DennisBeaverDecember 02, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

I am a graduate student at Cal State Chico and need some advice on what to do about a laptop computer I bought from a company over the Internet. While the computer works fine, the screen is very difficult to see.

I was steered toward one of these new, shiny screens that are great for watching a DVD in a darkened room, but a problem in the school library or outside. When the salesperson walked me through the ordering process, he specifically asked what I would use the computer for, and just selected the shiny screen for me without my knowing what I was getting. Also the resolution is so small that I have trouble reading the letters!

He had to know it was not the right fit for my uses. However, the company wants a 20 percent restocking fee to exchange it for the screen I should have had in the first place. What are my rights in this situation? Do you have any general advice on how a non-technical person decides on the type of screen and resolution before spending a lot of money?

A Frequent Source of Confusion

In researching an answer to my reader’s question, I spoke with technical marketing managers at both HP and Alienware Computers to obtain their analysis of my reader’s problem. Not only were they extremely helpful, but – and this is part of the fun in writing a column – I was loaned laptops to test.

“The type of screen and resolution can be a real source of confusion,” Herman de Hoop, technical marketing manager of HP Computers told me when we discussed my reader’s problem. Mr. De Hoop carefully set out what an informed buyer needs to know – and the questions to ask a salesperson – before selecting any computer screen, be it a laptop or desk monitor.

“At HP we call these glossy screens Ultrabright, but regardless of the manufacturer, they are all very similar. Basically, they are a normal, matte finish screen without the antiglare coating leaving a screen that will produce vivid colors, great for photos and DVDs. Interestingly, even though these screens appear brighter than a matte finish, in fact, when measured, surprisingly they are identical in actual brightness,” he pointed out.

“In the past, all laptop screens were matte finish, however today it is critical to ask: Where and for what purpose will this computer be used? Is it for entertainment or business use? Will it be in a bright office or library environment? Consumer notebooks almost universally have an Ultrabright screen, whereas business machines normally are matte. Even though the general advice – matte for business, glossy for home use – is often heard, you find a lot of folks in business who prefer glossy screens. It is similar to the mouse versus trackball preference,” he said.

That observation was seconded by Marc Diana, product marketing manager at Alienware Corporation. “As we cater to gamers, we find that most of our customers like the glossy screen, as they typically game in darker settings such as at home. Our consumer products are not normally in places with a lot of fluorescent lights. We market our screens as Clearview, which like other similar screens has that glass like look of a home monitor, but in a laptop. There is also that element of what the customer prefers, but you need to know or be told by the seller what you’re going to get,” he stressed.

The Alienware Area 51-m5550 they loaned me had a beautiful, bright screen, and even though I still prefer a matte screen for my computer applications, I found that it was much easier to adapt to than I would have expected, and the images were stunning.

The other computer loaned to me by HP was a 17 inch HP Compaq nx9420 intended for business use. My focus (no pun intended) was to see how today’s high-end computers perform, and to test in the real world these important issues of matte versus “bright” screens and problems connected with resolution.

Going from a five-year-old Dell Inspiron 8000 laptop to these two new computers was a real eye opener. While clearly aimed at different buyers, these computers were simply amazing, and finally I understood what my son meant when pointing to my Dell, said, “Dad, you are using a dinosaur!”

If you are a gamer, then the name Alienware stands for high end gear. Indeed it is, but I learned that the speed and layout makes it ideal for a wide variety of business applications as well. No matter how you cut it, both computers were amazingly fast.

Yes, the Alienware products do have glossy, bright screens, but I have to admit, the beauty of the image outweighed any truly bothersome issues of glare. While my office only has DSL, the Alienware loaded everything with the kind of speed I had only seen where the Internet connection was cable. Watching a DVD or seeing my son’s friends play computer games was a blast. When he announced “My dad is testing an Alienware computer,” it was as if he had returned to high school once again, with one friend staying until midnight, playing games and watching movies, repeating Rad, Dude. Yes, Dude, it certainly was.

Mark Diana of Alienware agreed that a consumer needs to know what uses that computer will be put to. “While not everyone needs a computer designed for gaming, the features in a good gaming unit -speed of processing and visual clarity – can benefit virtually any application. It comes down to how much computer do you need, and asking the right questions,” he suggests.

As to what the salesperson should have advised, the re-commendation of both was clear: The safest choice is a matte screen if you are going to be in a bright, office environment, or outside at times.

How Small is Small?

Screen resolution is another area of some confusion, as my Cal State Chico student mentioned. “This is an area where more is not necessarily better. Resolution refers to the number of pixels on your screen. Some applications – such as graphics – require the highest resolution possible. However, where resolution is increased, the size of images – or print -will decrease. XGA is the entry-level, nice and readable type screen resolution. As you go up in resolution – let’s say, with SXGA or UXGA – you get a much more defined image, with more pixels (dots of light that make up the image) but everything gets smaller and smaller. That’s why, again, you need to determine what your uses are, and how good is your eyesight? Just remember that more is not necessarily better,” HP’s Herman De Hoops stressed.

Legal Rights

Both HP and Alienware made it very clear that it would be unfair to charge my reader a “restocking” fee under these circumstances. In fact, neither company has such a policy, which is another example of why it is best to deal with known, established, credible companies.

I phoned the retailer and spoke with a manager. Reviewing the order, she concluded that my Chico reader should not have been sold that particular computer. It was agreed that a call tag would be issued, the computer picked up and a new one, with a matte screen and XGA resolution, would be delivered, at no additional charge.

Final Thoughts

If you have a computer – desktop or notebook – that is more than three years old, what’s out there today will blow you away. The graphics on both, sound, and ease of use – the keyboards, especially – were a dream. These fine computers have been returned, as is legally and ethically required when a journalist reviews any product. My old Dell – that has served me well for five years – seemed to know that its days on earth were limited, and the day I returned those computers, and went back to my Dell, the screen showed “Fatal Hard Drive Fault.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.