Don’t get me wrong, I like Sony. Before this incident, I’d never even had to contact Sony customer support for any Sony product I’d ever owned, and as far as I was concerned, they were one of the best consumer electronics companies in the world. But all that changed, and how. It all started innocently enough: a computer, a movie, and a change of address…
Dinner and a Movie
My wife and I had only recently returned from Ireland, and so we were still staying in a hotel while we looked for an apartment and I looked for a job. After a full day of interviews, I was in the mood for a movie, and so we decided to watch a DVD on my wife’s laptop computer; unfortunately, the computer wouldn’t recognize the DVD, due to the country region encoding on the DVD. During our stay in Ireland, I had changed the DVD drive’s region code using WinDVD, as the Sony provided DVD software wasn’t capable of changing the DVD’s RPC-2 drive country region; however, I hadn’t yet changed it back, and I didn’t have a copy of WinDVD. No problem, I thought, I’ll just see if Sony provides a utility for changing the country code. RPC-2 DVD drives store the country code in a piece of flash memory, and allow you change the country code a limited number of times (usually 5 times); after this, the drive’s country code is locked, and can’t be changed anymore.
Not only did Sony’s VAIO support site not provide a tool to change the country code, it didn’t really provided much of anything else; after searching for our model, we were presented with only two possible downloads: updates from the video driver, and the sound card. After having owned a Dell, and being able to download everything for my old laptop, this was a disappointment. This pissed me off; why would region encoding be enforced on a laptop in the first place? And if they had to enable it, why hadn’t they provided DVD software capable of changing it, like just about every other piece of DVD software I’d ever seen? Finally, why didn’t they have a tool to correct this deficiency online?
I decided to write an email to customer service at Sony, requesting a tool; at the same time I registered my disapproval of the CCA (Copyright Control Authority) and the region encoding system they had implemented on DVDs. The reply from customer service provided only an explanation of the DVD system of region encoding, something I was already well aware of, as should have been obvious from my email. In my reply to Sony, I criticized them for not providing a tool to swap the regions, citing the obvious need for a laptop to be useful in several regions; their reply thanked me for my “invaluable” input.
The problem was finally solved when I found a utility from the DVD drive manufacturer specifically designed for changing the region of the drive; when I notified Sony of this tool, again making sure they knew I was dismayed at their sorry excuse for customer support, I was informed that changing the region of the drive was not “a function that is supported”, and would “void any remaining warranty on the drive”. But this would not be the last time Sony would display a complete inability to support its products. The adventure would continue with The Narcoleptic Computer.
The Narcoleptic Computer
Shortly after the incident with the laptop’s DVD player, yet another problem with the VAIO appeared; every so often the laptop would spontaneously fall into “sleep” mode, and had to be rebooted. It finally got so bad that the computer would only complete the boot sequence before falling to “sleep” again. After a re-install of the operating system and an attempt to solve the problem by disabling the hibernation functionality in BIOS, it became apparent that the VAIO had a hardware problem. We called Sony, and received instructions to send the laptop to a service center.
A few days later, the service center contacted me at work to provide an estimate of the repair cost; I was informed that the “main board” had to be replaced at a cost of $2800 for a new board, or $900 for a refurbished board. I was informed that the computer was “pretty old”, which supposedly explained the price; when I asked why the specific faulty part couldn’t be replaced, I was told that the service center wasn’t authorized to perform those repairs.
I was tired of Sony, but decided I might as well get the refurbished board installed so that I could sell the laptop and recoup some of the original cost. Days later, the Sony service center called to inform me the refurbished board was no longer available.
At this point I was pretty mad at Sony, but it was about to get much worse. I asked for a Sony contact number in order to resolve this issue; as this was the third machine from Sony I had seen die just after its warranty expired, I suspected I would be able to get Sony to replace the board for free. I called Sony Canada, only to be informed that I would have to deal with Sony US, as that’s where the computer was purchased; the Sony US phone maze finally ended in a recorded message informing me that my computer was no longer under warranty, and I would have to pay $19.95 per incident for technical support. I didn’t want technical support; I wanted customer support.
I called Sony Canada and demanded a resolution; they informed me they would send a “critical note” to Sony US to get the issue resolved. When I hadn’t heard anything after a few days, I called again and they gave me a snailmail address for the Office of the President of Sony US. I wrote a letter, but have yet to hear any response from Sony US.
After all I’ve been through, one thing is certain: I will never buy another Sony product ever again. Their customer support is horrible, and their only purpose seems to be to misdirect you until you give up. My wife’s VAIO now sits in my cubicle as a paperweight; I refuse to pay the cost of repair. My advice to anyone looking to buy a laptop: buy a Dell.