Releasing any new product into the wild—especially a product as sophisticated as smart home gear—must be equal parts thrilling and terrifying. I can’t even imagine. What I can imagine, though, is the trepidation, hesitation, and frustration that comes along with sending that shiny new smart doodad to a professional reviewer. One who has probably played around with all your major competition. One whose job it is to pick every nit and make a valiant effort to break your new toy through normal use.

 

The reason I can imagine it so vividly is because I do it for a living. And I’m here to give you some insight into, some dirty secrets about, and some advice for navigating the review process.

 

  • The first thing you need to keep in mind is that the smart home world is a tangled mess of conflicting standards right now, and although the reviewer you’ve selected to critique your product for the world to see may already be equipped with all manner of smart lighting control, smart climate control, smart locks, smart speakers, etc., they may not have an ecosystem that’s compatible with your new device. If that’s the case, you may find that you need to send along a few compatible products, even if they’re not being reviewed, just to give the reviewer a sense of how your product plays well with others.Making a new smart bulb or dimmer? Send along some compatible motion sensors, even if you don’t make your own. Does your new smart plug support Amazon Alexa? Drop $49 on an Echo Dot and stick it in the box, just in case the reviewer doesn’t already have one, or at least doesn’t have one in the room where smart plugs might be useful. We’ll rarely outright ask for such things, but we certainly appreciate them, because they allow us reviewers to get a better sense of how smart your smart product is.

 

  • Another thing to keep in mind is that we are going to call your customer support at some point and act like drooling morons. That’s true even if we’re not having a problem installing or using your new smart home product. We’re not going to reach out to your PR company or other point of contact. We’re going to call the 1-800 number on the back of the instruction manual and act like we’ve never heard the terms ‘WPS’ or ‘pairing mode’ in our lives. It’s sneaky, yes. It’s also one of the few methods we have of trying to understand the experience of the average consumer. If your customer support isn’t up to snuff, we reviewers will always have some reservations about giving your product a glowing recommendation.

 

  • When it comes to features and compatibility, it’s also worth noting that reviewers and their readers can tend toward hive-mindedness at times. Whatever cool new feature the kingmakers have agreed is essential, most everyone else will start to treat it like the most important thing in the world. In the smart home world, one of the biggies is compatibility with the aforementioned Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and/or Google Home digital voice assistants, even with smart home products that should never in a million years be controlled via voice.Smart locks, for example. Why on earth would you want these controlled by verbal commands? The security concerns speak for themselves, even if you add a PIN or passcode to the equation. And yet, if you make a smart lock without such functionality, you’re going to get dinged for it. If not in the review itself, then in the comments section, for sure. And the comments section, over which we have very little control, can sometimes be more influential than the review itself. It’s unfair, I know. It’s ridiculous, I know.

 

  • But there is a potential workaround. The last thing you need to keep in mind with any product review (smart home or not) is that we journalists love a good story. And we have so many deadlines looming at any given time that we’ll rarely turn down help in crafting that story, as long as we believe it.

 

So, if you have a new product that lacks a feature your major competitors support, get ahead of it by explaining why, right up front. Hang a lantern on it, so to speak. Turn your perceived weakness into a strength. ‘We don’t allow you to unlock the front door with voice commands because that’s dumb. But we do support (insert nifty new feature here), and that’s way cooler and more secure.’ Tell the reviewer ahead of time exactly who your product is for, why it does what it does, and—most importantly—why it doesn’t do what it doesn’t do, and I’m not saying you’ll be guaranteed a good review; I’m just saying that you’re far more likely to get a fair and thorough one.

 

Dennis Burger spends most of his free time watching Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Critical Role. He also somehow manages to find room in his schedule for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. In addition to serving as senior editor for HomeTheaterReview.com, he also contributes to Cineluxe and Residential Tech Today. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who’s convinced he’s a Pomeranian.