Explained: Why many flagship phone reviews pop up at the exact same time

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Explained: Why many flagship phone reviews pop up at the exact same time
The world of reviewing products is an interesting one. As a smartphone enthusiast, you may have noticed that reviews for some of the most popular flagships each year pop up all at once.

Maybe you remember opening YouTube that one day, only to see that your entire homepage has been flooded by tech YouTubers who have all just released their video reviews of the exact same high-profile phone, at the exact same time – what's up with that?

Just an unbelievable coincidence, or is it something else? Of course it's something else...

Review embargoes

This is standard practice. Whether you review games for a living, or laptops, or smartphones – if the companies behind them find you high-profile enough, they're likely to send you a review unit (or a review copy in the case with games) earlier than the product's official release date, or even announcement.

Normally that comes with some conditions – for example you're not allowed to share that you have that product in your possession, nor are you allowed to share pictures of it, or photos taken with its cameras (if it's a smartphone). At least not until the end of a given embargo period.

During that period reviewers are meant to familiarize themselves with the product and prepare their reviews, be those written or in video format, preferably to be published as soon as the embargo drops.

And since companies normally give the exact same embargo periods to all reviewers, once that ends – you get a YouTube page full of reviews from different people, of the same smartphone, posted all at once. Because everyone wants to be first to publish their review as soon as the embargo drops – in that exact day, hour and minute.

Say a smartphone company sends their latest, highly-anticipated phone to 20 YouTubers. They're all given an embargo period that ends tomorrow at 4PM. Most of those YouTubers would set their review videos to publish at that exact time, and again, that's why you – the subscriber – will get a page full of different influencers reviewing the same product at 4PM.

So reviewers always get things sent to them?

Not all of them, but the biggest ones – yeah, as companies know that such internet personalities reviewing their phone, or at least being seen with it, could be invaluable publicity.

You don't even need to be a reviewer to get free stuff. If you follow Instagram influencers, for example, you may have noticed them writing about their new phone, or featuring it predominantly in photos. They're likely to have gotten it for free from the brand. It's standard influencer marketing, and it applies to any products – clothes, tech, you name it. Brands will send those to popular personalities with hopes that they'll be seen wearing or using them.

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But back to reviewers. Some brands can be really particular with who gets a review unit, and may ignore big influencers, instead reaching out to smaller YouTubers that produce more focused content that fits their product.

Say you have a YouTube channel specializing in reviewing Chromebooks, well then a company that just started selling a new Chromebook might be more interested in sending you a review unit over a bigger channel which reviews laptops in general. Because companies know that a Chromebook YouTuber likely has the better target audience for their product – a smaller one, but definitely interested in Chromebooks, and likely looking to buy one.

And you should know – in many, many cases, whether you're a big reviewer or not, you'll have to buy the product you wish to review with money out of your own pocket. Some brands just don't send out review units, or do so to a very small number of chosen influencers.

If you get sent a phone to review, can you keep it for free?

Normally that's not the case. After a period of time passes, a company may request that the reviewer returns the smartphone to it. Or in some cases, companies may request that one reviewer sends their review unit to another reviewer, so they can review it next.

However, if you're a YouTube channel who reviews cheaper, no-name products, it's not unlikely that small companies, usually out of China, would reach out and offer to gift you their new cheap microphone, smartwatch, phone case or another affordable product of theirs, so long as you promise to review it. Those you can normally keep. I've had this happen on a channel with as little as 15,000 subscribers.

For smaller, lesser-known or up-and-coming brands any reviews are welcome, and they're usually willing to give out their products for free, in order to get some.

As an example, I published a video game a few years ago. As part of marketing it, I sent free copies to game reviewers, because I needed the game's name to appear on YouTube, and on the web in general.

Similarly, I used to review books, so writers would send me free copies. It only makes sense to give out free stuff, or at least loan your product to reviewers, in order to get its name out there.

Do companies tell reviewers what to say?

Tech companies would normally send a press kit along with their product, including a reviewer's guide which points out what's special about their new smartphone, earbuds, or whatever the product is, and what the reviewer may be interested in knowing about it.

Say you're a business that sends reviewers your new earbuds and you're hoping for a thorough review – well then you need the reviewers to know your earbuds' specs and unique features – so, it makes sense to send over a review guide with this information.

Do your earbuds have water resistance? Has their battery life been tested? What Bluetooth version do they use? How many microphones do they have? You can't rely on the reviewer to figure out all of this on their own, especially if they're already tight on time to finish testing your product, photographing it, writing a review, producing a video before the embargo drops, and so on.

Of course, in most cases, reviewers are under no obligation to follow any guides and can just focus on what they find compelling about the product, or what they think their audience would.

So there we have it. Hopefully this was an interesting look into the world of reviewing products, as well as the world of marketing products in the modern day of the internet.

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