CES 2014 And the Curse of the Hands-On
CES Unveiled kicked off this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has kicked off in Las Vegas and what we can look forward to for the next week is a flood of articles which are known in the business as the Hands-On.

Some websites call them First Looks; some call them Previews; some even have the audacity to call them Reviews - but what is common to them all is a complete lack of anything of value or interest to the reader.

CES Unveiled is the opening event of what is billed as the world's biggest tech showcase. Unveiled offers a select group of companies the opportunity to get some prime time with the tech journalists who would other wise choose to ignore them in the vast cavern that is the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

Pay for the privilidge

Of course all these companies pay for the privilege of attending this intimate soiree, and it is likely worth their money if the rabid pack of journalists in the room tonight is anything to go by.

The doors had barely opened but journalists and cameramen clambered to be the first to get a look at the latest laptop from Lenovo or flying copter from Parrot.

It was as if the journalists there had never seen a laptop before such was the scrum around Lenovo's stand, as eager bloggers and journalists strained, stretched, clawed and elbowed their way to the front.

Briefly seen, barely touched

And the result of all this hothouse fervour? Dozens of Hands-On articles of products only briefly seen, barely touched and never used in any way which could give you a reasonable idea of what the product is actually like.

CES 2014 And the Curse of the Hands-On
Journalists at CES Unveiled get "hands-on time" with a drone.

The Hands-On has become such a staple of all major technology sites, as well as news websites, that PRs will now offer you "hands-on time" with a product they are shilling. This time typically ranges from the briefest glimpse of a phone behind a glass box to a little bit longer when you actually get to touch the product in question.

I will be the first to admit that I have in the past written Hands-On, based on little more than a passing glance at a product (and possibly will again in the future) because they were my instructions, and I will also admit that these articles offered the reader no more insight than they could have got from looking at a picture of the product on the internet.

The flood of Hands-Ons articles we will see this week could easily have been written from the spec sheet and contain more fluff than your average candy floss factory.

"Feels good in the hand"

Terms like "feels good in the hand" and "in our limited time with the product" are staples of this genre of journalism.

For the Hands-On writer CES is Mecca.

All the products from all the companies in one giant warehouse, and with editors barking at writers to get as many written as possible, limited time with each is guaranteed.

Add to this the unsuitable conditions, poor lighting for those all important 'real' product pictures and having to fight off other journalists and you get a perfect storm for the Hands-On writer.

The problem is that even a good Hands-On (and there is such a thing) is really of very little value to the consumer looking to make an informed choice about a particular product.

Little insight

Hands-On articles, by their very nature, have very little insight which couldn't have been gleaned from reading the spec sheet. Only in depth reviews and actual time with the product will allow the journalist to give an informed opinion.

However, if this year's CES Unveiled is anything to go by, these articles's lack of value doesn't seem to stop almost every dedicated tech site from writing thousands of words about products they really can't say are good or bad.

So why continue to write them?

Well it's simple. They drive traffic to your website and that, at the end of the day, is all that matters.

Until the boost to traffic which hands-on articles brings begins to wane, we are not going to see this curse lifted any time soon, but surely there are better ways to spend your time in Las Vegas this week, than taking dimly lit pictures of a tablet no one will ever buy and writing a thousand words of hot air and specs?