By ALINA DIZIK Fixing the hiccups of a home computer is an annoyance—lugging it to a store is time consuming and following directions over the phone can get frustrating. But a host of repair services say they solve computer woes by connecting virtually to your machine. Technicians use an Internet connection to check your computer remotely—you simply have to give up control of your mouse for a few hours. The services claim to get rid of annoying error messages or viruses, increase computer speed or deal with other software problems. There are many such offerings on the Internet and quality is difficult to discern.
The companies can’t fix physical issues like a cracked screen or a malfunctioning keyboard. And because they connect virtually, a reliable Internet connection is always necessary for the service. We picked four such services to test on well-used, finicky laptops. While some full-service companies may also provide remote help, we focused on companies that provide virtual assistance exclusively. For each request, we cited specific problems. Privacy was an initial concern, but we could see the mouse maneuvering through our files and all actions were transparent. The offerings cost between $19.95 and $125 for a one-time service—similar to the cost of taking a computer to a shop. Some companies offered to do up to three hours of work while others say they work as long as it takes; our longest session was four hours.
After logging on to AskPCExperts, owned by Cyber Futuristics India Private Ltd., we chatted with a representative through an instant-messaging service, who advised us what plan to get. We entered our credit-card information and within a minute got a phone call instructing us how to connect with the site remotely by downloading software. We needed the company to increase the speed of our five-year-old Toshiba laptop and to check for viruses, a job that took more than four hours, during which we could check on the progress by glancing at the screen. We got a phone call informing us about the completion. He mentioned that the hardware was old and the system was now optimized though he never explained how to use the anti-virus software that was installed. We were slightly annoyed at the hard sell we received to sign up for a full year of computer help for an extra $50. (A company spokesperson says they typically explain how to use the anti-virus software.) But the speed of our computer increased dramatically and the $50 for four hours of time was a bargain.
Next up, we needed to get rid of system-related error messages and unused programs from a two-year-old Dell laptop. We browsed ComputerGeeksOnline.net’s site, which provided a comprehensive list of services. After calling, a technician suggested a $125 full-PC cleanup, which made it the most expensive of the services. Connecting our computer was simple and we could see the technician poking around our files. It took two hours to complete. In the end we got a call confirming the services. We also received an anti-malware and anti-virus program for our computer. The tech provided an easy-to-follow maintenance schedule to prevent future problems.
We used BoxAid.com to fix a five-year-old Sony laptop that was overloaded with programs and what we suspected were viruses. Unlike the others, we didn’t get a quote—$60—until the rep checked out our computer to see if there was a fast fix. Three hours later the system was cleaned out along with malware, but no viruses were found. The 10-minute conversation after our service was helpful.
Finally, we asked AskDrTech, owned by LiveRepair Inc., to check out why our Apple laptop started shutting down at 30% power and to remove unused programs. The per-incident plan was $20. It took our technician less than 10 minutes to find that our battery condition was poor (something we didn’t realize we could have easily discovered ourselves). Instead of removing unused programs, the technician uninstalled one program and sent us a link telling us how do this on our own. Some hitches to customer service: It took a few minutes to reach a technician through instant-messaging, and we were initially sent the wrong software to download for our Mac to enable the virtual connection. (A company spokesperson says most calls are about PCs.)
Overall, the services we called were immediately available even though we tested them during the evening and weekend. After downloading the desktop-sharing programs, the techs could remotely connect to our computers right away, which was convenient. A drawback is that the services don’t have the capabilities to fix hardware problems and are limited to only what can be done remotely. In other words, we’ll still be taking our computer to replace the battery this week.
Getting the Bugs Out
Online services remotely take control of your computer to iron out problems
|AskDrTech.com||$20||Virus removal, annual maintenance, installation, computer glitches||Quickly diagnosed problem, explained how to do some maintenance ourselves||Took a while to talk to a technician; great for quick questions|
|BoxAid.com||$30 to $90||Virus removal, increasing computer speed, software setup, file back-up||Thorough removal of unused programs||Computer worked much faster|
|ComputerGeeksOnline.net||$75 to $125||Spyware and virus removal, web design, email set-up||Quick service, useful website.||Explained how service was completed|
|AskPCExperts.com||$50||Annual plans, email support, virus removal, installation||Thorough work, but no explanation of what was done||Older computer worked much better|