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Condensed Knowledge – November 24, 2008

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Reviews

A Dell order and return experience

On 7/31, I placed an order for a Dell S2409W 24-inch Widescreen Flat Panel LCD Monitor, a new model from Dell which has a 16:9 display ratio and runs about $350. I needed an external display for my MacBook Pro, because it’s getting cumbersome to edit photos on a 15″ screen.

On 8/21 (three weeks later), it finally arrived. After connecting it to my Mac, I discovered it just didn’t have the display quality I needed, and started thinking about returning it.

A couple of days later, after I tested it and calibrated it as much as I could, I filed a request for a Return Authorization on Dell’s website. I had to fill out a form with all of the order information and with my address (which I had to enter twice), because the website isn’t designed to pre-populate the fields based on the information already present in your account. There is a way to log in, which promises to pull that information for you, but even if you do log in, nothing gets pulled. You can’t just go to an order and click on a Return option.

I got an automated confirmation right away which assured me they are “working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to answer customer inquiries”, and that I could expect a response in “24 hours or less”.

Their response did not arrive within 24 hours. When it did, it said they are “unable to process a return authorization for the order,” and to “please contact Dell Consumer Customer Care at 800-624-9897.” I called them.

I was greeted by the Dell phone robot, and followed the various prompts to navigate the menus, until it was satisfied and passed me off to a real person. That’s when the fun really began.

Rep 1 (Indian): “Could I have the order number? What is your name? How can I help you?”
Me: “I’d like to return that order.”
Rep 1: Okay, let me connect you to someone that can help.”

Rep 2 (Indian): “Could I have the order number? What is your name? How can I help you?”
Me: “I’d like to return that order.”
Rep 2: “Okay, let me connect you to someone that can help.”

Rep 3 (Indian): “Could I have the order number? What is your name? How can I help you?”
Me: “I’d like to return that order.”
Rep 3: “Okay, let me connect you to someone that can help.”

Rep 4 (American): “Could I have the order number? What is your name? How can I help you?”
Me: “I’d like to return that order.”
Rep 4: “Why?”
Me: “Display quality is not satisfactory when connected to a Mac.”
Rep 4: “Have you tried to adjust it?”
Me: “Yes, but it just won’t display colors the way they need to be displayed.”
Rep 4: “Do you have a video card?”
Me: [Couldn’t believe what I’d just heard… Pause] “Of course, otherwise my computer wouldn’t work.” [Which is true — to my knowledge, you need either a graphics card or an embedded graphics chip to display video with a normal computer, and besides, they don’t ship Macs without some sort of video cards.] “Look, I just want to return the order…”
Rep 4: “Okay, I wanted to make sure, because you’ll be charged a 15% restocking fee.”
[Then she got to work on processing the Return Authorization and issued it to me.]

I spent 19:06 minutes on the phone to get the Return Authorization, and had to go through all of that stuff listed above. I’m not counting the time spent digging on the Dell website to submit the web request, which obviously didn’t come to anything.

You would think:

  • Dell would want to make it less onerous for its customers to get their business done when they deal with them over the phone.
  • It’d take less than four people to get to the right person.
  • I wouldn’t have to speak to three Indian reps at some call center in India, then get transferred to an American rep somewhere here in the States, before someone could address the reason for my call.
  • Someone who processes RMAs wouldn’t try to troubleshoot a product, especially when I’m not interested, and when they don’t know how a computer works.
  • Dell would have a way to pass the order number and customer name from rep to rep, so I wouldn’t have to say them over and over and over.

You’d be right to think all those things. Unfortunately, every time I interact with Dell, I see that they still don’t have their act together. They’re too big, disorganized, they don’t treat their customers properly, and they make it a hassle to deal with the company. As for their design philosophy, it’s practically non-existent, unless making ugly stuff counts — except for their recent Studio laptops and Studio Hybrid desktops. Is it any wonder they’re not doing so well?

And what’s up with the 15% restocking fee? I thought the industry “standard” was 14%.

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Hardware review: Dell S2409W Flat Panel Display

The Dell S2409W 24-inch Widescreen Flat Panel LCD Monitor is a new model from Dell which has a 16:9 display ratio and runs about $350. Its native resolution is 1920×1080 pixels, which means it can display full quality HD content (1080p). It has three inputs: VGA, DVI and HDMI, which means you could connect it to your computer and to a DVD player or some other video device, and switch between the inputs as needed.

I purchased this monitor on 7/31, and it arrived on 8/21. My reason for buying it was the price. It is one of the lowest prices for a 24″ display from a reputable company, and I was also drawn to the 16:9 display ratio. I had a chance to work with it over these past four days.

I like the design of the monitor. It’s fairly thin in terms of depth, the rounded bezel is interesting, and the white power light is a very nice touch. It sits on a round base that has a sort of round indentation built-in, which I found to be a handy spot for post-it notes or a small remote control.

My computer setup is described in detail here. I have a MacBook Pro, and I do a lot of photography editing. As soon as I connected the S2409W to my MBP, I could see that fonts and curves weren’t displayed properly. There was some noticeable rasterization that took place at the edges of smaller objects on screen. I’m not sure of the word to describe it, but edges weren’t smooth, they were craggy.

I set up my MBP and the monitor in dual display mode, and I dragged windows back and forth between the two displays repeatedly, in order to compare the differences. As soon as a window made it onto the Dell monitor, things just didn’t look as good and as crisp as on my MBP’s display.

Also, no matter how much I calibrated it, I couldn’t get the contrast and brightness settings right. If the contrast was too low, then colors and shadows appeared washed out, and if the contrast was too high, the light-dark difference bothered my eyes. If I turned down the brightness, there was too little light on-screen, and if I turned it up, there was too much light, which made my eyes burn.

The next day, I brought my MBP into work and connected it to my Dell W2407WFPb monitor, another 24-inch flat panel display. This particular model belongs to the UltraSharp model line, which is higher quality. Here the colors showed up properly from the start, without calibration, and there was much less rasterization around the edges of letters and other small objects. I had to admit the S2409W display isn’t made as well as the W2407WFPb, which is understandable, since the latter model retails anywhere from $600-700.

I did one more thing: I started my XP VM on the Mac while connected to the S2409W, set it to full screen, and noticed that, at least when running Windows, the display quality was acceptable.

No matter how much I tried to adjust the display while I worked on my Mac, I couldn’t get it to work in a satisfactory manner for me. Since I do most of my work on a Mac and within OS X, the Dell S2409W won’t work for me, and I will have to return it.

Updated 8/28/08: You can read about my Dell return experience if interested. I find it very encouraging that Dell is now engaging with its customers the way they’ve done it after I wrote that post.

On a more general note, I haven’t been very successful with my monitor picks so far. I already tried using an HDTV as my computer monitor, but that didn’t work out. Now using a regular monitor hasn’t worked out either. It looks like I may need to spend upwards of $700 to get a good monitor that will work well for my needs.

Keep in mind that my needs are more demanding than those of the average user, and that I may be more critical of a monitor’s display quality than you may be. You may find the S2409W does just fine for you, particularly if you do most of your work on Windows, where it seems to work better. At $350 for a 24-inch display, it fits the bill as well.

Promotional: Shopping for Dell hardware? Use Dell coupon codes on your next purchase.

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Reviews

What I did in 2007

I made a concerted effort to write consistently and with substance in 2007. Product reviews are one of the foundational pieces of my site. I enjoy doing them, and people seem to enjoy reading them. I thought I’d highlight the most important ones from 2007 below.

Camera reviews (in chronological order)

The thing to keep in mind about my camera reviews is that for all but one of the reviews marked “full”, I used those cameras as my primary cameras for at least a month. That means they went with me wherever I went, so my understanding of how they work in real-world conditions is more than can be gotten from a lab review.

Lens reviews (in chronological order)

I also started reviewing lenses in 2007. Since I had to rent them in order to do this, I couldn’t very well keep them for a whole month, like I did with my cameras, but I did my best to make sure I put them through most conditions you’d encounter outdoors.

Hardware reviews (in chronological order)

I started doing hardware reviews as well, motivated by the problems I kept having with the products I had purchased. I wanted to tell people what to watch out for, and it looks like they appreciate hearing about it.

These were just a few of the articles I wrote during 2007. To browse through all of the posts from that year, use the Archives. Don’t forget to subscribe to my feed so you can find out about all of my new posts in 2008.

Thanks!

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Thoughts

Apple's notebook market share is now 12%

Among other news, like their 48% rise in profits, helped by the iPods, Apple has also proven the dominance of their hardware and software market by achieving a 12% share of the notebook market. That’s double its previous share of 6%, as measured from June of ’05 to January ’06. Over 75% of the new notebooks sold used Intel processors, which showed, beyond a doubt, that Apple’s move to Intel chips was the right one.

If you’re sneering at 12%, and saying that Dell or some other PC company might have more, think about why people buy Dells. Not one person I’ve talked with who owns a Dell says they love it. They buy Dells because they need them for their work. On the other hand, people buy Apple computers because they love the design. It’s a gut decision, not a business one. And as billions of beer bellies show, the gut wins every time. Expect Apple’s share of the market to continue to grow, and Dell’s to decline.

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Why my Dell Inspiron can't go to sleep

I’d been having problems getting my Dell Inspiron 8500 to go into suspend and hibernation modes lately, and attributed it to yet more glitches in Microsoft software. I had been installing and uninstalling various software, and I figured the OS had gotten out of whack, although things were functioning just fine otherwise.

It wasn’t until I decided to unplug my Apple MightyMouse from the USB port that I discovered the problem was with Apple hardware, not Microsoft software… I had to smile… Here I am, an avid Apple fan, and the hardware’s failing me. Granted, I am using it with PC hardware… But it is funny nonetheless, and I wanted to share this in case any of you out there are having the same problem. What I do now is very simple: every time I need to put the laptop into hibernation, I unplug the mouse, and things work just fine.

Updated 5/9/2006: I’ve found out since that just about any external mouse plugged into this thing will cause it to stay awake. Unless the mouse is unplugged, it’ll stay on through the night. Not very good design…

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