Forteen years ago I worked for First International Computer, a Taiwan-based computer manufacturer that started its OEM business making motherboards for computer companies. At that time the company rolled out its first FIC branded notebooks.  After selling a few notebooks to customers in Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, the question of support came up very soon after that. Needless to say that period of my career exposed me firsthand to the importance of after sales support.

In the years that followed I swore never to buy an OEM notebook because local support from these Taiwan-manufacturers simply wasn’t up to par compared to the traditional brands you and I are familiar with. I also had this notion ingrained in my mind that branded notebooks were superior in quality to their “white box” models. I was, very soon, corrected.

My first notebook was from HP.  I distinctly remember that one week after unboxing it, the embedded numeric keypad failed and I had to send it off to HP’s Hong Kong office to get it repaired. I was very pleased when I got it back in under a week with a note saying the defective keyboard was replaced. (This validated my view to buy only branded computer products). Apart from a fast dying battery, the old HP did as advertised.

My second notebook was an HP tablet – TC1100. I’m still using it today as my replacement notebook. I have since upgraded its RAM and hard drive. The internal wireless card finally conked out after four years so I opted to buy an external wireless PC card. I did so because the price for a replacement mini wireless card Type III – was even more horrific than the replacement pen (HP was asking for HK$850 for a replacement pen) the company after sales office was asking.

As if I never learned my lesson, I recently bought the latest HP tablet – HP TouchSmart TX2 as a birthday gift to my daughter. The shop told me that if anything happened to the notebook within seven days I just needed to return it to their shop complete with packaging and they would replace it for me. That is SOP among reputable Hong Kong retailers and reassured my wife I was buying from a fly-by-night shop.

Anyway, three weeks after I bought it, the keyboard DIED. Unfortunately it was during the Chinese New Year festivities and the HP technical support lines said to call back only during office hours. My daughter took my TC1100 and scouted around the web for answers. Lo and behold, ours wasn’t a unique instance. It turns out there were 11 HP TouchSmart users out there who have had the same problem. Thanks to a couple of them, an answer was discovered and posted on the forum. It is worth to note that the TX2 is a new notebook having been launched in Hong Kong in December 2008. In the forum there were 11 US-based customers who got their notebook between December 08 and January 09 and they all had the same problems. What does that tell you about HP quality? 

The answer was found in the HP forum. I found it amusing that one of the people in the forum wrote “You would think their product testing would have picked up on this. ”

And this goes right to the heart of my blog. Any vendor that holds its brand dear should stand by its commitment to quality. If you buy an expensive watch you expect to get good product with a decent after sales service. I bought the latest and greatest tablet from HP and I expect, like any consumer, to get a very good product with a very responsive after sales tech support – not an automated voice recording that says “call us during office hours…”

We eventually did as directed by one of the users in the forum. I took out the battery, switched/held the power button to the on position for 30 seconds, plugged back the battery in, plugged in a USB keyboard, powered the notebook, pressed F10 (CMOS setup), reset the BIOS, and rebooted. The keyboard went back to life. Am I glad I am not going to have to bring this new notebook to HP’s office to get it repaired!

There was a time when HP (and other vendors like it) would have ignored my complaint and threw my complaint letter straight to the shredder. Lucky for me (and for any consumer) we have the Internet and blogs.

If anyone has ever experienced something similar to my situation (doesn’t have to be HP), I’d certainly like to hear your story.

PS: My next notebook is defintely not going to be HP! I should have opted for the Lenovo 200T but money matters got the better of me.

Addendum: The same problem recurred two weeks later. This suggests that whatever is the problem with the TX2 is either a design flaw or defective components. Either way, it denotes quality control issues.

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