TMO Reports - The REAL 'Shiny' Details of The Consumer Reports Ratings on Macs

by , 9:00 AM EST, November 12th, 2004

You've read in recent days the stories of positive ratings on Apple Macs from the December issue of Consumer Reports magazine. But the real story is in the actual scores and recommendations by Consumers Union (CU), which are some of the most positive ever given by the non-profit testing group. As CU called it, Macs are a "shiny Apple".

Apple repair and tech support rankings highest

In the four-page story obtained by The Mac Observer, Consumer Reports said Apple's repair history and technical support satisfaction were the best of all personal computer manufacturers.

In the last four years, 12% of Mac owners who responded to Consumer Reports 2004 Annual Questionnaire had to resort to repairs and/or had other serious problems -- the fewest of any PC maker. Sony PCs had the second fewest, followed by Dell and eMachines.

As for technical support, Apple had a score of 76 -- the highest of any PC manufacturer. Consumer Reports subscribers who used Apple tech support gave a 'better' rating (the highest possible) in getting their problems solved, shortest time spent waiting on support phone calls, experienced and knowledgeable support staff, and best Web support. No other PC company received a 'better' rating in any category. Dell was second receiving a score of 57 and no better than an 'average' rating in any category.

Because of good reliability and tech support results, Apple portable and desktop PCs were recommended by CR as 'best pick'.

CU acknowledged that satisfaction among its subscribers, fewer viruses and spyware on the Mac platform were favorable factors that raised Apple products above all others.

Mac ratings all 'very good'

Apple's Mac desktop and laptop PCs all received ratings in the 'very good' range.

The 17-inch G5 iMac received an overall score of 80 out of a possible 100. The G4 1.0GHz eMac scored 62. While good ratings, the were well below cheaper, Pentium 4 systems running at 3.2GHz which all received 'excellent' scores of over 91. The difference: better 'convenience' and 'expansion' ratings than Macs.

Apple PowerBook and iBook laptops received more competitive scores with their Windows counterparts. The 15-inch G4 1GHz PowerBook got a score of 65 for a 'very good' rating. The 14-inch G4 922MHz iBook got a score of 62. All other Windows-based laptops got no better than a 'very good' overall score.

Concern: worsening support

As wireless home networks become more popular and viruses proliferate, CU said it is becoming tougher for technical support at PC companies to solve complex problems.

"Only 61% of survey respondents said (their technical issues) were solved, seven points lower than in our last survey," CU said. Concerning: 24% of those who phoned tech support say the support agent had problems communicating in English.

The main issue appears to be that tech support of PC makers isn't designed to support virus issues, connectivity problems and issues with third-party add-ons. CU recommends PC users use virus protection, install the latest software updates and be ready for long waits on the phone to find the answers they need.

CU did not break down whether growing tech support issues were primarily a problem with Windows-based PC and their manufacturers, or if problems were slightly up related to Apple Macs.