CNET reviews almost anything you might want to buy (and that are free). When you read , or , the advice comes from a team of people following a comprehensive and thoroughly vetted review process. Ensuring that our recommendations are accurate, credible and ultimately help you make an informed buying decision is a defining responsibility for what we do.
Our reviews are editorially independent -- as is all of CNET's journalism. No advertiser or affiliate partner dictates what we write, what we review or how we review it. With physical products like, , or even , we conduct hands-on testing, and in many cases, gather additional data in our lab to support our assessment. All of our reviews are based on deep research of the product or service we're reviewing, as well as how it stacks up against the competition. No product or service exists in a vacuum, and we know that the most helpful reviews are those that provide context and make comparisons across the marketplace.
You'll find more detail below on how we approach testing products and services.
How CNET reviews products
Whether we're reviewing one product or compiling reviews of multiple products for a roundup, one of the first things we do is determine the field of competitors. We look at pricing and features, among other criteria — all of which helps us understand which tests to run and what questions to ask in our evaluations.
When it's time to get our hands on a product, we approach that in a few ways. In some cases, manufacturers provide us with products directly, either on loan or on a permanent basis. In other cases, we purchase the products via regular retail channels. We might hang on to a product after a review to compare it with future competing products, but eventually everything that comes into our possession for review is either sent back to the manufacturer or donated.
To get started with a product review, we set it up just like you would, which could involve assembling it, installing any software and synching it up with other relevant products.
For reviews where we capture performance data, we rely on lab-based testing that's repeatable and gives us meaningful insight into how well a product does what it says it will. In some cases, we useand equipment. In others, we get creative and .
In addition to data gathering, we also try to be as exhaustive as we can in trying out a product's features. As with lab testing, the goal is also to determine how well a product performs against the manufacturer's claims, as well as how easy a product is to use. This process is more subjective than lab testing, but we weigh our experience with a given product against what we've found with its competitors.
In all cases, we also factor in how much each product costs and consider its overall value compared with other products like it.
We might seekto add even more depth to our evaluations. Whether we purchase a product or receive it from the manufacturer, we always give the manufacturer the opportunity to address any issues we encounter. We might not report on all of these issues if they're outliers (damage due to shipping if it's the fault of the shipper, for example). But in cases where our experience matches what you would find if you bought the product, we report as thoroughly as we can.
Sometimes we find out about products and receive them to review before they're announced to the general public. In most cases, agreeing to these terms means we can give you a full review of the product on or before the day it's available to purchase.
How CNET reviews services
Things like, , and even are different from reviewing products in that there's not always a physical product — or if there is, the product is only useful by virtue of the service behind it. With services, the value you receive is often determined by the terms of the service contract, and there might be so much variability between your experience and that of another customer that comparing any physical or technical aspects isn't especially relevant.
With services, we focus on comparing the reportable facts between a given service and its competitors. For services that are regulated by the government (like credit cards, fixed internet or cellular service providers), we also consider how those regulations have shaped the market and how a given service provider behaves within the confines of those regulations. If you only have one internet provider available at your address, that might be due to the regulations of internet service in your area, as well as the service provider's own lobbying efforts. You might still sign up, since at the end of the day you still need internet service, but knowing why you only have one service provider might help you do something about it, either through voting for a certain politician or considering alternate strategies for getting online.
Keeping you informed
Our goal in showing you what goes into our reviews is to help you understand how we form our recommendations, and, hopefully, to give you faith that we're here to help you get the most value for your money. Below, you'll find links to review methodologies for a handful of the product and service categories we write about.
We'll expand this list as we update older How We Test articles and as we publish new ones.