By Lauren Morley on Apr 25, 2014 10:50:44 AM
In our world of ever-changing technology, manufacturers can be slow to catch up to quickly evolving demands. We’ve all heard the stories of weeks-long warranty repairs, terrible customer service, poorly-made hardware, and systems that fail straight out of the box. With all the computers out there to choose from, which company deserves your money? We break down the latest good and bad about each major computer manufacturer to help you buy with confidence.
The good – Acer’s tech support is known to be relatively good, and they added an Acer Community portal on their website allowing for group problem solving from other users. They also present a wide range of options and budgets when looking for a new machine. Acer makes many budget-friendly systems, but also climbs into high-performance territory. Even the most cash-strapped people should be able to afford a basic new system. They have shown great design capability in many of their offerings, such as the Acer Aspire S7 laptop’s white aluminum chassis and Gorilla Glass coated lid, or the head-turning design of the Acer Aspire Predator desktop. If you want a unique looking computer, Acer should be on your shopping list. Acer most often equips its laptops with solid, if basic, keyboards and touchpads that will last. Acer’s out-of-the-box software package is helpful as well, with Clear.fi Photo/Media/Docs for easy file management and the Acer Cloud app.
The bad – While tech support has greatly improved, their social media support and representative brand knowledge still has room for improvement. Some designs are also obviously cheaply made, with plastic parts that are prone to breakage and disintegration. Their keyboards, while solidly built, can suffer from strange and unfamiliar key configurations. Likewise, their touchpads are all over the board with some being very responsive and others lacking. The Aspire R7 in particular is high on the “what?!” list with a touchpad placed at the top of the keyboard and no palm rest whatsoever. Acer’s audio design on many laptops has room for improvement, with bottom-mounted speakers that are muffled and sound tinny during use. Dim displays and narrow viewing angles can also be a pain. Acer seems to be trying hard to innovate and differentiate themselves from the other big-budget manufacturers, but the actual implementation could still use some work.
The good – “You get what you pay for” certainly comes into play with Apple computers – but not in the bargains category. They are known for being expensive machines, but worth it in the eyes of many users. Their tech-support is something to be commended, with Genius Bars everywhere and the online Express Lane for help articles. Their live chat and phone support are top-notch, but they do lack social media based customer service. The clean, sleek, modern look of their systems are attractive. And building laptops with a metal chassis certainly provides for a more durable system. While the keyboard hasn’t changed much on MacBooks over the years, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”; the large buttons, good tactile feedback, and intuitive layout are all customer favorites. Likewise, large touchpads offer accurate navigation and response, including support for multitouch gestures. Onboard display and audio are also great across the laptop board, with brighter, higher-resolution screens than comparable laptops and crisp, clear audio. Battery life is longer on Apple laptops than many other manufacturers with similar offerings. And while the operating system learning curve may be intimidating for users used to Windows, free OS upgrades, tons of free apps, and being almost immune to viruses and malware make their OS a solid one.
The bad – Price is generally the first thing that comes to mind as a disadvantage to using a Mac. Prices between comparable laptops will pretty much always be higher for Apple. While this is attributed to higher quality components and software, many people simply can’t afford a $2000 computer. Along the same lines, repair cost is usually higher for Mac issues. Purchasing AppleCare can help offset these costs, but things like replacing a logic board, screen replacement, or fixing a broken port or case can easily end up being near the cost of the whole system due to the way the computers are built (especially true on MacBooks). Selection also leaves something to be desired, there is not much variation to choose from when looking at Apple computers. If you are big on computer customization you may reconsider buying a Mac as well; replacing/upgrading internal components or even building a Mac yourself is nearly impossible for average users. The only sound way to get an Apple computer customized the way you want is to buy one. And some — like the Macbook Pro with Retina Display technology — don't even make it possible for users to apply common upgrades like replacing the RAM. Gaming is also more limited on Macs, although more and more games are starting to come to the operating system. Many big name games come to Windows immediately or soon after their console release, while Mac users generally have a longer wait before they can play (if it happens at all). Lastly, if you are used to using Windows it will be quite the learning curve switching to the Apple OS. Many users find after they’ve gotten used to it that they actually prefer Mac’s operating system, but getting accustomed can be frustrating.
The good – Asus’s tech support has greatly improved over the years, and while their phone support representatives could still use some work, they have a useful redesigned website and increased social media presence. Innovation and design is a highlight of Asus’s offerings, with myriad unique options for regular laptops/desktops, hybrids, and notebooks. Asus is known for consistently taking risks, redesigning models, and offering computers completely different than others on the market. With the exception of a handful of laptops, keyboards and touchpads are generally well implemented and have great tactile response, good layouts and accuracy, and lots of life. Quality over quantity is a good part of Asus’s business model, so you can be sure that on the majority of systems you are getting good value for your money.
The bad – Display and audio are somewhat all over the board and can range greatly between models. The best advice is to test any Asus computer’s onboard audio/video or read customer reviews before purchase to ensure it’s to your liking. The company doesn’t sell computers directly from its website either, so you will have to go through a retailer to purchase one of their machines making custom configuration difficult or non-existent. Pre-installed software also greatly ranges from model to model, from completely clean to having tons of unnecessary extras. Some of these apps are useful, but many fall into the “bloatware” category.
The good – Dell was long known for ranking dead last in the customer service department but have recently made it a point to improve in this area. Dell’s computer design is all over the board which is great. You can buy anything from a visually-impressive Alienware gaming computer to a very basic and familiar home laptop. Dell is also known for generally having well-designed keyboards, with great tactical response and intuitive layouts that are easy to pick up (with the exception of the XPS 11 hybrid’s completely flat keyboard!). Responsiveness and the large design of their touchpads is also a welcome feature. Laptop monitor display is a step ahead of many manufacturers, they rate brighter than the average laptop, and resolution on some models goes as high as 3200 X 1800 pixels. Audio also ranks well across laptops with built in sound. But of course, value is the biggest motivator for those shopping for a new Dell computer. It has recently expanded its basic/value Inspiron, Precision, and Latitude lines, giving users with a budget a wide variety of solid computers to choose from. While the quality may be a bit lacking on some models, you are not likely to get more immediate bang for your buck anywhere else.
The bad – Unfortunately, Dell seems to use a lot of proprietary hardware that can only be replaced through them, especially if you’re under Dell warranty. In recent years they have been changing this practice due to customer complaints, so it is not so widespread anymore. They make a good amount of their money from services and upgrades, again due to the proprietary nature of many parts like power supplies and motherboards. Dell does not offer email or Facebook tech support either, and they will often solve problems by having you download DellConnect for remote access as opposed to guiding you through a solution. The website can also be difficult to navigate. Innovation is severely lacking at Dell, with only a few notably different designs and features emerging over the last year. While immediate value is great when buying a Dell computer, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is present in many of their budget PCs, so be aware that a great deal now could turn into an expensive repair or replacement later.
The good – HP has a well-designed and easy to navigate website, and their social media tech support is good. If you like Chromebooks, HP has some of the best-looking designs around for very reasonable prices. They offer a wide selection of consumer and business class laptops and desktops at all price points, so users have a large variety to choose from when shopping HP. Their laptops’ comfortable, flex-free keyboards are consistently good, and have accurate, easy to use touchpads. While laptop displays are less bright than average, they deliver rich color and wide viewing angles. Onboard audio is also good quality, even on budget PCs, and Beats Audio can further be found on several models. Innovation has also improved at HP with many bold, unique designs and helpful new capabilities. Windows 8 haters will enjoy the fact that HP offers Windows 7 on most of its computers.
The bad – Terrible phone support brings down HP’s otherwise good customer service; you can usually expect to be transferred multiple times, encounter different answers to the same question, and possibly be pressured to buy unnecessary support packages. HP’s pre-installed software package is sub-par with many extraneous programs like HP Games and the HP Savings Center (basically just an online coupon book). While many of HP’s computers are built to last, cheaper models can be expected to wear and tear much faster and encounter more repair issues.
The good – If you are looking for a hybrid, Lenovo should be a number one shopping brand. They are known for their Yoga line of lightweight, portable, well designed hybrids. Lenovo’s keyboards are some of the best, with strong feedback, wide key spacing, and a curved shape. Touchpads likewise offer smooth and accurate navigation. For the most part, laptop displays are bright and clear. Lenovo has one of the broadest range of desktops and laptops of any brand, so finding a computer to fit your needs and budget should be very do-able. Fans of Windows 7 will also be happy to know that there is a 7 option on many of their computers. Pre-installed software is also full of handy utilities, and you can customize your computer when ordering from Lenovo’s website.
The bad – Unfortunately, Lenovo’s tech support seems to be slowly on the decline. The website is cluttered and hard to navigate (although they appear to have been working to correct this problem recently), the Community Knowledge Base is unhelpful for most common issues, and social media support is inconsistent. Phone support has also grown worse, with the average call time being just under an hour. While Lenovo used to add fun splashes of color and personality to its lines, most models are now a boring plastic gray or dark brown, leaving something to be desired for looks. Onboard audio varies from model to model, with some being muffled and poor quality while others are near perfect (multimedia-focused machines will generally have the best audio).
The good – Samsung’s tech support is one of its best qualities, with generally helpful live chat, a dedicated online support app, Remote Support for PCs, and the Samsung Cares app for Android. Phone support is quick with the average call time being 9 minutes, but some representatives are clearly more knowledgeable than others. Design is simple, but streamlined and visually pleasing. Audio quality is good across the board, and the SoundAlive technology on many models is enjoyable. Depending on the model you choose, some laptops are capable of 3200 X 1800-pixel displays that rival the Retina technology in the MacBook Pro. Samsung’s out-of-the-box software package has improved, with many useful multimedia programs and apps.
The bad – Samsung’s keyboards and touchpads are all over the place, and while you usually expect higher-priced models to come with higher quality keyboards, this is not the case. If looking at laptops from Samsung, it is highly recommended to test out the keyboard and trackpad before purchasing to make sure you aren’t stuck with inaccurate and slow response times. Laptop onboard display is on average dimmer than other brands, and some colors can appear washed-out. Samsung has all but discontinued its budget PCs, so expect to pay more when buying from them.
The good – Sony’s tech support is top notch with a well-organized website full of useful information, efficient Live Chat, responsive social media presence, and knowledgeable phone representatives. Laptop displays are brighter than average and Sony’s Triluminous display technology offers realistic hues. Audio is also clear and vibrant across the board. Sony offers a varied mix of desktops, laptops, all-in-ones, and hybrids, making it likely that you will find something to suit your needs. Pre-installed software impresses, with many multimedia programs and useful apps.
The bad – Sony is discontinuing making laptops, so you may want to search somewhere else for a new one. Their VAIO line is known for unexpected repairs, sharp edges that make typing uncomfortable, and awkward key and button placement. Keyboard quality is severely lacking, with even the high end models exhibiting weak feedback and serious flex. Sony also offers pretty awful value, with their models worth buying averaging well over $1000. Very basic Sony PCs come in around $600-700, but you can get much more value for your money through another brand.
The good – While still not terribly impressive, Toshiba’s customer support has slightly improved in the last year. Their new website is easy to navigate and full of useful guides and videos. Live chat is also available. Laptop touchpads are generally good across the board, being accurate and responsive. Business notebooks also have high-quality pointing sticks that are comfortable and accurate. Toshiba’s laptop displays are one of its most impressive features, especially among the higher-end multimedia machines. Displays are clear and bright. Audio is also above average on onboard sound, and DTS Sound software even comes preloaded on Satellite notebooks. Toshiba is great for value and selection, with a wide variety of price points and options to choose from. They are also at just about every retailer, so finding a Toshiba computer is a simple task.
The bad - Phone support is still lacking, with reps known to direct you to an online guide instead of actually helping. Or they'll simply try to push their paid support plan. Many of Toshiba’s budget laptops suffer from keyboards with awkward, shorter than normal keys and sloppy feedback. Innovation is also lacking at Toshiba, with many models very similar to previous designs/technology and with no new features.