What the Different Measures Mean
We asked PCWorld.com visitors to rate vendors in six product categories: laptops, desktops, printers, digital cameras, routers, and MP3 players. (For similar reliability and service ratings for HDTV vendors, see "Sony HDTVs Rated Most Reliable by PC World Readers.") In each category, we rated each vendor in nine specific areas of customer service or product reliability.
On each measure, we determined whether the vendor's score was significantly better than average, not significantly different from average, or significantly worse than average. If a vendor drew 49 or fewer responses in an area, we discarded the results as statistically unstable. This prevented us from rating some smaller vendors.
• Problems on arrival (all devices):Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported one or more problems with the device out of the box.
• Any hardware or software problem (all devices): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported any problem at all during the product's lifetime.
• Satisfaction with reliability (all devices):Based on the owner's overall satisfaction with the reliability of the device.
• Failed component (laptops and desktop PCs):Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported replacing one or more original components because they had failed.
• Core component problem (laptops 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 problems (printers, cameras, routers, and MP3 players): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported a problem that rendered their device impossible to use.
• Ease of use (printers, cameras, routers, and MP3 players):Based on the percentage of survey respondents who rated their device as extremely or very easy to use.
• Phone hold time: Based on the average time a product's owners waited on hold to speak to a phone support rep.
• Phone 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.
• Failure to resolve problem: Based on the percentage of survey respondents who said the problem was never resolved after contacting the company's support service.
• Service experience: Based on a cumulative score derived from product owners' responses to a series of questions that focused on 11 specific aspects of their experience with the company's service department.
We polled roughly 44,000 PCWorld.com readers who responded to print advertisements and e-mail messages. We used methods of statistical analysis to determine which companies were significantly better or worse than the average, based on all responses about a certain product type. Because our survey sample consists entirely of generally tech-savvy readers, it may not be representative of the general population, which may have different expectations and experiences with technology products.