Generally in life you get two kinds of people. The first kind are those who are successful at the things they choose to do. They enjoy the rewards of their labours when it comes to buying the finer things in life. They usually buy their expensive tools and toys new because they can afford too. I call these people the smooth sailors.
Then there is the other type of person who, with success in their life sight crosshairs, always seem to encounter bumps in the road or storms at sea that have them fighting to keep their aim steady. They mostly buy premium toys and tools second hand because, well, that’s the way they have to roll. I call these people the battlers. I’m one of them.
A few years ago I started offering basic pack shot and product photography for small businesses. It’s an area of photography that I enjoy doing, but I was experiencing a problem of a somewhat critical nature when it came to colour accuracy using my old 27” Samsung monitor. I had it calibrated and I even bought one of those X-rite colour passport things, and while it helped me somewhat, I was always a bit unsure when it came to editing because I just couldn’t trust the Samsung monitor to give me accurate colour. It wasn’t a high gamut monitor after all.
I really needed to get a decent monitor, but here where I live the options are limited. There’s no way I could afford an NEC or even an Apple Cinema/Thunderbolt display, so I plodded along with the Samsung until one day I caught an ad on another local forum I frequent for a Dell U2711, a high gamut monitor that has proper colour profiles actually embedded in it. It wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t unobtainable. I decided to do a deal with the seller.
Obviously there is always a risk when you purchase hardware second hand, but I had a good feeling about the monitor and based on the seller’s reviews from other buyers on the forum I was confident I wasn’t about to be scammed. It was 3 years old and only just out of warranty.
It arrived after a few days and I set about hooking it up to my MacBook Pro. I was immediately impressed. The colour in the built in Adobe RGB profile was amazing and with the extra resolution I was very confident in my editing going forward. I used the monitor as my primary display right up until I got lucky and managed to buy a mid-2012 27” iMac last year.
The iMac gives you much less control in terms of colour calibration - there aren’t even any controls on it anywhere, but being a flagship Apple product, there’s a good amount of trust on the colour front. When I hooked up the Dell U2711 as an external screen to the iMac I could see that while the colour was very similar, the Apple screen just looked so much livelier for displaying photos.
A few months ago, however, I noticed something strange on the Dell screen. Up at the top there was this weird bit of dark discolouration. Almost like a smudge. It’s hard to describe it and even harder to show in a photo, but it’s like that part of the screen has been burned darker. It only happens when the monitor has been on for while and is hot. You can even see residual menu text and horizontal lines when you use the OS X Expose feature. Not good.
You can see the dark smudge in this image. It's about 5cm long and extends from the top of the screen about 1cm down. The green bit is just moire.
By this stage I had already had the monitor for about 18 months so a warranty repair was out of the question. I decided to ignore it because it wasn’t really visible on the working area of the screen. I could live with it. Lately however, this smudge has started creeping downwards and it’s now much more noticeable. There’s also another one beginning to emerge near the top centre of the screen.
The other day after having a rather excellent screen warranty repair service experience from Lenovo for a 2nd hand laptop I bought for my son (battlers continue) I thought I might as well contact Dell to see whether I could get this U2711 repaired. I knew that it probably wouldn’t be cheap, but if it was reasonable I might as well have it done and then sell it on to another battler who might benefit from a used high gamut IPS monitor. I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened next.
Firstly, trying to get hold of support from Dell for this monitor was an exercise in its own right. I tried all their online pages and forms and got nowhere. Eventually I found a service form online to apply for an extended warranty. I completed it using the U2711 monitor’s unique product number and amazingly I got an email reply a few hours later from a person who told me to call a toll free number given in the email to get service for my monitor. When calling that number a recorded message told me that it did not exist. I replied to the emailer and he sent me a Johannesburg local area number. Another message, at least this time from Dell themselves, telling me that the number was going out of service and that I should call yet another toll free number.
Eventually I got through to somebody at Dell support named Ari and began explaining my issue to him. He asked me to please hold on while he pulled up the material he needed to give me support on the monitor. First I had to disconnect all the input cables, then he asked me to push the 2nd and 4th buttons on the panel to enter its diagnostics mode. Problem. There are no buttons on this monitor, I explained. It has proximity sensors that can’t be depressed and which are only activated when hovering your finger over the first one. I got put back on hold while he consulted with another support person. By this time I think I might have been on the phone to him for over 30 minutes. It seemed to me that Dell didn’t know their own range of products very well.
To cut a long story short I ended up having to re-explain the discolouration smudge issue to Ari a few times, saying that I believed the problem was hardware, not software related and that I wanted a quote to replace the panel part of the monitor. He told me that the replacement panel cost over ZAR10k, which incidentally is more than the monitor cost brand new in the first place. To make matters worse Ari informed me that Dell no longer carried spare parts for that model (5 years old), so I would have to purchase a new Dell monitor, because they don't actually repair products, they only replace them under warranty. Huh? No repairs? At all???
It was at about this point that I began feeling like George Costanza from Seinfeld on a bad day. George was definitely getting upset. I told this Ari person that it was totally unreasonable to expect me to buy a completely new Dell product when they couldn’t even provide support for what was 5 years ago a top end product of theirs. Why on earth would I support a company that couldn’t fix its own products by buying a new one from them?
Ari then actually began lecturing me in a rather condescending tone about how it is not reasonable to expect a product to last forever. So I asked him how long I should expect it to last, especially considering the premium nature of the product in the first place. He couldn’t give me an answer. I pressed him harder. 3 years? 4? Maybe 5? If 5 years is the limit then why is it that my 8 year old 40” Sony Bravia is still going strong (touch wood) and my even older, but colour challenged Samsung 27” monitor is also still going strong? I didn’t even mention that I also have a 32” LG LCD TV that is almost 10 years old in another room. Ari couldn’t explain that, but he did give me a reference number and told me that he was going to discuss it with his supervisor to see what they could do for me and call me back in 10 minutes.
About 30 minutes later he did call back but told me that he couldn’t get hold of his supervisor, but promised he would call back the next day. That was a week ago. Still no Ari or supervisor response.
Now, you might think that I am being a bit pedantic here, but I will disagree. This whole incident has gotten me thinking about the responsibility of an electronics manufacturer to stand behind their products once they are out of warranty. What gives Dell the right to brush off a customer and expect them to buy another product new, when an older one (that is not unreasonably old) fails? Why can’t they repair that product at a reasonable price as almost every other manufacturer seems to be able to do with their own products?
Fortunately I don’t have to rely on that monitor anymore, but I wonder about the other battlers out there who are constantly on the receiving end of the shaft from companies like Dell. It seems to me to be highly irregular, if not irresponsible to continue to foist short life span products into the world and then hide behind a corporate policy of “it’s not our problem” when their products fail out of warranty. Am I wrong? What happens to all these older failing products? Does the earth just swallow them up? Are they recycled at all? I see no evidence of this here where I live.
While Ari from Dell support is still out looking for his supervisor’s opinion on how to deal with the complaint from Dallas Dahms, I will also be out looking for a way to warn other battlers against purchasing premium, unrepairable products from companies like Dell. I’ll call it Dal support. It starts here now.
The Dell U2711 has now been relegated to the sidelines of my setup.
Edited by DDFZ