PC Pro Excellence Awards 2019
PC Pro|December 2019
Thanks to the nearly 8,000 participants in this year’s survey, we can reveal the very best brands across 13 different categories – before announcing our products of the year

Best PC Brand PC Specialist
HIGHLY COMMENDED CYBERPOWER, CHILLBLAST

PC Specialist has leapt over last year’s winner Chillblast to take home our coveted Best PC Brand title – and it’s done so with aplomb, with a swath of 90%-plus scores across all categories.

Readers consistently praised PC Specialist’s attention to detail, with 96% saying they would buy from the company again. “Great selection of components. Felt very informed throughout the process as I always knew what stage of the build it was at,” wrote Danielle Forrister. Robert

Galloway was similarly impressed: “The service from first contact to delivery was exceptional. The company kept me informed at every stage of the process.”

Second-place Cyberpower actually beat PC Specialist in the customer support category and Sarah Farrell’s comment may give an indication why: “I had a small issue. I looked to Cyberpower for support via their Discord at midnight on a weekend… and I got the support I needed. That was just amazing. Highly recommend!”

Best Laptop Brand Apple
HIGHLY COMMENDED ASUS, MICROSOFT

The race for the 2018 Best Laptop Brand was a close run thing, with a mere three percentage points separating the top six.

This year, the result is more clear-cut with Apple storming ahead on customer support, reliability, battery life and performance. And it’s still gathering new customers: “I was a reluctant convert from Windows, but I’m glad I made the move,” explained Michael Shields.

However, as with the iPads (right), the word that came up time and again with Apple was “expensive”. “The price of the MacBook Pro has steadily risen to ridiculous heights (this is my third one),” wrote Paul Maddy.

Elsewhere, there was acclaim for Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, with Frank Budden describing it as “absolutely superb, fast, versatile and easy to use,” while Asus received praise for its value: “I have owned many Asus items and I think they push the boundaries both for innovation and cost”, wrote Christopher Phillips.

Best Tablet Brand Apple, Microsoft

Is the era of total iPad dominance drawing to a close? This year’s results suggest so, with Apple having to share our award with arch-rival Microsoft, which won in the customer support, choice of accessories and “buy again” categories.

Still, readers gushed over the sheer quality of iPads – “I wanted a Rolls-Royce and I got one!” exclaimed Charles Dunn – and their versatility: “The iPad Pro is such a wonderful device, it has essentially replaced my MacBook Pro for everyday use,” wrote Mike Todd.

But the murmurs of discontent about Apple’s high prices are growing louder: “Apple produce excellent tablets at inflated prices,” argued Simon Fairclough.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Surface devices are continuing to impress: “My Surface Pro is excellent and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone,” wrote Winston Mathieson. David Teale was similarly happy with the Go: “I bought a Surface Go. It is the best 10in tablet I have ever had, and then some.”

Best NAS Brand Synology
HIGHLY COMMENDED QNAP

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Once again, Synology takes home the NAS award – hardly surprising, given the outpouring of praise for the company in our survey. “[It’s the] one IT product that when I need to renew I do not even check the competition’s products or pricing,” wrote reader Andy Beaney. Synology in my view is the de facto gold standard – excellent features, reliability and value versus performance that cannot be beaten.”

Jacob Hamblett agreed: “My Synology NAS is one of the more basic models, but even the functionality of that compared to others is brilliant. ” Synology’s DiskStation Manager (DSM) operating system won the company plaudits too: “Replaced a DS418+ with a DS9818 as service has been perfect, ultra-reliable. Well supported for OS updates, with a comprehensive OS,” explained Mark Dixon.

The reviews of Qnap’s devices, on the other hand, often came with caveats, reflecting its second-place position. “It’s not as fast as we would have liked, but the kit itself is great. The web UI is incredible,” wrote Simon Goldstone. A speed score of 89% to Synology’s 91% in our survey backs that up.

However, Qnap has a fan in Phil Bean: “I’m presently running three Qnap NAS devices, two for work and one for private – all work very well and are easy to use.”

Best Router Brand AVM Fritz!Box, Ubiquiti, DrayTek

It may be a three-way tie in our Best Router Brand award, but each winner took a different path to the top. AVM Fritz! Box impressed in the speed, reliability and customer support categories, but fell down on range, while customer support and range were the (relative!) weak points of Ubiquiti and DrayTek respectively.

Many respondents received their AVM Fritz!Box router via Zen Internet and the praise was high: “ Wi-Fi is excellent, customer service is second to none, really nice people, and at a really good price,” wrote Steve Owens.

Best Online Retailer Scan
HIGHLY COMMENDED CCL, JOHN LEWIS

Certain players are so successful, year after year, that they become synonymous with their chosen sport, a byword for excellence. Tennis? Serena Williams. Rugby? The All Blacks. The PC Pro Best Online Retailer contest? Scan. While other retailers wax and wane beneath it, Scan sits at the top – usually with John Lewis or Amazon in tow.

But why? It seems to boil down to trust. “Whilst Scan is often slightly more expensive than other online retailers, it is the only one I trust 100%,” explained Harvey Agland. “Very clear and transparent order processing, excellent range even for specialist equipment and they use DPD as a courier which is another bonus.”

However, John Lewis was less than a percentage point behind, thanks largely to its warranties and the convenience of being able to collect from a physical shop: “John Lewis provides an excellent service including click-and-collect and two-year warranty,” wrote Roger Billsdon.

In a photo-finish third place was CCLonline.co.uk and there were plenty of rave reviews of its customer service. “Without a doubt CCL are the best people to go to for PC parts in the UK, in all aspects,” argued Will Mills. Adam Walton was equally happy: “Very good customer service, help with specifications and assurance that if there are any compatibility issues they will replace with another comparable component.”

There was nothing to separate Manchester-based Aria, Novatech and behemoth Amazon, which is making fifth place its own. “Aria have been going for years – great service and prices,” wrote Fred Lemont.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t been the best of years for PC Specialist: a comparatively poor 79% in the customer support category means it’s fallen from an impressive fourth to an unlucky thirteenth.

BestWeb Host Zen Internet

To win an award by ten percentage points is simply Zen-sational (sorry, we couldn’t resist). It’s even more impressive given that Zen Internet didn’t have enough responses to be featured in last year’s web host roundup.

Not so this year. “Zen is always there for anyone with a problem. Their service is excellent. They have never let me down and I would wholeheartedly recommend them,” wrote Iain Parsons. Paula McQuade described Zen as “excellent and knowledgeable. Very friendly and helpful.”

Fasthosts was a huge 17% behind in the customer support category and 16% below in speed, but that’s more in line with the rest of the pack and, again, just underlines the superiority of Zen. “I have been using Fasthosts for a number of years now and cannot fault their service. Top marks across the board,” wrote Christine Barwell.

BestCloudStorage AmazonDrive,GoogleDrive

What a difference a year makes. In 2018, cloud storage giant Dropbox finished in a strong second place, but now it’s been pushed to fourth by the Amazon offerings. Google Drive still rules the roost – although it has to share the honours with Amazon Drive.

That said, this year’s competition was one of fine margins, with very little to separate the top six providers. For example, Dropbox actually has a higher ease of use rating than Google Drive, but fell behind on the vital “would you recommend it?” question. Users were similarly impressed with Carbonite’s usability, but not as enamoured with its speed.

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