When you hear the name of a popular tech brand, you’ll naturally have a gut reaction. Perhaps you love Sony’s game consoles, but can’t stand its headphones. Or maybe you buy Samsung exclusively, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or refrigerator. And then there’s Casio—which you might associate with decent cameras, bad smartphones and cheap-but-passable wristwatches.
Some of this comes from actual product experience, but more often, it’s all about the marketing. Microsoft spends millions trying to win over young professionals. Every Apple ad tells us they have superior design. Even that $20 drug store Casio watch is in your head for a reason—a timepiece advertised as the go-to option for people on a budget.
Read more: How to trade in your damaged iPhone
But which brands truly measure up to the marketing? At SpecOut, we rated thousands of products across dozens of product categories, from smartphones to tablets, cameras to headphones, televisions to washing machines. We then determined the average rating for each brand within each product category. Finally, we created an overall ranking based on each brand’s performance across all product categories.
After we reveal the overall rankings and explain our methodology, we’ll chart the ratings for a few key brands in greater detail.
How did you determine the product ratings?
Each product received a Smart Rating, based on expert reviews, benchmark performance, specifications and features. To take smartphones as an example, we factored in expert scores (CNET, Laptop Mag, PC Magazine, PC World, WIRED), over a dozen tech specs (battery life, video resolution, pixel density, etc.) and a variety of performance benchmarks (Geekbench, Basemark OS II, CamSpeed, DxO Mark,GFXBench, Broswermark).
How did you settle on these 22 brands?
We only included brands that sell products in at least four of the product categories we cover.
Which product categories did you include?
We covered a total of 22 product categories:
– Digital cameras
– Digital pianos
– Fitness trackers
– Game consoles
– Processors (CPUs)
– Solid state drives
– Streaming media players
– Video graphics cards
– Washing machines
– Wireless speakers
Most brands make products in just five or six of these categories. In contrast, Samsung, Sony, LG and Panasonic cover at least 10 each. The following chart breaks down the number of relevant categories for each of the 22 brands.
Why did you use standard deviation in the final ranking?
Some product categories (like tablets) feature a huge diversity of options, features and quality, leading to a wide range of ratings, from terrible (20/100) to phenomenal (100/100). Meanwhile, other product categories (like processors), have hundreds of similar offerings, with only minor differences in speed and performance, leading to a clump of close ratings.
As such, standard deviation allows us to determine which brands truly stand out (both positively and negatively), regardless of how clumped or widespread the ratings in each product category tend to be.
Amazon emerges as the surprise winner, the brand with the most consistently high quality of the pack. The company’s secret? Restraint. Amazon doesn’t bother making products in categories where it can’t compete, which means few products drag down the brand’s overall score. The company is better than average across all categories, from e-readers (best in the business) to streaming media players (top tier) to wireless speakers (solid).
Yes, the Fire Phone was a verifiable sales flop, but the device wasn’t nearly as terrible as the tech world likes to remember. The handset can’t compete with the Samsung’s Galaxy S6, but the Fire Phone is still a lot more capable than many of Samsung’s other devices, an assembly line of bloated hardware at basement pricing.
Apple checks in at No. 2, with stellar ratings in the categories you’d expect: phones, tablets, smartwatches and laptops. But the brand stumbles with streaming media players (the Apple TV) and headphones, enough to knock the Cupertino titan out of first place. Perhaps the new Apple TV can boost the company’s media player ratings.
In contrast to Apple and Amazon—companies that carefully pick which product categories to pursue—Samsung pursues just about every market in the industry, from washing machines to printers to wireless speakers.
Here, Samsung’s home appliance bonafides stand out, with dryers and refrigerators ranking among the company’s most stand-out products.
For several other categories, Samsung’s hits (ex: the Galaxy S6) are weighed down by flops (ex: the Galaxy Grand Neo), typical of a company that follows a quantity-first mentality. But only when it comes to vacuums does Samsung truly stumble, coming far below average in an industry ruled by Dyson and Electrolux.
Near the other extreme of the spectrum is HP, the Palo Alto tech giant that just announced a 33,000-employee layoff. While HP’s products remain around average in two classic segments—printers and laptops—the brand has stumbled with smartphones and cameras. When your very best products are still only middle-of-the-road, that’s not a good sign. As a result, HP winds up among the bottom three of our ranking.
Read more: Warning: Don’t do this with your cell phone
When it comes to processors, Intel remains better than average—good news, given that so many mainstream laptops use Intel chips. Unfortunately, the brand falls short across other segments, from motherboards to solid state drives. Sometimes, it’s better to stick to what you’re good at, even if that’s just one thing. To Intel’s credit, they stopped producing motherboards in 2013.
The most crowded product category
At least among these 22 brands, the most crowded category isn’t smartphones or laptops, but tablets. The tablet industry appears to be a middle ground of sorts, a place where multiple tech titans can meet to compete in an enigmatic, unpredictable business. For now, Apple remains on top, while classic PC makers like Dell and Toshiba continue to struggle.
Read more: How to find cheap tablets starting at $20
If there’s one company that seems to be building momentum, it’s Microsoft. Once a mobile outsider, the Redmond corporation has found a few new footholds with the Surface. That said, time will tell whether consumers actually start making the association. Sometimes, great products can be made in a year or two. But coaxing a positive gut reaction from consumers? That can take decades.