Reading Reviews, Ordering a Laptop, and Lenovo

Since earlier this year I’ve been thinking to replace my aging but still useful laptop, mostly to get something lighter, but driven by wanting something that has better battery life and a smidge of needing a new toy. I don’t buy often so it’s fun to catch up on the market. I’ve watched the ultrabook market struggle to get going, it seems like every new machine somehow didn’t measure up to the Mac Air. It’s getting better and I think regardless of how ultrabooks finally work out, it will be a net positive for laptops in general, Apple and Windows.

So what kind of machine? Must haves for me are a good keyboard and at least a 128G SSD and at least 4G RAM, and I wanted 4 hours in battery life which had me looking at machines with an Ivy Bridge CPU (no guarantee, but usually better). I’m less fussy about the rest, and if anything have to resist the urge to bump it all up just in case it needs to stand in for a server some time.

Reading reviews was interesting. Most covered the basic features, tried to highlight whatever cool new capability, often panned the displays as not good enough, most showed the battery life as less than the manufacturer did (my swag is 70% of what its rated at). When you try to compare them its easy to do so based on the tech specs,but it’s almost always the intangibles that are hard to figure out – keyboards,touchpads, maybe displays. I saw one review that measured the bottom temperature of the machine, why don’t more do that?

My final pick was the Lenovo X1-Carbon, the low end model with the 128G drive and 4G. With discounts and shipping just over $1250. Not cheap, but not the $1800 it would be for the 256G/8G model (which seems like it ought to be cheaper). I don’t that the decision was Vulcan in quality, but here’s why:

  • Dell doesn’t have anything I consider comparable. The XPS 13 might have done it with Ivy Bridge, but they don’t see to have planned to upgrade (why not?). Think about that. Dell could have had the sale, just needed a product (or marketing) that I saw as a fit.
  • It had the minimums I wanted based on specs and/or reviews
  • I’ve been using a Lenovo for a year and its been solid
  • The touchpad reviews were very good

The hard part is nowhere to test drive one, so I have to pay and see. That annoys me some, but it’s not a mongo risk, worst case I’ll sell it and take some minor loss, buy something else.

I ordered direct from Lenovo. At the time there was about a 2 week delay to ship, not unexpected on a recently launched and I suspect popular product. I received an order confirmation email shortly after that bothered me a little – it had an attachment called sapwebpage.htm. The attachment was the invoice. That seems kinda 1995, but ok.

Expected ship date came and went, online order status didn’t change. I tried their live chat feature between meetings at work. You type in first name, email address, and phone number, and then enter the queue. I tried twice and both times by the time someone responded – a few minutes later – I was back to working and missed the online agent.

Not a win for customer service. The order hasn’t shipped and no email, online status not updated, and two attempted chats online that didn’t generate a return call or email. I searched online that evening and found a lot of people were having the same delay and Lenovo was attributing it to being out of stock on the included USB to Ethernet dongle. I emailed sales asking when it would ship.

I called in the next day to phone support and that was indeed the story. I said I didn’t need the dongle, could they please ship it – no, apparently that wasn’t possible, and the new ship date was now Sep 17th. I asked if I could order one without the dongle. Yes. When would that ship? Put me on hold for a minute, come back, it would ship Sep 17th. Hmmmmm.

I didn’t push hard but the agent did offer me a 5% ($59 discount). I guess 5% is 5%, but it wasn’t really the money. I asked if instead they could just ship it next day when it was ready. No, we can’t change orders once placed. 5% better than nothing. Three days later I get a reply to my email inquiry saying about the same thing, mentioning constraints and saying the week of Sep 17th.

I’d like to think that sales ran hot and they couldn’t build them fast enough, or that some key supplier let them down (other than the dongle manufacturer). That message isn’t hard to deliver well, but they managed to NOT delivery any status message to me until I asked. The murky answers, the un-updated order page, makes me think they have some systemic problems. Does that translate to a bad laptop? If I had to guess I’d say no, but it doesn’t bode well for calling if something breaks.

I’m in wait and see mode.