Unpacking an honest, but not very nice, review

Do reviewers have an obligation to be kind to startups?

Is it fair for a reviewer to give a new product a very bad review? That’s the “debate” surrounding YouTuber Marques Brownlee’s review of Humane’s AI Pin, which he declared “the worst product” he’s tried yet.

A thumbs-up, a thumbs-down, and five gold stars against a pink background.

His lackluster report was met with ire by tech founder Daniel Vassalo, who argued that Brownlee’s review was “almost unethical” given his large following, later telling Business Insider that “the power to crush a company shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

Please note that the Pin’s maker, Humane, was reportedly last valued at $850m before releasing any products.

Brownlee isn’t alone…

… in excoriating the $699 product. So far, it’s received mostly negative reviews across the board, with users calling it a glitchy device that overheats, lags, and is missing key features.

Even a positive review can’t save a product without a compelling use case or one that’s too expensive (see: Apple’s $3.5k Vision Pro). And in Brownlee’s case, hyping a product he found to be “the worst” would only reduce the credibility he’s built.

But this whole thing does raise an interesting question about the role of a reviewer.

Most of us would agree…

… that they should try a product thoroughly, then report back honestly. That assumes their responsibility is to the reader, guiding consumers to make wise purchases.

But that’s not always what happens:

  • Retailers, including Amazon and Yelp, are often combating fake reviews people were paid to write.
  • Influencers and bloggers — who often receive products, food, trips, and more for free — are replacing incognito, less-biased reviewers.
  • The internet has enabled “review bombing”: when people bash something they haven’t experienced over a news item or because they’re mad at who’s been cast in a movie.

That makes Brownlee’s review particularly refreshing, especially at a time when it seems like companies are hyping everything AI, an admittedly nascent technology that — much like the AI Pin — isn’t always ready for prime time.

BTW: Brownlee responded, saying reviews that aren’t honest are useless, and digging further into his review process.

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