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Monday, December 08, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

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E-conomy / Paul Andrews
Some support for those that offer support

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A new consideration entered my subconscious while shopping for digital gifts this season.

Every time I picked up a potential present, the term "support" nudged me. After the gift wrapping came off, how would the recipient fare if he or she needed help or something went wrong?

Support typically has not been a high priority for shoppers. But in a culture where too few things work the way they're supposed to, support should get more, um, support. So here goes: A lineup of who does a good job not only on the Christmas gift but on the holiday aftermath.

Caveat: These aren't the only companies doing good support — just those I've had consistently outstanding service from over the years. As always, your mileage may vary.

The good news is that support generally has gotten better since the economy went south and companies began competing for customers — and tried to hold onto the ones they already had.

Apple Computer: Of all the tech companies I've dealt with over the years, Apple has the best consumer support. The catch is that it costs — after the warranty period, at least.

AppleCare runs from $59 to $350, encompassing two to three years of support beyond the warranty (depending on the product). Is it worth it? Apple has fixed my wife's iBook twice. In each instance, the call took just a minute or two, Apple sent a mailer box overnight and returned the unit by mail within two days. All at no additional cost.

If I had to take the computer in to a shop or mail it myself, and then pay for the repairs, I have no doubt the cost would easily have exceeded the AppleCare price tag — to say nothing of taking longer. And the coverage still has a couple of years to go. I took a 21-inch PC monitor in to be fixed and had to do without it for two weeks. The bill came to $192 — almost the cost of a new monitor.

Linksys: There are lots of network-gear brands available, but Linksys is distinguished by its expert support after the sale. I've dealt with the folks there for a number of years and have to say that support was better before broadband caught on and the company was bought by Cisco (my latest support call was answered by someone in the Philippines, where formerly I got folks in Southern California). But it's still up there with the best.

Comcast: Survivors of Cablevision and subsequently AT&T Broadband know that Comcast is a breath of fresh air, particularly with high-speed Internet access. My one quibble with Comcast is that it makes you wade through too many voice-mail menus before getting a human being. Part of that is understandable — it wants to separate the TV callers from the Internet callers — but it's frustrating nonetheless.

EMachines: If you're thinking about giving a new PC, eMachines has top-notch backup. It makes its computers easier to service over an Internet connection, and the CPU unit itself is a snap to open and self-service. I've got an e-mail folder full of complaints about Dell, and the company's recent pullback on outsourced support from overseas was an acknowledgement that its help lines weren't getting the job done.

Verizon Wireless: Giving a cellphone for Christmas? Over the years, I've used phones from most of the major West Coast wireless networks, and Verizon has perceptibly better support than the others.

Calls get answered promptly by a human once the obligatory voice-mail menus are navigated. Even when I've had a bad cell day and am unbearably cranky, the Frank or Linda on the other end of the line has been patient and helpful. I'd rate Sprint PCS a close second with the others also-ran.

The post-holiday season is support's test of mettle. Feel free to send along your laurels and darts in case a follow-up column is warranted.

Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of "Gates." He can be reached at

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