Thursday, March 08, 2007

Buying a new computer in Spain

I think this is a long process requiring months of research and product appraisal. He doesn't.

To start with, it involves several months of deciding to part with the money. When you come from Yorkshire that's probably the most difficult part of the job.

Having (almost) decided to part with the money, the next dilemma is what to buy. Every trip to Eroski doubled in length as I peered at all the computers and tried to work out any visible difference or extract any meaning from the minimalist specification.

Then I tried to find some computer shops. It seems computer shops (English and Spanish) don't sell computers any more, rather they tailer one to your specification and chuck all the bits in a plastic coated tin box.

In reality nothing new there I suppose. It just means the choice boils down to either paying for far eastern bits that get assembled here, or you pay for far eastern bits that get assembled there.

I bought a few Spanish computer magazines so I could tell my Athlons from my Semprons and my Celerons. I even found Pentiums were still kicking on, so I began to feel more at home. Guia del Comprador de Ordenadores y Software was pretty good as was Personal Computer & Internet. Don't be fooled by the English title, it's all written in Spanish.

Asked a nice man in one of the English shops what would be an appropriate specification for someone who wanted a good (ie fast) word processor and to fiddle with a few graphics. Not bothered about games or music. He pointed me in the direction of some lower to mid-range specification saying that was usually what he recommended for people like me. AKA middle-aged women who sent a few letters now and again - possibly rising to the dizzy heights of including the odd photo. I did point out that in the past I found most computers VERY SLOW and VERY IRRITATING and that I was thinking about using it for work but he seemed to think the middle-of-the-range-box-with-nothing-in-particular-inside-it model would be just right for me. I didn't.

Then I rang Dell but never heard anything from them. They told me to look on the internet so I told them I didn't have internet access and that was why I was buying a new computer. Obviously not interested in a 40-something behind the times English woman with dodgy Spanish. I looked at HP/Compaq, Packard Bell and Supratech as they were about the only ones I could see - at Eroski of course.

After flicking through my two trusty magazines and 30 trips to Eroski I was starting to narrow down the choices. The smart looking black one with the naff silver bits, or the grey one that wasn't quite so well designed. At this point I had decided against asking the helpful young shop assistants if they knew any more than was on the price ticket.

He began to get bored.

"Just go to Málaga and get the Apple," he said.

At this point I should confess that I have lusted after an Apple for some many years. In fact I have never met a journalist who hasn't lusted after an Apple for their own private use. It's something to do with a delusional idea of belonging to an exclusive club - that those of us who work in the print and design field have a computer specially designed for our unique needs.

Or it could be mind-numbing sub-conscious programming. Too many years in a newsroom sat in front of a tiny black and white screen with a little apple logo on the top of the monitor. Surrounded by colleagues all gazing at the little apple for creative inspiration.

But that memory had faded over the years and membership of the exclusive club had been uppermost in my mind for some time - an indulgence for when I had a spare grand or so. However, the IBM wasn't going to let me join the club too quickly, and resolutely refused to have any breakdown whatsoever, so I never did buy the Apple in the UK. The only reason I ended up looking for a computer here was because the printer packed up and I couldn't find one with ports instead of USBs. Just for the record the IBM is still alive and well 12 years on, but without a printer.

Back to the Apple hunt. I got ready for the big day and made the trip to Málaga. Wow. Cool shop. Not quite awesome but certainly cool. And computers that worked fast without me typing words in and then waiting five minutes for them to show up on the screen.

I reported back. "They're good, and fast. Nice design, no awful tower, but they are cream. Everything else we've looked at is black or silver, why are they only in cream? Do you want go to Málaga and have a look?"

He didn't. He thought they looked all right on the pic and the spec was OK. As I'd been promising myself one for at least ten years he really couldn't see why I hadn't bought it there and then.

"I think they are nice, but they are dear," I said, thinking that was good enough reason. He ignored me.

I held out for a few more days, and then I caved in. We made a rare trip in the Land Rover to Málaga so I could walk out of the shop with it and take it home to play. I waited a few minutes for the guy to check it all over, grudgingly parted with my money, and staggered out with the large box.

We arrived home, plugged it in, switched it on, and it worked. Pretty simple really. Even I don't know why I spent four months prevaricating. I hit all the wrong keys to start with, having been used to Windows 98/Microsoft for so long, and was gutted to find there was no huge manual for me to devour. Even in Spanish it would have been good.

Despite not wanting music, photos, movies, dvds, games and comics (and certainly not the internet) I used every single application within the first few weeks. I made the most of one of his trips to the UK and in his absence bought my first ever CDs - nice loud Spanish music.

And he does look very pretty, handsome really I suppose. He even gets wrapped up when we all go to bed, so he doesn't get dusty. I have been known to wash his face and dust the rest of him. Everything else in the house is gradually going grey with ingrained dust, so he's definitely pampered and cosseted.

He can be a bit unpredictable, but by and large he's pretty well behaved.

Down sides? The cost of course - more than 1700E last year. And the fact that it came down in price a month or two after I had bought it, presumably when they brought out a slightly different version.

After care. A misnomer in fact. The telephone help line is awful and unhelpful. Their first response is to tell you to look at the Apple web site. When you confess to not being on the internet they immediately assign you to the backwoods moron category anyway. Then they spend a long time telling you to take out the Apple Care Programme for Idiots Who Do Not Even Have Internet Access. The only useful information I got out of them was how to eject a stuck disc, and had I not panicked I could have found it in the minimalist idiot's guide (124 pages, size of a CD).

The only way to find anything out about Apple is on the internet, where you can cheerfully spend all day reading the Apple web site, information pages, discussion groups and more.

I held out on signing up for the internet for another six months, but that's for another post.

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