The Two Faces of Dell’s Service

Sometimes I wonder how such wildly differing service experiences can come from the same company. Not two days after undergoing a sad encounter with Dell’s call centers, I had the replacement 6 cell battery for my M1330 in hand.

I’m extremely impressed by the exchange system Dell has, at least for batteries. I didn’t have to ship mine back first, or anything like that. It only took a day (arranged the replacement late Wednesday night, and it arrived mid-day Friday) for it to arrive. Not only that, inside the box was a pre-paid shipping label for me to return my battery. I don’t even have to pay to ship it back, as is the case for most warranty services I’ve used.

The new battery I received is made by Sanyo, like my 9 cell. The battery that’s being shipped back to Dell is an LG. The new battery charges up to 100% (57720mWhr) just fine, whereas the LG couldn’t even hit 50000mWhr at full charge.

Thanks Dell – the phone calls were a pain, but the service afterwards made up for it.

Ongoing Dell Battery Situation

I’ve decided while I’m on the phone, I’m going to do a bit of live-blogging. I’ve recently run into some issues with my 6 cell battery for the XPS M1330 – it has around 15% of battery wear after only 3 months of use – two of those months were of light use. I’ve probably discharged the battery a total of 20-30 times. I’ll be trying to get a replacement.

9:35pm - I call the only technical support number listed in the Dell Canada Support site: 1-800-847-4096.

~10:00pm – I’m connected with a gentleman in the technical support team and provide my information, only to find out that I’m in the wrong department. I’m supposed to be talking with the XPS support department. I get the direct line to the XPS department for future reference, but wouldn’t it be nice of Dell to update their support site with the XPS support number instead of having me wait 25 minutes to be told that? Oh, for your info, the Dell XPS support line is 1-866-398-8977. I’m also told that it’ll be about a minute.

10:32pm – Still waiting. Music’s been looping for a while now.

10:47pm – Finally get connected and relay my information.

10:48pm – I tell the technician about the battery problem – a full charge is only up to ~85% of the design capacity in three months. Unfortunately, he insists since the Dell battery health meter is showing ‘normal’, he can’t do anything about it. First tip: redesign your battery meter to incorporate some sort of time and use relativity – 15% loss over 2 years of use may be fine, but 15% wear over 3 months of relatively light use is excessive. Obviously my explanation that the battery going from 20% charge down to 6% charge instantly, skipping everything in between isn’t enough. Nor is the full charge capacity number versus the design capacity number.

10:53pm – I ask for a transfer to someone with a bit more knowledge and someone who can help me with my problem. I’m being transferred. On hold again.

11:00pm – Okay, I thought I was being transferred, but the guy came back on the line and told me he’s just transferring me now.

11:11pm – While waiting, here’s an interesting technical support idea. Have two tiers, one for the normal user and another one for more knowledgeable and technically-oriented users. Have a few ‘skill-testing’ questions to make sure the caller does know his stuff if he requests the advanced line. It would save a lot of grief, skipping all the scripted lines. I mean I’m practically doing their work for them by having pre-diagnosed the issue.

11:20pm – I get another technician. Oh wait, it isn’t. It’s the same one as before. I can’t fucking believe this. I explicitly ask for supervisor this time. I didn’t think I’d need to state that explicitly. If he couldn’t help me, what makes him think the guy sitting next to him could…?

11:29pm – I get the same tech back again because the queue for the supervisor is very busy, but luckily, he consulted the supervisor and offered me a replacement battery. Case closed.

The whole experience was close to a nightmare, interspersed with some sad comedy – for example being transferred back to the same person. Oh well.

ASUS Eee PC First Thoughts

Impressions

The ASUS Eee PC’s been out for a little while, but I haven’t had the chance to get a first-hand look at it until earlier this week. A friend picked one up and was kind enough to let me get in a few unboxing pictures as well as some comparison photos of it with my Dell XPS M1330. I was also able to use it a bit and get some quick first impressions in. This device really excited me when it was announced by ASUS for $199. Has the new price tag of $399 and some time with it changed my opinion?

You don’t even have to open the box to realize that this device is going to be small. The retail box it comes in is absolutely tiny. The first box shot doesn’t really do it much justice, but when compared with an EVGA video card box, you get a feel for just how diminutive it is. The Eee PC box is almost exactly the same dimensions as the 8800GT box.

ASUS Eee PC Box ASUS Eee PC Box

Opening up the box, you’re greeted with an even smaller laptop. The package comes with a nice sleeve for the laptop, a 4 cell ~38Whr battery, a charger (no power brick here – it’s like a power adapter for a modem), and some manuals/warranty cards (and a driver CD).

ASUS Eee PC

After removing it from the box and connecting the battery, I performed the subjective weight test and was very impressed. This thing is light! Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like ASUS sacrificed material quality for weight. You can pick it up from a corner with no creaking or flexing (the small size also helps). Don’t get me wrong; the casing is completely made of plastic, but thickness is good and the hinges are especially beefy. They feel like they’ll last plenty of repeated openings and closings.

ASUS Eee PC

I purchased my Dell XPS M1330 because it has a great balance of portability, power, and battery life. But on the portability front, the Eee PC completely shows it up. Just look at the comparison photos and you’ll know what I mean.

ASUS Eee PC ASUS Eee PC ASUS Eee PC

There’s just no comparison in size. The user interface is also extremely simple and attractive. It is extremely graphical and intuitive. There are no long menus of applications and folders. It’s a great setup, especially for beginner users or other non-advanced users.

ASUS Eee PC User Interface

Issues

Unfortunately, that’s also where its disadvantages stem from. A consequence of the small chassis is an even smaller display. I hadn’t thought much of it prior to seeing it, but the 7″ display is tiny. It doesn’t help that the wide bezel and speaker combination makes the display seem even smaller. The 800×480 resolution is enough for many uses, but more and more web pages are expanding beyond 800 pixels of width. Chalk it up to lack of concern of usability by the webmasters or what have you, the fact is, you’ll be side scrolling quite a bit. Fortunately, the integrated graphics and CPU are more than capable to playing back both internet video and DIVX/XVID files.

As well, the size of the keyboard had to be reduced. This means typing is a rather difficult affair, although I’m sure with some time, I’d be able to get used to the size of the keyboard. On the other hand, some of the layout sacrifices are terribly annoying. I’d especially like to point out the smaller than usual backspace and enter keys. Perhaps even more annoying is the fact the right Shift key is on the outside of the up-arrow. Even in the brief amount of time I had with it, attempts to hit the right Shift resulted in going up a line instead.

I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly test the battery life, but ASUS is saying anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. Some reviews have cited around 3.5 hours of battery life with light use, which in itself isn’t bad at all. However, considering the battery is rated at almost 40Whr, we’re talking about approximately 11W power consumption per hour (at light load), which is surprisingly high for such a small and low-powered device. In comparison, with the optical drive disabled, but wireless on and screen brightness at 6/8, the Dell XPS M1330 only consumes around 13W idle and 15W while browsing the internet. That’s with a dual core processor and a dedicated 8400M GS video card. Perhaps ASUS can optimize it further for power as a low-power 900MHz single core mobile CPU, a 4GB SSD, a 7″ LED backlit display, and integrated video still sucks up quite a lot of power. Plus, the two yet-to-be-announced lower-end versions sport even smaller batteries, to the tune of ~18% less capacity. Hitting 3 hours of use under light load may be all you can hope for with those.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time with the device, but I did manage to answer just about all the questions I had. At the original announced price of $199, the Eee PC would have been an absolute steal, but it’s much harder to swallow at double the price. I could stand to lose some usability at the lower price, but for $399+tax, it’s just a little too much money for too many sacrifices. The thing that stands out most is the screen size – it’s just too small to use comfortably or effectively.

I’d wait and see if a 9″ or 10″ version pops up that would solve almost all my complaints in one swoop, from the small display/low resolution to the annoying keyboard. At $399, that device would really be the one to get.

8800GT Deal

I was treated to quite the deal yesterday when I found a GeForce 8800GT 512MB video card at Futureshop. I’ve written about how the fall video card refresh has been great for competition and prices, but I never imagined I’d be able to pick up a 8800GT for $199CAD. Granted, part of the reason was due to a pricing error on Futureshop’s part, which pushed the price to below cost. It was advertised as on sale for $259 from $309, but when I got to the Futureshop in Guelph (thanks for the drive, Justin :)), it rang up as $199.

Although the card is advertised as the stock clocked (600MHz core, 900MHz RAM), it comes clocked at EVGA’s Superclocked specs (650MHz core, 950MHz RAM), making it an even better deal. It’s one of, if not the cheapest 8800GT I’ve seen in Canada, not to mention being overclocked by default. The sale to $259 ends November 15th, so you’ve got some time to find a store with stock if you’re considering it. I was hesitant about getting the card before all this since AMD/ATI will be launching their RV670 based cards in about a week’s time. But at $199, I have absolutely no qualms – there’s no second guessing whatsoever.

And damn, there’s a huge difference from my 7900GTO. The Crysis demo is now playable with all settings at high at my monitor’s native resolution (1680×1050), as opposed to medium details and 1280×800 with the 7900GTO. The Unreal Tournament 3 demo is also playable with the highest detail settings and 1680×1050 as opposed to medium and 1280×800. The visual quality in these two games is absolutely amazing. I still can’t quite believe I’m getting all this for 2 bills. With an E6600 at 3GHz and stock clocks of 650/950 on the 8800GT, I’m hitting around 11.5K in 3DMark 06.

NVIDIA’s got a hell of a card here – let’s see what AMD can do against it in a week’s time.