimes, but limited access to Wirecutter and Cooking, and NYTimes is pretty annoting, no news there.

CoolTools doesn't do reviews, but people post stuff they like, Recommendo, also from Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder, seems useful; I guess it's newsletter only.
posted by theora55 at 7:32 PM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

When I have done deep dives into niche or hobbyist sites and then compared their advice to Wirecutter picks, Wirecutter has completely gone against broadly accepted criteria. This was especially true for vacuums.

I do still find their write-ups useful, but I almost never end up buying what they recommend.
posted by Comet Bug at 7:34 PM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

They used to be great but now they just recommend based on reviews, as far as I can tell. I own a very, very small shop of my own and can say with certainty that my own research into some products has revealed items better than what they've recommended. The umbrellas I carry (Blunt) and the charging cables (Rolling Square InCharge Max) are unquestionably better than the brands they recommend -- and neither was even in the running at Wirecutter.

I used to use them as a reference for what to carry, but it's pointless now.
posted by dobbs at 8:02 PM on January 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

This seems like a huge opportunity that the MeFi empire should jump on.
posted by Glomar response at 4:46 AM on February 1, 2022 [31 favorites]

This is all helpful to know. So, right now, if I'm interested in saving up to buy an ereader or a laptop or something like that, I tend to look at Wirecutter (current edition), Toms Guide and Consumer Reports. Or I google and I stay away from websites I've never heard of. What should I be doing instead? Also, MeFites, you are great. <3
posted by pelvicsorcery at 5:05 AM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you’re interested in the Mefite perspective, I have an infrequently updated What To Buy AskMe compilation post.
posted by zamboni at 5:09 AM on February 1, 2022 [15 favorites]

I hadn’t bought anything based on Wirecutter recommendations for a while, but a few months back I needed a car phone mount so went to read their review. I wasn’t wowed by their picks but I read the comments and lots of people were all “I can’t believe you didn’t even mention ProClip!” So I looked up ProClip, they seemed good, I bought one, and it’s great. I’m not sure what that says.

There’s the Buy It For Life subreddit although obviously that’s just random people with opinions. And “My x has lasted 20 years!” doesn’t necessarily mean an x from the same company bought now will last 20 years.

In the UK there’s Which?, which I assume is like Consumer Reports. Very thorough testing of a range of products. Although when they review something I Have Opinions about I often think “well, I wouldn’t by that one!”
posted by fabius at 5:31 AM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I honestly think the introduction of more "lifestyle content" was a signal for me – moving The Wirecutter farther away from, "Here's the thing you should buy, ignore the rest" to "Here's how to make your home cozy". That's a different site.

My all-time easy-go-to for how bad things got is the ceiling fan recommendation, which is – truly – just a professional (admittedly) who has installed 9 ceiling fans and said, "This is what I buy, but you get whatever works. Fans are mostly good!" The whole tone of the article made me irrationally mad.

That said, I lean on Reviewed.com a lot more for recommendations lately. They test things, like major appliances, and detail it all out. It approaches Consumer Reports level; the writing and expertise is evident. They absolutely have that same type of lifestyle content that I don't favor on The Wirecutter, but their tests are well-documented.
posted by hijinx at 5:43 AM on February 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Finding one person who knows a bunch, and has tried lots of things can be good. I’ve yet to buy anything because of it but the old-school Fred’s Shed seems like a good place for UK garden equipment and tool recommendations.

Also, depending on what I’m looking for, I’ll try and find a specialist forum and see what the consensus is. Often there isn’t a consensus of course, but you can get a sense of which brands are overpriced, or which are reliable etc. e.g. I browsed the Window Cleaning Forums, full of pro window cleaners, before I bought some kit to clean our windows.

On the other hand… I wanted to buy a good but simple flashlight recently. I asked for advice on one of the several (!) forums devoted to flashlights, and received a huge number of different recommendations, all for flashlights with complicated control systems (I want “off” and “on”). Sometimes people know too much.
posted by fabius at 5:59 AM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

This conversation is so helpful as I recently read their reviews for a humidifier. I couldn't reconcile their recommendation of one model with what appears to be a pretty common complaint about it from users across review websites. Its helpful to see some more context about them here. I was under the impression that they really "tested" items or reviewed for longevity. It sounds like that is no longer the case.
posted by fies at 6:06 AM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

New Wirecutter seldom offers budget picks anymore at all, and their picks frequently seem absurdly expensive, like this piece about throw blankets with prices as of today from $81 to $345. Eighty-one dollars for a lightweight throw blanket made of "cotton gauze." In 2022.

Or like their flashlight recommendations, which range from $40 to $80. Just for a small handheld flashlight! Not one of those giant lanterns that also has an am/fm radio.

The article makes some comment about how they decided like there's no such thing as a good flashlight for cheaper than this, but even if that's true, then I still want to know what the best cheap flashlight is. I imagine I'm not alone in feeling like, well, I'll just pay $10 for a pack of 8 flashlights on Amazon and see how it goes.

I feel like this flashlight thing was what made me realize things had really gone off the rails.

For winter clothing/outdoor sports/camping gear, outdoorgearlab is great. I'm not currently doing anything outdoorsy or particularly active, but I was just tired of buying coats and fleeces and whatnot that weren't actually that warm. Some of the stuff is super expensive, but for most categories of items, they have a whole separate article for budget picks, and they explain the pros/cons and who is best suited for their various options. I've bought an insulated winter jacket, a couple fleeces, and sweatpants based on their (budget pick) recs, and they've all been purchases I'm very happy with.

Unfortunately, I think that finding specialty websites like this may be the only way to replicate wirecutter. Maybe we should start like a mefi wiki page to collect all of them.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:20 AM on February 1, 2022 [7 favorites]

I agree that the Wirecutter has gone downhill, and it's a shame, because I was a huge fan and a regular consumer of their picks. It's no Consumer Reports - in fact, it might be a little bit more like New Wirecutter - but for things like gift guides and lists of great deals online, I like The Strategist from New York Magazine. Some of the articles include actual testing, but not all. I find it's at least a little more thoughtful than some of the internet listicles blatantly trolling for affiliate revenue on items they've never tried. Still paywalled, though.
posted by mosst at 6:51 AM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just posted an AskMe about specialty sites: What are the best focused review sites?
posted by zamboni at 7:31 AM on February 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

The main benefit of Wirecutter to me was that when I needed to get something, I didn't have to do a deep dive comparing every possibility. Their recommendations were almost always good enough, if not the best on every axis (or even on the Pareto Frontier). I have that infamous humidifier, and it's fine. I have owned a lot of humidifiers, and it's lasted the longest (and never caught fire).

I stopped using the Wirecutter in recent years because they've moved from a pure recommendation resource to also being a "Deals" site, and I found that it was influencing me to buy things that I didn't really need. I wasn't going to constantly navigate a paywall for that.

Thanks for the recommendations of alternate resources. I've bookmarked a couple.
posted by 3j0hn at 7:38 AM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I purchased Wirecutter's top ranked (by far!) spinner carry-on luggage to replace a Samsonite that I had had and loved for a long time and was getting a bit rough around the edges (cracked handle, janky wheel). Despite the two having virtually the same advertised dimensions, the new one had shockingly less capacity, even when expanded -- to the point where I could fit four full travel packing cubes in my Samsonite with plenty of room on top of them for extra shoes or souvenirs or the like, while the new luggage strained to fit three full travel cubes comfortably. Thinking I must have missed something, I went back to Wirecutter and read the whole of their quite detailed review: NOWHERE did it mention storage capacity as an issue, even in passing. It was a very nice bag in many respects, but if I can only fit half of what I'm used to fitting in a bag that size, that's going to be a bit of a problem.

I returned it and fixed up my Samsonite with some duct tape and WD-40, and it's been going like gangbusters. I don't trust Wirecutter at all now.
posted by Gadarene at 8:01 AM on February 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

The staff also recently went on strike for higher wage increases.
posted by amarynth at 8:15 AM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

This seems like a huge opportunity that the MeFi empire should jump on.

More generally, any area of the internet for which there is a constant demand, and where the value added is inevitably destroyed by an aggressive pursuit of monetization.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:57 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've been loving watching Project Farm YouTube testing videos. Here's the spreadsheet of everything he's tested. I think I've yet to buy any of his picks because somehow the local home depot doesn't have that particular grinding disc or whatever when I need one.
posted by aneel at 4:22 PM on February 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

I agree with all the complaints here about what Wirecutter has become lately. One additional complaint I've got is how the NY Times site now pushes Wirecutter content so aggressively. It is impossible to scroll through their homepage without feeling besieged by reviews of product categories I have zero interest in, so they can try to get me to click through to Amazon and drive their referral revenue.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:34 PM on February 1, 2022

My perspective is that in their drive to constantly produce content they now have a very bad signal to noise ratio, whereas in the old days they only made in-depth, long term reviews.

Case on point: Right now they have 7 (at the time of this writing) different "Best Gifts For Valentine's Day" type pieces running. Seven!

Then there's the How To Clean Your Kitchen Countertops which reads like a copy/paste of 200 other "lifestyle" oriented websites that take Proper Countertop Cleaning Protocol very, very seriously. Like who knew one needed: a soft cloth (But not a sponge. Never a sponge. Sponges are entirely different issue belonging to it's own subset of problems that require 200+lifestyle pieces on the internet) disinfectant, kosher salt + lemon, a wood conditioner and/or or sealant all just to clean your fucking countertops.
posted by space_cookie at 8:40 PM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

I like BabyGearLab for baby-specific things. We bought our fairly cheap video monitor off their recommendation after our first (expensive) one broke and while it looks a lot less impressive it performs really well.

For other things I like to read user reviews and look up specialty websites. For example, when buying home-related things I will look for advice articles from This Old House or Ace, and when I need new running gear I'll look up round-up articles from RunnersWorld.

I've also kind of given up on finding the "best" anything. Nothing will be perfect, but you can hope for something that fits your personal situation well.
posted by The Librarian at 8:15 AM on February 2, 2022

Do any other older millennials remember Zillions magazine? It was sort of like Consumer Reports, but for kids. Most of the reviews were for toys, and reviewers took into account factors like value for money, durability, and repeat playability. It was a really great magazine, with a bent toward teaching kids how to be discerning consumers who relied on facts instead of gimmicks when deciding how to spend their money.

It would be wonderful if there were something similar for adults.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:29 PM on February 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

saving up to buy an ereader

I suggest you look into Boox.

This dude's deep dives for tech are fantastic.
posted by dobbs at 2:56 PM on February 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

In New Wirecutter's defense, Old Wirecutter didn't have subscriptions that I recall - their primary revenue stream was affiliate links (i.e. making a profit when you bought things they picked) through Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wal-mart, etc. They had a very "like Santa in Miracle on 34th Street, we'll send you to competitors if they're better for you" sort of energy, but they were still trying to close sales.

In addition, there are some product categories where prices appear to have exploded in the Twenties where they hadn't in the Tens. Specifically, Wirecutter's main flashlight pick, the Thrunite Archer, has been the same for ages. I have one and quite like it, and as I recall mine was like $23, not $40.
posted by All Might Be Well at 4:11 AM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

@easy, lucky, free - I think Zillions was a CR publication? Mom got us a subscription, and I loved it, because I was a goddamn nerd.
posted by epersonae at 9:27 AM on February 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Gen Xers in the crowd may remember Zillions as "Penny Power", the name under which I first was introduced to it in school. There are some scans floating around the internet and they are very entertaining. (Actually, they'd be a fun post for the blue, if they've never been posted there!)
posted by Stacey at 9:42 AM on February 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I spent a long time looking for a tablet last year. I think the most important question is price point and whether you're comfortable spending $300 on one. If yes, how about $500? Budget pretty much determines everything there, and the offerings are pretty well grouped by price point.

I have no problem with affiliate links, it's how they're presented. If the entire article is just a funnel to get you to some buying position for whatever ill-reasoned recommendation they give, that's not good. If the review is well-done, I don't care. "Yes, that sounds like a good portable air-conditioner set of criteria and that price isn't terrible. Click." Nowadays the Wirecutter is "Which Shark or Dyson vacuum should I buy?" Which is just to say the whole operation seems untrustworthy. All acquisitions get ruined.

One thing that I have found decent luck with is using Reddit for the thing they are so hateable for: dumbshits. There are people asking daily which X they should buy, apparently without searching once, all day every day, endlessly repeated so that you know that the thread you are seeing is probably the latest information. Money's no object, I'm a cheap student...all of it, cycling constantly, and people are there who like to talk about, you know, dashcams or whatever, no matter the level of conversation. You just have to learn to not use the word "best" in your searches and you can mine your way into at least a reduced set of choices fairly quickly. I think this is unlikely to be corrupted easily because it sucks to do on a phone. There is enough searching and re-searching and tweaking terms that it's great and productive on a keyboard, but if I'm on my phone, after the third search for an alternate spelling or brand name I'll take a picture of what that store has and go ugh I'll look into it later. Impulse reduction.

I feel like reviews are a perennial business model. No large business wants to spend the time to do good testing. It's just not gonna happen. So if a person has the resources and interest to acquire enough things (even if sequentially) to put them to work over a period of time, that's something practially anathema to the profit motive, but is useful in the main. I don't know how much better the YouTube comparison and shootout people do than affiliate bloggers, but if you're interested in something that not many people are doing frickin unboxing videos for, much less usage tests, and you like to duhhh and gesticulate wildly. If it has enough organization and reputation and material, there's probably some company out there to buy it eventually, or at least keep you in rolling pins and USB chargers for life. I wonder how well the Project Farm guy does. He's got a lot of breadth, but there are long-term testers that are more topic-focused (car detailing products in my world) so he appears sometimes as an also-ran. This stuff is work though, so I hope it's producing more than altruism and free content for YouTube.
posted by rhizome at 3:40 PM on February 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Consumers Union ( parent of CR) published zillions/penny power
posted by brujita at 7:52 PM on February 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

America's Test Kitchen still does pretty solid reviews when it comes to kitchen equipment. The worst thing I've found is when reviews aren't updated in a while and the product is discontinued. But the brand recommendations are fairly good, and it has taught me what to look for when I'm picking stuff out for myself.

The extremely detailed reviews, like what I've linked above, are behind a paywall, but their YouTube Channel provides a really good summary of their testing. I like starting there to see the top pick, budget pick, that sort of thing. The videos are really good at providing the reasons why something in the manufacturing or one of the features wasn't good or was good. It's also nice to see a good variety of people testing the products. Their favorites are used daily in their kitchen setups, so I've been very impressed with the durability of most of their selections. That stuff has been put through its paces.
posted by PearlRose at 12:42 PM on February 23, 2022

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