2010 Tech Support Showdown Shows Most Vendors Less Helpful, Apple Still the Best

Your notebook is driving you crazy! It keeps giving you blue screens, it won’t connect to your router, or maybe it’s just taking an eternity to boot. Who ya gonna call? If your notebook is still under warranty, you’ll reach out to the manufacturer, either by visiting its website or by calling the support number.

What happens on the other end of that telephone line or web request could make or break your entire notebook ownership experience. If you get a timely, accurate answer that solves your problem, you can get back to work or play. If not, you could spend a lot of time and money trying to get your computer working the way its supposed to. That’s why it’s so  important that you know what kind of service to expect before you invest in an expensive new system.

Enter LAPTOP’s Tech Support Showdown. Each year, we put all the major vendors’ support systems to the test to see exactly what kind of service they provide after you’ve purchased your notebook. We use in-warranty notebooks and call their support lines with questions, scour their web sites, and submit online support tickets. We measure hold time, accuracy of the response, and the helpfulness of supporting materials like web guides and troubleshooting FAQs.

Trend From 2010: Less Support, and Worse Support

We’ve been doing this for over four years and this time around we noticed a disturbing trend. More and more vendors refused to answer questions that didn’t directly involve defective or broken hardware. Perhaps it’s a sign of these poor economic times that, when we complained that our notebook was booting too slowly and asked for help, a Lenovo support tech rudely told us to go “take a computer class” for the answer and another from Gateway told us we’d have to pay $59.99 for help.

Out of the 12 vendors whose support we tested, only three got higher grades than they did in 2009, three got the same grade, and six — 50-percent — got lower grades than in our last roundup. The worst offenders were Acer and Gateway (which is owned by Acer), both of which received D Grades, because they refused to answer the majority of our questions unless we paid a high premium, ranging from $59 to $129. Even, in the rare occasions, where we got a support person who was willing to help us for free, the India-based support techs didn’t understand our questions or gave us useless answers such as telling us that the Windows power manager can’t be tweaked to improve battery life.

Fortunately, this year’s showdown was not without its bright spots. HP dramatically improved its tech support in the past year, adding better Web resources, helpful online support techs, and a streamlined phone tree. When we complained about slow boot ups, a very helpful rep spent 40 minutes remotely improving our computer’s boot time.

Apple, however, remains the king of support, receiving an A grade for the third year in a row. Apple’s support techs were friendly, helpful, and prompt. Its web resources were unparalleled and the company did not demand extra money to answer any of our questions.

See the full Tech Support Showdown 2010 to see how all of the notebook vendors fared.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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