I feel a rant coming on.
In early December, I ordered a new laptop, a Thinkpad. I've had five Thinkpads over the last 10 years, and have found them to be much better than any other laptop I've used (a couple of Dells, an odious HP, and a fashion accessory called a Powerbook). When IBM sold off their Thinkpad operations to the Chinese company Lenovo, many people expected the quality to decline. This appears not to have been the case. Thinkpads are as good as ever, and have even added some whizzy gadgets like fingerprint authentication and disc protection for the levobipedal amongst us.
Where Lenovo seem to have compromised is in the quality of their operations. Let's take it step by step. It took me four days to place an order through their web site. For the first three days, I'd get to the stage of placing an item in the so-called cart, only to get a database error. This was eventually fixed. The best Lenovo customer service could offer was "keep trying". Choosing the model was also confusing: they display hundreds of Thinkpad variants on the site, with very little to guide you to a choice. The division by the basic models (T, R, X, etc.) is a reasonable top-level distinction, but then within each model they are classified as ThinkExpress, Standard and Custom, with no explanation of how the first two of these differ. There does not seem to be a rational system behind the pricing. I ended up with a model with more disc than the one I had originally decided on for less money.
Lenovo were quoting 10 day delivery on the web site. By the time of the order, this had gone up to 15, which was annoying but not an uncommon experience. In fact, they shipped it after 12 days. I had paid for 2-day UPS shipping and as it was shipped on December 13th, you'd expect it to arrive on Dec 15th, right? It actually arrived on December 27th. Lenovo ship from the far East to Ontario, California (it's in or near LA), and that is where the problems arose. Here is what the UPS tracking said (slightly edited and reformatted):
Dec 14, 2005 1:06 P.M. ONTARIO, CA, US
THE SHIPMENT IS BEING HELD BY BROKERAGE FOR REASONS BEYOND UPS' CONTROL
Some quick web searching (with Google - it's good, isn't it?) suggested that this is not an uncommon experience, and it allegedly happens because Lenovo botch the paperwork. Due to the way they do importing they can't just fax a correction, but have to resend the whole documentation, and if it is still wrong, they have to go round this loop until they get it right. Repeated emails to Lenovo customer service resulted in two things: about 25% of the time, I got a non-committal reply with no useful information, and the remainder of the time, I got no reply at all.
Finally, on Dec 22nd, the hold was released, and this appeared on the UPS tracking:
Dec 22, 2005 1:14 P.M. ONTARIO, CA, US
THE SHIPMENT IS BEING HELD BY BROKERAGE FOR REASONS BEYOND UPS' CONTROL;BROKERAGE RELEASED SHIPMENT. SHIPMENT IS SUBMITTED TO CLEARING AGENCY FOR FURTHER CLEARANCE
1:14 P.M. ONTARIO, CA, US
PACKAGE WAS DELAYED BY A FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION HOLD.
It is not totally clear to me why the FDA should need to check my laptop (insert random joke about Apple here). Perhaps they thought it was a vegetable. The hold was released the next day, just in time to get it delivered on the last business day before Christmas. Except it wasn't, and I had to wait until Tuesday.
I emailed Lenovo suggesting they should refund the extra $50 I paid for 2-day shipping, as it had taken more than two days. They agreed, but in an oblique way that gives the impression they will get you the refund but without actually giving any indication of how to make it happen.
Here's a final area where I think Lenovo are cutting costs. The laptop arrived with no recovery CDs, and very little documentation. The preinstalled software (including the OS) is on a special partition on the hard disc. This has two disadvantages: it takes between 10 and 15 GB off the disc capacity, and if the hard disc fails, you're stuffed. You can create recovery CDs from the disc; it takes 7 of them, and you can only do it once, due to Windows XP licensing.
I'm sure that in a week or two, I will have ceased to think about any of this. I like my instant gratification, and I like it now, so to get these delays is really a petty annoyance. But if I buy another Lenovo product, I'll be checking them out more carefully before I go ahead.