Upgrading my Notebook

For the last four years I’ve carried a desktop masquerading as a laptop causing no end of shoulder and back pains from lugging the thing around. While I valued having a wide screen (1920 X 1200) the weight was just getting too much to carry. Having recently acquired an Amazon Kindle to reduce the weight of having to carry lots of books, I decided it was time to get a new lightweight laptop.

I finally settled on the Sony Vaio VGN-SZ660 series. In reading through the reviews and testing what was in stock at local Best Buy and Fry’s Electronics stores, it was clear that the tradeoff was between weight and performance. The Sony Vaio was right in the middle of the tradeoff. It wasn’t as light as the 2 pound laptops, but they only had 1GB of memory and a 40GB hard drive. The selected laptop came in at four pounds with a core 2 duo processor and a 160GB hard drive.

The real selling point was the integrated Sprint Broadband WWAN card and a free month of services. I’d been wanting one of these devices for a while as no single local wireless seemed to be dominant enough to buy a monthly service. With a free month of services I could try it out on several business trips to see if the Sprint coverage was nationwide enough for my travels.

The hardest part of going through the acquisition of a new computer is getting everything copied over to the new system and getting all my core applications of installed. The first crisis came when I tried to find the license keys for my home version of Microsoft Office. The system came with a trial version of Microsoft Small Business, but I already had a copy of the Student Edition which allows for multiple installs as my wife is a school teacher. After several hours of trying to get it to work, I realized that I was going to have to un-install all of the trial office versions before I could install the Student Home version. That was fun.

Then I hit the most frustrating customer support problem I’ve ever had. I followed the directions to get the Sprint service enabled. For several hours I tried to get all the way through the process to get to the activation code session. I kept getting different outcomes. No luck. I finally read the fine print and saw that you could activate by phone. I tried that route but it was a Sunday and therefore outside of normal business hours. So I waited until Monday to call. Same message. So I tried the technical support line and explained my problem. The support engineer was nice but after a half-hour he said that I would have to call the activation line. I explained that they appeared to be closed so that was why I was calling him. He gave me another number and there was somebody there. The first words out of her mouth were “Oh, the online activation doesn’t work. Don’t beat yourself up. It just doesn’t work.” There went three wonderful hours of my life I’ll never get back.

So the nice Sony Vaio activation lady led me through the steps to get the right serial numbers and then asked me to hold on while she called Sprint. After three tries at getting different activation numbers from Sprint (which took 45 minutes), she threw her hands up and said “You’ll have to call Sprint directly.” In the middle of this process, I heard one of the all time great excuses – “it seems that things are taking so long on the Sprint side because the Phillipines (where their technical support is) are experiencing severe winter storms and the support centers power went out.” You have to love Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat.

I then called Sprint and went through their layers of support and finally found someone who would help me out. After several lengthy reboots, she couldn’t figure out what was going on so she passed me to the super duper technical support folks. This super expert led me through the same things that the previous person did and somewhere in the process it started working. Clearly, this activation process is not ready for prime time consumer usage.

I then tried to install my Outlook/Exchange application that is hosted through 1and1. I’d installed it on two of my other computers and the first time took 45 minutes with technical support to get everything just right. I went through the same process and couldn’t make the connection. Argggh! I just don’t have the energy to work through this process with 1and1’s technical support right now.

Forgetting about technical support for the moment, it was time to test the Sprint Broadband WWAN out on my commute from Bainbridge Island to Seattle. The Washington State ferry system had recently installed a wireless LAN system but they wanted $30 per month for the service. For $59 a month I can get Sprint’s unlimited U.S. Wide capability. The only question was whether it would work on the ferry as there are several cellular dead spots on the trip across the sound. I was astounded – the network stayed connected all the way across the sound and I was able to get blogging and email done on the trip.

Next I took the laptop into a client meeting and was pleasantly surprised to see that even in an inside conference room I had a good signal. I was able to stay connected to the Internet for the entire three hours of the meeting. On the way back to Bainbridge I sat on the other side of the boat and was able to access the network the whole way across.

All in all, the purchase was a big step forward in lightening the load of my backpack while providing constant access to the Internet. Now if I could just get Outlook/Exchange working.

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