Friday 29 June 2012

Before you buy a Sony Vaio, read this...

(July 10th update posted at the end)

Excuse me if I stretch this blog brief to include a rant about poor experience with Sony support. Sony is a media company after all, and you can plug a mouse into this thing.

I needed a laptop update Dec 2010 (to escape from Vista...) and I looked around for a high end solution wit an i7  CPU W7-64 with 8G RAM and Windows Professional. It was surprising how few vendors offered this combo, but it was available from Laptops Direct in Huddersfield (who I have used previously for a Compaq with no bad marks),

I was a bit nervous of Sony because I had bought one of the very first stylish Vaios about 10 years ago, and the day after the warranty expired, so did the laptop when all the screws holding it together dropped out! (I kid you not).
I long suspected Vaio might have been a triumph of form over function when compared to the more industrial lines of a Thinkpad, but a brand like Sony seems to deserve the benefit of the doubt, and the VPCF12S1EB (where do they get these names from?) ticked the boxes.
Tom's Hardware  waxes positively lyrical "Designer Shimpei Hirano is Z Series’ lead architect.  It was Hirano’s poetic vision which brought forth the ideal translated into English as blend cylinder."  Eh? It seems that objectivity may have deserted the once-trustworthy Tom's Hardware site, and its soul been sacrificed on the altar of Mammon.
BUT all any laptop owner really ought to ask about is "how effective is the support system when it stops working?" No other question comes closer to establishing the single most important aspect of laptop ownership, but no reviews ever seem to test drive the manufacturers' support ecosystem.
In Sony's case, the answer is that it is not good. As usual, here is a product whose marketing is puffed with the image of a colossal global operation that spans the world, but is feebly supported in the UK with a Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm support line. (But if you want to buy, then Sony are eager to hear from you Monday to Friday 9am - 7pm, Saturday 9am - 6pm) 
There is a maze of support links posted on their website that cover just about every conceivable eventually, other than "it doesn't work". Indeed many journeys end in this dead end:-

 ... there is no visible form of user login for this page, suggesting this site is used internally by Sony telephone support as part of their prime references  And even when you do get through, it can be pretty arcane:
  • VAIO Platform Update - 1.1.0
  • What does it fix? 
  • This update fixes the issue that sqlite3.7.8 is uninstalled after uninstallation of Giga Pocket Digital or Media Gallery.
Sony, like so many others, seems intent upon having a passionate relationship with their customers that goes way beyond simply providing products that work. The Vaio includes a number of Sony-specific bits and pieces that add to the confusion for those who just want a fast Windows notebook PC.
The channel that flogs these things has no scope to develop any sort of customer relationship, and they know full well that they are only as good as their ratings in current price comparison sites. Which is a soulless way to earn a crust, the consequence of what is laughingly referred to as "progress".
And so Laptops Direct has no role in any aspect of after sales support, which is passed straight onto Sony as rapidly and politely as possible. I can't blame them - the range and permutations of models is impossibly far too complex for anyone but Sony to manage.
My problem was not subtle. I had spent a few hours tidying up the contents of the disk and copying over important files, ready to go away for a week (I only rarely use the thing anyway) and was about to perform an Acronis image backup on the tidied-up system, when it refused to boot. The Airport pick-up was 2 hours away, and I grabbed a spare HP notebook instead, and just about had enough of the right files from a backup.

I am 99% confident I had not done anything daft like delete crucial system files - and it was very quickly obvious that the Vaio was not going to work - sticking just after it started to boot into Windows with symptoms that look and feel like a busted disk drive. Without any visibility of the boot sequence (like in the good old days) it's not possible to guess what is going on. But since I had 24 months Sony warranty, I wasn't going to try he usual creative stuff but simply pass the problem to Sony. Or so I thought. I called Laptops Direct who gave me the Sony support number.

"Press 1 if you want to be driven mad..."

Since being cast into the Sony support chain, at no time have I spoken to a native English speaker or anyone with a name that could be described as remotely native to the British isles, which I (reluctantly) accept is par for the course days. But if I am going to pay good English money for a product then it would be nice that at last some of the money found its way into the English economy other than the £10 the shipping company probably earns.
I tried calling the support number which asks users to enter their lengthy product serial number as part of the first attempt to make annoying punters like me go away. I was told my unit was out of warranty, and that I would have to call a premium support line at 35p a minute (not actually stated anywhere I could see). Hear all about it 
However, I eventually got through to a real person (somewhere..?) on a normal charge number, using a trick I am not going to share here. The lad was was very eager and very polite, and I was asked to repeat the same diagnostic process about 5 times where the result has been the same every time - just after starting to load Windows, the hard drive access light stays on, and momentary blips off every 2 seconds. 
And then an inquisition began into my extended warranty. Thank goodness I kept all the purchase evidence because I had foolishly not opened all the guff at the outset and noticed that I was asked to separately register the 2nd year warranty within a year of purchase. So I prepared for a battle on the basis that if they really were going to refute the warranty, I wanted the money back or would have the Trading Standards pester them (does TS has a branch in Mumbai yet?) 
After a week of sending scans of documents, Sony relented and accepted that I had a valid warranty; and then I eventually got a call from a patient bloke called Mohamed Badr, who told me that Sony really wanted me to spend £47 for a "recovery DVD" to confirm that it is not a software problem.
£47 for a DVD that can cost no more than $1? Ripoff! So I asked what if the DVD proved that it was the hard disk problem, would I be refunded? No of course not, don't be silly. So I said in that case, I would send it back for fixing anyway. Then I was threatened that if I didn't pay the £47 - and then returned it for fixing under the extended warranty, I may be penalised >£50 if they deem the problem is not in fact hardware, but some sort of software malaise that I have inflicted on it.
Mohammed was clearly constrained by Sony process and procedure, and could see that I was not a happy bunny, but was not able to bend the rules. I pointed out the potential PR consequence to Sony for pissing off a user for the sake of a $1 DVD, but "computer said no"So given the massive amount of effort that Sony puts into tracking its vast ranges of products and customers, this seems like a bad call. Within seconds of my registering the product on the Sony Europe site, I was being pestered by junk mail trying to sell me music I don't want. If only Sony switched this marketing technology and talent into support, the improved reputation that should result might be even more effective than sending junk mail and complex marketing propositions to punters who really mostly want working kit.
If support was available 24x7x365, Sony could achieve a much better rapport with users, and they could always try and end any (positive) encounter with a gentle sales pitch, based on having gleaned the punters proclivities in the course of the chat. And yes, Sony, you might then have to employ people with human qualities and some real talent to make it work - rather than the polite but lobotomised automata that read company policy off a screen in front of them.
Meanwhile I had been checking the wisdom of crowds on Facebook in case I was being harsh:-

the view from he FaceBook gang was pretty consistent.
Stay tuned...

Further thrilling instalments will be posted when I have them. And if you have read this far you don't need me to summarise how frustrated and annoyed I am by this experience, and how unlikely it is that I will ever buy or recommend a Sony product to anyone every again.

But you never know, they may redeem themselves ?

But whatever happens from here, if Apple wanted to set out to undermine its competition and Windows laptops in general, it could not have done any better than invented the Vaio series.  Judging by comments from colleagues and friends, if you are going to persist with Windows, then get a laptop from Lenovo (Thinkpad) or HP. All those with Vaio experience seem to be reluctant to recommend one.

UK: In guarantee contact telephone number - 0870 240 2408 (4p minute)
UK: Out of guarantee contact telephone number - 0905 031 0006 (35p/min plus network charges)


UPDATE July 3rd

We tried a W7 recovery disc from another laptop, but the Vaio HD still sat there flashing to itself showing no signs of interest. So I emailed and asked for the RMA process to commence:- 

From: William Poel
Sent: 29 June 2012 17:31
To: ''
Subject: RE: 6816415 vaio [Case ID #: 552024]


Ok - I have tried other recovery options and the disk continues to give the same results: permanently lit flashing off momentarily every 3 seconds.

What is the return-for-repair procedure? We have all the original packaging.

William Poel

From: []
Sent: 28 June 2012 16:42
Subject: RE: 6816415 vaio [Case ID #: 552024]

Dear Mr Poel

Thank you for contacting Sony.

This is a confirmation that your email content has been uploaded to the case; also the person in charge of your case has been notified.
Should you have any further questions or queries, please feel free to reply to this email or contact us on the numbers below:

Yours sincerely
Mohamed Badr
SONY Support
UK: In guarantee contact telephone number - 0870 240 2408
UK: Out of guarantee contact telephone number - 0905 031 0006 (35p/min plus network charges)
Ireland: In guarantee contact telephone number - 01 407 30 40
Ireland: out of guarantee contact telephone - 1530 501 002 (33 cent/min plus network charges)

...but heard nothing 4 days later, so I called again and discovered that Sony's UK Vaio support call centre is in Cairo! (UK time +2 hours, so they could easily do an extended evening support slot) And still fixated on me paying £47 for the $1 recovery DVD. 
I found that the penalty charge if they declare the hardware is OK and it's "only" their Windows config that's busted, will be £60-65 v £47 for the $1 recovery DVD. So for the sake of £20 I asked for them to sort it out.

Sadly, their internal system was down, and they could not produce an RMA, but would call me back later.

I might be more sheepish and understanding if I had the slightest concern that this problem was down to something I did. But this fancy £1400  laptop sits on a desk for 99.99% of its life doing nothing. I had simply copied some files onto the hard drive, and was about to create a new Acronis image backup when it stopped booting.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, the biggest worry here must be that if you use a Vaio for a serious business, the endless inquisitions and amount of time it takes to get it fixed, is considerable. HP PR and marketing must be chuckling to itself - doubtless it has a google alerts set for "disgruntled Vaio customer".

UPDATE July 10th

The pick-up from UPS on July 5th was very efficient - they took the bare Vaio minus battery and all ancillary bits to a Teleplan depot less than 30 miles from here (!) and packed it into a specially designed minimalist cardboard transit box. It came back today (10th) with a note saying that the HD has been replaced.
Well goodness gracious me. There is a surprise. Who would have guessed etc.
It started as hoped, and I went through the basic Windows setup procedures. 
But the disk replaced was the same exactly as the original setup, and thus an ancient Windows 64 Home Premium. I dug out the upgrade code for the Professional edition, and thus commenced the first 83 update downloads and installs.

After that completed (about 3 hours) I enquired of Windows update if it had finished? Had it buggery! It had barely begun....

About 11 full restarts later ... as I write this, I have to ask why Sony did not use an already updated drive for the fix. Windows 7 SP1 had not even been pre-installed, so it was always going to take almost a day to put back together, whether or not I had a backup DVD. The only thing that would save me would be a full image update (which I am preparing using Acronis).

The heat being blown from this device is also considerable, and I suspect that any green disc technology that might have been available in the 2 years since this was designed has not been used, and the replacement disk is still the same type that previously got hot and failed

Now the next morning, I find another vast list of another 325MBytes of updates ready...

Sony, for Heaven's Sake, do something about this nonsense. It's cost me a whole day of sitting and fiddling. And it ain't over yet!
And it's cost your reputation heaven knows how much as the prejudices of my Facebook chums who think I am mad for having bought it in the first place, are being fully vindicated - and so are not just "prejudices" but informed opinions based on shared experience..

UPDATE July 11th

Like the VAST Sony  produce range, the Website is probably too big to be manageable as a single entity, and when I went to look for a contact, the page at includes a customer survey form...

However, the "Tell us"  link to post the comment is not actually connected (chrome)... so you can tell Sony exactly what you think of them to your heart's content, and they will never find out. It's probably all for the best.

When the windows update finally stopped offering new updates to install (well over 2GB i reckon) - Sony Vaio update appeared:

Oh FFS, this is way beyond any sort of reasonable imposition on a customer. I want Sony's head of PR and MD to go through what a customer experiences and tell me with a straight face that he believes it is a reasonable experience.
During a brief respite in this process of endless updates, I decided I might as well create the official rescue DVD that was t subject of disagreement above. Actually 3 DVDs as it happens, that took about 90 mins to produce. There was no option to write whatever it was to a memory stick, and so the process of rebuilding from these DVDs is likely to be long-winded and gruesomely haphazard should it ever be necessary. 
But I then installed Acronis image backup - and backed the whole thing up onto a USB drive (the very process I was in the middle of doing when the replaced drive first died)  which took 28 minutes, and then created a bootable USB stick recovery device in 5 minutes.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Greek Tragedy (contd)

What a complete cock up. 

A poster seen in Greece recently pulls no punches
Greece could have been let go painlessly a couple of years ago when it was obviously not going to work. But the Euromaniacs were not keen to admit to the likes of a feisty Nigel Farage that they had made a huge blunder, and so they blundered on.

Now the German Chancellor is so desperate to avoid the embarrassment that she will probably try and find ways to pay off the problem.

This will lead to inflation; the German economy will slow down as no one can afford to buy anything from them; there will be massive lay-offs that will cost a fortune because of the vast social security costs; the German people will be pissed off, they will resent all the migrant workers and a bloke called Hitler will appear from nowhere to tell the masses what they want to hear, which is that political unity is the only way German will ever get it's money back ,and prevent their feckless European debtors from doing it all again.

Spanish bond yields are  above 7%; this is unsustainable in the present global economy where Germans (currently) pays nothing!  But giving money to banks is futile as we have seen in the past 5 years, since they somehow manage to conjure it away into balance sheets and bonuses without it ever being used to recharge an economy.

The alternative is the one you may have read here already: give the money straight to the people to spend and invest with safeguards to ensure it is not simply frittered away. No politician has ever spent a Euro more thoughtfully, carefully wisely and democratically than the person that earned it in the first place.

Is Nigel Farage the only bloke in Brussels worth listening to..?