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Tech Support Showdown 2010

Your notebook is only as good as the help you receive when something goes wrong.


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Gateway

Gateway Tech Support Results
Hold Time Minimum<1 minute
Hold Time Maximum3
Average Call Length<12
Phone Grade 2010C-
Web Grade 2010D
Overall Grade 2010D+
Overall Grade 2009B-
Overall Grade 2008B+

800-846-2000
support.gateway.com

Gateway has made some tangible changes to its tech support during the past year. Namely, the company has chosen to de-emphasize its phone support in lieu of online, chat, and e-mail-based options. This effort is supplemented by a new fee-based service called Answers by Gateway.

Unfortunately, we had little luck finding answers in Gateway's online support resources. Entering our 20-character serial number granted us access to FAQs, how-to tutorials, and other instructions for our specific system. The My Download section listed the drivers for hardware components of our machine like the media card reader, modem, and touchpad. Product Views was also a cool feature: it showed images of the notebook with ports, vents, speakers, and slots clearly delineated. Still, we couldn't find any advice on speeding up our boot time, sharing files among PCs, or managing power settings in Windows 7.

Annoyingly, we couldn't find a phone number for Gateway's tech support on its website; we had to look it up on Google. Once connected, we supplied our 11-digit product ID to the automated system. In 3 minutes a pleasant-sounding woman answered, Priya, and she supplied her Gateway badge ID number immediately. After we explained that we wanted to speed up our notebook's boot time, Priya placed us on hold and returned another 3 minutes later. Then she told us that even though our notebook was under warranty, she could not help us because nothing was physically wrong with the system.

After a second 3-minute hold, we were connected to Bala in the Answers By Gateway department, who told us that, for $59.99, we could spend up to 30 minutes chatting with a North American tech specialist (both calls were fielded by representatives in India) to tweak our system. He also offered a 90-minute tech session at $129, explaining that minutes rolled over into other sessions. We politely declined, and ended the call in about 16 minutes.

We pursued our service request via e-mail and received the same response in about 30 minutes, which at least was fast. In our tech support chat, we had to enter our contact information twice (once in order to launch the chat window, then again to Shameel, the representative) only to get the same ultimatum: pay for help or receive none.

In a second evening phone call we inquired about sharing files across our home wireless network, and it ended in 12 minutes with the same results: we were told to contact Answers by Gateway.

When we called Gateway later to inquire about our power settings, Kiran, who was in India, misunderstood our question but was still eager to assist us. We asked him how to get better battery life from our notebook. Kiran thought we needed to reset the battery threshold, however, and provided step-by-step instructions to reset the battery memory in DOS setup. We then asked if there were any Windows 7 settings we could tweak as well, and cited "dimming the screen" as an example. Kiran then showed us how to adjust the display's brightness with a keyboard shortcut; when we asked if there were any relevant settings in Windows Power Manager, he said there were none. Not the answers we were expecting during our 13-minute call.

Because we were pushed to Gateway's fee-based tech support channel four out of five times, calling the manufacturer for support was largely unhelpful, even with an under-warranty notebook. Though at least one customer rep was amicable, he still didn't deliver the information we were looking for. To worsen matters, Gateway's clean and well-organized online support offers little in the way of direct technical solutions.

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