This review originally appeared on Brighthand.com.
Often just as important, if not more so, as the actual device is the technical support that comes with the purchase of a device. This review is dedicated to analyzing and comparing the tech support offered by several major laptop manufacturers.
Computer problems can be one of the most frustrating situations any person can go through, especially if it is your primary computer for school or work. Downtime can cause missed assignments, projects, or worse if you manage all your finances through a computer and can't pay a bill on time. We decided to call up Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo, HP, Gateway, and Apple to who see was the easiest to deal with, and how long the average call was.
For our calls, we scored each company in multiple areas, including menu navigation, how long until you left the menu system, time to service rep, and total call length. The basic question asked to each company was, "Is there a way to manually eject a CD stuck inside my optical drive". The expected answer was using a paperclip in the manual eject hole, but as you might expect, not all companies came to that answer right away. In one case we were offered a brand new drive at first, and in another we ended up being cut off after 35 minutes on hold.
Dell support call
For our Dell support call, we used the Home and Home Office contact number listed on the site. This was 1-800-624-9896, which listed 24/7 availability. This number was fairly easy to find using Google, and a bit of navigating on the Dell site.
The first interaction the user gets is a voice activated menu system which was not very difficult to navigate. It took me about 30 seconds to get through the system, and 10 seconds later I was speaking to a service rep. The service representative was very friendly, and as soon as I mentioned my problem he prompted me to find a paper clip and insert it into the small hole on the side of the CD tray. After thanking him for his help, the total time on the phone was 3 minutes and 21 seconds.
Toshiba support call
For the Toshiba support call, we used the computers support line, listed as 1-800-457-7777. The website does not display if this is a 24/7 support line on the main "Contact Toshiba" webpage, but it worked for our Saturday afternoon call.
The support line was very easy to navigate, using all phone prompts to navigate the menus. Total time to navigate the menus and be routed to a support representative was 60 seconds. The representative was very helpful, and immediately knew about the pinhole on the side of the CD tray. Total time of the call was 3 minutes and 40 seconds.
HP support call
For our HP support call, I used the standard support line, which offered 24/7 availability. The number listed was 1-800-474-6836. Finding this number was very simple, using both Google and a little site navigation.
The HP support line was all voice navigated and the most frustrating to navigate. You are prompted for the type of product, as well as the product model name. In the case of our dv6500t test notebook, it was quite challenging to get the system to understand what I was saying. The voice prompt misunderstood me three times when I said "DV...." and routed me directly to the TV technical support center. On the 4th try, speaking very carefully, I finally got it to recognize what I was saying. After 4 minutes, I had finally made it to a human.
The technical service representative was frustrating to talk with, and would not assist me without a valid serial number. With some poking and prodding, he put me on hold to talk with his manager to find out if he was allowed to tell me how to manually eject a CD without a verified serial number. After 4 minutes of being placed on hold, he came back and thought that a paper clip used on the tray release hole would do the trick. The total time on the phone was 12 minutes and 30 seconds.
Lenovo support call
For our Lenovo support call, we used the United States 24/7 support line. The listed number was 1-800-426-7378, with about 200 additional numbers depending on what country you were located. Finding this list was quite simple using the help of Google and minor site navigation.
One quirk that cropped up with the Lenovo support line was when I first attempted to use my Skype VoIP line from my home. When the support number was dialed, the phone just rang and rang with no pickup from the other end. When I switched to my cell phone to make the call, the line picked up on the first ring.
The Lenovo phone system used a combination of voice and phone prompts to navigate the system. It took about 60 seconds to get routed to a human on the system. The representative required all of my computer and personal contact information before he would start, which added a bit of time to the service call.
After 4 minutes, I started to explain the problem, and received a very odd answer. He explained the drive did not have a manual release to eject a stuck CD, but they would be more than willing to send out a new drive for my notebook. While a new drive would be nice, what about my precious CD that was stuck? After additional hinting towards a possible fix, he finally suggested that a bent paperclip might work using the manual tray release hole. The total time on the phone was 7 minutes and 20 seconds.
Apple support call
The Apple technical support line was very easy to find, and it was listed as 1-800-275-2273. The Support page did not shot that the line was 24/7, but it worked just great on the weekend when I called.
Let me preface this support call by saying that I did not expect a quick answer for my standard stuck CD question. The MacBook Pro does not have a quick release on the CD tray, and it requires service to fix. I was hoping for a quick answer stating that fact, and hopefully some recommendation on the closest Apple Store.
The phone system used both voice and phone prompts to navigate to the correct area, and quickly routed me to a human in about 60 seconds. The service rep was very friendly, and was quick to help me once I gave him my information. When I explained the problem of the stuck CD, he asked questions about the noises the system was making, and if dragging the disc to the trash bin would eject the CD.
When I explained that the CD never fully clicked into position, he put me on hold to further research the problem. I was expecting a quick return, and explanation that it would require service, but I never heard from the guy again. I was on hold for 35 minutes and at the 39 minute total time mark, was disconnected from the call and routed back to the original Apple technical service menu. If I was real customer I would have gone crazy at that time.
Since the service was so bad the first time, I gave it another shot the next day during normal business hours. Getting through the phone prompts were just as easy as before and this time around the lady whom I spoke with seemed to be more eager to help me out. We went through some of the same troubleshooting steps such as pressing the eject button, restarting the computer, and so on. In the end she decided to send me to an Apple store for further help, and went as far as scheduling an appointment at my local genius bar. Total time was 6 minutes.
Gateway support call
Gateway technical support is set up differently from other manufacturers; they have different contact numbers depending on if the system was purchased directly from Gateway or instead, a retail store. The number I called was the retail support line, which was 1-408-273-0808.
The Gateway support line leads you through multiple voice prompts that require you to explain your intentions as well as share your model number. During this call the system did require multiple corrections, but unlike the HP line, never transferred me to a different support area. In all it took about 2 minutes to get through the voice prompts and finally speak with an agent. The support agent was very friendly and, even though I did not have my serial number handy, helped me along with my support request. Without referencing any support material he knew about the manual release off the top of his head, and quickly solved my problem. With a friendly reminder about locating my serial number in the future, I was done with the call in 4 minutes and 33 seconds.
Besides realizing that I have way too much free time on the weekends, I found that simple things can make the technical support experience either wonderful or frustrating. The interactive voice prompts were hands down the worst part of most calls. With HP, I was rerouted to the wrong area multiple times because the computer kept thinking my "DV6500t" model number meant I was saying "TV", which then cut me off and routed me to the wrong system. In others you had to pronounce the category you wanted multiple times before it would understand you. Having a simple "press 1 for computers ..." made the interaction much easier.
Overall, Dell and Toshiba were the best for ease of access and quick resolution. They had the easiest phone menu systems to navigate, fastest times to talk with an agent, and the shortest overall call length. Gateway ranked 3rd, with the phone prompts being the only negative aspect of the phone call. Lenovo was also very good, but a new optical drive isn't always the best answer when you are trying to get work done now. Apple ranked in the middle with Lenovo when you averaged the poor call experience with the excellent call the next day. HP came in last with the frustrating phone system that was nearly impossible to navigate. While your experience could vary greatly depending on the individual service representative, we hope this gives you an idea of how each company handles support and what to expect from each of them.