Practical Nerd: A plea for independence from bad accessory support

Editor’s Note: “Practical Nerd” columnist Frank Catalano spent three hours this Independence Day weekend struggling under the oppression of one technology company’s failed accessory support. The only positive result: This open letter to Léo Apotheker, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Frank Catalano

In August 2009, I purchased an HP Mini 1151NR through Verizon Wireless. This was a new netbook through a new HP partner, and I was slightly wary but excited, since I know Verizon stands behind its service and I thought, as a corollary, HP would stand behind the Mini as well.

That does not appear to be the case when it comes to HP-proprietary accessories for the Mini. And I think it indicates HP needs to change a business practice. Specifically, when a proprietary HP accessory is required to use a promoted function of a product, the accessory should actually be available for purchase for the lifetime of the product and a reasonable period thereafter.

I’m giving the opening keynote at the EDVentures conference in San Francisco in two weeks. Rather than bring my large laptop for the presentation, I thought I’d use my Mini, and I recalled it had a VGA-out port. Doing some further research, it turns out the port is HP-proprietary — and that the only cable that allows the port to be used for VGA video (HP Mini VGA Cable, part FY828AA) is not only not available from HP, it’s not available from any U.S. third-party reseller. It IS available on eBay from sellers who are taking what apparently had been a $29 part and are selling it for $70 and up.

An HP Mini 1151NR

How do I know this? Because I spent three hours Sunday morning: a) determining the part is proprietary, b) determining that HP has removed all references to it from its website (except the Community site), c) and that it’s not available from NewEgg, Amazon, Tiger, and many, many other resellers. As a matter of fact, based on postings in HP’s support community, it appears it was only available for a short amount of time, mostly outside of the U.S., and in limited quantities.

This would be acceptable if the connection wasn’t proprietary and any other cable would do. But it’s not the case. From what I’ve read, the only way to use the listed VGA output functionality on the HP Mini 1151NR is with the HP-brand cable, period. And it’s not as though the Mini is a dinosaur — as a matter of fact, it’s still within the two-year Verizon purchase contract.

It’s bad business practice for HP to list a capability for its Minis, requires its proprietary cable to use it, and then not make it possible to buy the cable. Based on my experience, Lenovo and Dell make their branded, required accessories available for a longer period — and I’d hoped HP would have done the same, if it wants repeat customers.

As it is, I have a Mini with a VGA port, but no way to use it, because the only seller of the required cable — HP — no longer apparently makes it or even acknowledges it. That’s bad.

Frank Catalano is an author, consultant, and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies whose “Practical Nerd” columns appear regularly on GeekWire. He consults via IntrinsicStrategy and tweets @FrankCatalano.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Frank. It upsets me when vendors insist on using proprietary ports so that they can sell overpriced adapters (or not sell them, in your case!) to their own customers.

    Before I buy a product, I make sure that all of the ports are industry standard. My domestic partner, for example, recently attempted to give to me a phone which lacked the standard micro-USB charging port and instead had some proprietary, unique oblong connector. I immediately rebuked xer and asked that said phone be returned.

    We have standards for a reason, Frank. Thank you for exposing the unethical practice of “standards avoidance” and for calling companies to task for disrespecting their customers.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      I was an idiot for not confirming that the port (which others have said looks very much like a DisplayPort, or speculated was UDI) actually was an industry-standard port when I purchased the HP Mini. There’s been a lot of confusion on the HP Support Forum — even, apparently, from HP techs, and some bad advice to try Mac or Sony connectors (they don’t work). Bottom line, even for a long-time nerd like me buying from an established firm like HP, is caveat geek.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      I was an idiot for not confirming that the port (which others have said looks very much like a DisplayPort, or speculated was UDI) actually was an industry-standard port when I purchased the HP Mini. There’s been a lot of confusion on the HP Support Forum — even, apparently, from HP techs, and some bad advice to try Mac or Sony connectors (they don’t work). Bottom line, even for a long-time nerd like me buying from an established firm like HP, is caveat geek.

  • Joe the coder

    Yes, the whole proprietary connector thing is an aggravating business practice.  However, I don’t think it is usually done to trap you into buying an over priced extra but rather because there was no consumer advocate on the design team.  I’ve seen a number of products designed with proprietary ports because it solved an engineering problem rather than a marketing need.  Given that HP is an “engineering” company, I suspect that is the reason for the goofy cable.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      Joe, thanks. I know Sony has had a similar reputation for proprietary accessories (I not-so-fondly recall the Memory Stick). That said, at least you could buy them. Not so with the HP Mini 1000 VGA cable. At least HP had the sense to go back to standard VGA ports on newer HP Mini models, such as the 110 and 210 series.

      • Joe the coder

        Oh, you HAD to throw that memory stick red meat at this mad dog!  That was bit different – in their hubris, Sony thought that they could force to market to follow along.  For years, I have refused to buy Sony products because of the MS idiocy. 

      • Joe the coder

        Oh, you HAD to throw that memory stick red meat at this mad dog!  That was bit different – in their hubris, Sony thought that they could force to market to follow along.  For years, I have refused to buy Sony products because of the MS idiocy. 

  • Bernie

    An option if you’re not too performance sensitive are USB adapters like http://plugable.com/products/uga-125/  (I point at that one in particular, because it limits resolutions to 1440×900 / 1280×1024 which is about as high as you’ll want to go on a 1.6Ghz single-core Atom CPU).

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      Bernie, thanks. That’s a great suggestion to solve the immediate problem (setting aside HP’s practices). I’ve also looked at the similar UGA-165 products from Plugable on Amazon.com, in case I want to use the USB adapter with a different, more capable laptop in the future. Both seem well-reviewed.

  • Jerry

    To all Design Engineers of consumer products: Take a note; proprietary ports are NOT consumer-friendly!

  • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

    Quick update: As a result of submitting my letter on HP’s Executive Team contact page (http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/email/ceo/index.html), I received a call on Friday from Laurie, an HP case manager from the HP US TCO Escalations Team. She confirmed — as had previous emails from Verizon Wireless customer service and the fine folks at RE:PC in Seattle — that the adapter cable in question was not available.

    However, she acknowledged that HP should have, under its end-of-life policies, had the proprietary cable available at least until August 2012, as I bought my HP Mini 1000 series netbook new in August 2009. She offered — and I accepted — a credit for use in the HP online store for purchase of other accessories and supplies.

    To solve my particular display problem, earlier in the week I purchased an Plugable UGA-165 USB-VGA/DVI/HDMI adapter. It works like a charm with the HP Mini 1151NR, and my thanks to Bernie from Plugable for the kind advice.

    Finally, the entire issue of proprietary ports and adapters is still an open one. I notice HP has reverted to a standard VGA port on its more recent HP Mini series. But this seems to be an issue on which consumers need to be ever-vigilant.

    • http://nticompassinc.com/user/nticompass Rocket

      Hey there.  I have an HP mini 1000, and I was looking for the VGA adapter.  I sent an email to the CEO about it, and was then contacted by Diana.  She took a look at the HP parts site, and told me she found an item called ‘Hp mini 100 vga adapter cable’.  I told her I found one on eBay for ~$70, and she said that’s the same was what the HP parts site was saying.
      She, like me, thought that HP didn’t have any more of these, but since the parts site said otherwise, she ordered me one (even though my netbook is out of warranty).
      A few days later, I get a FedEx package…. with the VGA adapter!
      HP actually sent me one!

      Just FYI, this may help: the part number is “512315-001″, (“511672-001″ both were on the invoice.)  The cable says “511672-001″ on it.

      • Mark

        What is the CEO’s email address? I can’t find it on their site still and would like to get the same result. Did they charge you for it? Was it $70?

  • Noreply

    Well said. This will be the last time I purchase an HP product, printers included, due to this type of bad business practice. And apparently, their lack of caring about it or their customers.