'I got my broken laptop fixed online'
With spare cash tight, the repairman is back in vogue, writes John Cradden
It's a question that comes up at least a few times for everyone who owns an expensive digital device or a household appliance.
Common sense does suggest that you should at least try and see about fixing a broken and out-of-warranty computer, MP3 player, games console or smartphone; or any essential household appliance, such as a vacuum cleaner or a fridge, before shopping for a new one.
But this recurring consumer dilemma has become more pressing by our lack of spare cash at present.
Prior to the recession, many of us would probably have happily replaced an item costing up to €1,000 without even considering asking a repair firm to look at it.
But with money still tight and environmental issues more to the fore, repairing may be a cheaper and, in many ways, a better option.
When Zoe Patterson's three-year-old laptop started to slow to a crawl, she assumed it was on its way out, and so bought a netbook thinking it would be lighter for taking into work.
The netbook proved not to be powerful enough for the self-employed drama teacher's needs, so she started to look for a new laptop.
But after getting some advice, she decided to use a voucher for PC repair firm HelpMyPC, which she had got from a daily deals website.
"So I made the appointment and sure enough they called and we chatted for a bit about the computer, then off they went," she said.
"About 90 minutes later, they rang back to say the job was completed, and we discussed what had been done and that was it."
There are loads of places where you can get out-of-warranty computers repaired, from one-man-band backstreet shops to high-street chains such as Compuworld.
But since every computer can access the internet, more firms can now fix them online without the hassle of you having to leave your home -- and more cheaply, to boot.
"Eighty-five per cent of problems can be fixed online," says Ward Griffin, founder and owner of HelpMyPC, which is based in Tramore, Co Waterford. "For the other 15pc, we can arrange pick-up and drop-off service, once again saving the customer of any hassle."
Griffin, who was inspired to set up his firm by the combination of a poor experience he once had having his laptop fixed by a multinational and the availability of remote-access software, thinks many repair firms need to improve their service.
'There is a perception of electronics and PC repair firms as being still a bit of a backstreet industry, so what we are doing is focusing on our customer care," he says.
HelpMyPC, which employs four technicians and plans to hire more, will do a free diagnostic. It also promises to follow up within five days to check everything is in order.
Ongoing issues over computer security and data theft means that consumers should do all they can to make sure the firm is reputable and to take steps to protect any sensitive personal data or passwords.
There have been a number of scams involving online PC repairs.
One scam that did the rounds here a couple of years ago involved consumers being called by 'security engineers', who claimed to be working for a multinational, warning them they had a virus on their computer.
They would try and cajole them into logging on to a website in order to run a scan-- and then plant a virus -- or ask them for their credit card to 'purchase' an online software fix.
One of the giveaways of this scam -- besides the fact that the calls were unsolicited -- was the €130 fee the scammers reportedly charged for the online repair which, even if it had been a genuine service, is a rip-off.
Prices for online software fixes shouldn't exceed much more than €70, judging by a quick price survey.
Independent repair firms like HelpMyPC, The Tech Fixers and many others are also branching out into repairs of iPhones, iPads, some smartphone brands and tablets.
And although the software bits in most of these devices can't yet be repaired online, remote access software will soon be able to fix these devices too, according to Griffin.
With cheap but decent laptops available for just €400 or so, surely upgrading might make more sense in the long-term, at least as far as these items are concerned?
Zoe says the total cost of fixing her laptop, including the cost of the €35 voucher, the online service by HelpMyPC (€39) and a Windows software fix by a local shop (€50), came to €124.
"I can't believe the difference it has made," she said. "It really feels like it's new, and it's also spurred me on to fix other bits and pieces.
"After all the bits and bobs have been cleared up, I've been told I'll get two years more out of my laptop."
"Then I was able to sell my netbook, and that brought in €165. So I was actually up by €41!
"Then I bought an iPad, but we won't go there."