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Lenovo Tech Support: 2014 Rating

Lenovo's slogan is "for those who do," and if you buy the company's laptops, prepare to do for yourself. The ThinkPad maker has a long-standing policy of refusing to answer what it considers to be "software" questions on the phone, and it continues to lack live, online support via chat. You can sometimes find answers in the large volume of manuals and troubleshooting articles on the company's site, but you'll have to do a fair amount of digging. You can also get some answers via Twitter, but forget about interacting with the company via Facebook.

In the past year, Lenovo has made a few upgrades to its online support. For instance, the company redesigned its support portal to make it easier to find resources for the make and model you own, and added a live-chat service that allows users to check the status of repairs, but not to ask support questions.

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Lenovo told us that it offers new diagnostic software that can detect hardware defects and that it now allows customers to exchange some products "where it makes sense not to repair" them. As in prior years, Lenovo offers a range of pricey premium support options, and on-site service for consumers and businesses willing to buy an extended warranty.

For this year's Tech Support Showdown, I used a ThinkPad T440s notebook. In addition to the standard questions about how to create a picture password and how to prevent the lid from putting the notebook to sleep, I asked how to set up the fingerprint reader.

Web and Social Support offers a lot of documentation about each of its notebooks, including instruction manuals, how-tos, service manuals and, occasionally, even videos. However, finding the answers to specific questions can be a challenge. When I navigated through the support menus, I was presented with tabs for Downloads, Parts, Manuals, Videos (which was empty), Accessories and "Solutions," which contained links to 274 troubleshooting articles about particular problems.

On the Solutions tab, there's also a Search box, which pulls up articles from the Solutions database. However, when I searched for "power-on fingerprint reader" and just plain "fingerprint reader," I got no results. When I searched for the term "fingerprint" alone, it returned seven articles, none of which explained how to set up the reader. I did find step-by-step instructions for enrolling my fingers, but only after I downloaded the user manual as a PDF and searched through it.

Neither the T440's Solutions tab nor its user manual had instructions for creating a picture password or changing the lid's settings. Lenovo also has a two-page PDF called "Getting Started with Windows 8.1," but it only provides details on how to use new Windows features, like the Start Screen and the Charms Menu, not information on how to change any settings. I couldn't find directly related threads on the forum either; there were instructions for changing the lid settings, but these steps applied only to older notebooks, such as the X301.

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As was the case last year, Lenovo has a dedicated support account on Twitter, named @LenovoSupport. When I tweeted at that account and asked about how to create a picture password, Lenovo replied a few minutes later with a link to instructions on Microsoft's site. However, users who don't know about @LenovoSupport won't get help by tweeting @Lenovo or posting to the Lenovo Facebook wall. When I tried both of those methods of contacting the company, I received no reply at all.

Phone Support

For several years, Lenovo support has had a policy of not answering what its techs consider to be software questions. Despite the policy, one of the support reps answered my question about changing the lid settings in Windows. However, another rep refused to answer my query about picture passwords.

Navigating through the company's phone menus is a bit confusing. When I dialed Lenovo's tech support number for ThinkPads, I was greeted with a message saying, "Thank you for calling IBM. If you're calling about a Lenovo product, please press 1." (Astute techies will know that Lenovo acquired the ThinkPad business from IBM in 2005. It has been nearly 10 years since then, and today's customers may not know, and certainly won't care, that IBM once made their computers.)

The company's focus is clearly on dealing with malfunctioning hardware, as its phone menu gives callers the option to open a "service request," but not to ask questions. However, when I went through the service-request number, I was able to speak with representatives who were usually helpful.

Perhaps because of the confusing menus, there was never a wait, with hold times on all three of my calls lasting less than 1.5 minutes. On all three calls, I was connected to Lenovo's support center in Atlanta and spoke with representatives who appeared to have English as a primary language, though some had thick Southern drawls.

I called at 11:30 p.m. and spoke with Jerome, and asked him how to configure the fingerprint reader to power on my ThinkPad T440s. He walked me through the process of setting up the fingerprint reader to do regular Windows logins, in just a few steps. He even waited patiently while I rebooted my laptop to test the reader.

During a mid-afternoon call, I reached support technician Larry and asked him how to set up a picture password. In a thick Southern accent, Larry refused to help me, saying that my question was "a software issue and I only support hardware," and then offered to transfer me to Microsoft.

Despite the company policy, on my next afternoon call, Keshawna helped me with a software question, explaining how to change Windows 8.1's power settings so that the notebook would not go to sleep when I shut the lid.

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Though I eventually got the correct answer, unlike the other support reps who did not ask for any personal information, she made me spend several minutes providing everything from my laptop's model and serial number to my home address, email and phone number. After I was done providing all of my contact information, Keshawna offered to either log in to my PC remotely or walk me through the steps attempted to help me find the setting for controlling what the lid does.

After putting me on hold for 3 minutes in order to look up an answer, Keshawna directed me to Windows 8.1's PC Settings menu, which does not provide an option for changing what the lid does. Seemingly frustrated, she put me on hold for another 4.5 minutes to ask a supervisor for help in answering my question. When the Lenovo rep came back, she directed me to search for the Power Options section in the control panel and then navigated me through the Advanced Power Settings menu for our current power plan, until I found the "Lid close action" section and changed it.

The simplest solution would have been to have me search Windows for "change what closing the lid does," which would have taken me directly to a menu that does only what I needed.

Bottom Line

Despite some cosmetic changes to its support site, Lenovo's support has not improved appreciably since last year, when the company ranked next to last in the tech support showdown. It's still far too difficult to find answers to basic questions about your Lenovo notebook online. The company's phone support agents are prepared to help you if you have a broken laptop, but there's no guarantee that they'll answer questions related to the operating system or settings.