Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dell customer service and Dell Inspiron 17R SE review

Come gather round seekers of reviews for the Dell Inspiron 17R Special Edition, or model 7720, and prepare for a cautionary tale of woe. And frustration. And anger. And abysmal customer service. And awful product quality.

I don't usually put this sort of thing on the blog. In fact, I don't put much of anything on the blog nowadays unfortunately. But I have had such a shockingly piss poor experience with Dell and the Dell Inspiron 17R SE - the Dell model 7720 - that I want to write about it in the hope that someone else doesn't make my mistake and actually buy a Dell Inspiron 17R SE.

In case I am not being clear enough - this review is for Dell and the Dell Inspiron 17R SE. There, that should help the Google hits.

The Beginning

Back in July 2012 I ordered the Dell Inspiron 17R SE from Best Buy for approximately $1,000. At first the computer seemed to be doing OK, but I did notice some niggling issues. Yes it was (mostly) fast, yes the display was good, yes it was a big step up from my 6 year old Gateway MX6455. It was shiny.

I also noticed frame rate slow down when playing The Witcher though. And errors would pop up when viewing photos, and the errors caused a program crash. There were a few other annoyances as well, but nothing major - most caused by the Dell bloatware. That was, until October. I noticed a dead pixel just off to the right of the center of the LCD display. It was really obvious once I knew it was there, and a little more than three months after buying it made the annoyance pretty severe, especially on such a high end machine with a high end display. $1000 is half a months wages for me and I do a lot of word processing on it, so white backgrounds made the dead pixel really stand out.

Granted, one pixel doesn't sound like much but the bloody laptop was brand new. I looked after it, it hasn't been dropped or overclocked or mistreated in anyway and the screen was failing already.

Now. Industry standard for warranty repair of dead pixels ranges from there being a zero tolerance to over 12 dead ones, depending on quality of screen and location on it. Dell bases their warranty for dead pixels on sub pixels - each pixel is made up of 3 sub pixels - and they require 6 dead (black) sub pixels, which is different to stuck pixels, which are usually white. So I was half way there and figured that they would fix it (since Best Buy wouldn't because I didn't buy the extended warranty - which wouldn't have covered this anyway - another bunch of wankers).

So I called Dell technical support and was told no, they wouldn't fix it because their policy was 6 pixels.

And here is the first Dell customer service fail - the tech and his senior support tech, who he went away to consult, didn't even know their own policy on warranty repair of dead pixels. It is 6 sub pixels, or 2 full pixels. I had one dead full pixel, or 3 sub pixels.

I was annoyed but didn't say anything to complain other than something like "So you won't fix this $1000 computer even though it's only three months old?" No, they wouldn't. 6 pixels blah blah. Thank you and goodbye.

Now an aside here in defence of the guys on the phone - they have all, in every dealing I've had, been polite and well spoken and mostly helpful. Don't believe the racist asshats you usually hear complaining about Dell that blame it all on these guys just because they aren't from Texas. Most are better spoken than the average American in my experience, and they didn't build the crap that Dell sells, or come up with the policies Dell uses to hide away from its responsibilities to its customers (though it would help if they at least knew those policies correctly).

Anyway. I stewed over this for a week and started drafting a pretty tasty letter to send to Dell complaining about them not being prepared to fix this. Then, before posting this letter I tried once more to get in touch with tech support to have them fix this issue, but this time I used the online chat feature. Success! The tech guy I spoke to was very helpful, very apologetic and immediately opened a service ticket and arranged for the packaging to be sent and promised to get it all fixed under warranty.

Two weeks later I had the computer back, dead pixel gone and nice new LCD screen. I should have guessed something was up when I took the Inspiron out of the box and noticed that by one of the speakers on the front the case had not been put back together correctly. What kind of technician doesn't put a computer back together properly? Anyway, I fixed it myself ( just had to loosen a screw and it popped into place) and everything was fine.

Until I noticed the sound was starting to go.

The Middle

So, whenever I used Skype, or listened to music from YouTube, or watched an online video like a BBC news report, I would hear distortion coming from the sub-woofer. Like static from an untuned radio channel. I think the technical term might be crunch but don't quote me. So I started to research if anyone else with this type of Inspiron was having the issue. And there were, quite a few in fact. And there were lots of software update suggestions for fixing it, from the audio drivers to the graphics card drivers. And none of them worked. And I also noticed a popping noise whenever I entered or exited a web page that contained a video, even if I didn't actually play it.

The crunch sound was not constant so I ignored it at first, until Christmas rolled around and it started to occur whenever the speakers were in use. Then after Christmas I noticed yet another dead pixel. Then two more, then a whole line of half a dozen of them off to one side, then some in the corner. And was that a crack or a hair? What the hell?

At least a dozen dead pixels all told. Or alternatively, when they replaced the screen the first time they didn't seal it properly and dust or something was getting inside the screen, between the glass cover and the LCD panel itself. It looked like dead pixels to me though. Either way, that's another warranty repair - especially since they persuaded me to buy the extended warranty.

So I got back on the online chat and told them about the sound and the pixels. The tech support guy said it would have to go back to fix the screen, and after trying some software fixes that did nothing decided the sound issue needed a fix too. So the box came and I shipped the Inspiron 17R SE back to Dell, for the second time in six months. For a $1000 computer that was just six months old. Not cool. And if you do some research, apparently not unsual for the massively unreliable and inconsistent Dell Inspiron 17R SE.

I didn't hear anything much other than parts were on order, until the machine showed up on my doorstep last Friday (18th Jan 2013). I wasn't able to turn the thing on until the Saturday because of work commitments. I should have known something was up when I opened the box and taped to the top of the Inspiron was a reinstallation disk for Windows 7 Professional.

"That's weird." Says I. "They didn't send a disk last time. And I don't think I had Windows 7 Professional installed either." But I plugged it and switched it on and... Well, nothing. Apart from the "Operating System Not Found" error.

What. The. Hell?

I looked again at the piece of paper that was in the box. The piece that says, and I don't have it with me but I'll edit this later to get the exact wording, "We have fully tested your computer to ensure that the reported issue has been resolved." UPDATE 01/28/2013: It reads "Enclosed please find your repaired Dell portable. The system was diagnosed and extensively tested by certified technicians to ensure the problem you experienced was corrected." Oh really? Funny that Dell didn't notice THE COMPUTER WOULDN'T EVEN TURN ON during this test.

How, pray tell, did you test the sound when the computer won't boot up? And how did you test the pixels weren't dead by looking for black pixels on a black screen? And I looked at the parts they claimed to have repaired. A new motherboard. A new hard drive. A new screen. And "Others". What the hell is "Others"?

And how did you fix the speakers without, you know, fixing the speakers?

Now I was pretty pissed, so I got on the phone and was transferred to the warranty repair department and spoke to a very nice lad called Monaj who, after apologising for the fact that the computer had come back without the OS installed, looked up what had been done. He said the repair technician and found that the operating system was corrupt and that he had been unable to reinstall it so just put a new hard drive in.

Nonsense, the OS had been operating just fine when it left my house, and had the repair technician never heard of the "format" command? Again, Manoj apologised for the OS not being reinstalled but said since I had the disk he would help me reinstall it. So I told him OK, I do have the Windows 7 Professional reinstall disk. And he went quiet and asked to put me on hold. When he came back he apologised again, it was the wrong OS. It needed to be Windows 7 Home Premium because of a code embedded in the motherboard.

So let's recap this tale of Dell incompetence and Dell product quality:

The screen on my Dell Inspiron 17R SE had begun to fail twice in the space of three months, when the computer was less than six months old AND the sound had started to fail in the same period. When it went in for repair the technician put a new hard drive in, a new LCD panel in, a new motherboard in, and "others" - whatever that was. Dell then sent it back with a blank hard drive expecting me to reinstall the whole system. With a disk and OS that wouldn't work on the motherboard that Dell had themselves installed. And then Dell also included a letter saying the technician had tested the system to make sure all the problems were fixed - despite the fact the computer wouldn't even turn on properly!

Dell - you are incompetent and your product sucks.

And that isn't even the end of it.

The End? Not bloody likely

So Manoj apologised again, arranged for the correct disks to be sent out and said Dell would call me on the 23rd January to help reinstall, and that it would take about an hour.

So the disks showed up and someone called me on the 23rd and we started the installation. And then he said he'd call back on the 24th to help me reinstall the utilities and drivers because Windows would take an hour. It took about 20 minutes. And, lo and behold, the dead pixels were all still present.

From this there can only be a few conclusions. First - the technician did not replace the LCD panel, lied about that and then lied about testing the computer. Second - the technician did replace the panel and lied about testing it, and the problem is marks or debris on the inside of the LCD glass cover, between it and the LCD panel. Which he would have seen if he had actually tested the computer. Third - the LCD panel has failed in exactly the same places as it did previously and the technician lied about testing it to make sure the problem was gone. Fourth - the LCD panel failed in exactly the same places whilst in transit and the technician did correctly test it. Somehow. Magic, maybe?

Call me a cynic but I am going for option 1 or option 2. I haven't got to testing the sound yet, but I am not holding my breath. I will update this after getting the drivers and utilities reinstalled and being able to actually get the sound going. I could do this installation myself right now, I used to work in IT, but I am not going to give them an excuse to say I screwed it up. But, if the sound is not fixed then Dell actually managed to return my computer in worse condition than when I sent it too them, and lied about what their technician actually did.


Dell, you and your Dell Inspiron 17R SE are a disgrace. Poor quality, poor and incompetent - not to mention dishonest - service

And don't think that my experience is the only one - go and look at some of the horror stories listed in the reviews section on Dell's website. Just scroll down to see the reviews, mine is also on there for back in October/November 2012. Other people have had far worse experiences with this model, and yet others love it. I smell a rat.

I will update this with the results of testing the sound, and with the results of my complaints to Dell and the Better Business Bureau.

In short - don't buy the Dell Inspiron 17R SE (model number 7720) - it's junk. In fact, just don't buy a Dell. The horror stories you hear about their technical repairs are true.

UPDATE 1/28/2013:

Oh it just keeps getting better.

First, the sound does appear to be improved, but certainly not completely fixed. I still noticed some distortion on speech during a Skype video call this weekend.

However, that isn't the best of it. First I tried to use My Dell Downloads to install all the factory installed programs - and four or five of the downloads failed (I forget exactly right now). I haven't bothered trying to reinstall the ones that did work yet because I have a feeling there is going to be more wiping and reinstalling of operating systems because:

The solid state drive doesn't work! I noticed the machine was booting very slowly and so tried to look at what was on the SSD, thinking maybe I should have installed Windows 7 on that and not the hard drive. Only the SSD did not show in Windows Explorer. Or Device Manager. So I started an online chat with someone from tech support, and after an hour of reinstalling drivers, rebooting, checking BIOS settings etc she decided that the SSD might not be seated properly and the ten day old motherboard would need to be replaced. And since there is a technician coming to do a home repair for the LCD screen, again, there will now be another one coming to replace the motherboard, again. Because apparently doing it all at once would be too difficult or who knows what.

Dell: screwing up computers from the beginning. Anyone know a good lawyer?

UPDATE 2/7/2013:

Well isn't this fun.

So, both onsite tech visits occurred, both techs agreed that the LCD panel was not replaced by the repair depot, both replaced the parts they were supposed to. Motherboard and solid state drive are working, after I once again reinstalled Windows and all the drivers. The LCD panel is working, for now, with no apparent damage or dead pixels - further confirming it was never replaced at the depot. However - taking the case apart has resulted in three different broken sections! The keyboard no longer sits correctly because one of the plastic tabs is broken/worn down, so by the ESC key it bobs up and down with pressure applied, if not just unseating completely and popping up in that corner. Then the bezel that covers the front of the LCD panel is warped and no longer fits tight to the screen in the bottom right, as well as some more retaining tabs being broken. Finally, the case around the LCD panel doesn't fit together anymore because several plastic tabs are broken - so it leaves a nice gap that shouldn't be there.

A case manager called me on the 4th to see if I was satisfied and I told him of these issues and the answer was - not covered under warranty so we can't repair it. But I'll send a tech back since they broke it. But they won't be able to fix it because of the nature of the damage says I. I'll decide what needs to be replaced and call you in three days, says he.

And that's when I filed my Better Business Bureau complaint asking for a full refund. Watch this space.

Incidentally, the Dell repair provider has also broken Texas statutes for deceptive trade practices. The Texas statutes state in title 2, chapter 17, subchapter E, section 17.46 of the Business and Commerce Code: 

"(a) False, misleading , or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful..." then "(b) ... the term "false, misleading, or deceptive acts or practices includes, but is not limited to, the following: ... (7) representing that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, or grade ... if they are of another ... (22) representing that work or services have been performed on, or parts replaced in, goods when the work or services were not performed or the parts replaced."

They managed to do both of these things. This could be interesting.


So I heard from someone at Dell calling herself Susan with regard to my Better Business Bureau complaint. Dell don't want to give me a refund. They say the refund period is 21 days from day of purchase. In other words, Dell only stand by their product for three weeks. Since it is outside that period she said Dell can't (and by that she means "Don't want to") give me a refund. They will however give me a refurbished replacement of similar or better specs. I kept asking if she meant "equal" specs and she kept saying "similar". Then she couldn't find anyone in the refurbishment department to tell us if there was even one available, so she is going to call back on the 8th.

At which point I will refuse the exchange and ask to speak to a manager. If they refuse to refund me then I will get their name and file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division and the FTC, since Dell's "repair" depot broke Texas state law. I'm not accepting a second hand replacement, of the same shitty type, for an $1100 computer I got just over six months ago, and that for approximately one month of that the thing has been at Dell or awaiting onsite repairs. Simply unacceptable.

UPDATE 2/9/2013:

Spoke again with Susan Thomas from Dell. They flat out refuse to do a refund and say the options are simply get a refurbished unit with equal specs or repair the one I have. In no particular order the conversation included: I asked to speak with a manager and she said that she was as high as I was going to get - she is at Dell corporate headquarters and her manager does not take calls. I pointed out that this model is clearly a problem and why would I want a used version that would have similar problems. She simply restated that was what there was and would I like more time to think about it. She did say it had been through quality checks and I pointed out that my unit was supposed to have gone through quality checks as well when it was repaired at their facility. She ignored that and reiterated that was all I could get. She tried to make a point that if they made an exception for me they would have to make an exception for every customer. She said they would continue with the repair request for the case if I wanted. I asked her to call back on Monday so I could think about what I wanted to do.

Her point about the exception causing a landslide of complaints is of course nonsense. First - is she saying that their product and behavior is so appalling that there are many other customers with similar claims to mine, the volume of which would bankrupt Dell? If there are then I suppose this would set a precedent. And it's therefore an admission of how shit Dell and their products are - and that they know this. Second - is she saying that somehow they would have to publish to everyone that this exception was made and therefore instantly people with totally different claims would be asking for a refund they would have to give? Third - is she arguing that it is impossible to handle issues on a case by case basis? Bollocks.

So, complaint with the Texas Attorney General Consumer Protection Division = filed. Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission = filed. Next, letters addressed to every corporate executive officer and board member. Corporate attitudes usually start at the top, and Dell's stinks.