What’s the Point of a “Warranty” Anyway?

I’ve been a whole-hearted and enthusiastic user and consumer of electronics and computers since I got my first portable tape recorder when I was about 10 or 11 years old. As the only child of a single mom, living in a home with her parents, I was precocious and had access to tools; an invitation to take shit apart that I embraced early on.

When my little reel-to-reel tape recorder stopped running, of course took it apart to look inside. When I did, I found a little broken belt. I McGyver’d it with a rubber band and was back in business! Sure, whatever I had already recorded sounded a little weird, but any new stuff was fine so long as the rubber band lasted. Who knows whatever happened to that thing?

When Pong became a thing in the 70’s, my brother bought it for our Dad for xmas (sure he did!). He attached it to the TV in the living room, and Dad and Scott played it for a little while, but it was Pong. I don’t ever remember seeing Dad play it again, but Scott and I loved it.

In 1979, I bought my husband an Atari 2600 for xmas, and we would have our friends over and play games on the weekends. Looking back at the games we were so obsessed with compared to the complexity that is available today shows how the technology itself was at least part of the fascination. My favorite game for a long time was Adventure, which consisted of you, represented by a square, moving through assorted mazes that never changed from game to game. Despite this, we’d sit on the floor gripping that rudimentary joystick, practically ripping it apart in a futile attempt to make that square move faster!

Later, we upgraded to the Atari 5200.

Then, we had babies.

We bought an Adam sometime in the mid 1980’s. It was marketed as a computer, but in reality was a glorified word processor/video game chimera. Although it did come with its own printer, it was sold without any kind of monitor so needed to be hooked to a TV like a video game. It had no operating system or GUI Windows or iOs, and BASIC came included on a memory tape. I was trying to learn to code using a book I bought, essentially learning BASIC while raising toddlers. My big success – using about four lines of code, I instructed the printer to print the word “PRINT”. Not exactly the start of a coding career.

Next was the Commodore 64 with its own monitor, floppy drive and dot matrix printer. An 8-bit computer (this Lenovo IdeaPad is 64-bit) with a whopping 64 k of RAM (Lenovo = 1 TB), it had it’s own monitor, so at least I could work on it while everyone else watched TV, and it was the computer I used when I first started nursing school. It was probably the last computer I had without any internet access.

By the mid 90’s, I had the good fortune of having a close friend who was a general manager at CompUSA, which at that time was THE place to get computers and peripherals. Because of his help (and discount), I was able to get several computers over the years with working memory, storage and assorted bells and whistles. Lenny strongly urged me to buy the extended warranty with every computer purchase, and I took his advice for years. His advice was spot on, because every one of those computers had a major problem that ended up with them being replaced with a new one during the extended warranty. All told, I must have had at least 6 of my computers totally or essentially replaced by the manufacturer. Those computers were relatively more expensive for what they did, especially compared to newer ones, so having them replaced a couple years in was generally a good thing. Sadly, it hasn’t made me any more likely to back things up (it seems I like the challenge of figuring out how to access information on drives contained inside bricked computers?).

Since the early 1970’s, I’ve had my hands on or in hundreds of electronic devices, often at the direction of someone in a Customer Service department. There have been occasions when I’ve contacted a company long after the warranty has expired, and in fact recently had what can only be described as my most amazing experience in recent memory. It involved an incredibly expensive universal remote I bought in the early 2000’s made by Logitech called the Harmony One.

The Harmony remote was designed to be programmed while connected to a PC or laptop. At $300, it was a big purchase for an unnecessary item, given I had individual remotes for all the stuff I had, but I was excited at the prospect of having one remote control everything because we have always had ‘components’: stereo receiver, cassette deck (it still works!), CD player, Blu-ray player, VHS, Fios. I hooked it up and made multiple attempts to program it to do what I wanted it to do, then got frustrated. Within a few months the display went white, essentially making it a paperweight, so I wrapped everything up and put it in a plastic bag on a shelf in an unused bedroom, where it sat until late last year.

When I came across the remote, I decided to see if it was fixable. If so, I’d get it fixed; if not, why was I still holding on to the stupid thing? After the holiday crap was stowed, I started searching online and eventually ended up contacting Logitech customer service to inquire about my inability to remove the battery from its compartment inside the remote. Over the course of a couple of emails exchanged between myself and Logitech, I found out that in fact the battery in my remote was defective. Apparently, when the remote was left in the charger for extended periods of time, the battery swelled up and became stuck inside. Because of this, despite it being over 15 years since I purchased that remote (and 14 1/2 years since I put it up on that shelf), I am now the proud owner of a brand new Harmony Elite remote control.

When I read the email advising me I was getting a replacement from Logitech, I misunderstood and thought she was telling me I’d be getting the exact remote I already had, albeit one that was working. I wasn’t as excited about that as I thought I’d be, since it had been so difficult for me to program when I got it all those years ago. I am not, however, an idiot, so I thanked her for sending me a new remote. Now, I can control all the entertainment equipment in my family room from anywhere in the house using my iPhone or the remote, so it’s essentially like having two new way-more-than-a-remote remotes, and I can add other IoT devices to it (when I have nothing more important to do!).

I wish I could give the same high marks to Netgear, whose products I’ve used for years. Last August, my friend Mike bought himself a new Nighthawk X65-AC4000 Tri Band WiFi Router R8000P. After using it for less than a day he believed that it made his WiFi worse, so he offered it to me to try at my house. I (as noted above, not an idiot) of course graciously accepted his offer and brought it to my house to see if it made my WiFi faster than the Verizon-supplied router.

It took a few days and several new lengths of ethernet wire, but eventually I was able to get the router up and running. Since it was still a brand new, less-than-90-days-in-service-router, I was still within the timeframe that Netgear claims it will provide “complimentary technical support, but because Mike had registered the router in his name, they wouldn’t even answer a question until Mike emailed them to change the owner from himself to me.

I could see from the GUI that there was a new firmware update available, and tried unsuccessfully to download and install the update on the router. I used my laptop, my iPhone and my Kindle Fire over WiFi, then hardwired my laptop to the router, and still couldn’t get the firmware to update. I contacted “technical support” at Netgear, and was given instructions on how to update the firmware that I had already told them hadn’t worked. Despite my contacting them over and over using their messaging system on their website (because email would be too easy, I suppose), no one from Netgear ever fixed my inability to update the firmware, although they certainly made sure to tell me when my 90 days of “complimentary technical support” had expired, advising me that any other help from them would cost me money.

So here I sit, using a WiFi router that cannot update its firmware by any of the means available. Judging by the comments on the Netgear community boards, I am not the only one with this problem, yet Netgear has done nothing to address the issue – unless, of course, I want to pay them extra money to provide support for a WiFi Router just six months old. This leads me to wonder if this problem is a bug or a feature. Why would Netgear provide a free fix to users of their expensive paperweights when they can instead charge those willing and able to pay for the privilege of obtaining the secret information instead?

I have a collection of my previously-used networking devices; most of them are Netgear. I still have them because I’m unsure what to do with them, since they still work. I’m sure someone somewhere not here could use them, but figuring out how to get stuff from here to there is part of the problem. Regardless, my point is that I have used Netgear products for my home for years, but never before have I needed to pay an extortion fee in order to get their equipment to work as promised.

If companies like Netgear are unwilling to support their products for their warranty period, then the buying public should decide that Netgear products are no longer worth the price. While three months is more than enough time for someone to work out the kinks of a new installation, problems still come up with devices that are unrelated to the customer and only addressable by the manufacturer. Netgear’s hard cut-off time period puts all their customers in the position of replacing an expensive item still under warranty because Netgear will not provide technical support for the entire warranty period.

It would be foolish for anyone to invest in equipment from a manufacturer like Netgear with a proud and public-facing policy of taking their customers’ money while refusing to support products under warranty unless it is paid for as an extra fee.

The least Netgear could do is to update it’s ‘warranty’ period from one year to three months; it does no good to have a product that remains under warranty without technical help for a technical (and widespread) defect. Otherwise, what’s the point of the other nine months? The only other alternative is to make it super-convenient to replace the entire unit by sending the replacement out first so the customer isn’t further inconvenienced. Of course, the warranty is only good for the original purchaser and cannot be transferred.

Addendum: As I got ready to post this, I decided to see how much it would cost me to purchase a service contract from Netgear (since I didn’t pay for the router in the first place) to get my router firmware to update. Guess what happened?

I couldn’t even buy support from Netgear.

Update April 16, 2021

I decided to go to Netgear’s Facebook page, where I sent a message about my Nighthawk router. Almost immediately, I received a response from someone at Netgear. By the next day, I was on the phone with their tech support (a nice young man named Jayson, one of the level 2 techs out of the Philippines) who, over the course of three separate calls, determined that my router was defective. I was shipped a “certified refurbished” one that works, including updating the firmware, so I have to give Netgear kuddos for doing the right thing and standing behind their product.

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