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Why doesn’t Dell sales support understand Dell products?

2007.03.12 — Business | Computers | by Derek Jensen

Dell E1505

Dell E1505. [source]

I was in the market for a new laptop computer and, altho I'm employed by a corporation that has a relationship with Lenovo, I decided I wanted to buy from someone else since I got pinched by Lenovo's deceptive rebate program last time. I chose Dell, for all the obvious reasons, but as I got close to the point of purchase, a question arose that Dell's website couldn't answer. I decided I'd better check with a human about the resolution of the LCD screen I wanted. Nice idea.

I chose the Dell E1505, a laptop recommended by CNET and pretty much everybody else. I don't need a top-of-the-line machine for home use. My practice for the last few years is to buy a middle-of-the-road laptop every year and give the previous one away. I have a lot of nieces and nephews who put them to good various use. So $800 to $1100 is my price range, and I decided to spend a little more this time because the new machine would have Vista, which needs all the horsepower it can get.

Dell E1505

Select LCD screen screen.

I view buying a computer with Vista as a little like buying a new car that automatically comes with two 500-pound marble benches for seating. "What happened to the XP iron benches?" you ask. "They only weighed 300 pounds each."

"Oh, these marble benches are much nicer," Microsoft assures you. "But we do recommend the V8. Stop looking across the street at the Linux dealership. Sure they're light and fast, but you have to install the vinyl interior yourself and some cups don't fit in the cupholders. Now take a look at our ceramic tile dashboard."

The problem arose on the page where you pick the LCD display. Note the choices: WXGA, WXGA+ with TrueLife, and WSXGA+ with TrueLife (forget the fact that all three say "widescreen" but only the middle one has a W; that's nothing compared to the rest of this mess). Now, I'd lost track of screen resolutions with the XGA format. VGA was 640x480; Super VGA was 800x600; and XGA was 1024x768. But after that, it became a bizarre mess of Ss, Us, Ws, Qs, and plus signs that could make a geek weep faster than throwing away his "Get a Life? I got a Second Life!" T-shirt.

Dell E1505

Help details: not so helpful.

Since the choice page didn't have actual pixel resolutions, I went to the help. The overview page suggests that Dell sells screens of several different resolutions. The details page shows:

  • WXGA as 1280x800
  • WXGA[without the +] with TrueLife as 1280x800
  • WSXGA+ with TrueLife as 1680x1050


This confused me, since it was not what the selection page had. Where was WXGA+? I looked it up in Wikipedia. WXGA+ is 1440x900. Wikipedia being what it is, I also did a Google search, which had numerous entries that confirmed this.

So I chose the WXGA+ screen, figuring it would be 1440x900. That's a good resolution for a 15.5" screen; my current machine has a 14" screen with a resolution of 1400x1050, and pictures and text are often uncomfortably small. But 1200x800 is basically the widescreen version of 1024x768, which I find annoyingly "big."

I had a question about the tax showing up on my checkout screen, so I decided to connect with Dell's online support chat and answer both questions..

Turns out Dell now charges sales tax for all states; I don't know why, and the support person had even less of a clue than I did after a quick Google search.

Dell E1505

My cart does not lie.

After waiting 15 minutes to chat, I got "Ronald" (who, I know, was probably just some poor shmoe in Bangalore trying to get by while studying for a technical degree). Here is my chat with Ronald. The gist is this:

  • Ronald asks to see my cart, and I register (I had initially used "guest checkout").
  • He explains the concept of sales tax, and I explain the concept of mail order, then I give up and ask about LCD screens.
  • Ronald tells me I ordered a WXGA screen with TrueLife.
  • I tell him the selection page and my cart say WXGA+ with TrueLife, which is different from WXGA, according to articles on the Net.
  • Ronald insists that WXGA and WXGA+ are the resolution and that the plus sign just means TrueLife!
  • I tell him that the rest of the Internet disagrees with him, and I paste in URLs to show it, including a Dell product page that says WXGA+ is 1440x900.
  • Ronald says the Dell page is for a Latitude, not Inspiron, so it doesn't count!
  • Ronald decides to have a Dell sales rep call me; he sends me a quote, tries to cross-sell me on financing, and assures me I'll get a call in 10-20 minutes.


Dell E1505

Technical specs: technically wrong.

Nearly two hours later, and 16 minutes past the "any time between 9 AM and 10 PM" window I gave Ronald, I got a call out of British Columbia from a female rep whose name I didn't get.

  • She confirmed that the plus sign in WXGA+ does not mean TrueLife but proceeded to tell me that the screen I ordered would be 1280x800.
  • I asked her what she was looking at to determine that, and she directed me to the E1505 technical specs.
  • I pointed out that the technical specs page was also wrong, but in a different way: it says the middle choice is WSXGA at 1280x800! For the record: WSXGA and WXGA+ really are the same thing: 1440x900.
  • She insisted that what I was choosing would be 1280x800 because all she could go by was the specs page. In other words: Dell sales support staff have no extra information that is not available to the customer. Some help!
  • I asked her to look up WXGA+ on the Internet or—better yet—Dell's support FAQ, which I had found while I was waiting for two hours.
  • Dell E1505

    Technical FAQ: actually right, if you can find it.

  • She insisted that I would get a 1280x800 screen, so I said I would buy the highest resolution screen (1680x1050) to be sure I didn't get the low resolution one.
  • I assured her that I could understand if this was just a couple of typographical errors; the fine print says that Dell won't honor typographical errors anyway. But I really wanted someone to acknowledge that Dell's pages were wrong or misleading.
  • She assured me that she could send a note up to the people in charge.


I still can't be sure if the middle choice is supposed to be WXGA+ or just WXGA. Dell's support FAQ has a neat little table that explains exactly what resolution the crazy letters stand for. But the purpose of the letter codes is to provide a short and simple name for something that is otherwise complicated and hard to remember. So if the letter codes are more complicated than the resolution numbers, why not just list the resolution numbers in the first place?

Damned if I know. And you can bet Dell sales support doesn't know anything more.



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