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PCMag offers "best" alternatives to Apple products, redefines "best" in process

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma
Save's recent article The Best Apple Product Alternatives couldn't smell any more like "bait" without being covered in worms.

Hoping to appeal to those who have some innate desire to not buy from Apple due to "a limited budget or an anti-Apple stance," PCMag put together a list of "alternative" products to Apple gear like the iPhone, iPod touch & iPod shuffle. The headline will surely grab attention, but as a friend of mine used to say, "Is there any meat in that sandwich?"

They start out comparing the iPhone 3GS to the Google Nexus One. The Nexus One will save you $20, but even PCMag rates the Nexus One 3.5/5 stars while the iPhone gets 4/5. The Samsung Mythic SGH-a897 will save you $70 and gets 4/5 stars. Only one catch: it's not a smartphone. It has "Web-based widgets" and apparently shows broadcast TV. Oh, and it's on AT&T too, so if you're turning down the iPhone because of the network, this isn't for you. So far this sounds like comparing my car to my bike and telling me the bike is better because it doesn't require gas.

Next is the iPod touch, listed in the category of "Portable Media Players," and here even PCMag can't keep a straight face: "We won't lie: You won't find a PMP that outperforms the iPod touch. Name another player that's basically an iPhone without the phone, and, can't." They give the iPod touch a 5/5 rating. Their "ideal alternative" is the Sony X Series Walkman NWZ-X1051 (who names these things?) which will cost you $299.95. Oh, remember how the "hook" to this story was lower prices? This one is actually more expensive than the iPod touch. PCMag does offer one other suggestion: you could get a Zune.

Sadly, it gets worse. Read on.

[hat tip to Shibani Joshi]

Statistically insignificant anecdotal side note: I know exactly one person who bought a Zune. He went to Best Buy to buy an iPod and they were sold out, and the salesman talked him into the Zune. One day after he bought it, he was asking me to help him figure it out. A few months later he was cussing at the Best Buy salesperson and himself for not buying the iPod. Also, it was brown.

Let's move on the the iPod nano, which PCMag says has "gone through several iterations, getting better every time" and "is the best player in its price range," which explains the 4.5/5 rating. The Samsung Q2 is $70 cheaper, but only gets a 3.5/5 rating, and PCMag can barely muster two sentences about it. Their third option, the $50 Coby MP705, gets only one run-on sentence which ends by telling you it has "earbuds that won't fall out of your ears." Oh, and it has a 3/5 rating.

Skipping down a bit, they compare the MacBook Air with the Sony VAIO VPC-Z116GXS which they rate 4/5 ahead of the MacBook Air's 3/5 stars, but the price is $1 more than the MacBook. There goes the old "Macs are more expensive" myth again.

What about the MacBook Pro? I was interested in this because the article starts off with this teaser: "Whether it's a limited budget or an anti-Apple stance that stops you from shelling out, say, $2,500 for a MacBook Pro, take solace in the fact that you'll find plenty of competing PC laptops that will serve you just as well." First of all, $2,500 is more than double the starting price of a MacBook Pro. "The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, to many, is laptop perfection" says PCMag. (Is Mr. Gideon channeling Captain Kirk or Christopher Walken?) They compare a $1700 MacBook Pro to a "Dell Studio XPS 16" (seriously, again with the names) which comes in at $1,804.

To recap: the article begins by grossly exaggerating the price of a MacBook Pro, then goes on to call the $1700 MacBook Pro "laptop perfection" but suggests that you spend over $100 more on an alternative.

It gets better. They describe a $1200 iMac as "basically a flat-panel HD monitor with a top-notch computer built-in. If you're a Windows person, however, this does you little good." Could someone visit PCMag's offices and drop off some brochures about Boot Camp, Parallels, and VMware Fusion? Before you bring up the additional cost of buying Windows, let me point out that their alternative, the "HP TouchSmart 600-1055 PC" (I'm not even going to comment on that name) costs four hundred dollars more than the iMac. They also say that this computer "shows how touch screen interfaces are going mainstream." Call me back in two years, PCMag, and tell me how great the touch screen interfaces are going on desktop computers.

For a "less-expensive alternative" they offer the $700 Lenovo IdeaCentre A600: "With a love-it-or-hate-it design, the Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 gives the value PC buyer an all-in-one option that's more powerful than a cheap nettop, though power users will want more." Really? That's what you're comparing to the iMac? I can't even look at you anymore, PCMag.

Look, there's more... they talk about the Mac Mini and suggest the "Dell Inspiron Zino HD" (ugh). They look at the AppleTV and suggest that you get an Xbox 360 for $70 more.

But honestly, the "meat" of this article is intellectual tofu. You can shape it like a turkey, but you're not going to fool anyone. You've got to have a heavy layer of Apple-hatin' mouth froth to seriously consider more expensive or lower-rated alternatives as better than what Apple has to offer.

Two things bother me the most about this piece. First, the dishonesty in describing the MacBook Pro as a $2,500 computer; not that you can't configure one for that much, but the way it's presented is deceptive. Second, praising the iMac and then saying it isn't something a Windows person can use. There are several perfectly good ways for people to run Windows on their Macs, and those approaches have been available for years.

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