Parametric searches

If you’ve ever browsed the web page of a consumer equipment manufacturer, you’ve probably run into the frustrating experience of trying to figure out what makes one model different from another. I tend to go straight for the product specification pages, but sometimes it’s not enough – they may be missing, incomplete (hello, Fujifilm), incorrect or even intentionally misleading (hello, Samsung), or just plain unreadable. And even when the pertinent data is there, we often find one brand won’t measure using units used by another brand. This is where comparative reviews really shine – but inevitably, group tests don’t cover the precise items you’re considering. One thing that can sometimes help is parametric searches.

Thankfully, a few places try to cover the gaps. Parametric searches is a feature the electronic component industry has had for a long time, by necessity, which is now creeping into more mainstream usage. You’ve no doubt seen sites like Pricerunner, where you can look up prices on specific products; but with a parametric search, you can look up products based on their differences. For instance, one might want a backlit handheld gaming system, or a camera with high speed video recording, or a video card with passive cooling yet advanced enough chipset to run complex OpenCL tasks. It’s all possible.

In particular, today I’d like to recommend a few websites with this function:

Prisjakt is a swedish site listing consumer goods. Stores that advertise there get direct links, but even stores that do not may be listed, and anyone may submit corrections and refinements to the product database. In particular, they have ratings for both products and dealers, which gives consumers a much better chance to avoid bad service. The primary downside is that a lot of parameters aren’t entered into the database; you may miss an item simply because you filtered on something prisjakt doesn’t know about it.

Snapsort is less general, listing only digital cameras. For ease of use, they have some predefined weights for parameters to give suggestions; if you don’t agree with them (for instance, I do not at all prefer 24fps over 30fps), just look further or add your own requirements. I particularly like the explanatory articles, where you can learn just what the details mean. Sadly, it’s not as clear how to get incorrect details fixed as on prisjakt. Sometimes, newer models just aren’t listed (like Ricoh GXR P10).

On both sites, once you’ve narrowed down your search, you can get side by side comparisons with the differences highlighted.

In looking around a bit, I’ve found that this function is growing in popularity. Dpreview has a feature search for both cameras and lenses, although naturally limited to those they test. I wish I had found one for bags when I needed a new backpack, because total volume is not all. Feel free to post about any similar tools below, I’d love to hear about them!

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