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Apple tops Consumer Reports' tech-support survey

Posted Saturday, June 21, 2008

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CR’s June Computer Package Also Features Ratings of Desktops and Laptops

Yonkers, NY — Computers are one of the most trouble-prone products Consumer Reports tracks in its annual product-reliability surveys. When it came to solving problems, wait time on the phone and the knowledge of support staff, Apple’s tech support received high scores across the board for both laptop and desktop systems in Consumer Reports’ latest survey featured in the June issue.

Consumers looking for stellar tech support should consider a Mac since Apple’s topped Consumer Reports’ latest Ratings of tech support services. The latest annual tech-support survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center draws on subscribers’ experiences with 10,000 desktop and laptop computers. Results revealed that tech support solved problems for only about 60 percent of the respondents who used it. Apple’s tech support was much more successful than others, solving problems more than 80 percent of the time.

Other companies that stood out in CR’s survey were Lenovo, which was outstanding at problem-solving for laptops, and Dell, which was above average in this area for both desktops and laptops. Consumer Reports also found HP and Compaq offered inferior support.

Extended Plans

The relative shortcomings of computers and their support creates a ready market for extra-cost service plans which roll together an extended period of both repair coverage and technical support. Sometimes for-pay support is touted as being of higher quality than the free service. Other extras might also be included, such as in-home tech support and repairs, and online storage for backup.

Consumer Reports doesn’t recommend buying a plan on the basis of its repair coverage alone. Some credit-card companies offer extended coverage, often doubling the manufacturers’ warranty period if the card is used to purchase a computer or other warrantied item. As with extended warranties for other products, CR’s data suggest that on average, computer repairs cost about the same as the plan if the computer indeed needs a repair during the first few years.

About 50 percent of the computers in CR’s latest survey were covered by some type of paid service-upgrade plan, but results and analysis suggest such plans generally aren’t good buys. Below are some instances when consumers may consider purchasing an extended plan for their new computer. CR notes that cost and coverage of extended plans vary widely, so consumers should do some research.

1. For laptops that travel a lot. If the laptop will be especially vulnerable physically, say if it will often be used on the go, consider a plan for repair reasons that will cover accidental damage. Many plans do that while most factory warranties specifically exclude coverage resulting from accidents or misuse.

2. When buying a Mac. CR has long said it’s worth considering an extended plan for Macs due to Apple’s very brief tech support which runs out 90 days after purchase, although unlimited support is available in its stores. While CR’s survey showed Apple’s track record for solving problems among consumers without paid plans was already a standout, it was even better than for support with a plan.

3. For certain PCs. Consumers who anticipate the need for continued hand-holding past the free tech support period with a Dell or Gateway PC should consider buying an extended plan, according to CR. These companies were significantly better at problem-solving for consumers with paid plans as opposed to the standard support offered with the purchase of a PC.

Where to Get Help

Consumers in the need for tech support for their computer have many options, although Consumer Reports notes below that some may be better than others. Below are some choices consumers should consider:

§ Free phone and Internet support. Manufacturers typically offer free tech support for a year after the computer is purchased. Most survey respondents reached tech support by phone, though the help was frequently less than exemplary, with 59 percent reporting at least one problem. The least effective help was obtained through the manufacturers Web site or by e-mail.

§ In-store support. Walk-in support for Macs available at the Genius Bars in Apple stores, provided the best troubleshooting by far, solving problems 90 percent of the time―and the advice is free; the cost of any needed repairs depends on the problem and the coverage the computer has. It covers all Macs―under a plan or warranty or not.

§ In-home service. Seventy-five percent of respondents who utilized in-home service reported no problems, although fewer used that option than other types of coverage. Dell offers in-home service for the first year on most systems as does HP if consumers purchase a customized desktop.

§ Online forums. If free tech support has expired or is lacking, consumers can visit online forums for help, although quality may vary from site to site. CR’s June report includes recommendations for both PCs and Macs.

Consumer Reports Latest Tests of Desktops & Laptops: Thinnest, Smallest and Largest

Consumer Reports’ look at 24 laptops, 14 desktops and six all-in-ones features the thinnest (Macbook Air by Apple), smallest (Asus Eee PC), and largest laptops (HP Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook) ever tested, along with laptops and desktops of unprecedented processing speed. Even component integration is getting extreme, as more manufacturers stuff computer circuitry into monitors to create sleek, one-piece desktops. CR also found basic budget computers and more powerful workhouse- and high-end models that would be fine choices for most people.

Consumer Reports’ recommendations for laptops for basic needs includes two models by Lenovo― the ThinkPad T61, $950 and the ThinkPad R61, $870, Toshiba’s Satellite A215-S5818, $750, and the Dell Inspiron 1525, $675.

Consumers in the market for an inexpensive desktop should consider the Lenovo 3000 J200, $580. For more features and performance, consider these two models by HP―the Pavilion m9100t, $970 or the Pavilion a6250t, $825, and Dell’s Inspirion 530S, $860.

The report which includes comprehensive Ratings and buying advice for tech-support services, desktops, laptops, all-in-ones, and monitors are available in the June issue of Consumer Reports. The reports are also available to subscribers at

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

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Apple tops Consumer Reports' tech-support survey