The Camera Store – Fantastic Service Experience

I’ve whined about my share of horrid service incidents here with Dell, Sony Ericsson, and Rogers to name a few. But once in a while, a company goes above and beyond (instead of below and not quite there) that I just have to mention something. That recent pleasant exchange was with The Camera Store in Calgary, Alberta.

I recently purchased a Micro-Nikkor 60mm AF-S f/2.8 lens from them, for one of the lowest prices in Canada, with free XpressPost shipping to boot. I received it a few days later, well packaged, in a pristine Nikon box. To put that seemingly trivial latter point in context, I’ve seen more than one horribly beat up box at Henry’s, where the product was being passed off as ‘new’.

Unfortunately, after trying out the lens, I noted a significant amount of AF-S motor whine, especially when focusing from infinity and back. Once in a while, after the lens hunted around without success (happens with many macro lenses), trying to get the focus back using the focus ring seemed to cause the ring to ‘disengage’ from the lens elements. Turning the ring wouldn’t allow it to move past approximately 0.3m focus distance on the focus scale, despite the ring still turning. There was also this awkward groaning sound and the ring moved very stiffly.

I wasn’t entirely certain what to do at this point, as I was heading down to the States in less than two weeks. I figured I would eat the cost of shipping it back and simply purchase a copy locally. I called The Camera Store to explain the problem, and ask for suggestions. The gentleman told me that I could take it to any authorized Nikon dealer to have it sent off for repair. However, after explaining my tight deadline, he said a return would probably need to be done. The web orders employee, Sheena, wasn’t in on the weekend, so I’d need to call back on Monday.

I hadn’t even gotten a chance to call this past Monday, when I received an email from Sheena, apologizing for the issues. She asked me to ship the lens back, at which point a replacement lens (which they’d check first) would the shipped to me. They would eat the return shipping cost, and she even stated that I should ship it back using an expedited shipping method as ‘there is only a 10 day gap within which we can work to get the lens to you in time for your trip‘.

Wow. Talk about above and beyond.

I shipped the lens using XpressPost and it reached the store earlier today. Considering it only takes a few days to ship back and forth, getting a new copy in time for my trip shouldn’t be an issue.

I initially wrote off buying lenses online after getting the lemon lens, but knowing that The Camera Store will take care of me makes me extremely willing to give them my business.

Where Oh Where is my Nikon D90?

I called Canada Post yesterday, after getting slightly worried about the fact that my Nikon D90 that I sent in to their Mississauga depot for repair still hadn’t shown up as delivered, despite waiting two weeks. The expected delivery date was last Thursday, and the lady I spoke with promised an investigation and would report back in a few days.

I also contacted Nikon to see if they had received my camera; perhaps Canada Post’s deliveryman had forgotten to check the item off as delivered.

I received a response from Nikon this morning. Apparently, there is no service depot in Canada at all, only two in the United States. That’s not what this Nikon page, which I was linked to to aid me in sending my DSLR in for service, says.

At this point, I have no idea where my camera is, although I certainly hope it is with Nikon Canada (which is at the 1366 Aerowood address I sent it to). I also hope it was simply some miscommunication with the service representative, who was unaware of the Canadian service depots.

At the very least, I want to have my camera back before I leave for Redmond in one month!

Getting in a Festive Mood

The first permanent snowfall of downtown Toronto fell this evening as I walked home from work. These past few days have been extremely long. It’s the last few weeks of development before the project I’ve been a part of launches. Even more than usual with the aggressive timeline we’ve been working on, the bug fixing and polishing has really stretched the working day. I’ll let you know more about the service when the release date is upon us.

I spent much of the weekend walking and shopping at the Eaton Centre and on Bloor Street. In the end, I came away somewhat empty handed (only a book), but I wasn’t ready to spend $400 on a Swiss Army cardigan at Harry Rosen… I was initially looking for a Fred Perry one, but they were nowhere to be found.

Despite not having purchased much of anything, all that perusing left me in quite the festive mood. I broke out the Christmas music from the storage archives and loaded up my Zune with some holiday tunes. In particular, I’ve been listening to Michael Buble’s album ‘Let It Snow‘. It simply doesn’t get much better than some Christmas vocal jazz.

I’ve also been working with Rogers to sort out some issues with my iPhone. I was told that I had to try the phone on 2G for a few days (despite being an iPhone 3G the last time I checked) before anything else would be considered. After doing just that, I called back earlier today only to find that I’ll need to work with Rogers’ network group to troubleshoot the phone/their network. I’m glad I’m paying them so that I can be their ad hoc QA team… I’m pretty fed up with the iPhone at this point (two physically defective devices, then this craptacular replacement that can’t hold a signal worth a damn), so I’ll be pushing for a different device, possibly the BlackBerry Bold. I noted earlier that the Bold isn’t the optimal device for my purposes, but at this point, I just want something that works.

For the remainder of the week, I’m hoping to cut back from the 12 hour+ days I’ve been pulling, for my own sake. I don’t feel particularly tired while at work, but I really feel it on my walks home and now, for example. I hope you can understand the lack of posting here over the last couple weeks.

Dell XPS M1330 – A Year In

Product reviews are always a double edged sword. They are mostly written after a short amount of time (relative to the useful life) with the product, in order to inform interested early adopters. On the other hand, the short time also means there are things that can’t be thoroughly tested, like reliability. After over a year with the Dell XPS M1330, loving the laptop, blundering through a GPU failure, and having people tell me that my review should be updated with the developments of the NVIDIA GPU defect, it’s time to provide the entire ownership experience.

The M1330 was one of the most talked about Dell laptops pre-launch and even today, it remains quite popular. However, many discussions of the M1330 of late labour over the NVIDIA GPU die-packaging defect and its effect on the M1330. While Dell and NVIDIA are adamant that the defect is contained and relatively rare, my experience has indicated otherwise. Two friends own M1330’s with the 8400M GS and two friends own M1530’s with the 8600M GT. Over the past year, those two M1330’s, along with mine, have all had their mainboards replaced due to dead GPUs. The two M1530’s haven’t run into any problems thus far. I certainly don’t mean to imply that there is a 100% defect rate for 8400M GS equipped M1330’s. It simply points to some bad luck and coincidence, but also indicates a wider-ranging problem than Dell is letting on with the laptop. Statistics demands it.

When Dell first acknowledged the GPU defect via the Direct2Dell blog, it was towards the end of my summer university semester. Hoping to avoid any problems associated with the GPU, I preemptively called Dell support to see if I could purchase a warranty extension. After my explanation of the NVIDIA defect, and hoping I could get a cheap extension as a result, perhaps around $100 for a year, I was quoted $300 for a single year or a ‘promotional’ price of slightly over $550 for two years of standard coverage. Unable to control my laughter, I asked how much an out-of-warranty repair was: $250. I decided to take my chances.

My next step was to attempt a replacement of the possibly defective GPU with a defect-free one. Citing standard warranty procedures, technical support informed me that the GPU would only be replaced if it could be diagnosed as defective within the warranty period. No amount of explanation (or Direct2Dell references) was able to change their mind.

Now, fast forward to the middle of final exams, and literally two days after my warranty had expired. Poof. My M1330 boots to a screen filled with colorful vertical lines. Dell technical support forwarded me onto out of warranty repairs, despite pleas to make an exception, both due to the defect as well as being so close to the warranty window. But seeing as I was up the creek without a paddle, I decided to tough it out. I was in the middle of exams and I wouldn’t have the repair completed before they ended in any case. In the meantime, I found myself in a seriously awkward position. Being a computer engineering student, well, my computer was a priceless tool for my studies. I was fortunate enough that a friend had a laptop he could loan me, allowing me to continue studying. Clearly frustrated with Dell, I posted a stinging but professional comment at Direct2Dell, stating my displeasure.

As a result of the comment, I was contacted by a community liaison, who informed me that he would set me up with someone who could help me with my issue, despite being out of warranty. I was pleased by the turn of events and thanked him profusely.

That is, until a week passed and I had heard nothing back from anyone at Dell.

Shortly afterward, Direct2Dell posted some information about a 1 year warranty extension for systems affected by the NVIDIA defect. I was absolutely relieved that I hadn’t purchased the exorbitantly priced warranty extension and would soon have my laptop repaired through normal channels.

With warranty extension information in hand, I called technical support, and despite pointing out the Direct2Dell post, I was again denied warranty service. Technical support knew nothing about the warranty extension and would not repair the laptop under warranty. Some more emails to the community liaison turned up the fact that he’d been on vacation and hadn’t realized that nobody had contacted me yet. He assured me he’d ‘track down’ who was responsible. Then more silence.

I was seriously stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was nearly three weeks without a working laptop and I still had no indication that anyone was even willing to help, despite two potential solutions. It was at this point that I did something I promised myself I wouldn’t.

Since purchasing my M1330, I had been in contact with a product manager at Dell, who took interest in some things I’d written about the laptop. We built up a friendly relationship over the past year, which I valued. It was based on mutual respect and I didn’t want to jeopardize it by using him as a backdoor resource. Yet, given the situation, I saw little alternative. I contacted him in his official capacity as a Dell employee, voicing my displeasure.

Not expecting any less from a person of his character, I received a timely response. He had personally contacted some resources to see what was happening. Not long afterward, both the community liaison and an executive support representative contacted me regarding repairs.

There was still one more obstacle. Even several weeks after the acknowledgment of the GPU defect, it still wasn’t clear if the defective NVIDIA chips had worked their way out of Dell’s supply chain. Questions to that effect to Lionel Menchaca of Direct2Dell fame were either curiously sidestepped or simply brushed aside, with an explanation that the warranty extension would cover any issues with the GPU. The non-denial certainly sounded like the replacements would still be with possibly defective parts.

I attempted to ascertain from the support representative whether the replacement parts were defect free. All I got in response was some nonsensical explanation that GPU errata were common and that this one had been fixed. As a note, an erratum is a logic error within a computational device, something that is indeed fairly common, but causes only computational errors (which can lead to system instability and corruption). The weak die and substrate packaging material was a hardware defect that could cause physical, hardware failure, not an erratum. I was disappointed that even an executive support representative was either misinformed or thought they could slip one by the customer. Not having much choice regardless (I couldn’t even downgrade to the integrated Intel video if I wanted to), I went ahead with the repair.

Really the only bright spot of the experience was the surprisingly quick turnaround time for the return to depot repair service, which took less than a week, round trip, with both to and from shipping paid for by Dell. I’m now using the still functioning system to write this update. It’s held up okay so far and I’m crossing my fingers for the next year or so that I’ll use this laptop.

When everything is said and done, the main point here is that Dell is treating the situation as if everything were business as usual. Unfortunately with the defect, that’s simply not the case. I’d like to hear a confirmation that parts being used in new systems are defect-free. Otherwise, even with the warranty extension, the 8400M GS could still be a ticking time bomb in the M1330. I also would have liked to avoid the 4+ weeks without a laptop. I asked for a reasonably priced warranty extension due to the defect and was rejected. I asked for an in-warranty replacement of the stated defective GPU and was denied on the basis that it hadn’t yet showed symptoms. This would be acceptable under normal circumstances, but not when there’s an acknowledged manufacturing defect. Those 4 weeks without a working M1330 worked out to 8% of the ownership time of the laptop at that point. If a new car had to spend 8% of its first year with a mechanic, I’d be livid.

I’d like to see better communication between the different branches of Dell. While communications can be difficult in a large company, the disconnect between Direct2Dell, which is supposed to be an official voice of Dell, and technical support was simply unacceptable.

Finally, it’s time for Dell to stop hiding behind the problem. While there were numerous frantic bouts of finger pointing in NVIDIA’s general direction, the customer purchased the finished product from Dell. Dell needs to be responsible for the ups and downs of the product life cycle. I don’t go knocking on Synaptic’s door if the touch wheel on my iPod dies. I go to an Apple store. It’s the same thing here. One of the advantages of ordering a pre-built computer is that there’s a central point of contact for any problems. I expect that support system to be there when issues occur. Of course, it’s important to note that Dell isn’t the only manufacturer affected. HP and Apple have both acknowledged the issue as well.

The Dell XPS M1330 is a great laptop, unfortunately affected by the NVIDIA GPU defect. While I’d like to believe that the defective GPUs have worked their way out of inventory, there’s been no official confirmation either way. With the warranty extension well established at this point, you can be pretty certain that any issues will be resolved; however it doesn’t eliminate the fact that you could still run into hardware issues in the first place.

Dell XPS M1330 – The Cursed Laptop

To put it mildly, my Dell XPS M1330 experience hasn’t been the smoothest. Starting with a ridiculous 6 week wait for the laptop to receiving one that wobbled with an uneven base, the M1330 certainly had a troubled birth. Then a couple months later, the original 6 cell battery already had a large amount of wear after very little use. While certainly a nice laptop, I don’t know if it was worth the trouble. And now, as I type away with a dead M1330 beside me, I’m definitely regretting my purchase.

Ever since posting a comment regarding my 2-days-out-of-warranty dead M1330 on August 12th, I’ve been in sporadic contact with a Dell community liaison representative, who promised to get me in touch with someone who could resolve the issue. Seeing as the 1 year warranty extension on my laptop wasn’t unofficially announced at Direct2Dell until August 18th, I didn’t have much choice but to go along at that point.

However, after hearing nothing back after almost a week, I decided to inquire with the representative about getting in contact with a support team that could help. Asking whether I should go through normal channels or wait for someone specific to contact, I was informed to wait to see who was assigned to the case.

Fast forward another week and at this point I decided that I had put my laptop’s fate in another person’s hands for long enough and called Dell technical support myself. Unfortunately, that did also not solve the problem at all. The XPS technician I spoke to knew nothing about a warranty extension and referred me to out-of-warranty service. Fair enough, so when I mentioned that Dell had indeed extended the warranty on my machine, I was transferred to Customer Care to confirm. Upon getting a representative on the line there, I was told that I could only purchase a warranty extension if I was still covered under warranty, despite me making it very clear that I was after a specific warranty extension offered by Dell for the GPU issue. Seeking some information about the Dell warranty extension for my model, I was transferred again… To technical support. I hung up at this point.

Now I understand that this is NVIDIA’s part that failed, but I bought it as part of a complete package and support must go through Dell. NVIDIA may be to blame for the hardware issue, but I’m placing the terrible service and general lack of knowledge of the situation squarely on Dell. Not only have I been without my laptop for the past 2 weeks, no one, and I really mean no one has been able to help me, despite indications on Direct2Dell otherwise.

The GPU problem along with the terrible service makes me regret recommending and helping two friends purchase Dell XPS laptops over the past 6 months. I would feel partly responsible to those people if something were to go wrong with those systems.