One of the magazines we always had at home was Consumer Reports. My mom and dad subscribed to it, and generally considered it a good source of advice. Accordingly, I bought an online subscription when I moved into my own apartment and started making large purchases for myself. Since I was a child at home, reading Mom and Dad's magazines, the institution of user-submitted reviews has become commonplace everywhere, even on Consumer Reports' website, where user reviews are posted separately from the site's own ratings derived from their own testing.

The two sources conflict with maddening frequency.

I found several positively-rated printers on Consumer Reports, but so many of them had abysmal user-submitted reviews. It may be because only people who disagreed with CR's review felt a need to say anything. There's also the fact that CR's ratings are determined by professionals who have less trouble handling less-than-ideal documentation. A lot of bad user reviews reference difficulty in configuring printers, which might be less of a problem for professionals.

Consumer Reports does have good information on the kinds of variables one might want to consider when making a purchase, some of which are surprising or subtle, or that they are in a unique position to test scientifically. Online reviews are widely understood to be flawed at best and shamelessly manipulated at worst. Still, it's hard to trust a positive review in one place when it's so heavily contested in the other.

Ultimately, the reviews I feel best about are those that I call "bipolar": concentrated with a lot of 5-star reviews at the top and 1-star at the bottom, without much in the middle. I often find with those that if I read the negative reviews, the purchasers either got stuck with bad luck (like they got shipped the one unit that was broken) or else they had some deep misunderstanding about exactly what they needed or what they were buying.

I think I found a printer I'll be happy with, but we'll see.

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