Testing the HP Total Care Center (or how we broke HP's laptop)

HP has opened its own service, support and product store in London. It’s called the HP Total Care Center (sic) and that’s something you should know before we begin this tale. HP will not be pleased to read this but, put simply, the TCC is the company’s take on the Apple Store. It’s not the same. It’s less shop-focused, but it’s somewhere that you can get a taste of HP’s soft and hardware empire as well as its customer-friendly face.

So, we never knew this place existed either until HP’s people gave Pocket-lint a call asking us if we’d like to go down to the Paddington Basin in west London and see it. To be honest, "not really," was our first thought but it occurred that there might be some mileage in testing out how good HP’s after-sales care is and there could be a fun, mystery shopper kind of way of doing it. We asked HP to furnish us with a broken laptop to take down there and HP's people agreed.

A few days later, as promised, the laptop arrives. It’s not just any old laptop though. No. It’s a top of the line HP Envy 14 Spectre with LED display, 256GB SSD, 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core i7 running the show. At £1,200 of Ultrabook, it’s as smooth and attractive a PC experience as you’re going to get - at least, it would be, if it wasn’t broken - but was it?

You see, anyone who knows anything about Windows-running machines knows that there’s broken and then there’s broken, and, frankly, there’s no point in taking a computer to get it professionally repaired without giving it your best DIY shot first. So, we give the power button a try. We get a brief venture into the BIOS and then nothing. Off. We flip the thing over and turn to the hardware and, on opening up the Envy 14, it’s very obvious that there are two little white plugs loose that need to be connected to similar sockets on the board nearby. We plug them in and, with a little help of a Windows boot CD, the laptop fires up, the OS loads and we’re away. Fixed.

So, now we have a problem. We don’t have a broken laptop with which to test out the HP Total Care Center. Solution? Break it again, only better.

READ: HP Envy 14 Spectre review

HP’s representatives’ idea had been to replicate the most common of all issues with the "broken" laptop. It was supposed to relate to what happens when you drop your computer. The obvious way to re-break our now-fixed machine, then, was to drop it; on the ground, outside, on to concrete, without a case. So we did.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper accidental drop if we could see how we were about to let thing thing go and on to what piece of terrain it might fall. So, we walked down towards our local train station to the point about 200m away from the ticket machine. This, we decided, was the most likely place we would drop a laptop. It’s at this point in the journey that we’d hear the train pulling in, know we were late and begin to hot foot it across the one way system, ignoring the red man at the crossing, and down to the platform just in time to have the doors close in our face and be forced into adopting what, after lots of practice, we’ve decided is the best expression of cool nonchalance to hide our inner outrage.

Now, any fool can simply drop a perfectly good, luxury Ultrabook on the ground but there any many ways in which this beautifully crafted labour of design might land and that might very well affect the nature of the damage inflicted, from the minor to the far more serious. So, in the spirit of fairness, we closed our eyes, held the Envy 14 Spectre out in random orientation and let go.

There are beats, pauses and long times - and then there’s the blinkered eternity it takes for a thousand-pound gadget to fall 4ft towards a state of irreparable change. There was a crunch of brushed aluminium scraping against stone slab and the plastic jangle of circuitry loosening itself before the machine came to rest and we dared open an eye to survey the damage. It was definitely broken now.

The thin, black battery cover had been blown off. It sat bent and buckled on a background of glass and plastic shards, which themselves indicated the damage to the topside of the Spectre’s lid waiting for us the moment we flipped the laptop over. What looked like it might be a real problem, though, were some of the severed wires poking out from the exposed boards. It wasn’t until we got to the Total Care Center itself and opened up the laptop that we realised the screen had been decimated as well. Whoops.

Nonetheless, the staff at the HP Centee in Paddington were a delight. The store was largely empty and the atmosphere calm and reassuring when we arrived. Our engineer took a look at the remains of the Envy 14 Spectre without a sneer or a giggle at our apparent idiocy and did his level best to check if there was any way that it was still under warranty. He trod a superb line between concern and sympathy for our plight while still being realistic about our chances of repair - which looked slimmer the moment we flipped up the display revealing yet more exposed innards.

READ: Best laptops available today

Instead, the engineer filled in the paperwork that would accompany our machine on its journey to see if it could be mended. In the meantime, we strolled the white-plinthed atrium of the Total Care Center with its examples of HP Windows 8 hardware, ranging from the resurgent all-in-one form factor to laptops from the convertable to the more traditionally built. If you ever pop down, you’ll find walls of accessories, demo videos and plenty of hands-on opportunities with the kit. Doubtless, you could just walk in and take a look at your webmail too. It’s perhaps not somewhere you’d make as a shopping destination, but, if you’re passing the Paddington Basin, then it’s well worth a look in.

If, of course, you happened to have some faulty HP kit - under warranty or otherwise - you’d do well to come down to the TCC rather than spend time and money on the phone to a call centre. From our experience, the staff will do what they can for you even if - as in our case - it does end up with a phone call two days later explaining that your machine is, in effect, a write off.

For us, it turned out that, because of the damage to the display, the casing and the motherboard itself, it would end up costing more to fix our laptop than it would to buy a new one. The HP Total Care Center offered to mail the remains back to us at a small cost but we said we’d come and pick it up instead. So far, we haven’t returned.



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