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Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter , for Monday, April 27.

1. Your next decision: Exposure notification app, or no app?

Predicting a few days ahead let alone a week or two is folly, but what seems to be about to happen is that most people are going to have a phone with a COVID-19 contact tracing app on it.

That might not exactly be prophetic because it’s happening already:

Over the weekend, 1.5 million Australians downloaded a coronavirus contact app called COVIDSafe via Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store.

(Here’s a 51-page dissection on Google Docs looking into the COVIDSafe v1.0.11 (Android) build with a focus on privacy: people are allowed to use fake names, data expires as promised, Bluetooth-only proximity detection, and so on.)

In Europe, Germany has changed its mind on its own contact tracing app, now using the Apple-Google decentralized approach rather than a home-grown option for better privacy, joining Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Finland. Germany’s shift came after pressure from scientists, but in Norway, pressure hasn’t yet forced the government to stop pushing ahead with a controversial centralized implementation called Smittestopp.

In the US, it’s hard to know if it will be a state-by-state option (North and South Dakota, and Utah are already pioneering apps) while there’s talk that dubious Palantir will be involved at Federal level.

The tech:

The technology discussion is always worth having. One interesting shift is that the Apple-Google tech has had a name change, moving from contact tracing to “exposure notification” late last week.

That’s because it doesn’t really offer tracing, per se, but alerts.

The tech is also changing, per Android Authority: “Exposure notification will feature an updated API to randomly generate tracing keys, Bluetooth metadata now features updated end-to-end encryption, and the recorded exposure time is limited to five-minute intervals maxing out at 30-minute increments. Together, these changes promise user anonymity while maintaining the technology’s effectiveness.”

And that brings up an important silver lining: people are more widely understanding their privacy rights, and data security.

Now, having said all that, the real question for most people that you’re going to have to think about is, will you voluntarily install an exposure notification/contact tracing app?

Will you do it in a vacuum or be guided by those-that-probably-know-more? (For many in Australia, that includes Troy Hunt, behind haveibeenpwned, who calmly explains his rationale for installing the Australian app.)

I wasn’t sure where the buck might fall on this: Early signs are it is falling to tech-savvy people to embrace it, while non-technical people are distrusting and or mixing the app’s purpose with distrust of government generally.

But in Norway, the opposite is true as the app is said to track your GPS position and store data in a centralized cloud database.

For me, assuming there is sufficient evidence that the app only does what is intended, for example, doesn’t request geolocation, doesn’t obfuscate its code to allow for reverse-engineering (and/or open sources the codebase), and so on, I’m going to install it.

And it’s far better than governments simply tracking phones, as has now been banned in Israel (Engadget).

Will it help? Is it the new reality not just for COVID-19 but other diseases and viruses? Is it the beginning or end-point for government-related health apps? Which governments and tech companies will boost their reputations through smart, smooth implementations, which will stumble?

You’ll probably need to make your personal decision on using an app within a few weeks if you haven’t already.

You're reading Will You Install An Exposure Notification App? Plus More Tech News Today.

Daily Authority: Oneplus Benchmark Controversy, And More Tech News Today

First discovered by

Andrei at


, it appeared that the latest OnePlus 9 Pro suffered from terrible browser benchmarks in routine tests.

Upon closer inspection, Andrei noticed that the phones were switching to less powerful (and less power-hungry) Cortex-A55 cores instead of the much faster X1 core.

This saves some battery life, but reduces performance significantly.

The list of affected apps includes 300 of the most popular apps on the Play Store, including Chrome, Twitter, and others.

Here’s a

quick 6-minute video

that explains the issue in simple terms that anyone can understand.

Now, reducing performance isn’t necessarily a big deal, especially if it actually improves battery life. If you can’t notice the slower speeds in daily use without using benchmarking software, it seems like a win for consumers.

However, many fans are (rightfully) upset that their new $1,000 smartphone that promises best-in-class performance is throttling its processor in nearly all daily apps.

The issue here is transparency (and no, I’m not talking about the

controversial X-ray camera

that shipped with the OnePlus 8 Pro).

Phones from Samsung and other OEMs offer the option to toggle between performance and battery-saving modes.

On the OP9 Pro, this “optimization” was done in secret, and turning off all battery-saving options does nothing to change performance.

If OnePlus is willing to cut corners here, who knows what else the company has skimped out on. The fact that OnePlus wasn’t forthright implies some kind of wrongdoing.

The controversy also brings up a number of questions:

Is Oxygen OS simply bloated and unoptimized? Who decides which apps are affected? Will OnePlus tweak performance in older devices, like

Apple paid a $113 million fine for doing in 2023


Also, if no one noticed until now, what does that say about the necessity of these high-powered devices in the first place? Aren’t budget or mid-range phones a much better buy?

This also isn’t the first time OnePlus has been in hot water for tipping the scales in benchmarks, although in the past it has always been to create more favorable numbers, not worse ones.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has already been

removed from Geekbench

for software optimizations that the site views as cheating.

OnePlus has

issued a response

to the controversy, but it doesn’t do much to clear its name:

“…our R&D team has been working over the past few months to optimize the devices’ performance when using many of the most popular apps, including Chrome, by matching the app’s processor requirements with the most appropriate power. This has helped to provide a smooth experience while reducing power consumption.”

It goes on to say “While this may impact the devices’ performance in some benchmarking apps, our focus as always is to do what we can to improve the performance of the device for our users.”

If performance were truly the goal, optimizing software and giving users the option to choose what kind of performance matters to them (battery or speed) seems like the obvious way forward, especially for an enthusiast brand like OnePlus.


📱 The Google Pixel 5a was spotted in FCC documentation, giving away some secrets (and raising some questions). A full launch is almost surely imminent. (Android Authority)

5️⃣ A recent leak suggests that the Google Pixel 6 may offer five years of updates, matching Apple’s update promise on iPhones. (Android Authority)

🐉 Qualcomm and Asus have teamed up to release the first-ever Snapdragon-branded consumer devices. The set includes a tweaked ROG Phone 5 and true wireless active noise-cancelling earbuds, and will run nearly $1,500. (Android Authority)

❔ How loyal are smartphone users to their favorite brand? Here’s what our survey says it would take for fans to jump ship. (Android Authority)

🚔 The FBI secretly sold “Amom” phones to criminals in a huge honeypot operation. It turns out that the phones were Pixel 4a devices with some interesting customizations. (Android Authority)

🏎 In search of the intersection of the world’s most unusual Venn diagram, Dodge will debut an all-electric muscle car in 2024. (Engadget)

💰 In less encouraging news, Volkswagen and BMW have been fined $1 billion for running an emissions cartel. (CNN)

💀 I’ve never felt more justified in my fear of water and cars: What moment made you say “Yep, I’m definitely dead”, but survived with no major injuries? (r/AskReddit)

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An App Default Was Reset Notification Error On Windows 11/10

This issue is caused by a bug in the Windows Update that either resets or tries to reset the default app back to what it originally was (usually to the UWP apps). The reason why Windows 10 does this is because, it thinks that the third-party application changed the file associations by incorrect methods. So Windows resets the file associations/default apps.

An app default was reset on Windows 11/10

An app default was reset. An app caused a problem with the default app setting, so it was reset.

If you’re experiencing this issue, you can try any of our recommended solutions below and see which fixes the issue.

Set your Default program back to what you want it to be

Use freeware Stop Resetting My Apps

Uninstall and Hide recently installed Windows Update

Remove Windows 11/10 native app

Sign in with a Microsoft Account

Turn on Focus Assist.

Let’s see the description of the steps involved in the solutions.

1] Set your Default program back to what you want it to be

This post will show you how to change Default Program settings.

2] Use freeware Stop Resetting My Apps

You can use this freeware called Stop Resetting My Apps. It is a free tool that prevents automatic resetting of default apps, programs and file associations by Windows 10.

3] Uninstall and Hide recently installed Windows Update

If you started experiencing the “An app default was reset” popup notification loop after you install some new programs, software, applications or Windows Updates, you could consider uninstalling the program(s) and/or uninstall the Windows Update to fix the problem. You may then need to Hide the Update.

4] Remove Windows 10 native app

Windows 10 often resets the default app to its built-in applications automatically, like video, audio and image apps. However, you can remove the built-in apps from Windows 10 to avoid the repeated popups of “An app default was reset” on condition that you’ve third-party programs or software with similar features in place. You can set such third-party applications as your default apps.

To remove the native UWP apps using PowerShell, do the following:

Press Windows key + X, when the jump list appears, press A to launch PowerShell in admin/elevated mode.

Copy and paste the command below into the window and hit the Enter. (Note: The two asterisks stand for any sequence of any length so that you don’t need to type the full name of the app.)

This example is for the Photos app if you’re having the issue with another in-built app, substitute the name of the app instead.

When you want to restore the apps, just copy and paste the command line below into the Windows PowerShell (Admin) environment and hit Enter.

5] Use a Microsoft Account

If you are signed in with a local account then try to switch to the Microsoft account first. Some users reported changing to Microsoft account resolved the “An app default was reset” notification error for them.

To switch to Microsoft Account from a local account, do the following:

Press Windows key + I to launch the Settings app.

Select Accounts.

Select Sign in with a Microsoft Account option and follow any additional on-screen instructions.

6] Turn on Focus Assist

If the “An app default was reset” popup notification doesn’t have an effect on your software usage on Windows 10, then you can disable the popups to stop the distraction.

Here’s how:

Select Focus Assist. and use it.

It will not stop the popup, but it will not disturb you.

I hope this works for you.

Review: Celluon’s Picopro Is An Iphone 6 Plus

I grew up with a front-projector TV the size of a coffee table, later owned a rear-projection TV that was somewhat larger than an adult bicycle, and have since tested projectors shaped like DVD players, Mac minis, and iPhone cases. Pico projectors — generally small enough to fit in pockets — typically struggle the most to prove their practicality. Projectors generally need big, powerful lightbulbs to be seen in anything but the dimmest of rooms, and the smaller they are, the worse they tend to be, particularly as they move further from the surfaces they’re protecting on.

Korean developer Celluon — the company behind breakthrough laser keyboards that can create typing surfaces anywhere — is now trying its hand at pico projectors, and I have to admit that I’m far more impressed than I thought I’d be. PicoPro ($349) packs a high-definition video projector, a battery pack, and wireless capabilities into a 0.55″ thick enclosure with the same footprint as an iPhone 6 Plus. Overall, it’s the best small projector I’ve tested: much easier to use, quiet, and capable of delivering a better complete viewing experience. But like competing pico projectors, it also has some noteworthy limitations that you’ll want to be aware of before jumping in.

Key Details:

Measures 5.9″ by 2.9″ by 0.55″ thick minus HDMI cable.

Supports Miracast and DLNA for wireless streaming but not AirPlay, so cables are required.

iOS users will need to supply an Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter at their own expense.

Impressively bright given its small size.

The core of PicoPro is a MicroVision three-laser video engine with separate red, green, and blue light sources, projected together through a small box-shaped opening on the unit’s “front” edge. It should be pointed out that Celluon’s descriptions of PicoPro’s specs are somewhat confusing: first, it describes the unit as offering 30 lumens output, but “with a perceived brightness that is noticeably brighter than that of LED based projectors of similar lumens.” Second, it claims to offer a “1920x720p HD picture with a 16:9 aspect ratio,” which is an unusual resolution. The company says that it’s the product of partially upscaling 720p source material. Third, it promises a “minimum 2.5-hour battery life” when used in wireless mode, and “3.5-hour battery life for HDMI connection,” though our testing actually came in at just under 3 hours via HDMI; it will obviously be lower in wireless mode.

In addition to a carrying bag and a USB cable, an HDMI to MHL cable was included with our review unit, as was a small wall adapter that can be kept connected, or unplugged as needed. Celluon’s pricing for PicoPro will vary based on the included pack-ins; the basic package should be enough to let you hook up most HDMI devices, including many Mac computers and the Apple TV, but you’ll have to self-supply an Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter for $44.

You can actually see 720p-level resolution in the pixel-level output, which doesn’t look big and chunky when the picture gets larger. And I can understand why there’s some ambiguity over the lumens measurements, as this unit’s laser-based lights do look brighter and more vivid where they exist, but blacker where there isn’t illumination. Celluon’s claimed 80,000:1 contrast ratio (versus 2,000:1 in LED models) doesn’t seem hard to believe. The photo above shows PicoPro projecting at a 4-foot distance on a white surface; the photo below shows it at a nearly 2-foot distance on a black surface.

An even more intriguing component of PicoPro’s performance is its utter lack of configuration. There is no focus dial nor the need for a focus dial: the laser-projected image starts and remains impressively sharp, unlike typical projectors. For better or worse, there also aren’t contrast, color balance, or keystone configurations to figure out. There are volume up and down buttons on the top, a battery life indicator button on the back, a power button, and a mode button. That’s it.

That said, PicoPro’s caveats are worth noting, and there are a few of them. One is the color balance of the output, which can lean greenish blue rather than neutral white; it would be great to be able to adjust this, and have at least some access to image controls. Another is the sound output: you can adjust the integrated speaker’s volume from 0 to 10, going from silence to an output level roughly half as loud as the iPhone 6 Plus at its peak. A headphone port lets you attach better speakers or headphones to boost the volume, but PicoPro ideally would have stronger audio output. It also goes without saying that AirPlay video streaming support or a direct HDMI to Lightning cable would make things a lot easier for Apple users, though the chances of seeing either of those features (without a major price change) are slim to none.

PicoPro isn’t a perfect little video projector, but given its size and the realities of pico projection, it does a lot better than I would have expected. Nearly three hours of run time with the battery, cool and quiet operation, and 720p HD video support are all welcome steps forward over prior units I’ve tested, offset primarily by the quiet built-in speaker and the lack of granular video controls. Given the small footprint, it’s going to be at least a minor hit when it becomes widely available in the United States; until then, larger, lower-resolution projectors such as the Aaxa P4 will continue to be your best available options.

Celluon $349 HDMI-Equipped Macs, iOS Devices With Digital AV Adapter

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

Tech Marketer Talks: Driving More Revenue With Full

Tech Marketer Talks: Driving More Revenue with Full-Funnel Marketing – Cisco Sandra Nangeroni

Senior Director, Marketing & Sales Enablement

Share This Post Can you tell us a little about Cisco?

Cisco is the worldwide leader in networking for the Internet. Today, networks are an essential part of business, education, government, and home communications. Cisco hardware, software, and service offerings are used to create the Internet solutions that make these networks possible, giving individuals, companies, and countries easy access to information anywhere, at any time. In addition, Cisco has pioneered the use of the Internet in its own business practice and offers consulting services based on its experience to help other organizations around the world.

How do you think the vendor-buyer relationship has changed?

Customers are more empowered than ever. It’s not the relationship we used to see where they had a preferred vendor, picked up the phone, called and started to plan a project. Today, 67% of the buyer’s journey is digital. Before they even speak to a vendor on their shortlist, they’ve already done a peer validation through social media, looked at white papers, and visited TechTarget sites to research their needs. They’re guiding themselves through the process and are far less reliant on vendors dictating the journey for them.

How has Cisco’s marketing adapted to the changes in IT buying behavior?

Given the new buying paradigm, our marketing has had to adapt. At Cisco, we’re trying to evolve to a customer-driven approach by providing relevant Cisco content that will enable decisions in places where the customers are spending most of their time, and then guide them through that journey. When talking about this approach, you will hear us say “low touch is the new high touch.” This means we want to use low touch channels to create a very personalized, experience for our customers that feels high touch. We’re in the early stages of this evolution and as a big company that will take time. Our marketing mix still relies on outbound heavily, but we are constantly evolving towards a digital, customer-centric approach.

How has Cisco become more data-driven and how is it utilizing data intelligence into its strategy?

We have 13 million unique visitors per month at chúng tôi and really need to boil that down to try and understand who’s actionable for sales, who’s researching, and at what point we should engage our sales team versus having marketing continue to nurture them. We look at the holistic data footprint of someone and determine what we should do next. Cisco is heavily invested in response creation, but the other half is response management. Once you have engagement, it’s about deciding what to do digitally to continue that journey in a way that provides a good experience for the customer, and ultimately, an actionable lead for sales.

How do you translate all of the data for sales consumption and usage?

We have multiple product lines and multiple people at Cisco doing marketing. Lots of people want to own the conversation with a customer. As an example, “IT Manager” is a broad title and one almost every marketer at Cisco wants to reach. Just because this person is an IT Manager, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be interested in servers versus security versus switches. Historically, we haven’t had the ability to personalize that conversation, so we have tried to talk to every IT Manager about every solution that Cisco sells. Having greater access to digital data, we can now personalize that conversation based off of what a customer has expressed interest in. If an IT Manager is looking at Security content on chúng tôi we can keep the message relevant and continue the dialog around Security. We have the ability to listen to what our customers are telling us, interpret it and then act upon it quickly. So instead of just looking at demographics and firmographics to guide the dialog, we want to understand what the customer is actually expressing an interest in and focus there.

One of the most important things for us as revenue marketers is that you can have all of this data and information at your disposal, but the real value is in what you’re able to pass to sales that is actionable and helps them identify, expand or accelerate opportunities. If we can’t do that, then I feel we aren’t doing our jobs effectively.

What things are you trying to do differently in your marketing today to better understand what your customers are interested in?

In the past we have tried to take a one-size-fits-all approach with a very diverse set of customers and a diverse set of products.

That doesn’t meet the needs or expectations of today’s buyers. Sales acceleration is a good example of this because we’re taking patterns of behavior on chúng tôi not just an individual event. It’s not just someone attended a webcast or someone downloaded a white paper. It’s what types of pages they’ve been spending time on and how deep into the content they’ve gone. Knowing that helps us to establish a baseline level of engagement. We’re not going to flag the “serial downloaders” to sales because we know that they frequently download Cisco content, but not to enable purchase decisions. We’re trying to take all of these different interactions and put them into a business rules engine to help prioritize where sales needs to engage vs. where marketing should continue to nurture. Once we identify the need for sales engagement, we try and organize that data so that it’s relevant, meaningful, and actionable for our sellers

Is there a key driver that helps determine what qualifies for retargeting or continuous marketing?

If we have a 60-70% confidence that a purchase is nearing, then we’ll pass that directly to a sales rep. If we have less than a 60% confidence, then marketing will nurture them using our automation platforms and digital channels like display retargeting and search retargeting.

How does content marketing fit into the data-driven marketing that you’re doing?

Everything we do is content-driven – our goal as marketers is to provide the right content, to the right buyer, at the right time. Before we had access to behavior data, the core metric we could optimize content on was a registration. Because this was the primary success metric, everyone wanted to put a registration page in front of everything, which created a really bad user experience.

When registration is the only metric you align around, you end up doing your marketing and content a disservice. We need to use the data we’re collecting to inform and dictate the type of content that needs to be built and then inform how we think it will best be consumed. In other words, if content isn’t resonating and we’re getting 99.9% bounce rates, that tells us it’s not as valuable and we need to rethink it.

What metrics do you have in place to track and measure ROI? How do these metrics help in understanding if the investments you’re making are successful? How do you work with TechTarget to strategize and put together a plan that ensures that you’re in the right place at the right time?

We rely heavily on content publishers and technology partners like TechTarget. We get 13 million visitors a month to chúng tôi but if only 12% of B2B buying research happens on a vendor’s website that means the other 88% is happening somewhere else, and we want to be where that is. When you look at partners like TechTarget who have such huge subscriber bases and publish such relevant content, it’s a no-brainer for us to partner with them.

Producing enough content to keep customers engaged is a big challenge and just one of the many reasons we work with TechTarget. Their experts are constantly keeping things relevant and engaging for customers. If our buyers are going to places where content is continuously fresh, we need to be there and part of the dialogue.

TechTarget is able to provide us with data that helps us make Cisco content more relevant and effective –whether it’s for chúng tôi or TechTarget or somewhere else. In the end the partnership, makes all of our programs more successful.

How has using IT Deal Alert fit into your overall marketing strategy?

We needed to think outside the box of simply buying names, nurturing them and trying to qualify them to pass those over to sales. Another part of the TechTarget value proposition is their IT Deal Alertâ„¢ Service that directly impacts our sales efforts. IT Deal Alert is based off data from technology segments across their many highly-targeted website properties. It identifies IT buyers who are actively researching on TechTarget sites with real purchase intent. TechTarget wraps all that useful data up in easy-to-use reports that are immediately actionable for our sales teams and channel partners.

As you work with different media companies or data solution providers, what is most important?

Full funnel marketing is important to our strategy, and is where we’ve been extremely successful in working with TechTarget. We have a wide variety of audiences we’re trying to reach with a wide variety of messages. The ability to be targeted in our communications in places where IT buyers already are is extremely important.

What has your experience been working with TechTarget?

TechTarget helps us to build a strategy that spans from Awareness to Demand Generation and from content marketing to sales-ready IT Deal Alerts. Being able to invest in these areas with TechTarget helps us to drive a cohesive, full-funnel plan, which is something that’s pretty unique to TechTarget.

content marketing, demand generation, inbound marketing, IT deal generation, marketing intelligence, TechTarget

The Tech Brands You Can Trust

But how many of them are willing to spend the money it takes to ensure that their products hold up after the sale has been made, and to service the product if it breaks?

Those are important questions for customers to ask before they buy–and the key questions of our annual Reliability and Service Survey. Each year we survey thousands of our readers to find out which hardware manufacturers have the best–and worst–product reliability and customer service and support.

This year’s response was unprecedented: 79,000 of you rated the tech products you use. With such a large pool of survey data, we learned a great deal about the companies that make laptops, desktops, smartphones, HDTVs, cameras, and printers. Here’s the mile-high view of what we found.

–Put simply, products made by Apple, Asus, Brother, and Canon are typically reliable and well supported.

–Products made by Dell and Hewlett-Packard often aren’t, especially if you’re a home user.

–Laptops are slightly more reliable than before, and have fewer serious problems than desktops.

–Business PC customers are generally more satisfied than their consumer counterparts.

And there’s much, much more.

After you read this article, you may want to jump to PCWorld’s Facebook page, where readers can add their own stories of product reliability and vendor service.

Winners and Losers

Apple once again smoked the competition in the desktop, notebook, and smartphone categories, winning high praise from customers in all reliability and service categories. The Macintosh and iPhone maker did so well that virtually all its scores were above average. Apple’s only average scores were related to the company’s deftness at replacing failed notebook components, and in two areas pertaining to serious problems with the iPhone, the latter perhaps stemming from the iPhone 4’s well-publicized antenna issue that resulted in dropped calls for some users.

Asus did well in ratings among both desktop and laptop owners, though it is best known in North America for its low-cost netbooks. These mini-notebooks have often been the target of derision over the past two years, with critics calling them cheaply made and hard to use. While some netbooks may fit that description, our readers say that Asus portables are, in general, highly reliable.

Canon, which like Apple, is a perennial favorite of PCWorld readers, again rocked the printer and camera categories. It’s not alone at the top, however. In our survey, Panasonic has surpassed Canon in camera reliability, and Brother is gaining popularity among printer users.

Panasonic, the biggest proponent of plasma HDTVs in a market increasingly dominated by LCD models, has a slight edge over LG and Sony. And smartphone users, in addition to praising the iPhone, are particularly happy with Verizon Wireless cell service and with handsets built by HTC. Research In Motion’s BlackBerry phones, however, get low marks for ease of use.

Dell and HP, two of the tech industry’s largest hardware manufacturers, disappointed us this year, particularly in desktops and laptops for home use and (in HP’s case) printers. (We address these two companies’ dismal showings below.)

Overall, it’s clear that many reliability and service problems persist, including defective components that fail out of the box, as well as poorly trained customer service representatives who are incapable of departing from a script.

Golden Apple

Can Apple do no wrong? Indeed, 2010 was a remarkable year for the world’s highest-valued tech company. In addition to unveiling the iPad, a touchscreen tablet that launched a new genre of mobile computing devices, Apple enjoyed record sales and profits. And now it’s won the trifecta by smoking the competition in our reader poll.

IDC computer analyst Bob O’Donnell attributes Apple’s popularity to the company’s stylish, well-made computers and its easy-to-use operating system. “It’s a combination of having high-quality hardware–you pay a premium for it–and a software experience that’s more straightforward,” he says. “And if you have fewer questions, you typically have fewer problems.”

Apple is very good at offering extras too. “You have things like the Genius Bar at all the Apple stores. People literally walk in with their systems, and the [support] guy sits there and says, ‘Oh, yeah, you’ve got to do this, this, and this,’” O’Donnell adds. “It gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling: ‘They’re taking care of me.’ Nobody has anything close to that on the PC side.”

Asus Ascends

The impressive showing by Asus caught our attention as well. This Taiwan-based manufacturer sells an assortment of desktops, such as its all-in-one EeeTop models, and full-size notebooks. But its Eee PC family of mini-notebooks “pioneered the whole netbook concept,” according to ABI Research, and remains the company’s claim to fame, at least in North America.

Our survey doesn’t distinguish between netbooks and laptops, but industry analysts say that any distinction between those categories is irrelevant where reliability is concerned. According to ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr, “Netbooks are made by the same vendors on the same assembly lines as laptop computers. I am not seeing any significant quality differences between netbooks and laptops that use comparable materials. One could argue that lower-cost materials are being substituted, but again this is not being seen.”

Asus shipped 396,000 portable PCs in the United States in the third quarter of 2010, and 201,000 of those were netbooks, according to technology industry research firm IDC. Netbooks may get a bad rap as shoddily built machines, but our survey results suggest this isn’t the case–at least not with Asus gear.

Dell and HP: No More Excuses

Combined, Dell and HP ship nearly half of all PCs sold in the U.S. According to tech industry research firm IDC, HP had just over 24 percent of the American PC market and Dell owned 23 percent in the third quarter of 2010. (Apple and Acer placed a distant third and fourth, each holding 10-plus percent.)

Year after year, readers proclaim HP one of the biggest losers in our Reliability and Service Survey. In 2004, for instance, HP and its Compaq brand were rated last in desktops, and next to last in notebooks and digital cameras. (HP did well that year in printers, however.) The company improved in 2005, earning average grades overall, but then fizzled again in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Dell’s scorecard has varied over the years, but recent trends are troubling. Its second-to-last laptop ranking in 2009 (only HP did worse) shows a marked decline from 2004 and 2005.

Making Bank on Mediocre?

Although Dell lost $4 million on its consumer business in the first half of 2010, the company made a total profit of $886 million during that time (that’s 16 percent more than it made in the same period last year). Dell’s lines for small and medium-size businesses accounted for much of its total profits: $636 million, a 34 percent increase from the first half of 2009.

Over at HP, the company’s Personal Systems Group–which includes desktop and notebook PCs, workstations, and handheld devices–saw a year-over-year earnings increase of 18 percent to $1.46 billion for the nine-month period ending July 31, 2010, according to an HP filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company’s Imaging and Printing Group, which sells HP’s home printers, had a 1.66 percent earnings boost to $3.19 billion in the same period.

Meanwhile, several of Dell and HP’s smaller competitors have maintained high survey scores year after year, despite competing in the same cutthroat markets as the Big Two. Asus and Toshiba, which duke it out with Dell and HP in the ultracompetitive Windows laptop market, earned high marks from our readers this year.

That raises the question: If Dell and HP have a profitable business model–one that has enabled them to control half of the U.S. PC market–are they sufficiently motivated to improve their support operations?

They should be. PC and peripheral manufacturers sell in a crowded market, and a customer with an unpleasant support experience is soon a former customer.

HP officials we spoke with expressed surprise at its poor showing in PCWorld’s Reliability and Service Survey. The company has shown improvement recently in similar surveys, they say, including one from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a University of Michigan business school study based on customer evaluations of the quality of goods and services bought in the United States.

“We’re not happy until all of our customers are happy,” says HP customer service executive Cliff Wagner. “There’s clearly a lot of work that we’re continuing to do, and a lot of investments that we’re doing.”

Those investments include two new customer service and technical support centers in Conway, Arkansas, and Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Wagner says, although both facilities won’t be fully staffed for at least two more years.

“We have not lost our focus on making sure that we’re building customers for life,” adds Jodi Schilling, vice president of HP customer support in North America. “We’re continuing to make investments, not only in the support experience but also in product development.”

If there’s a glimmer of hope for HP, it’s that users who bought machines within the last 12 months were much happier with the company’s support of home desktops and notebooks. (Our one-year chart includes only survey respondents who have bought a PC or printer in the last 12 months.)

It’s possible that HP’s service and support operation devotes more resources to newer customers, resulting in higher satisfaction levels for this group.

Dell’s 12-month results show little change, with home desktops and laptops that aren’t particularly reliable, but with printers that are. Dell business laptops did get higher reliability grades on the one-year chart, but not enough to boost Dell’s standing vis-à-vis the competition.

This year we separated Dell and HP business and home users in the laptop, desktop, and printer categories, in order to compare the satisfaction levels of the vendors’ corporate and consumer customers. For a discussion of the results, see “2010 Reliability and Service: Laptops and Desktops.”

It Takes Only One Frustrating Incident

IDC’s O’Donnell points out that the home market is a challenge to support. But home users aren’t simpletons either, and their frustrations are often born from bad support experiences rather than from self-inflicted slip-ups.

Dan Keller, a medical journalist in Glenside, Pennsylvania, bought an HP Pavilion desktop about three years ago. The CD drive faceplate arrived broken, and HP has yet to replace it, despite his many go-rounds with customer support, he says.

“It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill problem, and they said, ‘That part doesn’t exist,’” Keller says with a laugh. “I said, ‘Well, you’re putting them on computers, they have to exist.’”

Despite the unresolved faceplate issue, Keller’s desktop runs fine. But the frustrating support incident, combined with the poor keyboard layout and other design quirks of an HP laptop he bought recently from Costco (he has since returned it), has soured him on the vendor. “At this point, with two goofy machines, I think I would shy away from HP again,” he says.

Survey Methodology

It’s important to note that our survey results don’t necessarily represent the opinions of a given company’s customers as a whole. And because our data comes only from PCWorld readers who chose to take the survey, our results don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of PCWorld readers in general.

What the Measures Mean

PCWorld readers rated hardware vendors in six product categories: desktops; notebooks; cameras; HDTVs; printers; and smartphones. Each category (excluding smartphones) had 5 to 9 measurements, each ranking a vendor relative to its competitors. In each measure, we determined whether the vendor’s score was significantly better (s), not significantly different (u), or significantly worse (t) than the average of its peers.

The five reliability measures spotlighted problems with such things as failed components (e.g., a notebook hard drive) or problems that occurred right away or “out of the box.” Among those measurements are two that score our respondents’ overall satisfaction with their vendors’ hardware reliability and customer support.

If a vendor received fewer than 50 responses in a subsection, we discarded the results as statistically insignificant. This threshold prevented us from rating some smaller companies. The measurements in our smartphones category were a bit more comprehensive. We rated smartphone makers using on four reliability measurements and five ease-of-use measurements. For the wireless carriers that sell the smartphones, we measured five different aspects of their customer support, as well as two aspects of their network performance – wireless internet service quality and voice call quality.

Reliability Measures

Problems on arrival (all devices): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported any problem with the device out of the box.

Any significant problem (all devices): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported any problem at all during the product’s lifetime.

Any failed component replaced (laptop and desktop PCs): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported replacing one or more original components because the components had failed.

Core component problem (laptop and desktop PCs): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported problems with the processor, motherboard, power supply, hard drive, system memory, or graphics board/chip at any time during the life of their laptop or desktop PC.

Severe problem (HDTVs, phones, cameras, and printers): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported a problem that rendered their device impossible to use.

Ease of use (HDTVs, phones, cameras, and printers): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who rated their device as extremely or very easy to use.

Overall satisfaction with reliability (all devices): Based on the owner’s overall satisfaction with the reliability of the device.

Service Measures

Phone hold time: Based on the average time a product’s owners waited on hold to speak to a phone support representative.

Average phone service rating: Based on a cumulative score derived from product owners’ ratings of several aspects of their experience in phoning the company’s technical support service. Among the factors considered were whether the information was easy to understand, and whether the support rep spoke clearly and knowledgeably.

In-person service rating (phones only): Based on a cumulative score derived from phone owners’ ratings of several aspects of technical support received at a service provider’s retail location. Among the factors considered were the ease of getting a representative’s attention in the store, and the knowledge, fairness, and attitude of the rep..

Problem was never resolved: Based on the percentage of survey respondents who said the problem remained after they contacted the company’s support service.

Service experience: Based on a cumulative score derived from product owners’ responses to a series of questions focusing on 11 specific aspects of their experience with the company’s service department.

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