Again this year, notebook PCs were one of the most trouble-prone sectors of the high-tech world, with 30.9 percent of respondents reporting that they had encountered at least one significant problem with their laptop; the figure in our 2009 report was 31.8 percent.
Apple once again earned the top marks in our survey, with above-average ratings in five categories and no below-average ratings. But Toshiba took over the second spot in our rankings, after having posted unspectacular results in last year's survey (eight average scores and one above-average score). This time, Toshiba chalked up four above-average ratings, all in measures of product reliability. For its part, Acer again showed strong results, with three above-average ratings and none below par (up from two above-average scores last year).
On the other hand, Dell took a rather startling tumble this year, from an upper-middle-tier ranking last year (featuring two better-than-average marks and one worse-than-average mark) to a finish near the bottom this time around (with one above-average score and four below-average scores).
HP retains its hold on the bottom rung, due to subpar marks on six of our nine reliability and service measures. HP did improve its standing on the "problem on arrival" criterion (the company was about average on that measure this time around). Unfortunately, instances where HP tech support failed to resolve a problem increased, leaving the company below average on that important service measure.
In our desktop PC ratings, Apple received better-than-average ratings on every question we polled users about--perhaps the best showing by any company in any product category in our survey. Meanwhile, Acer and eMachines repeated their shared (distant) second-place finish of a year ago, but with one above-average rating each instead of three each.
The big surprise this year was the improvement by Sony, which had been the worst performer in our desktops category last year, collecting three worse-than-average ratings and no better-than-average ones. This year, the tide turned in Sony's favor: The company received average marks on every measure for which we received enough data, except on the "any core component problem" criterion. On that measure, Sony earned an above-average rating.
At the bottom of the list, CyberPower, Gateway, and HP had pitiful scores. Gateway concentrated its three subpar ratings on service and support measures, while both of CyberPower's negatives came on reliability measures (the vendor didn't draw enough responses on the service and support criteria to receive ratings on them). HP's problems were more general: It collected four below-average ratings on measures ranging from general reliability issues to excessive hold times.
Even though laptops have tricky assembly issues, limited space for components, and various risks associated with being carried around, readers in this year's survey rated desktops as being significantly less reliable than laptops. Overall, users had 15 to 30 percent more problems with desktops than with laptops, depending on which reliability metric we asked about; the disparity may reflect vendors' efforts to cut all possible corners to keep desktop costs at rock bottom.
The HDTV category saw a bigger shake-up in reliability and service results this year than any other category, with some of last year's top brands slipping and some of last year's also-rans moving to the fore.
Three of last year's reliability leaders--Sony, LG, and Samsung--saw their fortunes fade. Each had turned in numerous better-than-average scores in our 2009 report, but all three rated as merely average across the board in this study, leaving them jostling in the middle of the pack with such brands as Magnavox and Vizio. And Insignia, new to our report this year, bypassed all of those brands on the strength of one better-than-average rating.
The new champs? Panasonic, Sharp, and (in a major surprise) Pioneer. Earning two better-than-average scores each, Panasonic and Sharp simply maintained their ratings from last year while the previous leaders slid backward. Pioneer, however, leaped forward to tie them (after receiving all average ratings last year), and it garnered the only better-than-average mark in readers' overall satisfaction with their TVs. We were pleased to see JVC earn average scores across the board; last year it finished next-to-last, with three worse-than-average scores.
At the bottom of the HDTV heap, Hitachi, Olevia, Toshiba, and Westinghouse each turned in one subpar score, while Mitsubishi again landed in the cellar, with three below-average ratings (that showing is still better than last year's, when Mitsubishi accumulated four below-average ratings). Still, 20.6 percent of Mitsubishi owners reported problems that were severe enough to stop their TV set from working. "Help me actually get my TV functioning again," says unhappy Mitsubishi owner Michael Lys of Northville, Michigan. "My $3000 TV is now basically useless; I know it was after the warranty expired, but it seems like such a waste."
To be fair to Mitsubishi, a significant number of the complaints we received in our survey came from owners of Mitsubishi rear-projection HDTVs whose bulbs had burned out. Those bulbs, our readers tell us, can run anywhere from $100 to $250 to replace, depending on the particular TV model.
The reliability of high-definition televisions seems to be improving overall, though not by leaps and bounds. Only 1.7 percent of users reported problems with their TVs when they first unboxed them this year, and 4.7 percent of users reported severe problems during the lifetime of their sets. The corresponding figures last year were 2.6 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.