Update: Samsung got in touch to say they’d read the article, and to assure me that steps are in place to improve its returns/exchange process for customers.

In respect of the other points raised we do empathise with your frustrations and can assure you that actions are underway and, in some cases, in place (the Samsung Shop is now able to offer exchange products for failures within the returns period) to ensure that we improve our service and support moving forward

It’s hard to imagine there was once a day when Android flagship phones performed noticeably worse than an iPhone. A few years ago, if there’s one thing Android OEMs were known for, it was pushing the most specced-out plastic phones possible. Most of the time, the specifications didn’t translate to a much better experience.

Despite more impressive-sounding specs, the Android flagships were noticeably slower than iPhones, their cameras were terrible and the fit and finish, or build quality was — quite frankly — woeful. It wasn’t true for every phone, but it was a prevailing theme.

A lot has changed over the past 4-5 years. Android phones have caught up with, and arguably, surpassed the iPhone. They have the best cameras, they’re fast, have useful tech like fast/wireless charging, big batteries, SD Card slots, waterproofing, crazy high def OLED displays and are somehow more affordable. What’s more, Apple’s cloud services which underpin its hardware leaves a lot to be desired, especially in staples like photo management, maps and messaging.

But there’s still one major area that Android manufacturers need to get their act together on: Customer Service.

They might make great phones, but there’s still a lot to learn from Apple in regards to after-sales support. Being a tech reviewer, specifically reviewing smartphones, I don’t often get the experience a regular consumer gets. Normally, if there’s an issue with a review unit, I can get in touch with a PR person, who can sort something for me quickly and easily. Being a customer is a very different experience altogether.

I pre-ordered the Galaxy S7 Edge direct from Samsung roughly a week before it was due to launch officially, and received it on March 8th. After about 5-6 days, the phone’s camera developed a dark dot onscreen when taking pictures in 4:3. In most cases, this is normally a piece of dust under the lens, or a small blemish on the optics. But with it being only a week old, I tried contacting customer care. I wasn’t happy.

Being someone who’s almost constantly working online, either typing or editing a video, online chat is always the most convenient method for me to contact a company. I can keep an eye out on my chat while I’m working. With Samsung, that was never an option. Although the ‘contact us’ options includes a live chat, every time I tried to use it, I got a popup window saying no one was available and that I should try submitting a form instead. For the record, I tried at 3-5 different times over a two day period, and failed.

With the lack of a better option, and with a phone call not being preferable, I tried the online form submission. I received an email to confirm receipt of the form I filled in —  sent complete with 4 images to show the problem —  which stated I’d hear back from them ‘soon’. 24 hours later I hadn’t heard back, so I caved and called.

After twenty minutes on the phone I was given only one option: Return the phone for a refund. Samsung couldn’t offer me a direct/immediate replacement. The first option was that I (the customer) had to fill in the return form which shipped with the device, go to my nearest Post Office and send it myself. I said I lost the return form, at which point they said they could arrange a courier to collect, and that I’d have to order a new phone.

I had a 7 day-old phone, and they couldn’t arrange a direct like-for-like replacement. Apparently they don’t do that.

While it doesn’t sound a huge deal, I feel it is. The problem with getting a refund is that you have to wait for them to receive the phone, check it over for damage, and issue the refund. It’s not an instant process. If — for instance — they arranged a door-step swap via courier, I could have a replacement instantly and not have to spend days waiting for a refund, before I can then order another one. The worst part is that, despite my phone being faulty, if I got to the end of 14-day return period, I’d not even be able to get a refund. I’d have to send it away for repair.

Being someone with a handful of phones lying around, finding a spare wouldn’t be an issue for me personally. But trying to view this as the regular consumer who has one device, I find that service pretty shocking. If it was my only phone, I’d be stuck without one through no fault of my own.

I think the worst part of the conversation with Samsung was that it seemed to center around what they couldn’t do for me, rather than how they could help me.

Samsung isn’t the only company who needs to refocus its efforts on customer support. Last year, my beloved 2nd generation leather-backed Moto X developed a dead pixel on the display, so I contacted Motorola who arranged a repair. After 7 days without my phone, I was contacted to be informed they’d sent it to the wrong repair center and that it’d need to be shipped across to Germany, before being repaired and sent back.

I spent three weeks without my phone.

Contrast both of those experiences with my contact with Apple. My ‘backup’ phone (6 month old 6s Plus) had a non-responsive touchscreen. I had a chat online on March 14th which lasted 20 minutes, with a service staff member called Andrew who couldn’t have been more friendly and sympathetic if he tried. He organized a repair, which involved having a box sent to me to place my phone in and sent back. I received the box and sent it away to Apple the very next day (March 15th).

On March 16th I got two emails; one said that they had received the phone, and the next said they were shipping me a replacement phone. On March 17th, a UPS driver was on my doorstep with a new iPhone 6s Plus. Three days after the initial contact, I had a new phone in my hand. What’s more, Apple has a neat online service which lets you track your repair the entire time. The entire process felt too easy.

Back to Samsung, and with a self-inflicted review deadline, I decided not to arrange a refund. I didn’t have the time. Instead, presuming it was dust or lint stuck in my lens, I shook it vigorously  hoping whatever was trapped on the optics would shake loose. Thankfully it did, and so I ‘fixed’ my own phone.

My problem is that I have a brand new phone, which has been built to be fully sealed against anything getting in and even has IP67 certification for that very reason. If there’s debris inside my phone, it must have been there before I received it. But, unlike Apple, instead of bending over backwards to help me and trying to make my experience great, Samsung won’t even entertain the notion of a replacement smartphone. If I want a solution, I have to be inconvenienced. I could understand if the phone was more than a month old, but it isn’t. It’s brand new.

Apple on the other hand, with my 6 month old phone, treated me like a new customer and sorted my issue within a couple of days. They were as eager to help as a sales member chasing commission bonuses might be. It was pretty great. With a new device Apple offers the option of shipping the replacement product to you first, so you are never without it. They just put a hold on your card for the amount until the old one is received.

While I might think the device is better, the experience of buying a Galaxy S7 Edge direct from Samsung has left a bad taste in my mouth. Clearly, the tech giant still has a thing or two to learn about retail, and I’ll think twice before ordering from them again. The long and short of it is, if you want better service with your Android phone, you should probably buy third party.