Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Logitech Wave K350 Wireless Ergonomic Keyboard Review: Cool Gear

Logitech Wireless Wave  K350 Keyboard: the convenience of a wireless keyboard is hard to pass on today. At the same time, all of us who spend a lot of time on our computers would like to use a keyboard with good ergonomic design, which will delay if not prevent the onset of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a common type of Repetitive Stress Injury ("RSI") among computer users. Unfortunately, few keyboards, and even fewer ergonomic or wireless keyboards, get very good user feedback: there is too much individual fit required. The Logitech Wave K350 keyboard, however, is somewhat of an exception, and succeeds at many of its key success factors, and its user feedback shows it. User feedback is what we quote in our reviews at ConsumerPla.net.

The Wave K350 keyboard is the heir to the original and well received Wave keyboard. It has a slight wave form across the keypad, which results in approximately 10 degrees of angle in the orientation of the left-hand vs. right-hand keys.  The height if the different keys is different too, and the keys in the middle of the keyboard span are higher than those in the edges, making it easier for the hands to twist up a little bit to reach the keys that are in the middle of both hands' reach. These two features result in less, and more natural, motion for the user's hand while typing. There is a generous gel palm rest across the front of the keyboard. A large number of function and programmable keys are added to the back and the left edge of the keyboard, while a regular numbers' pad is positioned on the right. Four arrow keys can be found between the alphanumeric keyboard and the numbers' pad, along with the usual Home/End/Delete/PageUp/PageDown keys.

The keyboard comes with a truly diminutive USB dongle, a configuration DVD (you can also download what you need, that's what we did), an additional USB cable to relocate the dongle for wireless connectivity reasons if needed (a nice touch, although we did not find it was needed for any of our office set-ups at ConsumerPla.net) and the usual warranty papers. Wireless for the keyboard (and other Logitech devices working with the same transmitter/ dongle) uses standard 2.4GHz technology, which provides more performance than first generation devices.

Build quality
The K350 appears well built, with significant heft, and shows good looks to boot: "well built, with a classy rich look", "very nice looking keyboard", "high quality of manufacture", "Very good build quality","Logitech has made a fine, quality product in this one","I really like this keyboard. It is well built.","Comfortable and well constructed","High quality design","solid build quality"

Wireless Connectivity
The plague of wireless keyboards is poor wireless connectivity, but the Wave operates well in wireless mode for almost all users: "never has missed a key press", "no problems with loss of connection", "I was concerned at first about the reach the absolutely tiny usb dongle supplied with the keyboard would have, but I'm typing a good 10 feet from where it's plugged in and everything works perfectly. Zero delay","mine is plugged into the back of my laptop dock in the bottom slot with zero line-of-sight to the mouse and keyboard.. yet they function perfectly","very responsive... no lag at all. ","solid wireless connection, no lags or misses ", "no key response lag or another other issues that seem to plague some wireless keyboard."

A small percentage of users, however, does have trouble with connectivity: "it randomly loses connection", "it says 2.4 ghz wireless is supposed to give you 30 ft of connectivity, but there should be a disclaimer about that. I have my receiver plugged into the back of my computer, located under my desk (not enclosed). About 10 feet away from the computer, I already experience some lag and decreased signal strength","wireless reception isn't flawless: if I don't type for a while, the keyboard doesn't react immediately to the first keypush. It is almost as if the keyboard is waking up after a period of inactivity","at first I plugged the receiver into the back of my modem and was finding it dropped the reaction time of the mouse and keyboard a little but, but I have a USB extension port on my desk, so I plugged the receiver into it; works flawlessly now","I have it only about 1 foot away from the receiver that is plugged into my USB hub now. Most of the time it's ok BUT then there are times when it just fails to respond at all." Negative feedback on wireless connectivity, however, represents a very small percentage of users, significantly lower than other wireless keyboards we have investigated.

Battery power
Wireless keyboards are battery-powered. The length of the battery charge is a frequent source of complaints. Not for the Wave K350 though: "battery seems to last forever", "long battery life","to my surprise, after several months, it still shows fully charged batteries. I was cynical about the claimed battery life. I never turn the PC or keyboard off. Apparently Logitech's claim about long battery life is not an exaggeration."

Reviewers are pleased with how easy the K350 is to set up, a task that is not always easy with wireless keyboards: "plug the tiny USB adapter into your computer, and it is instantly set", "set up was as simple as inserting the unifying receiver and making sure the keyboard's batteries made contact", "Logitech software to pair the keyboard to my already existing adapter was easy to use and worked the first time", "Simple simple simple installation","Good documentation and online help", "it took less than 5 minutes to download and install. So far, I have not found that program to be bloated with unnecessary features and settings like so many other supposedly required hardware applications","easy installation."

The K350 gets rave reviews about its ergonomics. It is worth reading some of this feedback: "I find the ergonomic design very comfortable", 'the ergonomic shape is perfect - not ridiculously spaced out like the Microsoft one, but not flat like a cheap keyboard",  "so comfortable and easy to use", "it is ergonomic (that wave design really fits my hand nice)", "I wanted something with a curve to it - but not one of those awful split allegedly ergonomic keyboards. This fit the bill perfectly", "comfortable. The wave shape and the slightly upturned keys make it easy to type for an extended period. Additionally, the wrist rest here is slightly padded and very comfortable as well", "the ergonomics isn't overkill", "I like the slight wave design and wrist rest is very comfortable", "as for the comfort of the layout, I've never had better"," It is amazingly comfortable, reducing strain on your hands.","the Wave shape of the keyboard also helps relive stress on your wrists as well","contoured curved key design is amazing for comfort","I was looking for a good comfortable keyboard, and this is the best one Ive found.","This one is ergonomic which is great. Unlike some Ergo ones I have tried this one has just a slight angle which is much more comfortable","the slight curve design is a great compromise between standard keyboards and ergonomic keyboards. It feels comfortable and natural to me, and I've been typing on ergonomic keyboards for years. It also works well for my wife, who is more used to using standard and laptop keyboards. ","it feels like my fingers are taking a vacation when I switch from any other keyboard to this one. This Software Developers says, this keyboard rocks","I like the wave layout of the keyboard","love the wave design, fast and comfortable","my wrists and arms are never in stress due to the great ergonomics","excellent and comfortable keyboard."

It should be clear, though, that the Wave is not a extreme ergonomic keyboard. The feedback clearly shows that it works well for average users who are not deeply affected by RSI. But the curve of the keyboard and the height differences in the keys are not as pronounced as in those true ergonomic keyboards such as the Goldtouch or the Kinesis, which are typically used by people with significant RSI issues.

Some RSI users actually rate the K350 high: "I have nerve damage starting from my neck down to my fingers. The comfort in this keyboard is much better then the curved Microsoft keyboard. I have small hands so the split keyboards never worked for me. This keyboard is a great blend of ergonomics and comfort. But if you have pain in the wrists, arms or neck and need a solid, ergonomic, comfortable keyboard then this is your best choice", "I looked hard at getting a Goldtouch Go!, Kinesis Freestyle, and MS Ergonomic 4000. I tried the 4000 out at BB. The keys were hard to push and the build quality wasn't there. I could see that all the complaints about the hard-to-push spacebar and other keys were spot on. The ergonomic split design is great, but what's the point if your hands hurt from having to exert too much pressure to push a key? ... Also, reviewers mention that ...[The Go! and Freestyle] keyboards are relatively fragile and tend to break over time, requiring constant replacement.. I thought this [K350] was a better decision than going with the Go! or the Freestyle, for my needs."

However, to other users, it is clear that the K350 represents a compromise between ergonomics for RSI and standard look-and-feel. It is probably reasonable to say that the K350 is an excellent choice for the general population and for some with slight RSI issues, but that those with deep RSI issues might want to look further into more specialized keyboards: "great compromise of ergonomics and price","the padded wrist wrist is comfortable to me but would potentially get in the way if you use a pull out keyboard drawer.", "I don't think the wave design makes a big difference on the wrist strain, but it does conform to differing length of your fingers better. If you want the maximum ergonomics benefits, then I would get the kind where the keyboard is split into two sections." "wave design isn't as ergonomic as a split keyboard, but it's not bad and feels comfortable. The gel palmrest is high quality and comfortable"

Feel/ Keys
A good keyboard needs to be good to type on. The K350 scores extremely high with the very large majority of its users, who rave about the comfortable feel and the silence of the action: "key action to be light and butter smooth", "keys are in the right place & easy to type error-free", "The typing is silent and very enjoyable", "the key are very quick and responsive. I just have to press the and they click (a nice, quiet sound) into life",  "excellent key touch: slightly firm, positive feedback, and keys solidly in place", "It has a nice feel when I'm typing", "there is a 'soft' quality to the keys, which I really like and as a result, typing is quiet (great for taking notes while on the phone).", "quiet. The keys don't make much sound, so the folks in the cubes around me aren't bothered by my typing","the feel of the keys is solid and the bounce-back is perfectly tuned,"Everything feels natural and keys have a good, solid feel to them"," The key strokes are smooth--though full keystrokes--I prefer a slightly smaller keystroke but that is preference. There is a nice soft feel at the end of the stroke. There are three elevation options--I like the middle one and that is nice to have the options between flat and fully elevated","I also found that I was able to type 10-15% faster than a standard keyboard. Every single button feels great, going to replace every keyboard I have with this","the Logitech keyboard feels like the perfect device for typing.","keys are full-sized and relatively easy to push","keys are pretty quiet"," the keys are easy to reach and locate even in low light","so easy to type with. Keys are just right, slightly on a curve but not too much that you have to get used to them and not much pressure is needed on the keys","super quiet."

A small minority of users has issues with the keys, finding them slightly narrow, too mushy or too stiff, or, in general, not suited to speed typing: "the keyboard was just not comfortable to type on. Compared to more standard keyboards, the keys are significantly narrower and taller. I often found myself accidentally hitting keys adjacent to the ones I intended to press. Other reviewers have mentioned the "squishy" feel of the keys","feel nice but types so slow","compared to my other Logitech keyboard, the keys are a little stiffer and I have to apply a little more pressure to get keys depressed."," like nearly all keyboards now-a-days, a tiny bit mushy","keys feel slightly mushy (at least compared to Thinkpad keyboards). They could use more "springiness" and be even easier to push. Maybe I need to break in this keyboard." This negative feedback affects a small percentage of all reviews.

Wireless Transmitter
The wireless transmitter is a surprisingly small USB plug-in card: "it uses unifying, the usb receiver is super tiny", "USB connector is super small and very powerful", "unifying receiver is tiny and convenient","tiniest receiver ever."

Single transmitter for several wireless devices
Logitech introduced the Unifying concept approximately two years ago. Compatible wireless devices may all use the same wireless dongle, freeing extra USB ports for other uses:  "uses the universal feature from Logitech, so it shares the same nano-dongle as my mouse, thus using only a single USB for both", "unifying software works perfectly - two devices using one USB receiver","unifying receiver options--especially with a unifying mouse can really minimize desktop clutter","the unifying wireless receiver is very nice","Paired with my Logictech Anywhere mouse I use the unifying receiver and use only 1 USB port. Love that!","look for the word Unifying with Logitech products","unifying USB receiver allows me to use both my mouse and keyboard with a single USB wireless receiver - great!"

The K350 comes with a large number of programmable keys and functions, and surprisingly easy to use set-up software."all sorts of programmable keys on the top, which I use all the time","very easy to customize the keyboard to your liking", "very programmable. There are a large number of programmable keys, many pre-programmed, that allow you to customize the keyboard to the way you work. One button push and I've got my development environment up and loading!",  "Programmable keys and additional software a plus", "easy to program keys to do what you want", "programming options are great.","I was skeptical over its being easy-to-use. Wow, was I wrong ... after installation I was able to use it immediately and it's sooo easy","keyboard is extremely customizable." Very few users report programming glitches: "not all the pre-programmed keys work for every computer. Don't know why, but the pre-programmed key for the battery status and web search just seem to do nothing. Word, Excel, zoom, and audio keys all work perfectly though. No big deal, as they're re-programmable, but odd, none the less."

Layouts for keyboards, in general, do not have a single absolute standard to follow. As a result, all keyboards always find a small number of users for whom layout is not optimal, or simply not what they expect. We feel that the K350 layout could have benefited from being a little more standard in its positioning of function and optional keys. While most people like the K350 layout, some have complaints about areas where the keyboard could have been more standard or slightly differently laid out:  "the function buttons are nice", "it's very smooth, and has all the custom buttons you could ask for... ", "simplified layout with less buttons", "the keyboard shape and key arrangement is very comfortable and easy to adapt to in a short amount of time", "I would have preferred more separation between the left and right halves of the keyboard....until I got used of it, I kept hitting the G instead the H key and vice versa....not a problem after I got used of it", "only problem for the keyboard is the keys could be a little bit bigger", "Keyboard spacing may be issue for some people with smaller hands. Graphics on up and down arrow keys just wrong. Delete home and end - key placement not as comfortable as older designs","the function keys along the top have a different feel to them",""PgUp, PgDn, Home, End, Ins, Del" key cluster is in a non-standard configuration which renders it pretty useless if, like me, you use these keys in your daily work."", "A little hard to get used to the layout, especially if you use the function keys a lot."

Missing NumLock/ Caps Lock indicator
More than a few users would like to see a visual indicator to verify whether NumLock and Caps Lock are on or off. For a wireless keyboard, the issue is difficult to resolve, since a light will directly impact battery life for the keyboard: "in order for you to see that if caps-lock or num-lock are on, or to use the neat buttons on the sides (play music, etc) you need to have a program running in the background. The actual keyboard itself works well without this (just start typing to see if you are in caps-lock), but it is frustrating that you should require another memory-chugging program in the back just to do things that are advertised in the keyboard","my only complaint is that there is not indicator light when the cap-lock or num-lock is on","I do wish it had lighted symbols to let you know if caps lock is on or num lock is activated. That makes it more of a pain when putting in passwords."

Less functionality for the Mac
Logitech shows the K350 are Mac-compatible, and it can indeed function on a Mac - but beware the fact that some programming functionality will not be available, particularly for programming keys: "I've read in some google searching, that this keyboard wouldn't completely work with a Mac. I took the risk and can't regret it. It's an awesome keyboard for my MacBook Pro. Good keys size and positioning, very efficient cushion base, apparently very well constructed and beautiful (and it has some minor Mac keyboard icons on ALT and Windows keys","only available for Windows XP, Vista, and 7","this DOES work with mac","as some pointed, you cannot use the Logitech software to configure the extra keys with user defined actions on the Mac OS X, but a lot of them works without any software or extra driver. Just plug the (very tiny) usb receiver and you'll get the "Next", "Prev", "Play/Pause", "Stop", "Vol Up", "Vol Down", "Mute" and "Turn Off" buttons working. The ones that should be dead are the "Settings App", "Photo App", "Music App", "Media Center", "Calculator", "Zoom Up", "Zoom Down" and "Switch App."

Large size
The primary con for this keyboard is its size, not unduly large (about the same size as the Microsoft Comfort keyboard), but still large enough for some to complain about it: "it's large and a little on the heavy side, 19 x 10 inches, so it can hog desk space and is not easy tossed aside", "big - because of the wave shape and extra programmable keys, as well as the wrist rest, this keyboard is very large. If you're putting it on a keyboard tray, measure first.", "on the larger side, with the attached padding and miscellaneous buttons","the keyboard is loaded with programmable convenience keys, resulting in a large footprint. I use 3 or 4 of these keys so the volume of them is overkill for me; maybe not the case for other users. With fewer convenience keys the footprint could be reduced","this keyboard is big! Bigger than it really need be"," It's very large compared to the Mac keyboard, so make sure you have space for it and look at the measurements."

Lack of backlighting
Wireless keyboard have a hard time with backlighting, since they are typically battery powered. Several users requested backlighting on the K350:  "the only thing I wish for is backlit keys in a wireless keyboard."

The K350 is one of those rare products with an outstanding customer satisfaction index. These are some of the conclusions drawn by its users: "Overall, if I needed to buy another keyboard today, I'd buy another one of these", "surprisingly excellent product","this is a keeper for me, and I am picky on my keyboards","it's comfortable, convenient, and customizable, which are really the only things you need when looking for a keyboard. ","in the 23 year I have used computers, this is far and away the best keyboard I have ever used","Everything I wanted and needed in a keyboard. Easy to use, ergonomic and a well designed","very easy to connect, works perfect, is very comfortable, the quality is fine", "overall, I think this is a wonderful keyboard, and one of the best out there","it's easily the best keyboard I've owned."

Better than the anecdotal evidence provided by these great user reviews, the K350 shows excellent feedback statistics, with 84% positive reviews and a likely error of up to 6% ( 125 positive reviews over 148 total, across Amazon, Newegg, TigerDirect and the Logitech home site). Wireless ergonomic keyboards are notorious for the poor statistical reviews, in particular around ergonomics and wireless connectivity. The K350 scores extremely well, at the very top of its category. In fact, we have recently adopted it as one of our standard office keyboards at ConsumerPla.net.

We recommend the Logitech Wave K350 wireless ergonomic keyboard to any user without significant, established RSI issues, with the understanding that, based on your personal dimensions and usage patterns, it may or may not be a perfect fit, but that it is statistically likely to work well with you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ammunition Survey: Best Rifle Cartridges Overall

Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 10: Ammunition Survey Recommendations

In the past sections, after reviewing the general results of the ammunition survey, we analyzed them in detail by categories. The above chart displays all the cartridges that were mentioned in section conclusions, whether or not they were recommended. We can now summarize our findings across all categories.

Recommendations: most affordable and available calibers
  • 22LR is, by far, the cheapest caliber overall, and the best choice for the most frequently used rifle at the range: it is a clear winner for trainer caliber. 
  • In the rimfire category, the 22LR leads the 17HMR and the 22 WMR. The 17HMR and 22WMR, better options for small varmint hunting, are approximately three times more expensive to shoot, but still significantly cheaper than any centerfire option.
  • Across all centerfire calibers, the 7.62x39 Soviet is the cheapest, in all senses of the word. For centerfire practice, we recommend the next most inexpensive cartridge, the 223 Remington, which, while a bit more expensive, is much more accurate and versatile.
  • Among varmint calibers, the 223 Remington is over 50% cheaper to shoot than its alternatives.
  • In 6mm caliber, the 243, a very popular cartridge, is the most economical to shoot. It also provides little recoil and fine long range accuracy. The 257 Roberts and the 6.5x55, both with great reputation and ability, more versatile than the .243, do not make the cut on availability and affordability grounds.
  • Among the 7mm calibers below .30, the 270 Winchester is the least expensive to shoot, and the 7mm Remington Magnum, more expensive, also carries more punch, as much range, and more recoil. The 7mm-08, although pricier, is an excellent alternative for shooters looking for low recoil.
  • Among the popular .30 caliber rounds, the most available and cost effective are the 30-30, the 308 and the 30-06; the 7.62x39 is a special case, inherited from Eastern block military weapons, large but short and imprecise, made for injuring men rather than practicing marksmanship or killing game, and not well suited to regular hunting or range applications except for its low cost. The 300 Winchester Magnum is the best option among the 300s.
  • Of the medium bores, the 338 Winchester Magnum is the only choice for availability, but, surprisingly, shows very high cost in the category.
  • Among the large bores, the only rounds with good availability are the 45-70 Government (great in brush and for any game in the US) and the 375 H&H Magnum, a cartridge with a long African and European history, the smallest of the large bores but also the most successful - the first truly universal cartridge able to be able to tackle any game on the planet.

Recommendations by purpose, to optimize cost of ownership and availability
  • Training, plinking: 22LR
  • Centerfire shooting practice: 223 Remington ( the 7.62x39 is slighter cheaper to shoot, but we find the 223 Remington much more versatile)
  • Small varmint hunting: 22WMR, 17HMR
  • Varmint hunting: 223 Remington
  • Deer hunting, low recoil: 243 (least expensive), 25-06, 7mm-08 (more expensive)
  • Deer hunting, brush: 30-30 Winchester
  • Deer hunting, any recoil: 270 Winchester, 308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Magnum
  • All around US hunting: 30-06 Springfield, 308 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum
  • All around US hunting, low recoil: 7mm-08 (more expensive)
  • Large US game: 300 Winchester Magnum (the 338 Win Mag is more than double its cost)
  • Dangerous game: 375 H&H Magnum, 45-70 Government
  • African big game: 375 H&H Magnum
These recommendations are specifically made with cost of ownership and availability as primary criteria, and are based on the ammunition survey. We can also look at the availability of rifle chamberings,  and derive similar conclusions from them. The next few sections will review our survey of rifle chamberings, along with our survey analysis.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Cost Effective Big Bore Cartridges

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 9: Big Bore Cartridges

    The big bore cartridges, like the medium bores, count very few rounds with significant availability, making a selection of obvious winners easy.

    Among the "African" big bores suited to any game worldwide, the clear winner is the 375 H&H Magnum (often classified as a medium bore), with broad general availability and a wide selection of SKUs to choose from. We were expecting to find good availability for the popular 416 Rigby, the 458 Lott, the 458 Winchester Magnum, and possibly the new 375 Ruger. None of them can be recommended on the basis of availability, in particular with the 375 Ruger being very difficult to find and with very few options. Of the other three, the 458 Winchester Magnum has the most availability, with a smaller number of choices, and presents a high price of $88 per box. The 458 Lott also counts fewer SKUs to choose from (too little to recommend), with spotty availability to boot, and a more reasonable price of $64. The 416 Rigby of African fame has still  fewer choices, with spotty availability as well. It price of $126 per box gives one severe sticker choice, only surpassed by the astronomical amount of $136 for the "ultimate" 460 Weatherby Magnum.

    The big surprise of the African big bores is the 470 Nitro Express, fairly available with good selection, for a hefty but not unexpected price of $88 per box, almost double that of the 375 H&H Magnum. Of course, this is not a round that one would expect to find in a small country store in the middle of the US.

    Among "American" big bores, the traditional 45-70 Government, ever popular, gathers the crown, with a box price of $47 (about the same as the 375 H&H) and broad cartridge availability. We were expecting to see some reasonable availability for the 444 Marlin. While its price, as that of the 450 Marlin, positively surprised us at $30, its availability is spotty, and there is little cartridge choice. The 45-70 is an excellent brush cartridge, but, despite its size and weight, does not provide the range or the power of the African-capable 375 H&H. As usual, this does not mean that you cannot take African game with it - it simply means that other cartridges are better suited to take very large, thick skinned, dangerous game of African size, in particular beyond 150 yards.

    • Best African/ overall big bore: 375 H&H
    • Best big bore for US game: 45-70 Government
    • More African/ overall big bore options: 470 Nitro Express, 458 Winchester Magnum (fewer choices, high price: we endorse neither of them)

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Cost Effective Medium Bore Cartridges

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 8: Medium Bore Cartridges

    The medium bores constitute one of the weakest categories, with their own share of contradictions and surprises. There is only one truly available cartridge in that batch, the excellent but heavy recoiling 338 Winchester Magnum, with an expensive cost of $55 per box. Every other medium bore cartridge was flagged for spotty or low availability - that was our first surprise. In particular, we were expecting to see reasonable availability from the 338 Federal - we were disappointed. Our second surprise was that the second most available cartridge (albeit still spotty) in the category was the largely unknown (in the US) 9.3x62.

    Despite the 338 Win Mag's excellent availability, its cost of $55 per box was actually one of the highest in the category, while practically all other cartridges in the category were significantly cheaper: this was the third surprise of the category. The most cost effective round was the traditional 8x57, at $36 per box, followed by the 338 Federal and the unpopular but very good 9.3x62, both at $42 per box. The 338 Win Mag is actually the most expensive cartridge that we are recommending across all rifle rounds.

    All cartridges in the medium bore category deserve some interest. The 8x57 and 9.3x62, both European cartridges, have a lot of history and are sensible cartridges. In fact, the 9.3x62 can take CXP4 African game. The 35 Whelen and the 358 Winchester are US cartridges linked to some of the big characters of US hunting history - and represent solid hunting cartridges to boot, large enough to go after any CXP3 game. The 338 Federal, also a US cartridge, is an effective medium bore cartridge, good for 250 to 300 yards (depending upon the bullet and load), and with significantly lower recoil than the 338 Win Mag. As for the 340 Weatherby Mag, it is an outstanding medium bore Magnum with heavy punch, long range, and even heavier recoil. We like all of these cartridges, to varying degrees, but we cannot recommend them on the basis of availability.

    It is worth noting that the 375 H&H Magnum is often - although not always -  binned with the medium bores. We decided that, primarily because of recoil and of CXP4 capability, it really belonged with the big bores as far as we were concerned.

    • Best, although expensive, medium bore cartridge: 338 Win Mag
    • There is no second among the medium bores

    Next we review big bore cartridges... So come back soon!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Cost Effective .30 Caliber Cartridges

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 7: .30 Caliber Cartridges

     Of all the cartridge categories, the .30 caliber cartridges are probably the stars. As expected, the 308 Winchester and the 30-06 Springfield lead the pack in availability, and are considered by all as prime candidates for the all around US rifle, being able to take pretty much any US game in reasonable conditions and with the right bullets. Their affordability is also good at $19 per box for both.

    The first big surprise of the category is to see the 7.62x39 Soviet lead the pack by a huge margin in affordability, with $7 per box. We were expecting to see the 30-30 well placed for that spot, but at $15 per box to $7 per box for the 7.62x39, it trails badly. In fact, the 7.62x39 leads all centerfire cartridges for affordability. Despite this fact, we hesitate before recommending it for any purpose. It is a true military cartridge, being made to main and injure human targets, with poor accuracy and range. As such, its suitability to hunting, plinking or target practice is limited. The reason for its affordability, of course, is the large amount of cheap Eastern block ammo available for it. The number of SKUs is surprising low low for such a cheap round (47, compared 248 to for the 223, the second most affordable centerfire cartridge at $10 per box). Despite its low price, its poor range and the often low quality of ammunition for this cartridge don't make it a good hunting or multi-purpose cartridge.

    The second surprise of the category is to see the excellent, but hard recoiling 300 Win Mag "Wonder 300" cartridge follow the 308 and the 30-06 in availability. Here again, we were expecting to see the 30-30, supposedly the cartridge that has killed the most deer in America. In fact, the 30-30 scores well in availability with 31 SKUs, and very well in affordability at $15 per box (vs. $25 for the 300 Win Mag), but cannot compare with the 81 SKUs of the 300 Win Mag. The 30 carbine does not register well on availability, and its usefulness as a hunting cartridge is limited.

    Of the 300s, the 300 Win Mag is by far the winner on both availability and affordability. Following it far behind are the 300 WSM with 38 SKUs at $34 average per box, and the 300 H&H Mag at 13 SKUs and $32 average per box. The 300 Weatherby Mag and the 300 Rem Ultra Mag both show spotty availability.

    • Best .30 caliber cartridges: 308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 300 Win Mag
    • Also recommended: 30-30 Winchester
    • Inexpensive, but not recommended on other grounds: 7.62x39 Soviet

    Next we review medium bore cartridges... So come back soon!

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Cost Effective Medium Game Cartridges

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 6: Medium Game Cartridges

    The Medium Game category is the most varied of all categories - ranging through the 6mm and the 7mm ranges. At the low end, it gathers rounds like the 243 which can also be used for varmint, while, at the high end, rounds like the 270 can go all the way up to elk and caribou. This category generated its share of contradictions in our surveys.

    As expected, the most available rounds in the category are the 243, the 270, beloved of Jack O'Connor, and the 7mm Rem Mag. Interestingly, none of these cartridges are really inexpensive, the lowest priced being the 270 at $18 per box, followed by the 243 at $23 and the 7mm Rem Mag at $27 (the most popular and the least expensive of all the magnums).

    The first surprise of the category is that, after the 270, the most inexpensive cartridge is the spottily available 6.8mm SPC (probably due to the small brass/ powder size). However, at this time, because of the lack of reliable availability we do not recommend the 6.8mm SPC as a general medium game hunting cartridge. Because of it compact size and potential accuracy, we would love to see it show up with good availability in the future.

    The second surprise of the category is that the top three cartridges are not followed by the great old classics, i.e. the excellent 257 Roberts, 6.5x55 Swede, and 7x57 Mauser, all of which are either in low or spotty availability (or both), and with fairly high prices to boot. What a pity! These are excellent common sense cartridges, with a great track record, and available internationally in the case of the 6.5x55 and the 7x57. The next cartridges rated by availability (excluding those with spotty or low availability), are the 25-06 and the 7mm-08, both with good availability but non-negligible costs (respectively $28 and $36).  The 25-06, derived from the 30-06 case, packs a lot of powder, and can go up to CXP3 game in good hands, while kicking significantly less than the 270 (although as noisy). The 7mm-08 is an excellent and understated cartridge, with moderate recoil, less noisy than the 25-06 and more capable with large. Both are good choices for low recoil "all-around" rifles, begin very capable with deer-size game, the 25-06 being preferred on varmint and the 7mm-08 on larger game, as long as you can provide very good bullet placement.

    The third surprise of the category is that the third tier of cartridges with good availability is composed of silent non-entities, the 270 WSSM, the 7mm WSM and the 280 Rem, decent in their own right but certainly not carrying any special charisma. The other cartridges in the category are not recommended due to low or spotty availability: 6mm Remington, 257 Weatherby Magnum (an excellent long range cartridge with very tolerable recoil), 260 Remington, 264 Winchester Mag, 270 Weatherby Magnum, and the 7mm Weatherby Magnum.

    • Best medium game cartridges: 270 Win, 243 Win
    • Also recommended despite price: 7mm Mag, 25-06, 7mm-08
    • Best low recoil: 243 Win, 7mm-08
    • What a pity: 257 Roberts, 6.5x55, 7x57 (7mm Mauser)

    Next we review the famous, exciting, and ordinary .30 caliber rounds... So come back soon!

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Cost Effective Varmint Cartridges

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 5: Varmint Cartridges 

    Varmint cartridges, as a set, reveal interesting, and to us somewhat unexpected conclusions. The 22 Hornet seems to become progressively less available, and is now in low and spotty availability (low= less than 11 total SKUs between 2 online retailers; spotty= less than 3 SKUs in at least one online retailer out of the two we used in our surveys). The 220 Swift is also in low and spotty availability, and its high price does not augur well for the future - it appears that it has definitely lost its race with the 22-250. The 222 Remington has moderate, but spotty, availability. Surprisingly, it is equal in price to the 223, but, based on availability, we would strongly recommend the 223 against the 222.

    The 22-250 shows, as expected, great vigor, being the second most popular varmint cartridge (if you exclude the low end of the medium game cartridges, such as the 243), but with significantly high round cost. The 204 Ruger has surprisingly good availability for a fairly recent cartridge, although its price is still high at $19/ box. Both rounds show enough availability to recommend themselves for special uses. However, as general purpose varmint cartridges, on the basis of price and availability, they cannot compare to the 223.

     The 223 shows remarkably well in our cost and availability surveys. It surprised us by edging the 22LR in overall availability, 248 to 201 - we were expecting the opposite. It surprised us again as being the 5th most cost effective round overall, after the rimfire cartridges and the 7.62.39. It is intrinsically a much more accurate round than the 7.62x39, with better range as well, and it is very well suited to a mixed use as varmint cartridge and affordable centerfire trainer. It is our #1 choice as general purpose varmint cartridge and as centerfire trainer.
    • Best varmint cartridge: 223 Remington/ 5.56x45mm NATO
    • Also recommended: 22-250, 204 Ruger

    Next we review medium game cartridges... So come back soon!

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Cost Effective Rimfire Cartridges

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 4: Rimfire Cartridges

    Today, the cost of any listed rimfire cartridge is lower that the cost of any centerfire cartridge. The availability of all rimfire cartridges is very good, with 22LR being an extraordinarily available round. On that basis, it seems clear that any rimfire cartridge among these three (17HMR, 22LR, 22WMR) would be good choices for a trainer, through which one expands much ammunition at the range.

    There still remains exceptional advantages in favor of 22LR against 17HMR and 22WMR. The cost of 22LR is about one third of the others' cost. 22LR is 5 to 10 times more available than the others, although both 17HMR and 22WMR) already have very good availability. In fact, 22LR is the most affordable round among all cartridges in existence, and is the second most available round (after 223), based on our ammo cost survey and of our ammo availability survey.

    On the basis of ammunition cost and availability, 22LR is the best cartridge in existence for trainer and plinking use.
    • Best rimfire cartridge: 22LR
    • Also recommended: 17HMR, 22WMR

    Next we review varmint cartridges... So come back soon!

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Rifle Ammunition Cost Survey

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 3: Rifle Ammunition Cost

    What cartridges should we select so that we can optimize the cost of frequent trips to the range?  Last we went through our study results for ammunition availability, and found that, after investigation and filtering, we had a list of 26 cartridges for which availability was adequate. When we researched the availability of ammunition at the two online retailers that we selected for this study, we also averaged the ammunition cost. For each cartridge, we picked the 3 cheapest SKUs (available choices) within each retailer, and averaged price across all 6 (or less when there were less than three choices available).

    Average pricing for our full cartridge list follows below. Pricing in the chart is for 20 cartridges. In some cases, such as rimfire ammunition, common box size is 50 rounds - in these cases we calculated what the cost for 20 cartridges would be, based on cost for a 50-cartridge box. Because pricing varies across the seasons and locations, the numbers below are indicative, and should be used primarily for relative comparisons between cartridges. Cartridges are listed by increasing caliber.

    It is immediately apparent that there are wide discrepancies between the prices for cartridges which may potentially substituted for each other - although, of course, no two cartridges are exactly similar. For instance, 223 cartridges are half the price of 22-250, while 22LR cartridges cost about one third of the price of 17 HMR or 22 WMR. The price of 270 Win cartridges is less than half of that of 270 Weatherby Magnum. The price of rounds for 243 rounds is 25% lower than that of 257 Roberts.

    A detailed analysis is required for groups of cartridges with a similar purpose. However, we can already note some important points:
    • the most cost effective round overall, by far, is 22LR
    • all rimfire cartridges are much more cost effective than any centerfire cartridge
    • of all centerfire cartridges, the two most cost effective ones, by a large margin, are 7.62x39 and 223
    • magnum cartridges are generally more expensive than non-magnum ones (although there are some few exceptions)
    • cartridges with low or spotty availability are in general more expensive than similar cartridges with good availability
    • while price tends to rise with caliber, it is only a very general trend which suffers a very large number of exceptions - to the degree that they are not really exceptions any more...
    Next we draw conclusions and recommendations from our survey data... So come back soon!

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Rifle Ammunition Availability Survey

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Part 2: Rifle Ammunition Availability

    What cartridges can be easily found among retailers? Last time we discussed how we structured our survey of ammunition availability. Now we can look at the availability results: how many SKUs (available choices) can be found in stock between the 2 online retailers we selected (MidwayUSA and Wholesale Hunter)?

    As explained in the survey discussion, cartridges where there were less than three SKUs  in stock in either online retailer were flagged for spotty availability ("SP"), while cartridges where there were not more than 10 SKUs in stock between both retailers were flagged for low availability ("LO").

    Looking at the chart, it is quickly obvious that the apparent availability of many tens of cartridges is an illusion. We put the bar on low availability at 10 SKUs and below between both retailers - if we only look at cartridges that are not flagged for low availability, we are left with 35 choices across all calibers. If we also take out those which were flagged for spotty availability, we only have 26 cartridge choices left. Of course,  looking at the average small country store rather than large online retailers but would leave us with many fewer choices.

    In effect, this chart tells us that a reasonable choice of cartridges for a hunting rifle, when looking at today's ammunition availability as a criterion, would have be be made from the following list:
    • 17 HMR
    • 22LR
    • 22 WMR
    • 204 Ruger
    • 22-250
    • 223
    • 243
    • 25-06
    • 270 Win
    • 270 WSM
    • 7mm-08
    • 7mm Rem Mag
    • 7mm WSM
    • 280 Rem
    • 30-30 Win
    • 308 Win
    • 30-06 Springfield
    • 300 H&H Magnum
    • 300 Win Mag
    • 300 WSM
    • 7.62x39
    • 338 Win Mag
    • 375 H&H Magnum
    • 45-70 Government
    • 470 Nitro Express
     Of course, this is only one part of the equation. The other is the actual cost of ammunition across different cartridges. When we investigated cost, we found that there were drastic differences between cartridges of near equivalent caliber and functionality.

    Next we look at average ammunition cost... So come back soon!

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Cost Effective Rifle Cartridges Guide

    What are the best cartridges and calibers to use when you intend to practice a lot, or if you simply want to keep your cost of ownership low?

    When you pick a cartridge, you pick it for functional reasons that have to do with your purpose in using the round. However, you also expect, in general, to get decent pricing for your ammunition, and to find it available reasonably easily. This, unfortunately, does not always happen. We found out that, between two almost identical rounds, the difference in ammunition (or ammo) cost can sometimes be 100% or more. As for availability, some cartridges can be found anywhere, while others can only be obtained, with difficulty, from specific online providers. Our purpose in this guide is to focus on cost, on present availability, and on future availability, and to issue recommendations based on these criteria.

    How we surveyed ammunition availability

    To find out which calibers were the most economical and available, we selected two online ammunition retailers (Midway USA and Wholesale Hunter), and averaged the price of the three cheapest types of ammunition that were actually in stock, for each cartridge, across both retailers. If we could not find at least 3 SKUs (i.e. distinct products) available for the cartridge in each retailer's stock, we flagged it for spotty availability. If we could not find at least 10 SKUs in stock for the cartridge between our two online retailers, we flagged the cartridge for low availability.

    We confirmed our findings by visiting three large brick and mortar stores (Cabela's, Midwest Shooters Supply, and Gander Mountain) and, as a validation, compared availability and relative prices with what we had found with online retailers. Our conclusions were confirmed for every caliber. We had one incident, where we found no 7mm-08 available at Midwest Shooters Supply, despite the fact that we had good availability everywhere else. We we told by the staff that it was a very unusual occurrence. If anything, it should show that availability is an important factor to consider when choosing a rifle, since even common calibers may sometimes run out.

    The cartridge list: how we assembled it

    In order to identify what cartridges to put in our comparative list, we went through every cartridge listed in the inventory of both online retailers, and retained all rifle cartridges where there was at least one choice listed as being in stock in each retailer. We actually added a few cartridges which were missing from one of the retailers or the other, when we felt they were of some potential value to the shooter. We listed, as candidates for removal from the list, all cartridges with less than or exactly a total of 6 choices in stock between the two retailers. Once we had a list of candidates for removal, we formed a committee of three voting staff, and asked for a minimum of 2 votes to actually remove the cartridge from the list.

    The cartridge list: what we removed

    In the end, we only removed a small number of cartridges from consideration. Others, of course, were not included in the list from the get go, because they were not listed in the inventory of at least one of the retailers, and because we did not add them by fiat. The 218 Bee, 223 WSSM, 243 WSSM, 240 Weatherby Mag and 8mm Rem Mag have no new chamberings commonly available, and were not felt to be significant to the modern shooting community. The 17 Mach 2, 17 Rem, 35 Rem, and 376 Steyr we considered too rare to be of import. As a note, other cartridges suffered from the same drawbacks, but did end on the list because they were felt to be of more significance.

    Next we review actual availability statistics for ammunition... So come back soon!

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    2010 CR Car Reliability Study: Some Flaws

    What are the most reliable cars for 2011? Consumer Reports just published its 2010 car reliability report, along with its expected reliability ratings for 2011, and, depending upon your expectations, the surprises abound - or not.

    Consumer Reports (CR)  received data from 960,000 consumers on 1.3 million vehicles. Its analysts generated expected reliability ratings for 2011, in part from CR's existing reliability records over the past three years. The results of the report were presented last week by the senior director of Consumer Reports Auto Road Test Center, David Champion.

    The Consumer Reports Car Reliability Survey is traditionally the most influential reliability study for the car industry, and is widely considered to be the third most influential factor in purchasing a new car, after brand loyalty and recommendations from friends and family. It is so influential that, when Alan Mulally took over at Ford in 2006, he took his management team to the Consumer Reports test track, so as to have the management team hear first hand reliability feedback from CR (msnbc story). We have faithfully studied its recommendations, year after year, for the past 20 years. This year, however, when looking more carefully at the data used by CR, we find some areas of concern in the statistical validity of the study conclusions. In particular, it appears that there is little data available, for many suppliers, for the critical 2009 and 2010 years, clearly due to the economic crisis.

    An example in kind (maybe the worst of them) is Porsche, rated #2 brand this year. The Boxter is rated #1 reliable vehicle in the whole survey, yet CR has no data for it (one entry) in 2009 and 2010. This prediction, then, is based upon 2008 data only, since CR looks at the last 3 years of data for 2011 predictions - even though there were significant changes in the 2009 model year. There is no data for the Panamera and the Cayenne, both introduced in the past 2 years. As a result, we feel that the Porsche rating is highly doubtful. While Porsche is an extreme example due to its relatively smaller size, the same problem affects other brands as well, although to a slightly lesser degree. Michael Karesh has an interesting analysis of the 2010 CR Reliability Survey in The Truth About Cars.

    We therefore consider that the conclusions of the 2010 CR reliability survey have to be taken with a grain of salt. Be that as it may, here they are.

    "Luxury" European cars trail the ratings

    Between 45% and 75% of the models from BMW, Mercedes and Audi scored worse or much worse than average, and these brands ended up among the dregs, only ahead of Chrysler. In fact, the lowest rated car in America was the Audi A6. This disastrous result for European luxury car brands was slightly mitigated by Porsche and Volvo. Porsche, helped by having only three models tracked by CR, ended up 2nd (the Porsche Boxter was the most reliable vehicle is the survey), and Volvo ended up 8th. It is unclear what will happen to Volvo model evolution, as it was recently purchased by Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely. Volkswagen, Audi's parent, which it not a luxury car provider, had decent scores, in particular for its Golf and Jetta models.

    These results might look shocking, but they are less surprising than they look. None of the European Big Three luxury brands has ever done very well in the ratings, and they have often ranked towards the bottom, BMW typically scoring slightly better than the others. The past few years had seen some progress for these brands - the trend clearly reverted this year. Based on past performance over the last 5 years, we should not expect any of these brands to show good reliability performance in the next few years. They never have in the past except in yoyo fashion, up one year, down the next.

    US car manufacturers are rapidly improving - except for Chrysler

    Over the past several years, Ford had progressed in the quality curve, while GM and Chrysler were stagnant at the bottom. This years crystallizes major progress for Ford, and shows GM emerging as a significantly better reliability player.

    Ford is slowly but surely closing the gap with the Japanese OEMs. As a brand, Ford ranks 10th, immediately behind Lexus, and in front of Mazda and Nissan. Approximately 90% of Ford and Lincoln models have at least average reliability. In fact, Ford ranks 1st in the highly disputed family car segment with the Fusion Hybrid. It also takes top ranking in the large SUV segment with the Flex EcoBoost. At the same time, Ford has been creeping up on the ratings for a while. We would like to see them stick to it and finally make a stable place for themselves in the top 5 - they are not there yet.

    GM showed dramatic progress from last year. It now ranks ahead of Mercedes, Audi and BMW. Its main brand Chevrolet had 83% of its models rated average reliability or better, from 50% last year, while Cadillac gained 7 places over the past year. As a whole, GM had 69% of its models rated average reliability or better. Some of the progress is due to GM shuttering three brands (Saturn, Pontiac, and Hummer) and taking out quite a few low reliability models. The happy news is that some is also due to new models showing good reliability from the get go, such as the Cadillac SRX, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Chevrolet Equinox, and the Buick LaCrosse V6. We should point out that, because product development in the automotive industry is a long cycle, everything we are seeing today was done by the "Old" GM. None of the "New" GM work has seen introduction yet.

    Chrysler, however, remains the lowest rated brand of all, and carries older models of poor reliability, the result of a decision in 2008 by previous management to slow down development in the face of the global automotive industry slow down. Chrysler, however, has announced that 75% of its model portfolio was new or updated in 2011. In support, Mr. Champion mentions his engineers having tried out pre-production models and being impressed by what they saw. We will have to see what the next year brings - it might be Chrysler's last chance to make good. Fiat, now in control of Chrysler, is not known for outstanding reliability. We want to see them healthy and wish them the best for 2011.

    Japan is still on top - but Honda is first

    Taking out the epiphenomenon of small Porsche,  the top brands, in order, Scion (Toyota), Acura (Honda), Infiniti (Nissan), Toyota, Subaru, Volvo, Lexus, and Ford. Honda, Toyota, and Subaru. When grouping by manufacturer (again excluding Porsche, now owned by VW), the top 5 are, in order, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Volvo and Ford. The situation is inverted from what it used to be several years ago, when Toyota regularly came first and Honda second.

    Among the Japanese luxury brands, Acura and Infiniti remain in the top 5, but Lexus, once the epitome of refinement, which had already come down from the top rank in the past few years, tumbles down to #9.

    Despite the wide recalls, Toyota and Honda remain very well placed. One reason for it is that CR does not score recalls, but only direct problems seen by subscribers. However, there used to be very low variation in reliability between the different models from Honda and Toyota, which were of uniformly good quality. This is still true for Scion (+/- 10%), Infiniti (+/- 20%), and Acura (+/- 20%). It is less true of Honda (+/- 30%), although all of its models are still mathematically above average, and even less true of Toyota (+/-40%), where some models are mathematically below average (although they might still be binned as an average model). In other words, it is not possible any more to buy a Toyota, and to a degree a Honda, with one's eyes closed, knowing that their reliability will be way over average: some models will be much more reliable than others. Amazingly, the 2010 Prius only scores average reliability - what a disappointment!

    Among the "regular" Japanese brands, Scion scores first, although this is probably due to the fact that the product line, always reliable, has not seen recent introductions (new models often go down in reliability at introduction).The next year should see new introductions, although, almost miraculously, previous Scion introductions have typically seen very high reliability from day one.

    While still in #7 rank, Subaru dropped two spots from last year, a slightly worrisome trend for the traditionally non-traditional car manufacturer. Coupled with the new styling seen in recent models since 2008, which appears to have alienated some long-time Subaru buyers, this might make Subaru loyalists think twice about new purchases. Regrettably, the Impreza WRX, which was poised to replace the legendary Acura Integra of the past as the most fun practical hatchback on the market, also shows the worst reliability of all Subaru models.

    Nissan is now #14 as a brand, a long term downward that has taken it from the traditional Japanese Big Three, which are now The Japanese Big Two. Nissan now scores below Volvo, Ford, Hyundai, Mazda and Kia. Variation between models is now high, at +/- 40%, and several models score mathematically below or significantly below average.

    Hyundai/ Kia - the new top player

    What a change in Hyundai's position in the past 10 years! From a cheap upstart with a reputation of poor reliability, it has turned into a major international car manufacturer, with two US brands, and a very good reliability ranking. All six new models in 2010 from Kia and Hyundai were rated average reliability or better, and only one vehicle overall (the Sedona) was rated below average.

    What is the most reliable brand to buy?

    A few years ago, there would have been an easy answer: any car from Toyota, Honda, or Nissan (in that order) would have been good enough. Today, for most brands, there is too much variation between models to be able to give a blanket endorsement. The right process to prepare for a car purchase is to research a category of cars, and evaluate, for each car, expected reliability, based on Consumer Reports and other available data. However, it is still possible to come with a small number of recommendations, combining the average score of each brand with its variation (or lack thereof) among models. Since we are not only looking at average score, but also at variation, our order is not the same as CR, even though we use their data:

    • #1 Scion  
    • #2 Acura
    • #3 Honda
    • #4 Infiniti
    • #5 Volvo

    • #6 Toyota
    • #7 Porsche
    • #8 Subaru
    • #9 Hyundai
    • #10 Kia
    Amazingly,  Toyota and Subaru do not make it into our top recommendations, due to their higher variability and the fact that some of their models scored too low. We were the first ones to be shocked. The same is true for Porsche.

    Not sure how to compare reliability data across sources, and go beyond Consumer Reports? Check back here on ConsumerPla.net in a small number of weeks to see our 2011 Car Report along with our evaluation of sources!

    Want to read more about it? Try Reuters, Detroit Free Press , Globe and Mail, LA Times, NY Times, Canadian Driver, Truth About Cars 1, Truth About Cars 2, Truth About Cars 3, CNetAutoSpies, Cars.com, Car Connection, Consumerist, Washington Post, NPR, Fox News, Edmunds, Autoblog, Product Reviews, U.S. News, American Consumer News , Auto Channel, Money Watch, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, msnbc, and Canadian Press

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    The Top 33 Political Or Electoral Sites

    What are the 33 best political or electoral web sites on the net? You are getting ready to do your last minute voting homework, but you don't know where to go. ConsumerPla.net has put together a guide of the best political sites on the web for the 2010 elections. There are many excellent and opinionated blogs on both sides - but we decided to focus on sites rather than individual blogs. When we talk about blogs below, we mean blog sites covering multiple authors and streams.

    In the following selections, we use "non partisan" to label sites which declare themselves non partisan, and which we found out to be non partisan. We use "left of center" and "right of center" to label sites with liberal or conservative leanings, but which retain  reasonable objectivity and which are not, in general, advocates as an average across their many writers. We use "liberal" or "conservative" to label sites which we believe are significantly partisan or advocates for a side. Our staff spans both sides of the electorate, and we used consensus to reach these labels: they are our best attempt at reasonable objectivity.

    Best Site to Figure Out Where You Stand

    Political labels are harder to use than ever. When you are a liberal, are you a social or a fiscal liberal? When you are a conservative, are you a social or a fiscal conservative? Where do you fit if you are a libertarian? Do you believe in strong or weak government? Where do your beliefs slot you?
    • Political Compass gives you a questionnaire of basic questions, and interprets your answer to give you a better graphical understanding of where you stand in several dimensions. For many of us at ConsumerPla.net, the outcome of the analysis from Political Compass was at first surprising, yet, in the end, made very good sense.

    Best Political Fact Checking Sites

    How much do you trust political ad campaigns to get to the truth? We have all become jaded, and sometimes cynical, about facts, truth, and politics. Our research has uncovered several outstanding sites to fact check political assertions, and figure out where your candidates stand.
    • Politifact.com is our #1 pick, and an outstanding site. A Pulitzer Prize winner, and a non partisan project of the St Petersburg Times, it looks at the big national picture, as well as at specific stories. It rates how true political assertions are, and whether campaign promises are being met. It specifically tracks the fulfillment of  presidential election promises. Politifact is an outstanding site, which you will find interesting regardless of where you live. It may, or may not, provide you with information you can use for your own choices. 
    • FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the recipient of  several Webby Awards, is another excellent non partisan project. Like Politifact, it looks at significant stories and evaluates the truth of political assertions. A neat feature: you can ask FactCheck about specific assertions. Like Politifact, it may or may not provide you with local information you can use.
    • VoteSmart.org, on the other hand, aims to provide you with specific local information you can use. Another non partisan project which relies on many volunteers, it gives you the lists of candidates you will vote on, depending upon your address, and will give you their positions on significant issues when it is aware of these positions. One major way in which it obtains information is by asking candidates' organizations to fill questionnaires on major issues. Many organizations are not ready to openly discuss their positions on difficult issues, so, as a result, you do not always get the information you need (these candidates are downgraded by VoteSmart).

    Best Campaign/ Ad Funding Source Analysis

    Following a recent Supreme Court decision, interest groups can now significantly influence election outcomes by funding ads in a campaign without disclosing the origin of their funding. As a result, some races see third party interests actually outspending the candidates themselves.
    • Open Secrets, a non partisan organization, gathers, analyzes and publishes information about which organizations fund or influences what political campaigns. Open Secrets uses volunteers and paid staff, and is the best at what it does, but cannot, of course, be expected to unearth more than a few of the significant players, in an election which may end up costing $4B across all candidates and influence organizations.

    Best Spin Control Watch

    The origin of information in a political campaign is often as important as the information itself, and camouflaging this origin is a part of the game. How do you figure out whether the source of an information is credible?
    •  SourceWatch, a left of center organization, focuses on identifying the source of critical campaign stories, along with the possible bias of the source.  It attempts to remain reasonably objective in its analysis, and does track stories from both sides. On the whole however, it should be counterbalanced by a right of center organization. Unfortunately, we were unable to find, right of center, a credible organization with equivalent strengths. We find the two big  spin analysis players on on the right, Accuracy in Media and Media Research Center, to play too much of an advocacy role to be truly credible organizations when truth in politics is concerned. 

      Best Political NewsWire
      • Political Wire provides brief news flashes - many of them every day - and links to reference posts or raw data.

      Best Vote Projections
      • FiveThirtyEight, named for the presidential electors, is part of the New York Times, and tracks the progress of voting projections throughout the campaign.
      • Electoral Vote, funded and staffed by the same organization as The Political Wire, also provides real time tracking of all country polls, and publishes non-stop large numbers of stories that are related to election projections.

      Best Political Coverage Sites (excluding major newspapers)

      Where should you get your political news? In this section, we feel that it is better to classify from the get go all sites with their political affiliation, overt or implied. We made the final determination as to what political affiliation should be assigned to each site.
      • Politico a non partisan site, is a stellar example of what new media can be. It represents in 2010 what good newspapers must have been at the turn of the 1900s, a vibrant new media full of excitement and value, where the man on the street got the latest information. 
      • The Hill is a non partisan newspaper with an excellent site, unaffiliated with the major news organizations, and largely focused on federal politics.  Somehow it never gets mentioned in any of the lists we have seen - good writers, timely info, excellent coverage - worth being a lot better known.
      • Politics Daily, good but does not quite patch the two previous choices, is a non partisan site published by AOL. 
      • CNN: Politics non partisan to slightly left of center: one cannot discuss political coverage without mentioning CNN. They have the largest organization, always up to date, well organized and presented. Their analysis does not match their information coverage.
      • Slate: News and Politics, slightly left of center, of Politico quality, a great example of new media in the 2010s, lively, interesting, up to date, good analysis, although not only focused on politics as a global site.
      • The Atlantic: Politics, part of a left of center site, could also be classified under the "thinking person" category. The site has decent coverage, but also provides stories, and probably as much analysis than coverage.
      • RealClearPolitics, right of center, another excellent example of new media for the 2010s, aggregates stories but also carries its own. A lot of information, moves fast, dense presentation, conservative sympathies but overall tries to keep a neutral tone.
      • Newsmax, right of center to conservative, caters to a more conservative audience than the ones listed above, and might not carry as much of a neutral tone, but does that with high information content, coupled with, sometimes, more partisan articles.

      Best Liberal Blogs and Commentaries

      • The Huffington Post, with an outstanding set of bloggers and a large audience, started with a strong liberal leanings, but has now moved much closer to the center. It is seen as a center organization by liberals, and as left of center by conservatives. Highly recommended for the quality of the bloggers and the spirited tone of the publication.
      • The Daily Kos, a strongly liberal site, is a traditional flag bearer for its side, and provides unashamed liberal opinions and commentaries. Fun and opinionated.
      • TruthDig, openly liberal, gathered a large handful of awards at the last Webbies. Excellent stories, a lot of new content all the time, interesting look - altogether a great package if you want to read people who think like you (if you are on the left) and are not afraid to be advocates. 
      • Daily Beast: Politic left of center, softer tone, more neutral coverage, interesting opinions and articles.

      Best Conservative Blogs and Commentaries
      • Townhall is the right wing counterpart to the Huffington Post, with an excellent stable of bloggers, large amounts of content, influential and interesting voices. A great counterpoint and a good pairing:-)
      • The Drudge Report  is in your face. A flag bearer for the right wing, awful presentation, aggressive content, it is never afraid to shock, and no stranger to hyperbole. 
      • Hot Air entertains as much as it informs, a la MTV. It combines aggregation with its own stable of bloggers, and never hesitates before using screamy headlines. Highly partisan and proud of it.
      • Human Events is the old man on the blog. Around since the 2nd World War, it has steadily maintained its conservative orientation. Its tone might have sounded a touch strident in the 80s, but now it seems to be the wise old man of the right wing, with strong advocacy but sound analysis as well.

      Best Thinking Man's Political Sites

      These sites provide deep analysis and provocative thoughts. They represent the best of the best in political reporting, although not always so in news coverage. To them we could add Slate and The Atlantic, already listed in different categories.
      • The New Republic, also a print publication, used to be left leaning, but has moved to the center, and is not considered by the left to be a liberal site any more. Outstanding analysis, deep thinking, provocative writers.
      • The Nation is the traditional flag bearer for the left, and has been for the past 40 years. While it used to be, many years ago, in competition with The New Republic in this role, the latter's move to the center has left The Nation as a sole proprietor of the nation's left leaning soul. Excellent writers, strong voices, thoughtful but partisan writing.
      • The Weekly Standard, also a print publication, is a  with a strong conservative bent. It was started by William Kristol, and has gathered a small number of very influential voices on the right. Excellent opinion papers.
      • The National Review wants to speak for the right where The Nation wants to speak for the left. Neither of them, of course, can speak for whole political wings which have, in the past few years, become more fractured than ever. The National Review speaks for the traditional right and gives it a strong voice. 

      Best Traditional Newspaper Sites in Political Reporting

      These entries do not need to be introduced:-)

      • The Christian Science Monitor, a non partisan online-only paper, represents what is best about objective American journalism, with good news coverage, strong analysis. and excellent writers and newsmen.
      • The Wall Street Journal, the preeminent conservative organ in journalism, is the traditional voice of business. While the bulk of the paper focuses on business issues, the very strong Opinions section focuses primarily on politics, and has free range to engage the enemy. Its writers are  influential, and carry strong ties with the most powerful conservative think tanks. 
      • The New York Times: Politics, left of center, is possibly the most influential newspaper in the world. Its site provides excellent, up to date coverage, with deep analysis and remarkable opinion pieces from major players in the political life of our country.
      • The Washington Post, also left of center, is the primary rival of the NYT as the representative of the liberal elites, and manages to play equally with it in almost all domains. The Washington Post has an outstanding stable of top notch writers, great daily coverage, and penetrating analyses.

      Some Good Sources of Data on Political Sites

      Beyond the present article in ConsumerPla.net, a few sources have published, in the past few years, relevant and interesting data, some of which has made its way into this presentation. The most influential is PC Magazine's top 20 political web sites (2008). CNET/ Webware published an excellent top 10 report in 2009 on the top 10 political sites of the time. The PD Report blog published, in 2008, a top 10 list. As usual, XMarks, with its  top 10 fact checking sites, is the king of the hill. Top Political Sites keeps track of political sites demographics, while Right Wing News published, in 2009 its top 100  list of right and left wing sites. eBiz also keeps tracks, every month, of the best top political sites.  And, of course, the Webby Awards always bring in the yearly share of interesting, and sometimes surprising, sites.