"It looked like a dentist's office with a few bits of gadgetry lying around" - Mystery Shopper

This month PCR’s Mystery Shopper heads out to find a notebook with a budget of £300…
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If you’re looking for a small independent electronics retailer then Ealing and its surrounding areas are a great starting point.

This month our Mystery Shopper heads out to look for a notebook with a budget of £300…

Mobile Connect – 6/10

The first tiny little shop was one of those Lycamobile stores that are dotted around various towns. I wasn’t initially going to go in, however I saw that it had a few laptops in the window and stuck my head in to see what was on offer.

I noticed one customer, a young girl, arguing with the gentleman behind the counter. I didn’t pay much attention, but I did hear the man say: “I cannot give you a refund, as it is not our fault that you bought an iPhone case for your iPad.” I spluttered out a stifled laugh, much to the girl’s disapproval.

Once she had left, I asked the weary looking man if he had anything that fit into my price range. He looked doubtful, and following a bit of incoherent mumbling he dipped into what looked like a bargain bucket at Blockbusters (remember that?) and fished out an Asus N80V, covered in glittery stickers featuring the cast of Frozen.

When I asked if I could take a note of the specs, he said no - because he hadn’t set the laptop up. But he did say that he could have the device reconditioned, uploaded with Windows 7 and fully stocked with an anti-virus in less than a week for £140… but added that it didn’t come with a charger.

Tempted as I was, I politely declined and asked about a different HP laptop, and what looked like a Macbook Air in the window. Apparently these weren’t for sale, and he doesn’t really deal in Apple products.

Currys/PC World – 8/10

Of course, I had to stop in on good old PC World to have a browse through its selection of notebooks. The first guy I asked here said I’d be better off in the stationers across the street if I wanted a ‘note book’, as Currys/PC World was an electronics shop.

Thanking him for his solid advice, I moved towards a young lady standing near the checkouts. I informed her about my £300 budget, to which she responded that I was going to have trouble finding a decent one at that price.

I asked which one she thought was the best anyway. She paused and pointed at a HP Stream 11-inch notebook in pink. Despite the outlandish colour, it comes with an Intel Celeron Processor N2840, 2GB of memory and 32GB hard drive, all for £179.99.

The other laptop I spotted was the Toshiba Satellite, which was a little bit more expensive at £299.99. Like the HP laptop, the Toshiba is powered by Windows 8.1 and an Intel Celeron Processor, however this device benefits from 4GB memory, a 500 GB hard drive and up to six hours of battery life. There was also another HP 15.6-inch laptop for £279. This is powered by an AMD A6-5200 APU, and has 4GB memory and 1TB hard drive.

Although I wasn’t too confident in this store after speaking to the first assistant, it turns out there were actually a few ideal devices within my price range.

Argos - 8/10

I was prepared for Argos to have a number of devices to choose from, so I thought I’d break the golden rule and bypass the catalogue to ask one of the assistants for advice instead. I walked up to the front desk and explained my situation.

But my plan was foiled; I was told to check the catalogue. Nevertheless, I did what I was told and was impressed by the range of different devices, covering all prices and specs. There seemed to be even more here than in PC World, from HP, Acer and Lenovo to the Asus Transformer, Macbooks and a series of Chromebooks, Each one had the specs nicely displayed with prices ranging from £179.99 upwards.

I refined my choice down to the Lenovo Flex 10 with an 11.6-inch screen, 2GB memory and 250 GB hard drive for £199.99, and the Toshiba C50D, with a 15.6-inch display, 4GB memory and 500GB hard drive for £229.99. There was also the Acer Aspire, an 11.6-inch notebook with 4GB memory and a 500GB hard drive for £219.99.

I took my selection back to the cashier and asked what they would recommend. Eventually we agreed on the Toshiba, however, when I checked availability they didn’t have any in stock.

Computer Highway – 5/10

My next stop took me to the out skirts of Ealing to a small independent retailer called Computer Highway. The inside looked like a clean dentist’s office with a few bits of gadgetry lying about.

There were two gentleman sitting about, one on the phone, the other eating his lunch. Not wanting to disturb them, I had a brief look around to see what choices they had here, but I was not confident considering the distinct lack of laptops in the sparse room.

After a while I was sheepishly asked if I needed any help. I wasn’t entirely sure if I had explained myself properly, as they both looked a bit confused, then one of them picked up a box off of the floor. “We have this,” he said.

It was a second-hand Fujitsu Lifebook U554, with a Core i3 and 4GB of RAM – and they wanted £456 for it. So it wasn’t what I was looking for in the slightest. I was then shown a desktop computer, a tablet and even a printer, but alas, none of those were notebooks priced £300 or under either.

Fearing I had wasted my time coming, I wandered down the road feeling a little defeated. I hadn’t walked 30 seconds from Computer Highway, before I saw my next destination: Computer Services.

Star Store - Computer Services – 9/10

My nexrt stop was more promising – it had plenty of computers inside.

There was a mixture of first and second-hand laptops and desktops available, and the guy behind the counter was very helpfully figuring out exactly what I wanted a notebook for so he could offer me the right product.

He recommended a Mac, but then I suppose he would as it was £500 over my budget, so I politely declined to even look. What he did have, however, was a 2014 Asus x501u, with 2GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive. It was powered by an AMD C60 processor with integrated graphics and with Windows 8, all for £225.

The other option was a Dell Latitude laptop with a Dual Core 3.20GHZ processor, 2GB of memory, WiFi and Windows 7. I personally prefer Windows 7 to the other option and do like Dell laptops, plus this one was priced at just £100, which I thought was a bargain. So much so, I almost bought it.

Act On Computers – 9/10

My next destination was a small indie shop the other side of Ealing, however it had sadly been shut down, so I headed a little further out of town into Acton. There I found Act On Computers (see what they did there?)

This was jam-packed full of computer parts, laptops, monitors, speakers and other electrical bits and pieces. Two employees were sat in the middle of this computer builder’s wonderland, one of whom jumped up to come to my assistance.

I told her what I was looking for and she was more than happy to go through all they had to offer, which was an impressive amount.

First up was a Lenovo X200, with Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.4GHz, 4GB DDR3 RAM, a 160GB SATA Drive, plus a fingerprint scanner and Windows 7 Professional for £229. Up the price scale slightly at £269 was the HP Pavillion Ultrabook 14-b005ea, with Intel Core i3-3271U 1.8GHz, 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 750GB hard drive on Windows 8.

Also for £269 was the Toshiba Satellite Pro C50D, powered by an AMD E1-2100, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB hard drive on Windows 8.1, then for £299 was the Dell Inspiron 3531 with an Intel Celeron Dual Core N2830, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive plus Windows 8.1.

A great mix of products but unfortunately not quite as tempting as Computer Services’ £100 bargain.

Summary

All in all, Ealing is a good place to go for repairs, services, parts and advice with many smaller independent retailers dotted around the place.

However, I noticed that sadly there were many stores that had shut down or were in the process of closing down, which is a shame because places such as PC World or Argos sometimes don’t have the resources in-store that these places do, meaning a quick repair job can become a longer and more expensive process.

Plus, those side-street computer retailers sometimes have some great deals available that larger retailers can’t always offer, like the £100 bargain I was presented by Computer Services.

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