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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Sony Battery: The 8th time is the charm

Posted on October 9, 2011 at 4:25 PM

At the risk of unleashing a tidal wave of “I told ya so!” and “Shoulda bought a Mac!” comments, I’m going to admit that all has not been totally prancing unicorns,  pots o' gold and sparkly rainbows in the land of my new Sony Vaio laptop purchase.

(Pauses to allow the uproarious “BWA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAAA!” from Matt, Chris, Richard, Bradford and Pat to die down.)

So, to recap, right before CEDIA I decided to upgrade my old HP laptop to something new. I wrote about the purchasing conundrum here. And after a lot of mental hemming and hawing and struggling with the eternal “Am I actually cool enough to own a Mac?” issue – and the far more real, do I actually want to spend $1500 on a new computer issue? – I decided to get a PC; a Sony Vaio specifically.

Ultimately, what I really liked about the Sony was the form factor – very thin and very light – and the longevity; a proclaimed battery life of 7.5 hours. That’s enough power to keep working the entire duration of a cross-country flight (and, seriously, would it kill them to put some power outlets in the armrests on a plane? At least in 1st Class cabin. I mean, come on, we’re captains of industry up there!) or to be able to work the length of a full day on the floor of a tradeshow.

So, after a couple of days with the new computer – you know, after I’d spent like 3 hours configuring and installing and updating and then RE-updating and then Windows patching, you know all the fun stuff that is what makes buying a new computer just SO great --  I figure that my battery is not being all that it can be. In fact, I’m getting like 3.5 hours of use. Now, 6 hours I would say, “OK, that’s pretty close. Who knows exactly what those folks at Battery Testing Institute of America do and that 7.5 is probably under ideal, rarefied air, perfect, vacuum in space conditions.” But when I’m not even pulling down 50% of the rated time, I’m pretty pissed about it. If I wanted to suck along at 3 hours, I'd have just kept my old computer.

So I figured my first starting point would be with Sony. You know, the computer manufacturer. So started an on-line support session with Sony.

Sony Person the First

(Actual transcript of conversation)

Angela_ > Hi John  . Welcome to Sony Online Support. I'm Angela. Please allow me a moment to review your concern.

John > Hi, Angela. I *just* bought this laptop (like 3 days ago) and one of the primary reasons why I selected it was battery life. It was indicated to be 7.5 hours. I've charged/depleted it twice now and I would say it is more 3.5-4 hours. When fully charged the battery indicator reads between 3 and 4 hours. Could I have a bad battery out of the box?

Angela_ > Are you referring to SONY Vaio Computer.

John > Yes. My VAIO computer. It is an S-series. VPCSC

Angela_ > Thanks for the information.

John > I have the slide selector in "Stamina" not "Speed" and the mode is in "Balanced"

Angela_ > Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst

I do appreciate that Angela recognized early on that she was not the gal for me. Or maybe she just really -- REALLY -- needed to go to the bathroom or something. Either way, she didn't waste either of our times and quickly bounced me to...

Sony Person the Second

Kayla_ > Hi John. Welcome to Sony Online Support. I'm Kayla. Please allow me a moment to review your concern.

John > Hi, Kayla. OK. Thanks.

Kayla_ > Thank you for waiting, John. I'm sorry that the battery is not holding charge. I'll be glad to assist you with this.

John > When I first turned it on it said "Battery 100%, 3 hours; now it says "Battery 96% 6 hours 23 minutes." How long it actually lasts will vary...

Kayla_ > Thanks for all detail information, John.

John > On Saturday, I used it for about 3.5 hours before it depleted from 100% to 10%. All I did the entire time was word process in Word. No graphics, no music, just typing in Word. I'm a writer, so the 7 hour battery is crucial for times when I'm traveling. Maybe it just takes the battery indicator a while to settle in and figure out the battery life....? Not sure.

Kayla_ > John, I'd like to provide you the troubleshooting steps while battery is not holding charge.

John > OK... Again, realize that this computer is less than a week old and has been plugged in to charge only twice.

Kayla_ > Thanks for all the information, John.

John > OK. So RIGHT NOW it says "95%, 5 hours 19 minutes." In the 5 minutes that we have been chatting, the battery has dropped 1 hour and 4 minutes of life. (See my comment about 4 up...) If the regular battery doesn't give me more than 4 hours, I'm going to return it and get a Mac...

Kayla_> Okay, Jhon. Let me explain this for you.

John > OK. I'm all eyes... Now it is 94% 4 hours and 3 minutes. This is clearly NOT normal battery behavior, right?!?!

Kayla_ > John, as per the specification published online the battery of the computer should work up to 7.5 hours at default brightness, up to 6.5 hours at maximum brightness and the 4.5 hours with DVD playback. However, if the battery level is varying rapidly I suggest that you install the Sony Notebook Utilites and the Battery driver to resolve the issue.

John > OK. I am NOT using the DVD. I have it in Balanced, Stamina mode. I am ONLY typing on it. It IS in Default brightness. and in 3 minutes I have dropped from 96% power at 6 hours 23 minutes to 95% power at 5 hours 19 minutes to 94% power at 4 hours 3 minutes. That doesn't seem right, right?

Kayla_ > Let me provide the links for both the drivers, before that please confirm if you are using the pre-installed operating system.  I'm sorry that you are having such issue while using the VAIO.

John > Yes. Again, this computer is BRAND NEW OUT OF THE BOX. It is less than 4 days old.

Kayla_ > Thanks for all the information.

John > Is the battery user replaceable? Could you send me a new one or do I have to swap out the computer if it is bad?

Kayla_ > John, this issue may happen due to the some software conflicts and it should resolve after re-installing the software and driver. Furthermore, if the issue persists even after re-installing the driver then I suggest that you contact our Service Assistance Team to get the computer diagnosed and serviced.

John > I'll try it. I can't see how a driver would result in me only getting 3.5 hours of actual use unless the battery really had tons of life left and the computer just didn't know it... And, I am NOT going to get it serviced. It is a week old. Either you'll give me a brand new one or I'm taking it back and getting something else. Probably a Mac.

Kayla_ > You can also arrange for the service by contacting our Service Assistance Team, so that our Sony Technician will visit your place and assist resolve the issue.

Kayla_ > First install the Sony Notebook Utilities and restart the computer. After restarting the computer, please install the battery driver and again restart the computer. Re-installing both the driver and software should resolve the issue.

John > OK. So install the notebook utilities, restart and then the battery driver and restart?

Kayla_ > Yes, John. That's correct.

John > And if it doesn't....? Can you log this into some account so the next person can just send me a new battery?

Kayla_ > John, if the issue persists, then I suggest that you contact our Service Assistance Team to get the battery replaced under warranty.

John > OK. I'll try it.

Kayla_ > Yes, John. Installing both successfully should resolve the issue.

So I installed the two drivers, rebooted the computer, and then resumed work, hoping that would fix the problem, but not really confident that it would. And….shocker! It didn’t. Back to the chat lines for...

Sony Person the Third

Victoria_ > Hi John. Welcome to Sony Online Support. I’m Victoria. Please allow me a moment to review your concern.

John > Victoria: Can you see my previous chat session? I just spoke with Kayla. She had me install 2 new drivers. Can you see that...?

Victoria_ > Thanks for waiting, John. I'm sorry that the battery life of the computer is not as expected. I will be glad to assist you with this.

John > In the 15-20 minutes since I stopped chatting with her, my BRAND NEW battery has dropped from 93% to 72%. It says it has 2 hours of life left. After being used for appx 1 hour. I want to get a new battery

Victoria_ > Please wait while I check the previous chat transcript.

John > This computer is 4 days old. I have spent a few hours configuring it and installing all the drivers and updates, etc. I don't want to have to get a whole new machine. I just want to get a new battery. What do I do to facilitate that? Option B is to return this and get the Mac I was looking at....

Victoria_ > Thanks for waiting.  I'm sorry that the battery life of the computer is not as expected. Sure, I'll assist you with this.

John > OK. Thanks.I don't think it is the meter; I think it is just the battery. It fluctuates wildly to how much life it has left. And ultimately seems to run for about 3.5 hours. Right now it is at 70% life after being on for +/- 1 hour. Doing ONLY word processing. No blu-ray, monitor on default, slider switch to Stamina....

Victoria_ > I understand that you want to get the battery of the computer replaced; is that correct?

John > Yes. If that doesn't fix the problem, I don't want the computer. I bought it primarily for having a 7 hour lifespan. Not 4. And definitely not 3.

Victoria_ > I'm really sorry about that, John.

John > I understand that it isn't your fault. But hoping you can help me fix it. I'm a journalist and going to cover a tradeshow -- CEDIA -- this week. And I need this thing to work. The whole reason why I bought  it...

Victoria_ > Okay, John. In this case, I suggest that you contact our service assistance team to get the battery of the computer replaced. You can contact our service assistance team at 1-888-476-6972 to get the battery replaced.

John > OK. Can you e-mail me the method to do that? Surely there is an expedited means for an out of box failure? Is that phone number the best/only way to do that? And is this battery user replaceable?

Victoria_ > John, you can contact our service centers near you to get the battery replaced. Yes, the battery is user replaceable

John > No service center in my area.... I'm getting closer and closer to just saying "Bail!" and getting the Mac. :-(

Victoria_ > Please contact our service assistance team for the options to get the battery of the computer replaced.

So, I take the laptop to CEDIA and CEDIA report away, and -- other than the 3.5 hour lifespan -- the computer does everything I wanted it to do. Then when I get back home I get around to calling the Sony assistance team number, except instead of getting a person, I get a recording to call a different, non-toll-free number. (Though, in the days of cell phone calling, having to dial a long distance number really isn’t as irritating as it used to be. Still, this is starting to feel WAY more dealing with big, giant, faceless Sony than happy, friendly “What can we possibly do to make your life any better than it already is?” Apple Care.)

Dial the new number, and get this guy on the phone.

Sony Person the Fourth

He is clearly not an English speaker and I start off by telling him that I’m having a battery problem with my new computer. I’m only getting around 3.5 hours of life out of my brand new computer and that I’d like to get a new battery.

“That’s normal battery behavior. If you are getting more than 2 hours, then the battery is fine.”

This *immediately* pisses me off. This “customer service agent” knows zero about dealing with customers OR providing service. So we go back and forth for a bit where he tells me that I have probably installed programs on the computer that are draining the battery or that I have it in the wrong setting mode and other completely non-listening-to-what-I’m-saying-hearing/addressing-my-problem-type-behavior before I say, “Look. You have never even asked me what model computer I have. How can you even know if my battery life is normal or not? Do every single one of your computers use the exact same battery in the exact same manner?” When he conceded that they didn’t, I told him my model, and that it was rated at 7.5 hours. He said flatly, “No.” That 3.5 hours was typical and acceptable battery life. Talking to this guy was going nowhere and just pissing me off more and more. So I asked to be transferred to someone that was higher up. And that spoke better English.

Sony Person the Fifth

I’m sure that Guy #4 did not give me the best intro setup to Guy #5, so Guy #5 starts off already kinda predisposed towards ass-hat behavior. “I hear you think you’re having a battery problem?” I tell him I don’t *think* I’m having a problem; that I AM having a problem That 3.5 hours of actual use is nowhere near the 7.5 hours advertised. That this is a BRAND NEW computer with a BRAND NEW battery. And that I don’t consider word processing to be a battery intensive activity. And that he will either send me a new battery, or I will return the computer and get a Mac. He seems totally unfazed by this. He is standing by the 3.5 hours of life is normal and acceptable. If I feel like it isn’t providing the performance I want, that I should return it and get something else. I hang up on him.

Damn! See, the thing is, I *really* like the computer. I like the backlit keyboard, I like the mouse pad, I like how light and thin it is, I like the new changes they’ve made to MS Paint. I mean, I like EVERYTHING about the computer. I just want it to last longer. So, I wait until the next day and then call Sony again, ready to make the big final ultimatum, keep-asking-for-someone-higher-up-until-I’m-talking-to-someone-whose-last-name-is-actually-SONY-or-I-get-a-frickin’-new-battery push.

Sony Person the Sixth

I immediately start by asking to be routed to a higher level person, but Guy #6 is not down with just the auto bump-up. So we go through the little verbal tête-à-tête song and dance where I explain my high points: me have-um new computer, me want-um new battery. I think the Sony company mantra is “3.5 hours is good.” Not only good, but frickin’ great and is your battery being all that it can ever be. Finally, he guy person #6 to bump me to person #7.

Sony Person the Seventh

This guy clearly grew up speaking English, and that fills me with some confidence. Finally, someone that I can communicate with. A kindred spirit. But he’s drank the Sony 3.5 hour battery Kool-Aid. And he’s not budging. The best thing he says he can do is to remote log-into my computer and then remotely monitor my battery and then maybe – POSSIBLY – if something is amiss, they can then – and ONLY then – consider sending me a new battery. Now the pissed-off is back. “Look. I spent a $1000 bucks on this computer. I just bought it. I bought it because it had an advertised 7.5 hour battery life. I just want it to work. This is the third time I’ve had to call Sony and you’re the seventh person I’ve talked to and now you’re saying I have to set up a remote log-in session for you to possibly determine if my battery is bad? How much time and effort do I have to go through to get satisfaction on this product I just purchased? You are TOTALLY PUSHING me towards taking this back and getting a Mac. You should be trying to help me and convincing me to KEEP IT!” His voice said he was sorry, but his tone said, “Suck it, Trebek.” Then he informed me that he was noting on my account that basically nothing more could be done until a remote log-in session was performed.

So, I hang up and call my Custom Theater and Audio Sony rep. I explain that I know this really has nothing to do with him but that I am getting nowhere but angry fast with Sony customer service channels and is there ANYTHING he can do to help? (I also remind him that he was a gung-ho, yee-ha supportive of me buying this Sony laptop before I bought it.) He patches me in directly to a top-tier support call where I talk to…

Sony Person the Eighth

This guy looks through my account log, says, “Wow! Looks like you’ve called a bunch of times. Sounds like you think you’ve got a bad battery and you want a new one? Let’s send you a new one out Fed-Ex and see if that fixes your problem. Would that be cool?”

Yes. Yes that would most definitely be cool.

Moral of the story; the squeaky wheel might have to squeak for a while, but keep on squeekin’ and you’ll ultimately get that grease. Especially when that grease is a new battery.

Categories: October 2011, Computers, Rants

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Reply Bradford Benn
8:24 PM on October 9, 2011 
I will not laugh a you as I have also had a Mac battery fail. Of course it was much easier to deal with. I am having similar issues with lack of customer service with NHL GameCenter so we might trade rants. However it is not a Mac vs Windows debate. It is a manufacturer support issue, apple just has friendlier approach. Also having genius bar for verification of problem helps. Every problem I have had to go in to ge addressed. See still had problems
Reply DW
11:57 AM on October 11, 2011 
Reply Rick
7:14 AM on October 13, 2011 
John, have you forgotten Sony's motto: "We're not happy until you're not happy"?