How we test and review products
Why trust Popular Science
Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.
Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio, to video games, to cameras, and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.
What we test
Considering that every product that makes it to the marketplace has some underpinnings in science and technology, Popular Science can cover pretty much any device under the sun. That kind of freedom has its positives and negatives. We may spend one week evaluating the best solar generators, then quickly pivot to the pursuit of the best dog toys. At any given time, a gear editor’s desk might be littered with a new GoPro, a Sonos speaker, a MagSafe battery charger, some electrolyte drink mix, a steel water bottle, and an unopened doggie DNA test kit.
How we test and review products
While we cover a wide array of subjects, we always strive to treat every product and category with the same rigor that makes PopSci stories worth reading in the first place.
We typically get the gear we test on loan directly from the companies. Brands understand that sending us products to test doesn’t ensure that we’re going to cover them positively. We’re committed to offering honest, and complete (as much as possible) assessments because we know people are paying ever-increasing prices for this stuff. We take that responsibility seriously.
In some instances, we’ll check out gear as part of a pre-release media event or demo day, which companies hold to give media a chance to evaluate multiple products on the same day. We like these showcases because they give us a chance to see the products, without having to inflict the ecological damage that comes with shipping large, heavy items all over the country in order to put together a review.
Obviously, we can’t test everything. As a general interest publication, we would have to put our hands on a literal mountain of stuff each month. Some of our recommendations draw their inspiration from extensive research. We rely on knowledgeable writers to mix their hands-on experience with data from trustworthy editorial reviews, reliable user feedback, and straight-up spec sheet comparisons.
We typically start evaluating a product category with the widest possible net. We survey everything from the tried-and-true heavy hitter companies that rarely miss to the more obscure Amazon products offered by shadowy companies with names that appear like nothing more than six random letters. Then we narrow down our selections, attempting to try as many top picks as timing and availability allow, before finalizing the list.
Every review process is slightly different because the products all vary. Reviewing a TV is leagues apart from evaluating an air fryer. Though, it is lucky when we get to review both at once because then we can count watching Mad Max: Fury Road and eating Impossible plant-based “chicken” nuggets as work.
For some evaluations, we use tools designed specifically to make quantitative evaluations. For example, we’ll sometimes run color accuracy tests on monitors. And our audio reviewers have specific tracks they play to test out the response and performance in speakers and headphones. It’s a process made of a million processes, and we take all of them seriously.
When we decide something truly deserves special recognition after hands-on testing and hardcore vetting, we’ll give it our Editor’s Choice badge. We’ve interacted with, trust, and genuinely like those products. In many cases, we probably own them ourselves.
If you see a link in our reviews content, it’s likely an affiliate link. When you click those and buy something, our partner sites may give us a small commission on the sale. It helps support our journalism.
While those relationships do involve money, they in no way influence our opinions about products. If something stinks, we’re going to tell you about it. Then we’ll tell you about several other better options and you can buy one of those through our affiliate links. Yes, this does lead to the occasional awkward email with a company, but that’s part of the gig.
PopSci’s Executive Editor, Gear & Reviews, Stan Horaczek has been writing about and reviewing consumer electronics for long enough that some of his earliest bylines are Engadget posts about the Motorola RAZR (great phone, by the way!). Reviews Editor Mike Epstein has been a prolific video game and accessory reviewer for years, and Associate Managing Editor Tony Ware knows so much about high-end audio that we threaten to mute him in meetings before he starts in about open-ear versus closed-back headphones for lossless audio playback. Suffice it to say: We’re nerds, and we seek out other nerds to help us on our noble nerd pursuit to pick the best stuff and recommend it to you. Here’s who we are: