War of the Warranties: AppleCare vs. SquareTrade
Those who adore Apple products know that often it's a love-hate relationship. Apple is pricey, and aside from modest discounts on Black Friday, there's really no such thing as an "Apple Store Sale." (Although you can see, again, modest discounts from resellers throughout the year.) Being a deal slinger, this may irk you.
Sure you can shop for discounted accessories and cases via dealnews, but what about insuring your $1,000+ laptop? Is AppleCare really your only option? We think not! San Francisco-based SquareTrade is a third-party service that offers a paid warranty independently of a product's manufacturer. If you're a regular on our site, you're probably aware that we frequently see SquareTrade coupons that reduce the cost of a variety of warranties, giving you the opportunity to snag a discount in a way that's not possible with Apple. But does that mean the SquareTrade option is a lesser "budget" version? In a heads up comparison, we looked at the cost, coverage, and overall value of SquareTrade and AppleCare warranties.
How AppleCare and SquareTrade Warranties Work
All Apple devices come with 90 days of telephone technical support and a 1-year warranty to guard against mechanical failures. AppleCare extends both forms of coverage from two or three years, depending on the product. Certain other variables may change as well; iPhone AppleCare (which is technically AppleCare+), for example, specifically addresses accidental damage (also known as "drops and spills"), though it doesn't cover what's known as "full immersion" (i.e., "I dunked my iPhone in a swimming pool," or toilet). It does not insure against theft or loss, and you'll pay $49 for each incident of repair up to two claims maximum.
SquareTrade warranties insure your Apple device for two or three years. In addition to mechanical issues, drops and full-immersion spills are covered for iPhones, though theft and loss are not. SquareTrade thus gets a slight advantage here for covering more damage scenarios than AppleCare. Their warranties are applicable to all new Apple products and refurbished ones as well, regardless of where they were purchased.
A 2-year AppleCare+ warranty costs $99 for an iPhone and must be bought within 30 days of your purchase at an Apple retail store. A 3-year AppleCare warranty for an iMac costs $169, and it's $349 for a MacBook Pro. A full list of AppleCare prices can be found here.
For most electronics, SquareTrade bases its prices largely on what the product being covered costs. So a 3-year warranty on a $1,200 computer (the starting price of a new iMac) will set you back $159.99. However, coupon code "WIZZARD25" currently slashes 20% off, and we regularly see discounts of up to 30% off, making the coverage notably less than the Apple option at this price point. With SquareTrade's current iPhone 4S promotion, 2-year coverage will only cost you $99.99 (a low by $25), just a buck over Apple. While there's a $50 deductible on all claims, SquareTrade allows customers up to four repairs on or replacements of your iPhone; AppleCare allows just two, with a $49 deductible. SquareTrade has the advantage once again.
SquareTrade is also able to match AppleCare with the iPad (while also offering a slightly more inclusive plan), if you're again willing to hold out for the right promotion. iPad protection on AppleCare is $79 for two years, while on SquareTrade it's normally $129.99 for two years. However, we have seen coupons reduce the latter to as low as $69.99. (Current code "WIZZARD25" cuts it to $103.99.) Plus, this plan covers accidents, whereas AppleCare does not.
Redeeming Warranty Services
In the case of AppleCare, just head to an Apple Store or authorized Apple repair center and a Genius will help. Apple has a good track record of replacing defective chargers on the spot, no questions asked. But more complicated repairs require leaving your computer with Apple for service, and depending on the backlog, the work and parts shipment may take days or even weeks.
A SquareTrade warranty is a bit more flexible: customers can either head to their local Genius Bar and SquareTrade will reimburse the costs of repair and servicing that you pay upfront, or customers can send their Apple products to SquareTrade via free overnight shipping. Even with little faith in the USPS, SquareTrade guarantees a 5-day turnaround for repairs. What's more, they have a track record of fixing about 80% of iPhones on the day they receive them.
When it comes down to it, service is an aspect of a warranty that cannot be overlooked. While Apple needs to do a better job of keeping appointment times, it still deserves high ratings for how it has streamlined its customer service methods. Technical service on the phone, as many Apple customers will attest, is another matter, though I've had better luck than many dealing with Apple's help lines.
In 2011, SquareTrade won its first Stevie Award for sales and customer service, and the company has garnered support from some heavy hitters, including NBC, MacRumors, Macworld, and Gizmodo. What's more, SquareTrade has earned an A+ rating and accreditation from the Better Business Bureau, whose records also show that all 90 of the complaints filed against SquareTrade have been resolved successfully. Apple has an A+ rating as well, but for the company as a whole and not its warranty program per se.
Best Bet Warranty
AppleCare warrantees work, but could be cheaper and more comprehensive. High prices on iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks are, in part, understandable because true to the Steve Jobs vision, they occupy their own universe. But Apple doesn't own the warranty business. SquareTrade offers clear advantages in price, customer service, and overall coverage — if you make sure to keep your eye out for a deal.
Front page photo credit: EyeOh
Photo credits top to bottom: D Drake Photos, The Gear Head, and The Mighty Max Cart