Showdown: Remote Control Tech Support Services, Tested
Best Buy's Geek Squad has been criticized in the past, and this $200/year service sounds pricey at first. But believe it or not, of the services we tried, it's the best remote tech-support operation running, judging from the results of our testing. Unlike most services, Geek Squad doesn't install an application on your PC. Whenever you need support, you visit the Geek Squad website, which initiates a remote session with LogMeIn; LogMeIn is deleted at the end of each call.
Test 1: With our audio problem, we were connected almost immediately to a cordial tech-support rep, and he knew right where to look to find the problem. However, he didn't fix it immediately, instead poking around all over the system (with an odd emphasis on Startup Manager) before going back to the Device Manager and resolving the problem. Total time: about 10 minutes. Rating: 7
Test 2: We had zero trouble getting our screen resolution issue resolved. The bulk of our three-minute session was spent installing the LogMeIn app. Rating: 10
Test 3: After our one-minute wait, the tech made us grimace by suggesting that our issue was "a common symptom of a virus infection," but before even installing an antimalware app, he fixed the issue. He later said he "misread our question" and that no malware scanning was needed. However, he suggested we add and update Java, Adobe Reader, and Flash, saying that we needed these apps and that they needed to be up-to-date. We declined. Rating: 8
Best Buy's technicians generally knew what they were doing, worked quickly, were professional, and focused on our problems.
Final Rating: 8
Price: $130/session or $20/month plus $40 setup fee
Support.com is costly per session, but for $20 you get unlimited support for a full month. As with HiWired, we were unable to register over the Web. When we called, a (U.S.-based) representative seemingly could understand nothing we said, and once we did get registered, we repeatedly had trouble with our password on Support.com.
Once we finally logged on, we found Support.com's major failing: Hold times that regularly stretch into multiple hours, whether you're waiting on the phone or online for help. And while Support.com's 800 number is plastered all over the place, finding the Web support option is difficult.
Test 1: We waited 90 minutes for a technician to arrive. Unlike with the other three services, he didn't ask before taking control of our desktop. He was otherwise pleasant and professional, and resolved the first issue after 10 minutes, spending additional time installing AVG antivirus (saying antivirus software was a requirement to use the Support.com service), and running a scan. Rating: 7
Test 2: The next day, we spent four hours on hold, waiting for a tech. The technician--again, without notice--took control of our system and spent a baffling 45 minutes running antimalware scans before finally just changing the resolution back to the native setting. Rating: 4
Test 3: Our final troubleshooting session began after two hours of waiting (the tech taking control, once again, with no notice), and the technician spent a long time looking for a Windows troubleshooting pack, running an online Microsoft Fix-It tool, and searching for rootkits with an antimalware tool. Support.com uses its own "SolutionToolkit" app to troubleshoot a wide range of problems, but this didn't help the situation, either. The technician finally stumbled upon the solution, adding the entire C drive to the index instead of just the User folder, but this was close enough (and better than most of the competition). Rating: 6
Overall, Support.com did a better job than most in resolving some of the problems, but its multihour hold times won't be acceptable for most users.
Final Rating: 5
Comparing the Services: Summary Chart
Which Service Is Most Likely to Help You?
The quality of remote tech support varied wildly in our tests, even within the same company. While we were pleased with the results more often than not, in several cases the technician solved the problem incompletely, and in at least one case we felt downright violated by the ham-fisted way in which our issue was cluelessly dealt with.
Many remote-control tech-support operations have done away with per-issue pricing, instead preferring a monthly or yearly "all you can eat" plan. Most offer a money-back guarantee; based on many of our experiences, you may want to take advantage of that option.
In the end, iYogi delivered mixed results, Support.com put us through hold-time hell, and HiWired Direct's techs appeared largely incompetent. But Best Buy's Geek Squad offered the best help overall, and is the only one here that we can recommend.