How do I get review units?
January 28, 2008 6:58 PM   Subscribe

How do I get hardware review units to review in my school paper?

Sometimes tells me this is impossible, but I've just been tapped to write a biweekly technology column for my small college newspaper. A lot of the articles will review hardware.

I'd love to review the Kindle and Air, but this is difficult when I don't have them. How do reviewers usually get their hands on review units. I don't have to keep the project (obviously), but I'd want to spend at least a few days with it to get a decent feel for a high quality review.

Who at the companies do I contact, and is this information ever public?
posted by names are hard to Technology (8 answers total)
If you look at the reviews out there you'll notice that they are 99% "this is what it does," and 1%, "we hooked it up and tested and yup it works as advertised."

So basically you don't have to actually lay your hands on something to report on it. You can even get fancy and provide some commentary on how successful you think products will be in a crowded marketplace. Or whatever.

Of course, the point is you probably want free stuff, so I'd start by looking up the manufacturers for the products you want to review and then just sending them an email from your school account. It'll help if you've already some clips which you can forward to them to prove that you're legit.
posted by wfrgms at 7:04 PM on January 28, 2008

Also, at least in the case of the Air, you can go to an Apple store and play with it for a while.
posted by ooklala at 7:15 PM on January 28, 2008

I get review stuff occasionally for my blog. If it's any kind of major company it'll be handled through a PR agency that has built a list of people they believe to be influential with the ability to drive sales with a good review.

How many sales do you think you can create for the Kindle via your school newspaper? Unless they have some sort of college outreach program (which for tech stuff I guess is entirely possible) I doubt you'll see much free stuff action. Your best bet, IMO, is to do what you can without the actual product in your hand. Given that it is a small college paper, maybe you can even make a running gag out of reviewing products that you have never used. Then send links of your reviews to the companies. That may get you on a few lists for future review products.
posted by COD at 7:42 PM on January 28, 2008

Most companies have procedures in place for sending out review units. If there is something you are interested in reviewing, send them an email from an official email address, or write them a letter or send them a fax on official letterhead. Make your case for how a review could help their business ("I am the technology columnist for the The Such-And-Such College Weekly, which has campus-wide distribution to our 4,000 students and faculty, most of whom have too much money and not enough to spend it on... Would it be possible to obtain a review unit of your Widget 2.0?"). The worst that happens is you will get blown off.
posted by indyz at 7:47 PM on January 28, 2008

Seconding indyz. Most tech companies have standard procedures for handling review units. The hardest part is going to be finding out who you need to send the request/notification to. Then just send them an email from your .edu account, or better yet a letter on letterhead (if you have any), giving a little info about the paper and letting them know that you're planning on writing a review and would appreciate an opportunity to try their product beforehand.

If it's a new/high-demand product (like the Air or the Kindle), you're probably going to be at the bottom of a pretty long list before you get a review sample. I remember a few years ago the editoral staff at MacAddict was complaining about the long delay to get reviewers' samples from Apple, and they're a pretty widely-circulating magazine.

You might want to think about what products you want to review in light of that. Or if you know it's a newly released, heavy-buzz product, ask more broadly for any way you could handle or see the product in person -- in some cases you might be able to go to a distributor and handle a demo or something, in lieu of a take-home review sample. Better than nothing, anyway. You'll never know unless you ask.

My suggestion would be to go back a year, and pick some of the products that came out then, and do followup reviews. Did the product live up to expectations? What do actual users think? It'll be a lot easier to get review samples for devices that have been out a while, or that you can just go down to a store and play with, and the articles you'll write will probably be a lot more useful. (Speaking as a former college student, I'd personally be more interested in reviews by another student of products available inexpensively now, than just another review of shiny stuff that I can't afford and isn't available yet anyway.)

Slight derail/rant: "Reviews" written without having ever touched the product in question are, IMHO, bordering on unethical. Apparently this isn't a position held by many tech journalists. Do your readership a favor and don't do it. Discussing or analyzing something that's pre-release is one thing, but 'reviewing' it is another.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:21 PM on January 28, 2008

It's also quite likely that "free review units" are not free at all. My experience (admittedly a little out of date now) is that most manufacturers expect the review unit to be returned within a certain period of time, or you are considered to have bought it and will be billed.
posted by benzo8 at 3:16 AM on January 29, 2008

While you may not be able to get a Kindle or an Air out of doing this, one of the "tricks" my college paper used to get on the radar for different things was to review things we could without getting a free sample (say buying a CD the day it came out, or finding someone that decided the best thing in life was to buy the newest Mac and borrow theirs).

Then you send the tear sheets to the publicists that would have sent you the review item. Once they know you're reviewing their stuff, there's a better shot they might let you get a crack at a review unit. Unfortunately, I think record and movie companies are far more willing to give up promos.

When my college paper was reviewing DVDs, it took hours of work for them to consider sending them to us, along with a consistent track record of reviews afterwards to stay on the list.
posted by drezdn at 6:37 AM on January 29, 2008

Hook up with a local computer/tech store in exchange for a credit in each column.
posted by kindall at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2008

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