Sunday, April 26, 2009

Technology Bekons

Things are going to loosen up financially for me in a few months. I am already eyeballing some much needed technology. First is a new computer. Now I have a bit of experience with PCs and I have to say that I'm a fan. However, I am not a fan of the PC industry and my particular bone of contention has to do with technical service. I have owned two Dell computers. A desktop and a laptop. In both instances, I purchased expensive, long-term service plans. What I have found when I attempted to contact Dell for technical service is a frustrating, nearly infuriating conversation with an undertrained representative who cannot: A) deviate from a script despite all attempts to get them to THINK, and B) deal with a problem that doesn't fit the mold. I have sworn more times than I care to remember that this will be the LAST DELL I EVER OWN. My laptop has had its screen replaced, the mother board replaced (2X), and every bit of it's internal goodies (except the DVD drive) replaced. When you can finally get them to send out a technician, they basically rebuild your computer so they never have to come back.

So yeah, I guess service support is pretty important to me. So which companies are better than Dell? Turns out none of them are. Dell, HP, Acer, Sony. When it comes to customer service, apparently they have all farmed their work to India and have opted not to employ technicians but customer service employees who can't help you. All of them. I mean, I flat out can't find a maker of personal computers with what I consider to be a minimally acceptable level of technical service.

There's Apple. Apple has skyscraper customer service satisfaction.

Have you seen what a f*&@#$ng Mac costs? I'm getting a raise, not an AIG bonus.

So what then? Well, beats me.

On the one hand I have a rarely used HP desktop sitting in my rarely used "office". I could take that computer to work and free up a room for...well, whatever. Maybe I should go without a laptop. Maybe I should de-emphasize my non-professional computer use. Maybe I should get a life outside of this little box.

Yeah, right.

Without this shining connection to a digital world, I'd have a freakin' panic attack. So, I've been toying with the idea of purchasing a small, inexpensive, technology-light laptop for little more than blogging, internet cruising, and DVD watching at home. The watchwords being: cheap and portable. No more dedicating a room to a machine. No more carting a machine back and forth to work. Just buying an inconspicuous little notepad of a computer and calling it done. And (hold your breath, friends and neighbors), not buying the extended service contract at all. Treating this little new toy as ....disposable (gasp).

OK, I can hear all the environmentalists gripping their armchairs as I speak. But what else am I to do? They have backed me into a corner by making their customer service so atrociously abhorrent. Do you hear that Dell? And HP? And Sony? Listen up all you PC makers. Your customer service is so bad that I am now treating your product with as much deference as a disposable camera. Do not expect me to purchase on the high end of your product offerings for this reason and this reason alone.

Given that I have just knocked customer service out of my buying decision, I am now looking at product quality. Longevity. Problem free.

Well, there's the Dell Inspiron 15. Approximate cost $550. Cheap bastard version.
15.6" screen. 4G memory. 250G hard drive. DVD player. 6 cell battery and a one year limited warranty that I am sure isn't worth the paper it's printed on. I can save myself $60 by scaling back to 3G memory and a 4 cell battery, but that is just tethering yourself to a wall socket.

Apple MacBook. Exact cost: $1299.00. Pretentious bastard version.
I don't care what you have inside the box. If I can't drive it home at that price, it ain't coming home with me.

HP Pavilion Mini. Approximately cost: $600. They killed Kenny--You bastards! version
Intel Pentium Dual Core Processor T4200. 1GB memory. 160GB hard drive. DVD. Nothing said about the battery.

Sony VAIO NS Series Notebook. Cost $780. Whoa. There was a reason I bought from Dell, you overpriced bastards! version

Intel Dual Core Processor. 4G Ram, 250G hard drive, DVD burner, blah blah blah.

You know, I'm really rather disappointed in the Sony price. I would actually be willing to try that computer. Maybe I'll get lucky and the price will plummet just before I'm ready to buy. But don't you hate when your set yourself up for a disappointing finish? I said that cheap and dependable were the deciding factors and since I can't tell diddly about dependability, that leaves price. And Dell beats the pants off them all. Damn. I hate that company.

Please. Someone. Tell me there is an alternative. Tell me Sony is so much more that I will never dream of buying another Dell. Save me from Dell Hell.


  1. HP Pavilion. I love mine. Its the 'fancy bastards' version, but I have no complaints after beating it up for two years straight. Don't get the finger scanner. Don't get the touchy buttons on the top (if you can help it). Don't get a number pad (overkill). But get more then 1GB of memory. As for the HP battery: my battery held out for 18 months before dying--110 for a new one. Speakers are finally starting to go but other than that its still working great! That's after spilling two beers and some tea on the keyboard, too. Though not all at the same time.

  2. Here's the argument for Apple. You've said yourself that they have good customer service. I'll vouch for that. For a laptop with a hardware problem, you call on day 1 and they ship a box to you, you ship and they fix it on day 2, you get it back on day 3, all for free, including shipping. 1 year of service comes standard, 3 years of peace-of-mind comes for another $183. That's pretty sweet. If you take service out of the equation, sure, don't go with Apple, especially with the price... But you pay for a lot in addition to service when you buy an Apple. Things just work, and they last. With the Intel machines available now, you can do anything a PC can do, including run windows (though why you would want to is beyond me). If you want disposable, don't go with Apple (3 years is a minimum lifespan). If you want the most horsepower for your buck, a fair comparison, feature-for-feature, will demonstrate that Mac's aren't overpriced. They just aren't bottom of the barrel specs. If the bottom line price is a limiting factor, shop around and take advantage of educational pricing. Even on Apple's website, you can get a like-new Refurbished MacBook 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of memory for $849 with 1 year of Applecare included, add $183 for a 3 year warranty. A new machine will cost another $100, which is still better than the $1299 list price you quoted above. But if service, durability, or performance are of no consequence, and price is your only concern, don't go with a Mac. On the other hand, if you don't want to carry a computer back and forth from school, and you don't want to sit in a coffee shop and work, and if you don't want to blog from a hotel room on a road trip, you can consider a desktop... A desktop will be either more power or less money, or both, and a lot less portable (Mac mini excepted). When my laptop died, I actually chose the latter option. Now I have a desktop at home and school with a lot of power and carry a portable hard drive smaller than a paperback novel with me. Don't forget to back up your data no matter what you choose. P.S. I can hook you up with loads of Mac software.

  3. Well Josh, I have to agree with you that the mac is probably a superior product, but I just can't afford a $1000+ setup right now.

  4. Trail Blazer,

    I'm not familar enough with Apple or Sony (i.e., never owned one) to discuss their merits. I have a Dell Inspiron which I rarely use because I'm non-existent in my office until my presence is summoned.

    My purchasing habits have never strayed far from refurbished PCs and notebooks. My philosophy is that:
    1. It's not the hardware advances that make a computer obsolete, it's the changes in software (which occur on average, every three years).
    2. A hard drive or power supply will eventually fail due to the amount of heat generated within the enclosure of the desktop or notebook.
    3. No extended warranty pays for parts after 90 days (to my knowledge). What you pay for is phone, email and online (chat) diagnostic support. If they identify the problem as "Hardware-related", you ship it to them (shipping is free for many). They replace the defective part which you pay for and ship it back to you. An upgrade to this approach is "In-home service".

    If the problem is "Software-related" they will normally advise you to "re-install the application or use your restore DVD to start from scratch" (again).

    4. A notebook undermines the very nature of a hard drive because of vibrations; failure is inevitable at some point.

    5. A refurb is certified because it must undergo rigorous testing after undergoing a period of customer use.

    I have one Gateway and several HP's which were all refurb's and I have no regrets with the purchases.

    Best wishes with your decision.