No more Dell

I have been buying Dell computers for around 20 years. Perhaps more significant for that company, as someone who ran the PC department for BA and has written for a good number of PC magazines over the years, lots of people have asked my advice on buying PCs, and I would say because of that advice Dell has sold dozens of computers. But my advice has changed - whatever you do, don't buy a Dell.

This has nothing to do with my recent conversion to using an iMac - I accept that Apple isn't for everyone, and are overpriced. It's just that Dell has let me down in a big way.

The reason I've recommended Dell for such a long time is not because they are the cheapest, or have the absolute best machines. It's because I've always found their service to be good when things go wrong. So when number 1 daughter wanted a laptop, I didn't hesitate to get a Dell. And because it has always worked for me, I got an extended onsite warranty.

So two years in, with two years of warranty to go, the M key falls off. A bit of the keyboard has detached itself. So I get in touch. And guess what? Apparently it is not covered because it's 'wear and tear'. Would they say the same if the screen fell off? (I did ask one the 3 representatives who I've talked to if this was the case, but his English wasn't good enough to understand my question.) The fact is bits shouldn't fall off your computer in ordinary use. That's not wear and tear, it is bad quality manufacture. If they extend the warranty, it should also cover this kind of thing.

In fact another Dell person, the support manager, made a very telling point. 'Ah,' he said, 'it's the N key, isn't it?' Well, no it wasn't, but this seems to be a clear admission that they know there is a problem with keys around that area falling off this particular laptop. Could it be that it has a design fault? But no, it's 'wear and tear.'

To make matters worse, they have been sneakily changing the warranties and there are number of complaints on Dell's bulletin board where they have refused to do on-site visits when that was in the original contract, because they have changed what the warranty is called to something that only includes return-to-base.

Now I know extended warranties are often a rip-off, but I've always done it on my computers because they are central to my business, and I wanted the same protection for my daughter's PC. I feel Dell has really dropped the ball - they are clearly more interested in squeezing the last drop from profits than their customers.

So I won't be buying from them again, and my advice to anyone wanting to buy a PC or laptop is to avoid them. They have just destroyed their one great selling point.

(Oh, and if you take out an extended warranty, get it in writing that it covers bits falling off your computer...)