Prolog

Comparing a notebook to a washing machine is like comparing vintage wines to Tizer but, increasingly, that’s what I’m being asked to do. Not by the powers-that-be at Dennis Publishing, demanding we turn PC Pro into a white-goods magazine to take on the might of Good Housekeeping, but by Big Wigs at Big Companies, who point out that PCs, notebooks, printers and pretty much everything else we review are turning into commodities.

Prolog

“It’s no different,” they insist, “than popping down to John Lewis and choosing whether you want a Hotpoint, Zanussi or Bosch. Then you decide how high you want the spin cycle to go, and you buy it.”

As a man who once worked for John Lewis selling washing machines, I know that even choosing the right clothes-washing appliance isn’t as simple as that, but I understand the point. However, it glosses over a huge number of differences, the primary one being that you actually “experience” the computer you buy on a daily basis, so the quality of the keyboard, screen, styling, everything, becomes vital. You’re not just chucking your washing into a hole in the front.

This lump of metal and plastic becomes a core aspect of your life. It stores all your documents, your favourite websites and your slightly weird personal settings on its hard disk.

The other big difference is that your computer will go wrong much more frequently. As we all know, it doesn’t take much to break a computer: anything from accidentally deleting a file to catching a virus to mechanical failure can destroy a Windows installation.

It all means that using a computer is – compared to turning a dial on a washing machine and pouring in white powder – phenomenally difficult. What’s more, when things go wrong with a washing machine, you can call a plumber or buy a new one. When a computer goes wrong, things can become complicated very quickly. I’m pretty sure every PC Pro reader will have received a phone call begging them for computer-related help, and even though to us the problem may be quite simple, moving beyond the front-end of Word, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express is enough to send many people scampering for the hills. Or at least phoning us.

In the olden days, when PCs were indeed a sepia colour, this wasn’t such a problem. Manufacturers made a decent profit on every PC they sold, which meant they could afford a big customer service team based in the UK to be on the other end of the phone when things went wrong. Today, that’s the exception rather than the rule. Most have to use Indian call centres or they wouldn’t make enough money. And, frankly, given the choice of this or having no companies in the UK that make computers, I’ll opt for the former.

But that doesn’t mean customer service doesn’t matter. We should still demand companies call back when they say they will, that they’re civil and that they build high-quality kit in the first place.

This is particularly relevant this month as we launch our annual Reliability & Service Awards. We’ve had a phenomenal response over the past two years, but we’re greedy, and this year we want even more. If you decide to take part, you’ll not only have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping people make the right buying decision in the future, it also reduces – by just a fraction – the chances of that phone call begging you for technical support.

Take part now by clicking here.

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