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

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Q: I just set up a new e-mail account. I can get mail on my iPhone and computer. But if I read a message on my computer, I can’t see it on my phone.

Geek: I’d have to see it in person. Is it getting mail properly? If you bring it in, I can check it out. It’s definitely not something that should be happening.

Genius: It’s POP [the older, Post Office Protocol mail system that doesn’t keep messages available to different clients]. Make sure that you turn off 'delete messages from server' in the account settings. Otherwise with POP, if you read items in one place, they won’t show up in the other.

I appreciated the Geek’s enthusiasm, but the Genius nailed the issue right away.

The winner : Genius

Q: I have an old Linksys .g wireless router, and my network feels slow; it takes a long time to copy files. I’m running various wireless devices, including an old iBook. Do you have any suggestion to speed things up?

Geek: Upgrade your router. Yours only goes 54 mbps. A Wireless N router will go faster.

Genius: Turn on Network Utility. You’ll see how fast the link speed goes. Also, if you’re going to transfer a lot, connect ethernet instead of going wireless. That’ll be your best bet; some routers do gigabit speeds and are much faster than Wi-Fi.

Both answers give good directions to improve the network. A Wireless N router can reach 300 mbps, and gigabit ethernet can run up to 1000 mbps. Nevertheless, both answers felt more like workarounds than like ways to unearth the root of the problem. Neither tech asked about the signal--802.11b or 802.11g--that my old iBook used. In this situation, my .b device was slowing down the wireless .g network.

The winner : Draw

Q: My wireless network seems to slow down if I move my laptop a few rooms away from the router. Is that actually happening, or am I imagining it?

Geek: Yes, speed depends on the distance away from the router. A Wireless N router will help the range, too.

Genius: It will be slower if you move farther. That’s the cool thing about Network Utility; it shows your connection speed.

Both answers were good, but both could have suggested repositioning the router if slowing performance was an ongoing issue. Also, the Geek still didn’t mention that, in upgrading to a Wireless N router, I’d have to upgrade my client devices to get the full benefits.

The winner : Draw

Q: I installed MP3 Locker to sync my music online, but it keeps harassing me when I start up my computer. Is there a way to stop it?

Geek: Find it in the bottom-right [System Tray] and click customize. Or go into the application’s options/settings screen and look for a way to turn it off in startup.

Genius: Your best bet is to look in System Preferences. Go to Accounts, and click Login items. You’ll see everything that happens when you start.

The Geek gave two good options, edging out the Genius on this question. The Genius gave a solid, general solution, but didn’t suggest simply disabling a setting within the application.

The winner : Geek

Q: Is there a way to see what is running in general?

Geek: Go to Run, and type MSConfig under Start.

Genius: You’ll see other things that you run at startup within the Accounts System Preference.

Both answers were good, since they were in the context of the startup issue. But the Geek didn’t mention the Task Manager, and the Genius didn’t point me to the Activity Monitor.

The winner : Draw

Geniuses Ultimately Outpoint Geeks

The overall winner: Geniuses

The final score in my tests was Geniuses 3, Geeks 1, with 3 ties. For the kind of over-the-counter troubleshooting advice my test questions sought, all of the Geniuses and Geeks I consulted did quite well. Still, overall, the Geniuses were a bit more helpful, and the advice they offered was more specific and result-oriented. I did have to ignore the too-slick atmosphere of the Apple store, but braving that environment can be worth the free support, and all of the Geniuses I spoke to were friendly.

I was impressed with the Geeks, too. Though they finished second in my test competition, they offered great advice in most situations, and they were always happy to help.

Field Guide: Genius vs. Geek




As likely to speak with a German accent as to refer to you as “bro.”

Excitedly plows through acronyms, even if you can’t keep up.


Works hard to look messy

Naturally messy


Blue Apple shirt

Clip-on black tie

Favorite car

Tesla Model S

Ecto One

Favorite movie

Weird Science

Revenge of the Nerds

Ringtone provided by

MC Frontalot

MC Chris

Has to get home before

30 Rock





Uses job as pick-up fodder?



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