Who’s Smarter: The Apple Genius or the Best Buy Geek?

Many of us have turned to in-store support from the Best Buy Geek Squad or from an Apple Store Genius to help us get out of a technology bind. People who have talked to both quickly notice that the two employ very different styles and approaches--but which one has the better tech chops?

Apple’s Genius Bar and Best Buy’s Geek Squad are more branding than actual people, and I find both labels annoying, albeit in different ways. On the Apple side, you have the smug and self-aggrandizing “Genius” characterization--an appropriate name for people who not only know more than you do about how tech products work (a status that a word like "Expert" might convey), but are intellectually superior to you in every meaningful way. Look at it this way: You consult an expert; you impose on a genius. At Best Buy, meanwhile, the nonthreatening “Geek” is a step down in the social hierarchy from "nerd"--essentially an object to be used and pitied. That’s what geeks are, right?

But real technicians work under these corporate caricatures. I was less interested in prior impropriety and ongoing hucksterism, and I wasn’t going to embark on a months-long study. I just wanted to know how the individuals compared. So I set out to anecdotally determine whether the Geeks or the Geniuses have the better tech chops.

Though the Best Buy Geeks aren’t geared toward face-to-face drop-by questions the way the Apple Geniuses are, nearly all of the Geek Squad desks I approached said that they could help me for 10 or 15 minutes at no charge if I brought in the troublesome computer.

The Apple stores I visited were crowded with customers and people waiting for tech support. The free Genius Bar draws such a large audience that you may need to make a reservation instead of stopping by unannounced--even if you just have a quick question.

When I arrived at the various Apple stores, I learned to flag down a blue-shirted employee who would then either check me in for my appointment or usher me to a different employee to begin that process. It’s too bad that Apple’s nouveau-retail design doesn’t include a simple sign to explain the process.

How I Tested

I devised a series of seven platform-agnostic questions based on real issues that friends, family members, and I have encountered. I designed the problems to plumb a range of tech-support knowledge while still being applicable to a Mac or PC. Though the scenarios were the same, I posed them to the Geeks in the context of Windows 7 and to the Geniuses in relation to Mac OS X 10.6. Over the course of eight trips to various Best Buy and Apple stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, I gathered answers. In each case, I followed my script as closely as I could and provided additional details when asked for them.

The Questions

Q: I can’t play certain online video files. On my Windows 7 PC, the problem seems to happen on Apple’s movie trailer site. On my OS X Mac, I can’t see various HD files on the Microsoft site.

Geek [answers about the PC]: If you’re getting video from the Apple site, it’s going to need QuickTime. There should be an error message telling you that.

Genius [answers about the Mac]: The video should say what the requirements are. Those videos should be in Windows Media; you’ll need to get the Windows Media codec. You could also download Perian, a multicodec tool. Perian works for all kinds of Internet video.

Both answers solved the problem, though I give the edge here to the Genius, for suggesting a multicodec package that could allay similar issues from other video sites.

The winner : Genius, by a hair

Q: A friend installed Windows XP for me on a second hard disk, but I’m stuck in the wrong OS. How do I switch back and forth?

Geek: It should come up when you boot; you’ll select it there. If not, something is not set up right. I would have to check it out.

Genius: Hold down the Option key--that’s if you’re using an Apple keyboard--when you start up, and choose the operating system. Option number two: When you’re in OS X, go to the System Preferences Startup Disk to select it. The third option is to boot into OS X while in Windows; in the lower-right corner, there’s a black diamond; click on that.

Both answers were correct, but the Genius was more thorough. The Geek could have also explained how to switch the boot order in the BIOS.

The winner : Genius

Shop ▾
arrow up Amazon Shop buttons are programmatically attached to all reviews, regardless of products' final review scores. Our parent company, IDG, receives advertisement revenue for shopping activity generated by the links. Because the buttons are attached programmatically, they should not be interpreted as editorial endorsements.

Subscribe to the The Advisor Newsletter