Laptop Review: IBM/Lenovo 3000 N100: Avoid Them, They Are Seriously Bad
For long, the name IBM has been associated with quality, service and reliability. So when Lenovo bought out the PC division from IBM, certainly many eyebrows were raised if this would impact their QSR (Quality-Service-Reliability) metrics. I did not think up till this point that it would change, but I am quite sadly mistaken.
With my experience over the past two weeks working on Lenovo laptops and working with their representatives, right from call center people to high profile men in leading positions like the VP of Web Marketing, it has been nothing short of pain, with general sense of I-dont-really-know-what-you-are-talking-about attitude displayed by all and sundry. Given that Lenovo now also markets Thinkpads, one wonders how long will it be before Thinkpads reach the trash-bin too.
I really waited. I really waited long to write this review. I wanted to give Lenovo enough chances to rectify themselves. But sadly, they went from bad to worse each step of the way, and finally when it seems like they are ready to fix my problem, their response has been too little, too snobby, too late, and perhaps not worth the time and effort I put in. There was an ulterior motive I put so much time in Lenovo - few of my best friends work with Lenovo. It would not have been fair if I were to speak ill about their workplace, unless I had any real reason to. Unfortunately, I do.
Before I get into it in detail, a brief backgrounder.
A friend of mine and I wanted good laptops this season. My old Sony Vaio broke, and the other Sony Vaio that I have hardly fitted the bill. I was initially planning to buy a Mac, but the exorbitant prices put me off. Lenovo was my second choice as a stop-gap solution until I could afford a Mac. Hence, this Thanksgiving, me and my friend ordered a Lenovo 300 N100 (Model: 0768-01U) from Office Depot. The laptop had it all - a good processor (albeit Celeron), great RAM speed, a 15.4" widescreen and the Lenovo name to it.
The laptop arrived five days later as promised. While its exterior design looked reasonably good, it was a bit unfinished. The keyboard is hard, and shockingly hackneyed in its layout. For example, they don't have some of the most important buttons like Page Dn, Page Up, Home, End anywhere on the keyboard. Instead, you would have to use a function key to get to there. So what should have been a keyboard feature, is now a software feature that requires a combination of keys to access! Whose dumb design idea was this nobody really knows, and if anyone at lenovoblogs is listening, they need to fix the keyboard real soon.
The laptop has an Intel 950 motherboard, a standard for a low-end laptop. Though the laptop's sharpness and gamma levels leave a lot to be desired, it was still acceptable. Considering this is not meant to be a photo-intensive laptop, it is not that big a deal. The laptop has a really quiet hard-drive, and is almost noiseless. It was the single biggest feature I loved about this laptop - it's freaking quiet!
However the goodness ended there. Once out of the box, I went through the welcome screens, and setup the laptop to connect to my home wireless network to check the connectivity. And while browsing, I decided to put up some music to test out the sound card. That's where the trouble began. I noticed that the sound quality was jittery, full of breaks, noisy and completely annoying. It seemed as if the laptop or the soundcard was choking when playing the song.
I called up my friend to see if he had similar issues. I was surprised when he said he had the exact same issue and how annoying it was to hear broken and jittery sound. I had an inkling this was not going to be a software problem right then, but I decided to do some initial troubleshooting myself.
I have considered myself to be quite well informed about computing hardware, and do all IT stuff myself before calling support. I hate calling support, and more often than not I discover that I can troubleshoot problems myself. My first reaction to the sound issue was it was probably a soundcard codec or driver gone bad. I immediately installed all Windows updates, the sound drivers updates, and all Lenovo updates from Lenovo. Still, the sound problem wouldn't go. I downgraded the drivers to older versions - no change.
It was then that I decided to call their support. Getting through their support line involves being reminded at least 10 times that you are talking to someone in Atlanta. I thought this was a poor choice of marketing - are Lenovo guys telling us that their call center being in Atlanta is a thumbs-up to others in various countries? This is a marketing gimmick gone wrong. Nonetheless, on my first attempt I was told my Laptop did not have warranty. I was amused - a five day old laptop does not have warranty? After going through their whole process of emailing my bills and serial numbers on the laptop and spending almost an hour, I was let to speak to a technical support guy finally.
Like all technical support personnel, he was too conditioned to do the drill - I didn't mind it as it was their job to do so - removed drivers, re-installed drivers, reset BIOS, upgraded BIOS - the whole nine yards. At the end of it the technical support personnel decided it was imperative I send the laptop back to service depot for repairs. I agreed, though the thought of having to send a brand new five day old laptop did not make me feel happy.
They were speedy - the DHL box came next day, and my laptop was serviced and returned back to me within three days. Yes they were that fast. However, they were also lousy.
The Trouble Begins
On receiving my laptop back, I opened it and played a music CD again. Dang! Same problem. This did not go too well. For one thing, I had got back my laptop with lots of jargon about different parts being changed and how it was supposed to solve my sound problems. And yet, it seemed to me that Lenovo service depot did not do any sort of testing on the laptop to see if the problem had been fixed. It's shocking how a company can send a broken product back to its customer without even testing it to see if the problem had been rectified?
Angry, I called up Lenovo support again. Again, I was informed that I did not have any warranty on my laptop, and again I was made to go through their sales representative and again I had to resend my information back to them before I was released to speak back to their technical support. I was angry at this point and asked that this laptop be replaced with another one. However since I had bought the laptop through Office Depot, Lenovo told me they would not be replacing it.
Office Depot though was very helpful - within a few hours of complaint, they had shipped another replacement. That was last Thursday.
First Contact with upper personnel
Meanwhile I still had a broken laptop to myself, so I decided to investigate if anybody else was facing the same issue. Researching on the web, I came across this post and this post on The Enquirer which spoke highly of Lenovo customer service . Traversing through them, I landed on lenovoblogs where as the name says, Lenovo maintains a blog. David Hill / David Churbuck write the blog on Design Matters, and I left a comment on one of their posts about the problem that I had been facing, and how disappointed I was with IBM quality.
I was immediately contacted by David Churbuck, Vice President, Global Web Marketing at Lenovo with promises that they would get back to me quickly. David's email was quickly followed by email from Mark Hopkins, Project Manager, Customer Satisfaction. This development really impressed me. I was very impressed by the speed with which David got back to me and then Mark responded. For all the famous Lenovo service I had heard, I thought it was finally true. After all how many times do you get a Project Manager and a VP contacting you personally to resolve your notebook issues?
Unfortunately, I should have realized that beyond the initial frivolous email, there was nothing much that these gentlemen could do about my situation.
The Weekend Diagnosis
Over the weekend, after the initial flurry of emails, I had told David and Mark that sending back this laptop and again going through their "you have no warranty" nonsense was out of the question, and people at Lenovo should be looking at this issue. I was promised that they would expedite the case and take a look at it pronto.
During the same time, I made another discovery. The sound card just didn't like working with the wireless card. Whenever I switched off my wireless card, the sound was great. When I connected to a wireless network, the sound got screwed up again. This was an interesting development - I called up my friend to try it out on his laptop. And guess what? It was true: The sound card didn't work well with wireless card enabled.
With this information, I immediately emailed Mark over the weekend and informed him of my discovery to help Lenovo sort the problem out. I also told Mark that upon recieving the new laptop replacement I would verify it once more and send him a mail back again.
From bad to worse
The new laptop arrived this Monday. Out of the box, same problem: Disable the wireless card, sound worked fine. Enable the wireless card, and the sound got jittery. I immediately mailed Mark again of this, and told them that they should be looking at it more seriously as I had discovered this on two different laptops, and including my friend it was three laptops of the same kind with same problem.
Mark got back to me very proactively about Lenovo would very seriously look at this case now that this had happened in three laptops, and how their engineers would give me a call to discuss more about this problem. And how they would quickly try to resolve it, perhaps through a BIOS update or software update.
I waited for a day before mailing them again - I did not get any call from their engineers about the issue hence I decided it was left to me to be more proactive about it than they were. Eventually Mark replied, and remarked that they had not been able to reproduce the problem at their end, and they believed something might be wrong in my enviornment. Mark again offered that their engineers would call me as soon as they can.
To help matters, I sent Mark a complete detailed instruction of how to reproduce the problem with every single detail they would have needed to know.
The call never came. Nor did the response from Mark.
Eventually by Thursday, my frustration level had reached pretty high. This was almost two weeks with a broken laptop, and Lenovo had not as much gotten around to admitting there was a problem. Were they even serious? It was time to get rude.
To make my point across, I sent a very rude email to both Mark and David questioning their own capacity in their company. It seemed to me that beyond frivolous emails like "we will call you", both of these gentlemen have zero commitment to getting things resolved. It was only fair - how many times would Mark keep telling me that he had expedited the case with their senior technical engineers, and they would call me ASAP with high priority. Well, it seemed his engineers just did not listen to them.
After this email, I finally got a response back from an engineer who first told me that he had been advised to work on my case, and then went to explain how he too had failed to reproduce the problem. He gave me the complete specs on how he performed the test, and how he did not see this issue crop up.
Only thing - he tried to reproduce the problem on a entirely different hardware all-together. While my laptop had a Broadcom wireless chipset and Celeron processor, his test machines were Core duos and had Intel wireless cards built in. One would have imagined that given the information they had at hand, they would at the very minimum test out on the same specs. But this came to me as absolute shock!
Their engineer even went on to comment that he did not have a spare laptop of my specs at hand to do the testing. I was stunned - was I being told by Lenovo that their departments are understaffed with the very products they sold?
At this point I lost my patience and shot off another email to Mark and David - this had gone from bad to worse, and it seemed Lenovo just didn't seem to get it, nor have any resources to check for the problem. I had asked for a replacement model to this laptop for all the time I had spent explaining them and not getting anywhere, and wanted to start an official complaint.
Too little, too late
Eventually I got a call this morning from their customer relations person who told me that their engineering team determined it was a problem with the wireless card in the laptop. This much, even I knew - heck, I was the one who told them about it in the first place; they didn't even know what to test before I told them to test out the wireless and sound card option. Hence they would send out a "wireless card replacement" for my laptop. Once he even asked if I could replace the card myself (which I would on other day, but not after going through this) - I declined and the customer relations personnel then made sounds about how my warranty did not cover on-site service and would I mind sending the laptop back to them or take it to a service center - I declined on both. He then proceeded to tell he would do an on-site repair even though my warranty did not cover it.
I was in half a mind to tell him that it was their freaking laptop that was broken, and they had sold me a lemon - warranty or no warranty.
I asked for a replacement model again on the phone, but he sounded pretty confident that the wireless card replacement would do the trick. And then if it didn't they would consider replacing the laptop with a better equipped model of the same type that worked.
Basically in simple terms I was told that they could not care less, and the wireless card replacement was all I could get.
I had a similar experience with Dell a couple of months back in my office. Though Dell service representatives were smarter - once they knew they had a problem, they didn't just replace the part - they just replaced the laptop with a newer model. My friend bought a DLP 50" TV few months back which had an artifacts problem - he spent endless hours trying to explain his situation to Samsung - but once Samsung acknowledged there was a problem with the TV, they just replaced his TV for a better model. Now, that is customer service. Contrast this with Lenovo.
My experience with Lenovo has taught me few things:
(a) There is a serious quality assurance issue with their laptops. The fact that the soundcard and wireless card problem happened with three different laptops with two people in the same building should have been enough indication to Lenovo that there is something wrong. They couldn't care less.
(b) Their service from top down to bottom is outright lethargic and slow, to the point of absolute disinterest. When their senior managers and vice presidents could not expedite matters, it is not a wonder then that their lower-end call centers are not that spectacular either. Overall, they need a huge overhaul of their customer service right from top down.
(c) Company representatives should spend less time blogging and more time actually developing products.
(d) Lenovo at the end of 15 days acknowledged they had a wireless problem. Now here is the funny part - until I sent the mail last night, they were still "testing". Suddenly they discovered they had a problem with the card? It gave an impression that at that point, they had no clue, and basically used my own diagnosis to tell me what was wrong with the laptop.
I am left with a very bad impression of Lenovo. Going by the links above, it is clear that Lenovo will bend over backwards to appease people who will give them good publicity, but when an ordinary customer like me has a problem, they couldn't care less. I will be waiting for their technician to come up and replace my card.
However given the overall distaste this has left in my mouth, I will in all probability just return it. And my friend still is stuck in the same loop - they haven't even got back to him.
Avoid Lenovo. They are seriously bad.
Laptop Review: IBM/Lenovo 3000 N100: Avoid Them, They Are Seriously Bad
- » Published on December 16, 2006
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