Products with the Best/Worst Packaging

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Guidance for anyone who's nearly lost a finger opening their newly purchased consumer electronics item.


Jul. 16, 2008 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

When exactly did home entertainment product packaging, not the product itself, become relevant? Probably not when the first mass market TVs and stereos were carefully perused at your local audio-video dealer. But some believe that product packaging actually fueled the success of Apple’s first iPod. The design of the box was so entrancing it whipped the competition, which arguably had better MP3 players.

Now-a-days it’s all about theft prevention. It’s surprising retailers haven’t been sued more often for puncture wounds (and worse) when customers, once home, try to get their products out of the packages.

I recently analyzed several CE, PC and home networking products for major (undisclosed) retail buyers as well as for some friends who were buying a new home and hadn’t upgraded their CE stash in 15 years. In the end, my criteria for choosing a product was influenced more by the convenience factor of getting the darn things out of the box and into operation safely and quickly than by the product itself. I checked the speeds, feeds and tech specs, too…but in many instances they were exactly the same, give or take a few decibels and pixels. Here are some leading products in their categories along with a review of their packaging.

Video Games
The easiest to play is the hardest to get out of the box. If you expect the youth driven Nintendo Wii to be easy, wait til you try and get the double shrink plastic nunchucks out of their cage. Do not use your hands. Unless you use a hacksaw you may be too injured to play games. I’ll bet that some senior citizen homes, where the Wii is a top seller, have had to employ experienced mechanics to get the damn thing out of the box.

The Microsoft Xbox, which will be experiencing a steep price cut soon, and may be adding some terrific home entertainment add-ons, has gone through three product packaging changes in its short history. The latest iteration uses too much cardboard, but in the end it’s still safer and easier to unpack than the Wii.

Sony’s PlayStation 3 and PSP are the easiest to get out of the box quickly and safely. The accessories and add-ons for these games systems, whether by Sony or a third party, are very easy to get out of the box, too. Even the tough shrink wrapped Sony accessories have a secret pull-apart section, making the impossibly tough looking protective shield a snap to remove and open.

Home Theater in a Box
Sometimes, when prices come down, the quality of the packaging comes down, too. The mid level rated HTIBs, such as LG, Boston Acoustics and Samsung, seem to have it down pat. Four speakers, sub-woofer, center channel speaker (DVD player-tuner receiver) are all wrapped easily and efficiently…but because these models are so price-sensitive and produce very little or margin for their manufacturers, newer packaging is tight to make the boxes smaller. This, in turn, makes the packages difficult to get out of the box without breaking the box, which could make returning these items a problem.

When you get to a higher class of product, such as products from Onkyo, Sony, the fabulous new JVC models, the much improved Panasonic models and the overhyped, over-priced Bose Systems, you will have an easier time getting the components out of the box and into your living room or den.

Our favorite is the Yamaha HTIB and its regular components, too. The company hasn’t skimped on its easy to get out of the box interior packaging. We also give a nod to certain higher end 2009 models as they include wireless rear speakers and/or wireless subwoofers so there may be less wires or cables in the box. Could it be that the packaging people from some of these firms have listened to consumer complaints and actually changed their ways?

Portable Car GPS Systems
In this very fast growing category, all the major players use one of two mapping services. So besides some differences in car mounts and built-in accessories like picture, video viewing and music playing, the average person is not going to find too drastic of a difference in the mid level Garmin, Tom-Tom, Magellan or LG models. But packaging here can hinder your initial out of the box experience. Garmin and Tom-Tom have an annoying iPod way of layering the product so you might even drop the actual device while pulling the plastic over the area in which the GPS system is placed. It took a focus group and me quite a few minutes to locate the actual car mount in the Tom-Tom because it was hidden in a compartment below the device itself…literally on the other side where you normally wouldn’t look for a part. The top of the line LG, a few dollars more than the Tom-Tom, was the easiest to set up, but the instruction booklet was bad. We count that as bad packaging, too.

Mp3 Players and Other Multimedia Handhelds
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie: Apple’s iPod 8-gig model and Samsung’s P2 (and up) models rank as the best in class and the easiest to open. Microsoft’s Zune, arguably as good a player as the aforementioned products, wastes cardboard, and uses too many natural and un-natural resources…in its packaging. And we almost broke the Zune 30-gig model because it was so tough to get out of its box.

Philips’ shrink-wrapped one gig model, also a really nice buy, was nevertheless a tough shrink-wrapped item….when it didn’t have to be.  Archos’ multimedia handhelds are also terrific products, but the accompanying remote and other USB wires and cables are difficult to get out of the box and not clearly marked for installation.

Creative Labs’ Zen line of MP3 audio and video players were always very easy to get out of the box and into your ear or hands, but now they too are suffering from IPod-itis, that is, in trying to make a packaging statement, they’ve made something more difficult than it has to be.

Noise Canceling and Blue Tooth Headphones
While Bose, Sennheiser, Sony, Sure and Panasonic battle it out for supremacy in the high end of this category and JVC, Logitech, Philips and several others make a product almost as good for 50% less…there’s two things to watch out for:

1. The Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones include a blue tooth adapter which, in our focus groups, was usually hidden in the packaging and very easy to lose once you fought your way through the shrinkwrap.

2. The higher end models usually include a shell-like carrying case in which the headphone jack accessories are secured in the pocket of the case…but sometimes, depending on the retailer (big box-warehouse store vs. audiophile store), these accessories are packaged separately….and are also easy to misplace.

Whether you are buying a $10 audio plug or a $1,000 home entertainment system, it can’t hurt to sneak a peak at the packaging by nudging open the box at the store. Then again…



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