Shame on Sony; Overthrow CompUSA

We interrupt your normally-scheduled blog for this rant.

I’m not bitter that my 10-month-old Sony Vaio suddenly ceased working the other day . I’m grateful that its battery did not explode.

Nor was I furious to discover that the $199 extended warranty that I purchased from CompUSA failed to cover the full extent of likely repairs. I was simply relieved to have escaped its San Francisco store front before an earthquake buried me in brick & mortar.

I’ve been buying and using PCs since 1981 so I should know the ropes. Yes, they’re marvelous but finicky. Become overly dependent on them and they’ll let you down. And when they malfunction, it is more likely the beginning of the terminal phase than a brief illness followed by recovery.

My laptop experience is limited, however. My first serious portable (I’m discounting the decommissioned TRS-80 Model 100 mothballed out in the garage) was a Toshiba that was rock solid for three years and then lost its screen in the third year. Though it was covered by an extended warranty and eventually “fixed” it was never quite reliable again and I replaced it with the Vaio a bit later than I should have, when it was just over four years old.

The Vaio was sexy. Which in computer talk means it was thin. My teenaged son was impressed by it. So was I until I learned that it did not have a native recording card for capturing high-quality audio even when I used a good microphone. So no help with podasting. And then of course it simlply failed to power on one morning. I think it died of shame.

My visit to CompUSA was the second disappointment. I have purchased most of my computers mail-order, and the decision to buy from a store was a conscious one. When the Toshibe broke I had to mail it away. It was gone for a couple of weeks. I wanted a storefront. I wanted somewhere to go.

Alas, Julio behind the desk at the Market Street store informed me that I had not purchased the additional $99 policy rider that would have paid for a backup of the hard drive. You see, he said, it is likely the techs would wipe the hard drive as part of the fix and did I want to save my data for an additional charge? He also informed me that the laptop would have to be sent out to Sony for repair and it would likely be gone or two or three weeks.

So did I buy from a store expecting faster service, only to learn that my buyer protection was incomplete and to wait 30 minutes for the CompUSA staff to put the laptop into a box?

No. I waited 30 minutes to learn about the shortcomings in my protection plan and discover that the laptop would be gone for weeks while CompUSA’s in-store radio BLARED ABOUT ALL THE NEW STUFF I COULD BUY.

But what choices do I have except to wait as patiently as my personality will allow?

A-list bloggers like Jeff ( Buzzmachine) Jarvis have garnered considerable attention for their computer complaints. I’m perhaps an F-list blogger, as in fuggedaboudit, or G-list for gadly, or may H-list for hopeless or I-list for inconsequential. But me, bitter no way.

So I’ll just have to suck it up and use better judgement next time I buy a laptop, which may now be soone now than I had supposed. On that score I recently noticed Hewlett-Packard promoting a two-year plan for its laptops with a nifty feature — if you don’t need the protection within the two years, they’ll supposedly refund the protection money.

That sounds like a better deal than I got from CompUSA but now I’m worried about fine print.

Does HP insist that I turn on loud and obnoxious music, for instance, while I’m packaging the laptop for shipment to the repair center? Will HP back up the hard drive as part of the repair cost, or email me to find out which of the 10,326 stored files I do want to save and charge me on a pay-per-file basis?

And what are the chances of the HP laptop going two-years without a fix? I don’t have great expectations on that score, not from an industry that thinks about its customers as “users.”