Why Build Quality Discussions in Tech Reviews Don’t Matter as Much as You Think

tech reviewMany of us turn to tech reviews whenever we want to explore the various options available on the market. This is especially true for smartphones and tablets, which are probably the highest-profile catagories as far as the tech industry is concerned. One thing that we see often (if not all the time) in reviews involves things called ‘build quality’, which refers to the materials used and how tough or solid the construction of the item is, and ‘feel’, which involves a measure of ergonomics and how “premium” the gadget feels in a person’s hand.

The Importance of Build Quality

Smartphones and tablets are, in general, investments made by consumers. We spend money on them whether they’re the top-shelf flagship models or if they’re the cheapest entry-level options out there. You end up spending money whether you get your gadget off a carrier plan (free or subsidized) or from retailers unlocked. That’s why it’s important that they last—through everyday use, wear and tear, exposure to different things from humidity to your spilled Coca-Cola, drops, and many other things. In this case, build quality is definitely important.

It’s understandable why many think that build quality and looks go together. If it’s well made, most likely it also looks good and is designed well. You’re spending money on something, and it’s easy to feel buyer’s remorse if the thing you bought ends up looking really ugly. Getting looks and build quality right should be a major point of consideration, especially if you’re going to use your smartphone as your primary business phone.

However, the way build quality is discussed in reviews these days don’t really account much for that. In fact, when you do a quick browse of any review now you’ll likely only find pure conjecture when it comes to how the phone or tablet will hold up across months or even years of use. You won’t actually find any details that will show you whether or not the gadget will last or how well they take accidental drops.

Much Ado About ‘Premium Feel’ and Looks

The latest Samsung flagship Android smartphone, the Galaxy S4, got some very harsh criticism for again featuring the same plastic construction for the body. David Pierce of The Verge said in his review that he “can’t get over the gross feeling” he has when holding the phone, and pointed out the “unpleasant, cheap design” as one of the major knocks. One of the big cons Engadget highlighted in its review was the “boring overall design without premium look or feel.”

Users seem divided on this issue (the review from The Verge had 1462 comments as of this writing, and many focused on the design discussion), with one side upholding the emphasis on good materials and design, another defending Samsung’s choice and focusing on the features, with yet another side going for the “different strokes for different folks” mentality.

The bottom line is this: in the context of tech reviews, premium feel barely matters anymore. Why? People use protective or even decorative cases for their investments. That pretty, slick, and high-quality iPhone 5’s premium feel is thrown all out the window once the user decides to slap some OtterBox armor on there. Out in the wild, you will likely find a greater percentage of users having cases on their phones compared to those that leave their smartphones naked. That’s exactly why there’s no point to how a gadget feels. Heck, even the basic ergonomics won’t matter once a case is used, because then only the case’s design will affect the ergonomics.

So, the next time you come across a review talking about premium feel and looks or cheap build quality and materials, feel free to disregard those aspects of the review. They don’t matter—at least not in the way it matters to the average consumer. Make sure you look for the information relevant to you and, if you can, do look for retailers that provide demo models so you can hold and feel a gadget for yourself instead of relying on the subjectivity of reviewers.