Apple vs Dell: Apple FAIL

(Note: If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have already caught wind of this…)

Last Monday I ordered a new iMac for myself. Rather than go with one of their stock configurations, I customized mine a bit, upgrading the 2.93ghz machine with the ATI Radeon 4850 video card. I’m not a gamer, which is what high-end cards are usually for, but I’m of the belief that getting a fast GPU is a great way to future-proof a machine these days, as CPU speeds are starting to level off.

Anyway, the day after I ordered the Mac, I got a call from a friend in a tech crisis needing to quickly procure a new PC for her boss. By helping her out I’ve managed to get roughly parallel experiences with Dell and Apple. And right now, Dell is wiping the floor with Apple.

Why? Well, sure, there were a number of irritating things about using Dell’s website to configure a machine. For one, the online chat feature didn’t seem to work in Safari. For another, the configuration options were bizarre — why is the “Windows Vista to Windows XP Downgrade” option (stupid enough on its own) available on Vostro desktops but not Studio ones? And so on…

But I’ll give Dell credit for delivering the goods when all was said and done. According to the Dell site, the machine I configured wouldn’t ship until July 13. Instead, it shipped the day after placing the order (July 8) and arrived the following day (July 9). And it cost less than $800. And since I haven’t heard any complaints, I’m pretty sure the machine works.

Contrast this with my iMac, which cost over $1800, shipped July 7 but arrived the afternoon of the 10th, and, uhhh…. doesn’t work. And when I say “doesn’t work,” I mean the thing doesn’t even power on. Pressing (or holding) the power button on the back of the machine results in a faint-sounding series of clicking noises (from the HD, perhaps?) and nothing else — no LEDs light up, no power hits the screen, nothing. I tried several outlets and even tried the power cable being used in my current iMac, all to no avail.

After this brief troubleshooting, I called Apple. The two people I spoke to, while friendly, were pretty much useless; I was told I’d get a call back from someone in “Sales Support” to figure out what to do about the situation within a business day. Of course, it being Friday afternoon, that meant I’d have to wait through the weekend just to know what the solution might be.

Unable to wait that long, I called AppleCare this morning with my case number to see if I couldn’t grease the wheels a bit. Eventually I got handed off to someone who told me I should have already received the return authorization and shipping label details via email. Um… what?

First, I was never told to expect such things. No one told me the plan was for me to ship the machine back to Apple. Nor did they indicate I’d be getting any specifics via email. After poking around I managed to find the emails in question in my spam box (my SpamSieve is quite aggressive).

Second, why do I have to ship it back to Apple anyway? I live less than 3 miles from an Apple Store! Wouldn’t it be easier (and cheaper for Apple) if I just brought my shiny new doorstop right into the store? Wouldn’t that mean they could ship me a replacement (since they certainly don’t have my exact machine in stock) sooner?

Apparently not. Instead, I get to slap some labels on a box and Fedex the machine back to Apple.

Once Apple gets confirmation from Fedex that my machine is in the pipeline, they’ll begin processing my replacement. That means it’ll take “1-3 days” to get the machine ready, and then 2-3 days to ship it (they said they’ll expedite shipping, but “expedited” apparently doesn’t mean “overnight”). So if I’m lucky I’ll get my new new iMac the end of this coming week.

If Apple really wanted to blow my socks off with their customer service — which, really, I think they ought to be trying to do, seeing as how they shipped me a completely unusable product and I’ve been a loyal Apple customer for well over a decade now — they would have said, “Just bring the dead machine to the nearest Apple Store. When you’re there you can decide if you want us to ship you a replacement machine with the same specs, or, as our way of saying we’re sorry, we’ll upgrade you to a machine we have in stock that has a faster CPU but slighter slower GPU, if that’s what you’d prefer.” If Apple had offered that, I could have cruised over to the Apple Store on Friday, swapped my brick for a working machine, and had the entire weekend to play, configure, transfer files, and so forth.

Oh well. I’m sure once I get a machine that works, I’ll be much happier with it than I would be with a plasticky Dell tower that cost less than half as much, and eventually I’ll have forgotten this whole shit week. Right? Right?? (It doesn’t help that I also ordered an iPod Touch for Martha at the same time, which arrived the day before my iMac and works great, giving her a fun new toy to play with).

In the meantime, though… I must say Apple looks a lot worse than Dell.

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