Toys “R” Us has been selling netbooks for a little while, which makes sense as small computers are great for small people. We’re all curious kids inside—and we’ll take any excuse to visit a toy store—so we headed off to the Times Square Toys “R” Us last Friday to check out what they had in stock.
Since we’ve recently been testing out the service and techie know-how of various stores’ staff (see our “Retail Salespeople Completely Ignorant About Netbooks” article for a few quotations from your favorite big box store), we had a few questions for the staff in charge of the netbook booth.
Given our past experiences with Costco, Staples, WalMart, and Best Buy, we fully expected the Toys “R” Us staff to stare at us blankly and then possibly spout off some complete nonsense about their netbooks.
To our surprise, they didn’t.
While there are about two dozen netbook models available on the store’s Web site, there were only four in the store we visited: an ASUS Eee PC, an HP Mini, and two Disney Netpals. Two clerks staffed the booth, and both of them knew their stuff. The man who helped us was courteous and more than willing to explain the somewhat confusing signs put up in the display. (The Eee PC had a sign in front of it that read simply “1GB,” while the Netpal’s sign had numbers for both RAM and hard drive capacity.) He explained that a netbook was “just like a laptop,” but smaller, and it “doesn’t have a DVD player, and it doesn’t have all the gigabytes as a regular laptop would.”
When we asked him how many movies we might be able to fit on one, he checked with his partner before giving a pretty good estimate. (Three or four movies for a 16GB hard drive.) Though he wasn’t sure if the Eee PC came with any kind of parental software, or if we’d be able to hook any of the netbooks up to a TV for hi-def streaming, he directed us to the appropriate Web sites to find out, rather than just making up an answer.
The only question he was significantly unsure of was the battery life—like many of the big retail store staff, he equated a smaller unit with shorter battery life, and figured we could get about three or four hours on one, compared to an average of “about six to eight hours” on a bigger laptop. (To his credit, he looked for a number on the netbooks’ boxes before he gave us an answer; only when he couldn’t find one there did he give us the approximation.)
Toys “R” Us racked up another bonus with their display unit—while some retail stores have nonfunctional dummy units on display and some stores (like WalMart) won’t let the customers touch the display units, even just to get a feel for the keyboard, our Toys “R” Us helper pulled the dummy unit out of the display case without us even having to ask, and let us test out the keyboard and size while he assisted another customer.
If you’re looking to buy a netbook and you’re not quite sure what you want, are you better off heading to a toy store instead of your local Best Buy? Only if you’re willing to pick from mostly kid-friendly models. However, we were surprised and somewhat baffled that Toys “R” Us staffers are more knowledgeable and more careful in their answers than the staffers we encountered in other stores.
This is, of course, is only one experience at one store. Still, considering the troubles we’ve had this year with store employees, it’s nice to know that somewhere there’s knowledgeable and helpful staff… at a toy store with a giant giraffe as a mascot.