We surveyed more than 79,000 PCWorld readers who responded to online and print advertisements, as well as e-mail messages, about our survey. With the help of statistical consultant Ferd Britton, we analyzed which companies' results were reliably above or below the average of all responses pertaining to a certain product type.
It's important to note that our survey results don't necessarily represent the opinions of a given company's customers as a whole. And because our data comes only from PCWorld readers who chose to take the survey, our results don't necessarily reflect the opinions of PCWorld readers in general.
What the Measures Mean
PCWorld readers rated hardware vendors in six product categories: desktops; notebooks; cameras; HDTVs; printers; and smartphones. Each category (excluding smartphones) had 5 to 9 measurements, each ranking a vendor relative to its competitors. In each measure, we determined whether the vendor's score was significantly better (s), not significantly different (u), or significantly worse (t) than the average of its peers.
The five reliability measures spotlighted problems with such things as failed components (e.g., a notebook hard drive) or problems that occurred right away or "out of the box." Among those measurements are two that score our respondents' overall satisfaction with their vendors' hardware reliability and customer support.
If a vendor received fewer than 50 responses in a subsection, we discarded the results as statistically insignificant. This threshold prevented us from rating some smaller companies. The measurements in our smartphones category were a bit more comprehensive. We rated smartphone makers using on four reliability measurements and five ease-of-use measurements. For the wireless carriers that sell the smartphones, we measured five different aspects of their customer support, as well as two aspects of their network performance - wireless internet service quality and voice call quality.
Problems on arrival (all devices): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported any problem with the device out of the box.
Any significant problem (all devices): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported any problem at all during the product's lifetime.
Any failed component replaced (laptop and desktop PCs): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported replacing one or more original components because the components had failed.
Core component problem (laptop and desktop PCs): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported problems with the processor, motherboard, power supply, hard drive, system memory, or graphics board/chip at any time during the life of their laptop or desktop PC.
Severe problem (HDTVs, phones, cameras, and printers): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who reported a problem that rendered their device impossible to use.
Ease of use (HDTVs, phones, cameras, and printers): Based on the percentage of survey respondents who rated their device as extremely or very easy to use.
Overall satisfaction with reliability (all devices): Based on the owner's overall satisfaction with the reliability of the device.
Phone hold time: Based on the average time a product's owners waited on hold to speak to a phone support representative.
Average phone service rating: Based on a cumulative score derived from product owners' ratings of several aspects of their experience in phoning the company's technical support service. Among the factors considered were whether the information was easy to understand, and whether the support rep spoke clearly and knowledgeably.
In-person service rating (phones only): Based on a cumulative score derived from phone owners' ratings of several aspects of technical support received at a service provider's retail location. Among the factors considered were the ease of getting a representative's attention in the store, and the knowledge, fairness, and attitude of the rep..
Problem was never resolved: Based on the percentage of survey respondents who said the problem remained after they contacted the company's support service.
Service experience: Based on a cumulative score derived from product owners' responses to a series of questions focusing on 11 specific aspects of their experience with the company's service department.