Today, I got an e-mail correspondence from a client of mine that detailed a purchase via eBay of a laptop with some high end specifications for a great price, only to have the unit become very hot to the touch only after using it for half an hour or so. My client and the seller communicated over this concern, and wanted a second opinion on the correspondence.
The seller will take laptops that end up being available on the used or refurbished market, fix them up, improve them, and otherwise make it a fresh fit to re-sell. There are a lot of organizations that do that, given that so many laptops are out there as a result of planned obsolescence and/or a more “disposable” society. I think it is a wonderful idea that helps to mitigate the concepts above; but at the same time, the correspondence felt less than satisfactory.
Basically, the seller was communicating a technical limitation and how the laptop will respond to it — if the laptop overheats, the processor will force a shutdown of the laptop to protect itself, even if there is unsaved work being done on it. My client has only purchased it, and turned it on to test it out, he has not brought over his stuff to it, nor installed software on it yet. This entails that the laptop is getting too hot to touch while it is just turned on and basically surfing the internet, or checking email. What would happen if he actually started using it “full tilt”?
The technical stuff is fine and great; and it is not grounds for lasting harm to the laptop, and it can be rationalized away from a return for refund; however there is another factor at play here that is not technical: the human factor. How can a laptop that gets too hot and can shut down at short intervals be of full service to someone who does a lot of legal work as-is? The seller sold the laptop, and perhaps someone who is rather savvy to the technology would know about this limitation can make an informed decision; or work around it if the deal sounds great. However my client did not know the inherent limitation, nor did the seller give any disclosures that would communicate nor imply the limitation.
The only analogy I can think of is buying something like an heirloom tomato. The heirloom tomato offers a taste that is unrivaled by any other tomato being sold on the open market, has looks that will draw eyes, and can be eaten by itself as a meal due to its flavor and fullness. However the trade-off is that they bruise very easily and do not have a long shelf life — they need to be eaten within a couple of days. Qualities that do not translate well to being sold on an open market. Unless you KNOW this, and find the flavor and looks worth it, getting such a tomato may not be the best thing for your needs — a vegetable that offers a certain flavor that might keep a few days or more, and can easily be transported.
This is a rather bad analogy, but it is the best one I got at the moment.
This experience that my client is going through reminded me of a recent experience I went through that was very similar. I needed a replacement laptop as mine was on its last legs due to the level of wear and tear I put it through. I did not have a lot of money to spend at the time, so an acquaintance of mine recommended a friend who does a similar thing that the aforementioned seller does. I used to do the same thing back in California, so I knew the process and thought that it could be a good way to go given my situation. I called up that friend and set up an appointment for the next day at a nearby coffee place.
Upon arriving, I see this man waiting outdoors while three children were playing, and it turns out it was that friend. We met and he showed me a couple of laptops. I had given him my criteria, and what I was using it for, mainly to support my writing. He brought two potential ones, and I was given a few moments to turn them on and look them over. I selected one that had a really good keyboard — definitely supports my writing at the expense of other amenities such as a webcam for Skyping, and a compromise on weight and thickness.
He also took the time to explain to me why he is doing this computer refurbishing endeavor; he has five grandkids to support whereas the parents are completely unavailable, and the revenue would directly go towards meeting the kids’ basic needs. We completed our transaction and were on our way.
A few days into using the purchased laptop, I noticed that while on battery alone, it would suddenly lose power. After some troubleshooting, there were two things in play: the processor would heat up very quickly leading to a sudden power loss; and that there is a loose contact somewhere, perhaps an actual battery contact, a pin, or some wiring that if on battery, it can lose power if it is not sitting upright and level. I use the laptop on battery often and usually have it in my lap, sitting on a cushion, bed, or have it sideways when I watch videos. So, if I manage to keep it upright, and on a surface where there is cool airspace beneath the laptop, and plugged in, it is usable.
It would have been nice if these two things were disclosed to me at the time I was considering the purchase. The possibility of getting a refund was low as the money paid would have been spent that same day on the kids; and as these kinds of issues would not show up on casual inspection, nor testing.
I felt a bit burned. Granted I can work around this at present, but that entails that I could not do my usual traveling lifestyle with this laptop, and have decreased flexibility on where I could use it. I also felt a bit of heart wrench thinking about those five kids, and having met and observed three of them — computer refurbishing is not a high income sort of work, and the best it gets a customer is a computer whose life is only extended a year or two on average; and it requires a significant amount of work just to make the computer palatable for purchase, even as used and at an attractive price that is less than a brand new one.
I felt that the way he was going about it as a bit on the fast-and-loose fashion, and that there are better ways to go about doing this endeavor — and knowing that considering EVERYTHING on all parties’ end, he is doing the best he can at any given moment, given what he is aware of, and his model of the world. It was definitely an experience to learn from on my end, and I am going to really think things through if I choose to enter into another transaction with him in the future.
I wish him well, and hope that in the future, as he continues upon this endeavor, that he comes to a place where he can be of better service that results in a more consistent positive experience for his customers.
In the meanwhile, my client has resolved to do a return for refund for his laptop, and has asked if I can help him find a laptop that better serves his needs at a similar price.
Thanks for reading!