This post-holiday season I am among the hordes standing in the return lines, wondering whatever happened to the idea of quality.
It's funny really. I unexpectedly saw my son on Christmas Eve. We both like to talk tech, and I told him I finally gave to Goodwill my old CRT TV. We decided to walk over to a nearby Best Buy.
Yes, it's true. I am probably the last man in America not to have a flat-screen TV. I decided it was time to join the living. So after looking around at the 4K eye candy, I picked out a 40-inch, 1080p, 120 Hz, 3-D-capable smart TV for only $549.
With my son as my personal Geek Squad we went home to set it up and buy my first high def movie online. After some fiddling with screws and cables we hit the on button on the remote. Nothing. We hit the on button on the TV. Zip. We checked the power cord, the batteries in the remote, our astrological signs and the weather and tried again. Nada.
I don't write about quality control. It's not a mainstream part of our EE Times coverage. So I claim no special knowledge. But I would have thought Samsung might have at the end of its assembly line someone who switches the $549 smart TV set on to make sure it actually works before putting it in the box. Apparently the experts in this field take a different approach.
Of course Samsung's 24-hour support hotline was already closed for the holiday. I called them Dec. 26, and a very nice young man was able to secure me an appointment with a specialist who would come by sometime on January 1 between 1 and 5 pm.
I was more bemused then angry. However, I have to admit I got a little peeved at myself when the Samsung support person asked if I called Best Buy. No, I told him, I did not because I declined to buy their extra $70-a-year support package so I figured I was at the mercy of the South Korean electronics giant, rather than the neighborhood outlet of the U.S. retail behemoth.
But he got me thinking, so I called Best Buy. Indeed, they agreed to give me another if I would box up and bring in the original. Sorry, no courtesy pick up service for TVs that were dead on arrival.
I guess this is the quality-control approach of choice these days. Rather than hire someone to switch the TV on before it ships, just make a few extra and write off the ones that get returned. If someone has a bad experience, too bad.
Mechanical klutz that I am, I was not able to get all six screws out of the plastic base of the TV. So returning the it had to wait until I could get someone to shepherd the un-boxed display in the back seat so I did not crack the glass while driving it to the return heap. Now I was ready to put my foot through it!
Then I remembered, just a week earlier I was in Best Buy and thought I would pick up a little CD player for the kitchen so I could listen to the radio or music while cooking. Cheapskate that I am, I bought the $29 Insignia house brand unit.
It lasted two days before it would not shut off. I thought maybe I could limp along somehow using the aux mode as a virtual off switch, but then the display went blank, making it ridiculously hard to tune in a radio station.
OK, I probably asked for a shoddy product when I did not shell out $49 for the Sony model. But a $29 Insignia boom box that will not shut off and a $549 Samsung TV that will not turn on is either an indication of a severe unlucky streak on my part or a deterioration of an ethic of quality in manufacturing.
I'm guessing it's the latter. What do you think? Hey, is that you ahead of me in the return line? What happened to you?
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times